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Top ten tips on how to win the Tour de France

Jordan Gibbons
23 Jul 2015

Or how not to lose in the final week.

Some say that you don't win Tour, you just don't lose it. With that in mind we've put together our 'dos and don'ts' guide to winning the Tour de France.

1. Stay on the course

Luis Ocana in a raving at the 1971 Tour de France

Crashes are ten a penny at the Tour but it’s rare that riders crash in the yellow jersey and take themselves out of the race. Once such rider to do so was Luis Ocaña, who crashed while descending of the Col d’Aubisque. A huge storm had rolled in and, with visbility badly reduced, he came off the road, fell down a ravine and ended his Tour. 

2. Don’t become embroiled in a doping scandal 

Richard Virenque Festina affair

The 1998 Tour de France is the one that people like to forget (if you also forget 1999 – 2005) as it was the year of the Festina scandal. One of the Festina soigneurs, Willy Voet, was caught at the French border with a car full of performance enhancing drugs. The whole Festina team was forced to withdraw removing hot favourite, and 1997 runner up, Richard Virenque from the race.

3. Beware of badgers

Bernard Hinault on the Tour de France podium

Greg LeMond went into the 1985 Tour in fine form having won the white jersey the year before. That year he was ordered to ride in support of team leader Bernard Hinault, also known as ‘The Badger’. Hinault crashed on Stage 17 and came into difficulty, Stephen Roche attacked and LeMond followed. Despite having the strength to go on, LeMond was ordered to sit on Roche’s wheel and wait for Hinault. LeMond finished the stage in tears and he later revealed that had been misled as to how far back Hinault really was.

4. Be careful what you eat 

Greg LeMond and Bernard Hinault on Alpe D'Huez

Having ridden for Hinault in 1985, Hinault promised he would help LeMond win the Tour in 1986. However as the race drew closer his support began to waver. When the Tour began, Hinault and LeMond were declared co-leaders and were in an all out war with each other. The story goes that during one stage, LeMond ate a bad peach that turned his stomach and he was forced to go the toilet in a cycling cap mid-stage. At the end of the stage LeMond rushed back to the motorhome and found relief in the nearest box he could find, which just happened to contain 40,000 photographs of Hinault. 

5. Ensure your bicycle is in top condition

Eugene Christophe snaps his forks at the 1913 Tour de France

A dropped chain arguably cost Andy Schleck the 2010 Tour, but a better tale is that of Eugene Christophe in the 1913 edition. Christophe had a lead of over 18 minutes but as he descended the Tourmalet his forks snapped. He walked over 10km to a blacksmith to have them fixed. At that time all the riders had to be entirely self supported, so he was forced to repair them himself. The repair took over three hours and an official later docked him 10 minutes because he had allowed a boy to pump the bellows for him.

6. Embrace new technology

Greg LeMond beats Laurent Fignon at the 1989 Tour de France

The 1989 Tour is famous because it has the lowest overall winning margin – a mere eight seconds. Laurent Fignon went into the final time trial with a 50 second margin over Greg LeMond. Although LeMond was a good time trialist, no one expected he would be able to turn over such a time gap. Fignon rode his traditional time trial bike with bullhorn handlebars and with his ponytail exposed to the wind, whereas LeMond rode with new aerobars and an aero helmet. LeMond refused time splits from the team car and beat Fignon by 58 seconds.

7. Steer clear of the sprints

Djamolidine Abdoujaparov crashes on the Champs-Élysées

Djamolidine Abdoujaparov was a ferocious sprinter in the early 1990s who became known as ‘The Teshkent Terror’ thanks to his unorthodox and erratic sprinting style. Abdoujaparov first won the green jersey competition in 1991 despite a massive crash in the final stage down the Champs-Élysées. He still held enough points to win the jersey but to qualify he had to cross the line unaided, so members of his team put him back on his bike and he rode slowly over the line flanked by members of the medical team.

8. Keep an eye on teammates 

Rene Vietto cries on a wall at the 1934 Tour de France

The legend of René Vietto is one of the most tragic in the history of cycling. Vietto was riding as a domestique for his team leader, Antonin Magne. Vietto turned out to be one of the star climbers of the Tour winning four stages in 1913. Magne was plagued by misfortune and after a crash on a descent his Tour was almost over. Ever the faithful lieutenant, Vietto turned around and climbed back up the mountain to give Magne his front wheel. He then set on a stone wall in floods of tears as he realised he had sacrificed his own chances of winning.

9. Watch out for fans and their quadrupeds

Philip Gilbert berates spectators at the 2012 Tour de France

A musette frantically shaken by a fan famously once nearly ended Lance Armstrong’s assault on the yellow jersey but less famous is the curious incident of the dog in the peloton. As the Tour reached the 120th kilometer of its 18th stage, a large black dog darted into the bunch. Gilbert came crashing down and brought others with him. After getting to his feet he gave the owners a piece of his mind, before storming off without looking and nearly getting knocked down by the Katusha team car.

10. Attack!

Eddy Merckx attacks at the 1969 Tour de France

Depending on who you ask, there is nothing worse than a winner who doesn’t win. Six cyclists have won the Tour to date without winning a stage, Oscar Pereiro being the most recent in 2006, but it’s also about winning hearts and minds. Eddy Merckx first won the Tour in 1969 but he didn’t just win the yellow jersey – he also won the points, mountains and combined jerseys, the award for most aggressive rider and six stages along the way. At the end Merckx is claimed to have said ‘I hope I have done enough now for you to consider me a worthy winner.’

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