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Retro: Ed’s Top Twelve Tours!

Tour Retro: As the 2018 Tour de France is about to kick off, our Grand Tour maestro, Ed Hood, is trying to rekindle his love for the big three week tours after the ‘farce’ that was the Giro d’Italia. In this attempt Ed has taken a look back on the past Tours that have personal meaning – good or bad. The Tour highs and lows for Ed Hood.

Giro this way – Tour next

I rather ‘fell out’ with World Tour stage races after the farce that was the 2018 Giro; I thought ‘suspension of disbelief’ only applied at the movies and theatre? But it’s almost ‘that time’ when there’s only one game in town and I’ll be just as engrossed as everyone else in Le Tour. I got to thinking that come next year I’ll have been aware of and in the thrall of the world’s biggest bike race for 50 years.

Which ones do I remember best and why?

Here goes:

Young Eddy Merckx – The Conqueror

1969: It’s a Sunday afternoon I’m in our crummy council house in Kirkcaldy, Scotland and the crummy black and white TV is crackling away in the corner; ‘and now we go to Paris where Eddy Merckx has become the first Belgian cyclist for 30 years to win the Tour de France.’ This guy on a white bike swoops onto a cycle track, the place is packed and as he enters the track the whole crowd goes ape; ‘Eddy! Eddy! Eddy!’ My life would never be the same.

Merckx on the attack in 1969

1971: By now a confirmed Merckxista I’m hoping for a hat trick of Tour wins but handsome Spaniard and sworn enemy of the Belgian, Luis Ocaña does the unthinkable and gives my man a severe kicking in the mountains. But Merckx is never more dangerous that when ‘they’ think he’s down; he recovers from his ‘jour sans’ and attacks the man with the matador good looks incessantly. The day after the rest day, Merckx is on the attack again and in a day of apocalyptic thunder, lightning and rain – Ocaña crashes on the descent of the Col de Mente. His race is over.

Ocaña’s 1971 Tour was over on the Col de Mente

Merckx refuses to wear yellow next day as a mark of respect. If you’re a Merckx fan then you’ll maintain; ‘Eddy would have cracked him eventually and won anyway.’ I’m not so sure, these days.

Luis Ocaña – Pretty damn cool

1973: Merckx wins the Vuelta and Giro; even Eddy didn’t attempt the ‘triple.’ Ocaña dominates le Tour, his finest hour, he wins six stages and the overall and even as a confirmed disciple of the big man from Brussels I have to admit that Ocaña looks pretty damn cool. . .

Thevenet en Merckx. foto Cor Vos ©
Thevenet broke the Merckx hold on the Tour

1975: The unthinkable, Eddy loses the Tour. Second to a rampant Bernard Thevenet; a lesser man than Merckx would have quit the race after a crash saw him break his jaw and only be able to ingest liquid nourishment – but that would have meant his team mates lost a huge amount of prize money. Riders’ salaries back then weren’t what they are now. Before the final stage into Paris a journo asked Merckx; ‘will you attack Thevenet today?’ Merckx answered immediately; ‘of course !’ but then added with a smile; ‘but just a little. . .’

Double Tour winner – Bernard Thevenet

1986: Alex Steida in yellow; Davis Phinney a stage winner; Andy Hampsten best young rider and Greg Lemond the overall winner. What’s going on? Those North Americans were no longer just making up the numbers.

Alex Steida in yellow

Hinault and Lemond in ’86

1987: Roche had won the Giro but wouldn’t be getting the keys to the City of Rome anytime soon after attacking his team mate and pink jersey, handsome home favourite, Roberto Visentini. We all thought Roche too fragile to be a contender for the Tour after all that gas he’d used up in Italia. But there was grinta and a calculating race brain behind the affable man from Dublin’s perma-smile and he did the ‘double’. And would make it the ‘triple’ taking a rain drenched Worlds in Austria – only Merckx had done that before or since.

Giro, Tour and Worlds for Stephen Roche

1987 – A big year for Roche

1989: The most memorable Tour I ever witnessed, from Delgado – unbelievably – missing his start in the prologue then getting dropped in the TTT to the Fignon/Lemond mountains dog fights to THAT remarkable final TT when Lemond did the impossible. A classic race.

Delgado turns up late for the prologue

The Fignon/Lemond battle of ’89

Greg Lemond gaat Laurent Fignon in de allerlaatste tijdrit op de Champs Elysees met 8 sec verslaan, foto Cor Vos©
That time trial

1996: ‘Big Mig’ Indurain, classy, strong, a beast of a man – but hard to get excited about in the way you could with a Roche or a Delgado. I distinctly remember thinking to myself; ‘well, this’ll be number six for Miguel,’ before that Tour. Another one I got wrong. Telekom’s skinny Dane Bjarne Riis was no ‘cart horse’ as people claim now, he was Laurent Fignon’s right hand man and when riding for himself he’d been fifth in the ’93 Tour and third in the ’95 Tour; many forget these results. But it was still a shock to hear on the radio – no Eurosport live every stage or internet back then – that in a snow shortened Stage Nine, he’d blitzed the field to take yellow.

Riis checks the competition

He’d dieted fanatically, taking sleeping pills after massive training runs so as he’d miss dinner and breakfast; made sure his bike was the lightest and convinced the team to ride, ‘all for Bjarne.’ There were other factors in play, of course. But until the cat emerged from the bag, he was the toast of Denmark and Germany with cycling ‘going big’ in both nations – for a while. . .

The devil drives…

1998: Memorable for all the wrong reasons; Boardman crashing out, Willy Voet’s capture, Festina, the rider strikes. I remember sitting in my living room close to tears as Riis and Luc Leblanc squabbled in front of the world’s TV cameras – horrible. Pantani?

Tour 1998 – Memorable

Riders strike

When he only ceded 30 seconds to Ukrainian chrono beast Gonchar – a future world champion against the watch – in the final time trial of the Giro, even a much more naive and much less cynical me just knew it was all too good to be true. . .

Ed on tour

2006: Strasbourg and I’m covering my first Tour as an accredited journo. One word – madness.

Floyd Landis and Bernard Hinault – What does the Badger think now?

Basso, Beloki, Contador, Mancebo, Ulrich, Vino all go home before a ball has even been kicked and the pre-race press conferences are insane. ‘It can’t be like this all the time,’ I remember thinking to myself. The Floydster wins – yeah, right – until the dam bursts, Floyd is DQ-ed and Oscar Pereiro is announced as winner. And I must confess, Oscar had a cool look going on there. But not one of the classic Grande Boucles – unless you’re a tabloid newspaper editor.

Carcassone- Frankrijk - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - Tour de France - 12e etappe Luchon-Carcassone - Floyd Landis (Phonak) - foto Wessel van Keuk/Cor Vos ©2006

The Wiggins’ Tour – Questionable?

2012: I honestly never thought I would live to see a British Grand Tour winner; but there he was on the bonnet of the Sky team car in Paris – Wiggo, in all his glory. Remarkable. But there had been an inevitability to it; Paris-Nice, the Dauphine, Romandie had all fallen to him in the lead up to the Tour. Was this the same man we’d seen in scores of gruppettos in our Giro and Tour travels over the years? Yes. But there’s a question mark over that season now – very sad.

Wiggins – Gruppetto to Tour winner

Nibali and Contador

2014: An Italian winner with Vincenzo Nibali demonstrating that panache we wish he’d show more often from as early as Stage Two where he won with a late escape into Sheffield; riding the pave without missing a beat and soaring in the mountains. Contador and Froome sadly, both crashed out – but a great Tour to watch and be part of with two Frenchmen on the podium to ensure big crowds and home interest.

Nibali – Tour 2014 winner

Froome on the Tour top step again in 2018?

2018?: Messy before it even starts. And I can’t see who’s going to beat Froome – but I’d LOVE to be proved wrong. . .

The King of the Road – ‘Big Ted’

It was November 2005 when Ed Hood first penned a piece for PEZ, on US legend Mike Neel. Since then he’s covered all of the Grand Tours and Monuments for PEZ and has an article count in excess of 1,600 in the archive. He was a Scottish champion cyclist himself – many years and kilograms ago – and still owns a Klein Attitude, Dura Ace carbon Giant and a Fixie. He and fellow Scot and PEZ contributor Martin Williamson run the Scottish site www.veloveritas.co.uk where more of his musings on our sport can be found.

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