PEZ Picks The Coolest Tour Stages Of All Time!
The Tour’s Coolest Stages: With the announcement of the 2018 Tour de France route in Paris on Tuesday, the ‘PEZ Crew’ got to thinking of their coolest Tour stage memories. Here are the guy’s choices and, surprisingly, not for the sporting aspect of the stage, but more for the ‘other’ happenings on the day.
Ed Hood – PEZ Grand Tour Supremo:
The 1989 Tour is won.
Spikey Frenchman Laurent Fignon has a buffer of 50 seconds on second-placed Greg Lemond of the USA with just a 24.5 kilometer time trial to ride. The affable American has won the Tour before, in 1986 but since then has been the victim of a hunting accident in 1987 which had left him chasing form for months on end.
However, a strong ride in the closing time trial of the 1989 Giro gave him hope and he proved to be double Tour winner Fignon’s strongest adversary in a thrilling duel around France in the ’89 Tour. But coming into the closing battle against the watch from Versailles into The City of Light it looked like it was going to be a formality for the svelte man they called, ‘Le Professeur’ who frequented the classy intellectuals’ haunt, the Café de Flore in Paris rather than the Mexican restaurants which Lemond favored. But as with all most things in life, everything wasn’t how it looked on the surface.
Fignon was suffering from saddle sores which were giving him so much pain that he couldn’t sleep. And Lemond had a secret weapon on his stock steel ADR team Bottechia low profile, with a 650c front spoked wheel and Mavic rear disc; what we now call ‘tri-bars’ – revolutionary at the time and they enabled the American to adopt the ‘rolled up in an aero ball’ form which we’re now all familiar with.
Fignon’s lo-pro Raleigh was in fact a ‘badge engineered’ Cyfac, builder of choice of most French stars of the era and was equipped with double disc wheels – but no tri-bars. And the American rode with an aero helmet, not so the cavalier Frenchman, ponytail flapping in the breeze.
In just 15 miles the American stole back the 50 seconds he was in debt to the French star and added eight more to win the world’s biggest bike race by the closest margin ever. The aero gurus reckon the ‘bars were worth a minute to Lemond and the helmet a quarter of that – whatever the stats, Lemond had won his second of three Tours and Fignon would never be the same man again.
Tour’89 final stage:
Chuck Peña – DC Office
1991 Tour de France. Stage 1 in Lyon: a 114.5 km circuit race in the morning that was followed by a team time trial in the afternoon. What??? That was a totally nondescript, plain Jane stage. How could that possibly be the coolest TdF stage of all time? Let me explain. 1991 was the year my wife and I went on a Breaking Away Bicycle Tours vacation where we followed the first week of Le Tour. One of the perks was that we would not only get to watch the race up close and personal, but we also were able to ride part of the race route each day. So on that day (July 7, 1991), there were I think four of us riding together wearing Breaking Away “team” jerseys. We were, of course, full of ourselves thinking we were looking and being oh so “pro” riding on the same roads as our heroes.
Greg Hogan (founder and owner of Breaking Away) must have gotten the wrong information on what was going on out on the roads because we were supposed to be well ahead of the race, but the reality was that we caught in-between the race caravan and the break that included Greg LeMond, Sean Kelly, Erik Breukink, and eventual stage winner Djamolidine Abdoujaparov aka the Tashkent Terror. As we entered a small town, the fans lining the streets — fully expecting to see the breakaway — were screaming and cheering for us. We, naturally, obliged them by riding fast and furious. The reality was that we were pedaling like mad men because we were frantic to find a way off the course. But there were barricades so we had nowhere to go but to keep riding. We were both totally jazzed and totally scared because we knew we were interlopers and had no idea how close the race was to us. Finally, with our hearts pounding and the adrenaline rushing, we found an opening in the barriers and a way off the course. Probably not more than 10-15 minutes later the break came through. So I can honestly say I rode the Tour de France with 3-time winner Greg LeMond! How cool is that?
Lemond and Chiappucci, but no Chuck:
Stephen Cheung Ph.D. – Toolbox Editor
Coolest Tour stage for me was 2004, but not the Alpe d’Huez TT to which Seldo gave honorable mention. Mine would be the La Mongie stage from that edition. While I had ridden all around the Barcelona area while on a summer scholarship in 1994, this was my first real time cycling the major racing routes in Europe. Having just arrived in Toulouse the day before to cover the race for PEZ through to Paris, the ride itinerary that day had us going over the Col d’Aspin, followed by watching the race somewhere up the Tourmalet (La Mongie finishes below the true Tourmalet summit). We rode the stage in the fabulous sunshine.
This was in the era of the Basque frenzy of Mayo and Zubeldia, and it seemed as if the entire Basque region had been bussed over. The crowd was so thick with 2 km to go that I stopped at the mouth of one of the avalanche tunnels, then started watching the crowd go wild at the passing of any Spanish team vehicle, while violently rocking and shaking the US Postal cars and even buses. I decided to clamber up the hill and made my way atop the avalanche tunnel, where I joined the Basques in celebrating with red wines and Cokes. While up there, the dark clouds of Mordor rolled in, unleashing an apocalyptic freezing deluge that left us all shivering madly. Eventually, the race went through, and I proceeded to risk life and limb riding back down the mountain while jet-lagged, drunk, AND shivering uncontrollably, all while dodging the equally impaired Basques walking down. Hard not to be hooked on Le Tour after that kind of experience!
The 2004 Tour de France:
Gordan Cameron – Scottish Office
When I was a kid, and cycling was something I didn’t really understand that some people could do as a job, I asked my uncle about the Tour de France. He told me what he first heard or understood about the Tour: “Eddy Merckx would go mental in the mountains and destroy everyone.” Now, if that doesn’t grab you, what will? The Tour, and cycling in general, didn’t get much air-time in the UK until Channel 4 came along, so I was in that generation who grew up watching the glory years of Hinault/Lemond/Roche/Delgado.
A stage that stands out for me was in the Indurain years, though. A mind-bendingly hot trawl across the south of France from Montpellier and heading for Carpentras, via Mont Ventoux in 1994. A rider in Mercatone Uno-blue built a massive – nearly a half-hour – lead, and then ground slower, slower and ever slower to the summit of one of our sport’s most notorious climbs. It was the giant Eros Poli, a guy who really shouldn’t have been there, shouldn’t have been doing that at all. He should have been in the autobus, figuring out just how hard he had to ride to make the time cut. Instead, he was battling gravity, common sense and whatever demons his own psyche could conjure up as he wondered just who would try to chase him.
That day, Poli beat Mont Ventoux, and the likes of Marco Pantani before cruising the descent and final, flat run-in to a victory so improbable that it reminded us that, just maybe, we could achieve something special with a bit of belief, a little dreaming. And he topped off the win with a theatrical bow as he rolled to the line. Eros Poli, extraordinaire!
Tour De France 1994 Stage 15 Montpellier-Carpentras on British TV Channel 4:
Ale Federico – PEZ Italian Office
My TdF coolest stage of all times is an easy choice: Saint Gervais – Sestriere, five cols, 18th July 1992. Pascal Lino is in the yellow jersey but the real leader is Miguel Indurain who has destroyed all direct rivals in the ITT few days before. Gianni Bugno, the most serious contender, is the most affected by the defeat, he has declared to the journalist that his Tour is finished, that Indurain is a kind of machine but he is human and cannot compete with such rival. Typical Bugno’s attitude.
Chiappucci, on the other hand, suffers a much bigger defeat by the Spaniard: More than 3 minutes! But Chiappucci, despite his “hot tongue” is silent for days, he’s preparing a big surprise. It’s a strange Tour, a new kind of route. The race left from Spain and skipped the Pyrenees, passed through the north of France and has been in Belgium, Germany and Luxembourg, to celebrate the European Union, which in 1992 is taking off. Next one is Italy and Sestriere, on the border with France in the south. There are two gigantic Alpine stages for this edition, the Sestrieres and the Alpe d’Huez. The Italian sky resort is the first one and it’s more than 250km, five big cols including the finish. It transits the top of the Col the Iseran which is more than 2,700 meters elevation. Everybody expected Indurain to be in control and the contenders attacking from the Montgenevre or on the last climb. But Chiappucci attacks on the first mountain of the day. All the big names laughs inside the peloton, it seems a joke, a desperate move from one rider that is going to be out of the games. But Chiappucci continues to work in the leading group and on the Iseran attacks alone. Down below, in the bunch, Bugno looses his self control, makes his team work hard (when he should just wait) and counter attacks on the Montgenevre. Indurain catches his wheel and thanks him. Chiappucci resist till the finish, wins an epic stage, Indurain struggles to the top of the Italian mountain, keeps the leaders jersey and Bugno looses a lot of time.
Tour’92 stage 13 to Sestriere:
Chris Seldon – Readers Rigs and French Office
And now for something completely different……
I’ve been watching the Tour de France since 1991 when daily tv coverage first came to Australia and since that first race won by an incredible Miguel Indurain I haven’t missed many stages at all. Even if I’ve been studying, working, had family commitments or been on holidays during July over the years I’ve almost always managed to catch the race somehow. That being said my favorite ever stage of the race was one that I missed entirely! Despite being in France at the time I didn’t catch even one second of the 7th stage of the 2007 race and it was probably a pretty forgettable day unless your name was Linus Gerdemann (who took the stage and the yellow jersey) or Chris Selden (who met his girlfriend and eventual wife). Yep, I knew it was love when I was talking to a beautiful French girl right around the time of the last 10km of the stage and I didn’t even try and move our date into a café that had the TDF on the tele. It was the day I realized that there is more to life than cycling… much to the surprise of my cycling mates! Honorable mentions for favorite stages would also have to go to the 2004 Alpe d’Huez time trial because I was there on the slopes and the atmosphere was amazing and Robbie McEwen taking an incredible comeback victory on stage 1 of the 2007 race after crashing a few kilometers earlier.
Linus Gerdemann takes the yellow jersey on stage 7 of the 2007 Tour, but Chris was busy:
Sam Larner – London Office
I watched the 2007 Tour de France when it started in London and shouted myself horse over the course of the six hour stage. I had loved cycling and obsessively watched it for four years previously, although my Tour watching debut came on my Dad’s knee in 1997 – apologies to anyone who was already feeling the pinch of middle age then. However, I didn’t get the chance to watch another Tour de France stage until 2012. I had intended to drag my childhood friend Leo over to France in 2011 but the twin issues of having no money and being 19 year old boys, we didn’t organize it in time.
2012 was going to be our year, I had a horrible job in an east London boozer and Leo had taken a year out before university and was working in a hiking shop. We still didn’t have much money but we were 20 now and significantly more mature so we booked our two week trip, it ended up costing £220 each, for everything. We were to travel around by train and camp, where possible, on roadsides and in fields. We shunned the camp stove in favor of meals out and promptly realized we couldn’t afford them and resorted to eating bread and cheese each day. In the first few days, my inexperience had shown, I had booked trains which left at hideous times in the morning and departed towns before the stage had finished. Tempers were beginning to flare, especially when I’d made Leo walk five miles out of Belfort, on a road that I had assured him would provide ample hitch hiking opportunities – we eventually got picked up just as the hour and a half of rain had stopped. Fearing repercussions, I didn’t make him walk up the climb of La Planche Des Belles Filles that evening. Instead we camped at the bottom and got merry with some locals and their local wine.
Morning came and we stumbled into town to pick up baked goods and iced tea – we were confident by now that the Vittel truck would provide our water for the day. We then set off up the hill, clad in our ‘humorous’ onesies, which were sodden in sweat, we were joined by a Japanese Leopard-Trek supporter who assured us that we could watch the stage on his TV, that he was hauling up in a trailer attached to his bike. It didn’t work, something to do with the trees. So we sat and did what we had done for the previous four stages, made idle chit chat with people if they talked to us, and waited. And waited. Then something amazing happened, riders came through, but not just in a blink of an eye, they came crawling through. You could see the pain in their eyes, the sweat gathering on their nose. You could feel the pointy pelvises as you gave them a helpful shove. And they kept coming, it felt like forever, but the results tell me it was only around twenty minutes. We were both captivated, this was why people came to watch cycling. We followed the race all the way through the Alps before departing, but in the six Grand Tours I’ve been too since, I have never lost that childlike joy of watching riders struggle on a mountain stage, and I don’t think I ever will. Which is why, for me, the seventh stage of the 2012 Tour de France is the coolest stage of all time.
Tour’12 stage 7:
Alastair Hamilton – Editor
There has been many memorable stages of the Tour de France, but the one that sticks in my mind is stage 21 of the 1987 Tour de France with the summit finish on La Plagne. Steven Roche had just won the Giro d’Italia, going against team orders and his ‘leader’ Visentini. In the Tour de France the Irishman was one of the favorites, but he was up against Spaniard, Pedro Delgado, who was to win the next year and Frenchmen Charly Mottet and Jean-François Bernard. Roche took the ‘maillot jaune’, after stage 19, with a lead of 41 seconds over Mottet, but Pedro Delgado, who had won the stage, was close. Delgado gained 1:44 the next day and took the yellow jersey from Roche.
On Wednesday, July 22nd 1987 on stage 21 from Le Bourg-d’Oisans to La Plagne Roche early, but Delgado steadily pulled him back and then built up a lead of 1:25 on the Giro winner and it looked like his dreams were over. In those days there wasn’t the camera coverage we have now, there would be a moto with the leader and the Yellow jersey and then maybe one with the top Frenchman, so information on how the race was progressing was scarce on the final La Plange climb. Delgado looked good as he came into view of the finish line camera, but there was another rider amongst the following vehicles and in the spine chilling words of TV commentator, Phil Liggett: “Just who is that rider coming up behind – because that looks like Roche! That looks like Stephen Roche. It’s Stephen Roche, has come over the line! He almost caught Pedro Delgado, I don’t believe it!”
Roche crossed the line and collapsed and needed oxygen to recover. Was he OK? In a few minutes he was well enough to say: “Oui, mais pas de femme toute de suite (“Yes, but I am not ready for a woman straight away)”.
Delgado was still in the overall lead by 21 seconds with three stages to ride, but he had lost his big chance of the overall win on La Plagne as there was still a 38 kilometer individual time trial to come on the penultimate day in Dijon and Roche knew he had the upper hand against the clock. Roche beat Delgado by 1:01 and brought a 40 second overall lead into Paris the next day for Ireland first, and only Tour de France win. Later in the year he won the World championship road race in Austria for the ‘Triple’ of Giro, Tour and Worlds.
One fact that most people forget; the winner on that memorable stage to La Plagne was Laurent Fignon.
In 1990 I’d won a couple flights to Paris, so jumped on board a defunct super cheap airliner with a buddy and took off for our very first Tour. We’d scored seats at an exit aisle across from the toilets, but the plane was such a beater that one of the toilet door locks didn’t work, and we spent the entire 10 hours watching people get caught, literally, with their pants around their ankles.
Catch up with the 2018 Tour de France in the PEZ First Look.
And let us know your own best memories of Le Tour – what made you become a fan?