The Top 25 All-Time Tour de France Riders
With Lance Armstrong's tweet indicating this is "his" last Tour de France, it seemed appropriate to compile a list of the Top 25 riders in Tour history.
There are 20 who won multiple Tours, and more than a few who landed on the podium more than they won...
So the list is subjective, but weighed on overall performance, not just wins.
For example Raymond Pouidor, "the eternal second" never won, never even wore the Yellow Jersey for a single stage, but finished second three times, and third five times, the last of which he was 40 years old.
Claudio Chiappucci makes the list as well, having never won, but like Poulidor, was important to the tours he finished, and an attack on LeMond in the 1990 Tour after LeMond flatted early in a climb. El Diablo may have made the list specifically for that move...
And with that we are off...
No. 25 Claudio Chiappucci
Claudio Chiappucci makes the list on style points alone.
OK so style points, two KoM awards, and three podiums in an era of Indurain and LeMond dominance.
Chiappucci won the yellow jersey on a Stage One attack in the 1990 Tour that gifted him a ten-minute lead that he did not give up until the final ITT on Stage 20. Greg LeMond won the race by a little over two monutes, but a little-known rider from Lombardy became a star.
Chiappucci finished second twice and third once before falling from the top almost as quickly as he'd arrived.
No. 24 Gustave Garrigou
Gustave Garrigou only managed one win at the Tour, but his six podiums are the most of his era. Of 117 stages, he won eight, finished in 65 times in the top five, and came in among the first ten 96 times.
Garrigon rode as a teammate to three Tour winners, as well as his one win, three seconds, and two third place finishes.
In eight Tours, Garrigon never finished worse than fifth.
No. 23 Raymond Poulidor
Raymond Poulidor never won a Tour de France, and not once wore yellow, but in 14 years, he finished second three times, and third an additional five.
The "Eternal Second", Poulidor fell into an era that saw Anquetil and then Merckx dominate the Tour, much as Indurain and Armstrong put a stranglehold on the yellow jersey from the early 1990's till the mid-2000's.
No. 22 Jean Alavoine
Jean Alavoine won an amazing 17 stages in the Tour de France and wore the yellow jersey for five days.
While he never won a Tour, he finished second twice and third three times.
His stage victories places him eighth for total stages won, but the truly amazing thing is the 14-year spread between his first and last stage victories.
Another rider whose career was limited by the four years from 1915-1918 in which the Tour was interrupted by WWI, Alavoine still managed 1.7 victories a year average for his Tours.
In the 1922 Tour he won stages 5-6-7 at the age of 34 and led until the 11th stage when a mechanical issue dropped him 37 minutes back. He eventually finished second.
No. 21 Charles Pélissier
Charles Pélissier was the Mark Cavendish of the early 1930's.
Younger brother of 1923 Tour Champion Henri and Francis, a two-time stage winner and three-time French Road Champion, Charles completed the trio of Tour Stage winners (28 total stage wins).
Winning a total of eight stages in 1930 and another five in 1931, Pélissier was virtually unbeatable in the sprint, finishing his TdF palmares with 16 stage victories.
While not a Tour winner, he was, for a few short years, the sprinter of his day.
No. 20 Freddy Maertens
Freddy Maertens is one of three cyclists to win eight stages in a single Tour.
Three green jerseys, awarded to the racer with the most sprint points, and a total of 16 stage wins round out his TdF palmares.
Freddy won an incredible 13 stages of the Vuelta a year later, as well as every jersey except for the climber's.
No. 19 Ottavio Bottecchia
Ottavio Bottecchia won the Tour de France twice and finished second in his first attempt.
In the 1924 Tour, Ottavio wore the yellow jersey from start to finish, along with four stage wins.
After abandoning the 1926 Tour in a rain storm, Ottavio left a broken rider and was never the same.
In 1927, Bottecchia was found along a road in a Vineyard with multiple fractures, including one to his skull, and after his last rights, was taken to hospital, where he died 12 days later.
The death was ruled accidental, but many questions remain...
Bottecchia's name would play a role in the 1989 Tour, when Greg Le Mond rode a Bottecchia to victory over Laurent Fignon by eight seconds.
No. 18 André Leducq
André Leducq won twice in '30 and '32. This in itself is a pretty fantastic accomplishment, but his 24 stage victories from 1927-1935 are what set him apart from the other two-time winners.
No. 17 Alberto Contador
Alberto Contador is going to be a controversial choice this far down the list, but he has only won three stages and two Tours. This sets him pretty far down the list of two-time winners and decededly further back than several one-time winners and even behind two non-winners.
His victories have not been dominant, and in producing this piece, I have chosen to look only at the body of work, versus potential and/or results outside of the Tour.
His 2007 win was solid, but he lost time to his teammate Levi Leipheimer in both a mountain stage, as well as the final time trial where he lost 2:18 to his teammate.
With that said, if I revisit this list in five years, Alberto may join the great Tour riders, like Armstrong and Merckx.
But for now, he is where he is...
No. 16 Lucien Van Impe
Lucien Van Impe won the Tour de France once, was second once, and was third three times.
He won the mountain's jersey six times, tying Federico Bahamontes’ record (at that time) in the Tour de France.
15 Tours de France appearances leaves him second on the list behind Joop Zoetemelk of Holland with 16.
Van Impe finished on the podium five times and nine times in the top ten.
No. 15 Erik Zabel
Erik Zabel won the green jersey six consecutive years from 1996-2001.
With 12 stage victories to go with his six green jerseys, Zabel was the most consistent sprinter of his era. Competing against the fastest man in the world, Mario Cippollini, Zabel had to rely on winning late race stages and placing well during the early stages before Mario would abandon, due to an inability to get over high mountains inside the time limit.
No. 14 Richard Virenque
Richard Virenque is another rider who never won the Tour, but holds a place in the Top 25.
Virenque won seven polka dot jerseys between 1994 and 2004, and along with those, won seven stages with mountain top finishes, including wins on Ventoux and Luz Ardiden.
Virenque is not without controversy, as are many of the others on this list. He was forced to abandon, along with his team in 1998 and later admitted to having doped, however his words were twisted into "à l'insu de mon plein gré" ("willingly but without knowing") and became a part of French culture.
After serving a ban, he came back to the Tour to win another two polka dot jerseys.
Ironically, while the French were yelling "dopage" at Armstrong, they were creering on Virenque.
No. 13 Jan Ullrich
Jan Ullrich may very well be the most consistent Tour rider of all-time.
Never finishing worse than fourth, and finishing second an incredible five times (including three times to Armstrong), Jan was the Poulidor of his generation.
Infamous for gaining weight in the winter, then fighting through the early season to lose the kilos, he once remarked "I see many skinny bike racers, but very few Tour winners.
Ullrich was the white jersey winner from 1996-1998, and of his seven stage wins, five were in ITT's.
No. 12 Joop Zoetemelk
Joop Zoetemelk won only one Tour, but finished second six times and an incredible 12 times in the top ten.
He won ten stages, including Alpe d'Huez twice!
His 16 tour finishes leaves him as the rider with the most finishes ahead of Van Impe and Ekimov at 15 Tours each.
His last Tour was just shy of his 40th birthday, in a time when athletes were far past their prime at 35.
No. 11 Fausto Coppi
Fausto Coppi "Il Campionissimo" won both the polka dot and yellow jerseys in 1949 and 1952.
Though only entered in three Tours, Coppi made the most of his attempts and won his first Tour de France over Bartali by 10 minutes and nearly a half hour over everyone else.
In his second victory, he was so far ahead the organizer had to double the prizes for lower placings to keep the riders interested. He won that one by 28 and a half minutes!
No. 10 Gino Bartali
Gino Bartali won tours in 1938 and 1948, a decade apart, and one can only wonder what would have been his record if not for a six-year break for the Second World War.
Like Coppi, he dominated in his two victories and left no doubt as to who the victor would be, and was the only rider within ten minutes of Coppi in his first victory.
Bartali ended his career with 12 stage victories...
No. 9 Nicolas Frantz
Nicolas Frantz won the Tour de France twice, as well as placing second on two more occasions.
So why is he ahead of Bartali and Coppi, you ask?
Simple... he won 20 stages between 1924-1929 and, in his 1928 victory, he wore the yellow jersey from start to finish. Tack on the last 14 stages of the 1927 Tour and he was in yellow an amazing 36 consecutive stages!
No. 8 Louison Bobet
Louison Bobet did not start out a grand tour rider in the class of Coppi, or Bartali, but he did what no one up to his time had accomplished.
He won three straight from 1953-1955.
The last of these left him with boils that had to be operated on, and he was never again to win the Tour.
Like Armstrong nearly 50 years later, his first win was seen as a "Tour without Stars" and his victory was, therefore, discounted as such.
After another two wins, he had cemented his place in Tour lore and has a rightful place in the top 10 of this list.
No. 7 Philippe Thys
Philippe Thys, like Bartali after him, had his era cut short by a World War.
Thys was up until Bobet's 1955 win, the only three time-winner of the Tour.
Tour founder Henri Desgrange said after his third win:
"France is not unaware that, without the war, the crack rider from Anderlecht would be celebrating not his third Tour, but his fifth or sixth".
One can only wonder how many victories Thys would have earned were it not for WWI...
No. 6 Greg LeMond
Greg LeMond, like Phillipe Thys, had a break in his run for Tour victories.
Instead of a World War, it was a hunting accident with his brother-in-law that left LeMond wondering if his 1986 victory would be his last.
LeMond finished third in his first Tour at 23 years old, second in a 1985 tour that showed he was, without doubt, the class of the field.
If not for a promise to ride for Greg in 1986, Bernard Hinault would have ended on four victories and LeMond would have been on a level field with four of his own.
LeMond's three victories all came with drama...
1986 - Hinault backed off his promise to support Greg for aiding in his fifth win, and Greg raced on a divided LaVieClaire team. Half rode for Hinault and the others rode in support of LeMond.
Then came the accident and, two years away, that allowed Stephen Roche and Pedro Delgado to win their only Tours.
1989 - LeMond racing on division two team (Pro Continental)ADR showed the form that made him a star in the mid 1980's, and with little support, won the closest tour in history over Laurent Fignon on the final time trial in Paris.
1990 - LeMond firmly the favorite, nearly lost on the first stage when little-known Claudio Chiappucci, along with three others, took 10:30 out of the field. It wasn't until the 20th stage that LeMond regained the lead in the final time trial.
The 1991 Tour began as another LeMond show, until he cracked in the high mountains while wearing the Yellow jersey, and Miguel Indurain began his five-year run of victories, and LeMond faded into retirement.
No. 5 Miguel Indurain
"The Big Mig"
Indurain rode to five consecutive Tour victories, from 1991-1995.
So how is he number five on the list?
He was, up until Lance Armstrong, the rider against the clock of his generation, and of his 12 stage victories, only two come from outside the ITT.
His victories were incredible feats of power and defensive riding, but lacked panache, or flair.
He destroyed his rivals in the race against the clock, then just sat wheels for the rest of the race, rarely attacking in the high mountains.
So how again is he No. 5?
I had four riders to separate with five victories each, and style points count in my book.
No. 4 Jacques Anquetil
Jacques Anquetil was the first to win the Tour five times, and the first French rider to wear the yellow jersey from start to finish.
He was also the first to win four straight Tours, and amassed 16 stage victories in his career.
A great rider against the clock, Anquetil raced for money, not pride and, much like today's Tour specialists, he took great care in the details of winning. Never one to use too much energy, always just enough to win.
When asked how he felt about a five-second victory, he replied "it was four seconds too much."
The French did not love him as they did Poulidor, and his lack of style points did not win him many fans, but he was an amazing bike racer...still, style points count and this leaves him fourth on my list.
No. 3 Bernard Hinault
Hinault won an incredible 28 stages and five Tours, from 1978-1985, and was second twice, in 1984 and 1986.
Where Indurain and Anquetil were surgeons, slicing away minutes and seconds in ITT's, Hinault was all agression, ready to strike when an opponent showed any weakness.
In the 1985 win he came back from a crash that broke his nose in an early sprint stage. (The photo above shows two black eyes from this crash)
His reign could have equaled Armstrong's if not for reoccurring knee issues that kept him out of the race more than once, and forced his abandonment while leading in another.
It is hard to believe that Hinault is the last French rider to win the Tour de France.
No. 2 Eddy Merckx
Eddy is the greatest bike racer of all-time, and slots in at No. 2 on this list, but just barely.
While he has two fewer wins than our No. 1 rider, his stage victories, 34, are nine more than our No. 1.
Eddy was so dominant that the organizers asked him to not ride in 1973, and Merckx granted that wish, instead winning the Giro and Vuelta.
Merckx won not only the yellow jersey, but the green (points) and polka dot (mountain) jerseys as well, a feat which has never been matched in a single Tour. Only Rominger and Jalabert have won all three jerseys, but in seperate Tours.
Merckx had his run in with diversity as well when a fan kidney punched him on his run for a sixth victory. Merckx never fully recovered and lost that tour, leaving him with five wins.
No. 1 Lance Armstrong
Lance Armstrong's story is well known, and seven victories in the Tour are two more than anyone else in Tour History.
Like Indurain, he stamped his name on it when he won all seven in a row, but unlike Indurain, he did it with agression, as well as being nearly unbeatable against the clock for several years.
Armstrong has similarities to many of the great riders in his swagger and attacking style, but has also been a shrewd tactician, and actor some would argue.
On the Alpe d'Huez stage in 2001, Armstrong feigned weakness before turning around to see his rivals faces, before racing away on the lower slopes of Alpe d'Huez, in a scene that would later be described as "The Look".
Armstrong gifted Pantani a stage win in 2000, which would later lead to a war of words before Lance won that addition as well.
Like Hinault and Anquetil, Armstrong was almost universally hated in France for his single-minded focus on the Tour, and of course, his run of victories.
After the seventh Armstrong retired and left the race to others, before returning in 2009 and finishing an amazing third at 37 years old.
Earlier this week, Lance announced via Twitter that this would be his last Tour de France.
Can he win another one?