Cycling: Armstrong's predecessors as five-times tour winners

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The Independent Online

Considered the greatest cyclist of all time. In his first tour, in 1969, the Belgian stormed to a unique hat-trick of jerseys - yellow for race-winner, polka-dot for King of the Mountains and green for points winner. Highlights of that year's race included his 140-kilometre lone break in the Pyrenees and a winning margin of 17min 54sec. Described by one journalist as "a gaoler with absolute power, each day ragging his prisoners with another rough joke'', Merckx won the next three Tours and ended up with five - as well as five Giro d'Italias, one Tour of Spain and around 50 one-day Classics. Small wonder he was nicknamed "the Cannibal''.

As aggressive and ambitious as Merckx, the fierce Breton exploded on to the scene in the late 1970s. Though Merckx holds the record of 34 Tour stage wins, Hinault's 28 is not far behind. Determined and stubborn, he took the last of his five wins in 1985 despite crashing and breaking his nose, then tried and failed to take a sixth under the guise of helping his protégé and team-mate Greg LeMond. Currently a technical director with the Tour.

The son of a Normandy strawberry farmer, Jacques Anquetil used his prodigious time-trialling skills to take five victories in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He was a cold, distant figure whose power base was his clinical displays of speed against the clock, and the French dubbed him Maître Jacques, a title normally given to lawyers. The more amicable Raymond Poulidor, who had an impressive run of second places behind him, attracted more support and love as the perennial underdog. Anquetil retired in 1969.

Nearly 50 years after his death, Fausto Coppi - nicknamed "The Heron'' for his gaunt looks and ungainly bearing, and his ability to soar through the mountains - is still the standard against whom all Italian cyclists are measured, and he remains the country's great Tour de France hero. Twice a winner, and five times victorious in the Giro d'Italia, Coppi, an atheist and free thinker, was also a symbol of modernity for post-war Italy, whose traditionalists came to hate him in equal measure. Elsewhere he is remembered for his ferocious climbing skills - during the 1949 Tour he opened up a 20-minute gap over the rest of the field on one Alpine climb alone.

The greatest athlete Spain has known, Miguel Indurain became the fourth of the five-Tour winners thanks to his magisterial time-trialling. His face rarely betraying any emotions (his nicknames included "Terminator" and "the Alien", as well as the "Sun King" or simply "Big Mig") the tall Navarran ruled from 1991 to 1995 by crushing the opposition in the first long race against the clock. A farmer - he listed repairing and driving tractors among his hobbies - he gained a reputation of being courteous, unflappable and easy to interview. However, his insistence on avoiding controversy led him to produce singularly dull answers - one French journalist famously wrote that after five years of marriage Indurain's wife probably still had no idea whom she went to bed with each night.



Having survived life-threatening cancer, the Texan makes what his fellow American and Tour winner Greg LeMond defined as the "greatest ever sporting comeback in history". Victorious in the prologue, eight days later the American returns to yellow at the time trial in Metz and then further increases his advantage at Sestrières in the Alps.

1 L Armstrong (US) US Postal Service 91hr 32min 16sec
2 A Zülle (Swit) Banesto +7min 37sec
3 F Escartin (Sp) Kelme +10:26


The year of Armstrong's confirmation, as neither of the Tour's two former winners, Jan Ullrich or Marco Pantani - missing in 1999 and present in 2000 - prove capable of toppling the American. Beaten by the Scot David Millar in the opening time trial, Armstrong uses his favourite tactic of making an all-out assault on the first mountain stage, at Lourdes Hautacam, to take the yellow jersey, which he keeps all the way to Paris.

1 Armstrong 92:33:08
2 J Ullrich (Ger) Deutsche Telekom +6:02
3 J Beloki (Sp) Festina +10:34


Having let a break of 14 non-contenders take a massive advantage of 35 minutes, Armstrong then hacks through their lead with what he calls his "best-ever" mountain performance, a resounding win at Alpe D'Huez. The yellow jersey becomes Armstrong's property when he wins again at Pla D'Adet in the Pyrenees.

1 Armstrong 86:17:28.
2 Jan Ullrich (Deutsche Telekom) + 6:44
3 Joseba Beloki (ONCE - Eroski) +9:05


After a surprise minor defeat in the Tour's opening long time trial, Armstrong then pole-axes his rivals with two back-to-back victories in the Pyrenees, maintaining the margins easily on the Ventoux and then scooping first place in the final time trial - for the fourth year running.

1 Armstrong 82:05:12
2 J Beloki (ONCE-Eroski) +7min 17sec
3 R Rumsas (Lampre-Daikin) +8:17