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Ranking the Best Tour de France Winners in History

| June 7, 2022 12:50 pm PDT
Tour de France logo, yellow Tour de France uniform, cyclist

First organized in 1903 as a publicity stunt by the French newspaper L’Auto, the Tour de France has grown to become one of the world’s biggest annual sporting events. Millions of cycling fans line the route every year to watch 200+ elite riders compete for the yellow jersey, or as the French call it, Maillot Jaune.

An average Tour de France competitor burns almost 120,000 calories over a 23-day odyssey traveling across 2,200 miles of steep hills and mountains. This makes it one of the most challenging races in the cycling universe, along with the other two Grand Tours – Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a Espana.

For all these reasons, it’s not an overstatement to say that every pro cyclist dreams won getting on the Tour de France podium. Of course, the dream never comes to life for most of them. However, some have made their dream come true on multiple occasions. Those are the riders I will focus on in my piece on best Tour de France winners.

Apart from discussing multiple champs, I will also tell you a tale about the youngest Tour de France winner whose main rival got disqualified for cheating and about the oldest rider ever to win the race.

In addition to those ten riders, I will also mention a disgraced champion. Lance Armstrong is the man I’m talking about, who had won the race seven times before the organizers decided to strip him of his titles due to a doping scandal.

He doesn’t belong in the list of the greatest Tour de France winners, but the Armstrong chapter cannot be taken out of the story.

1. Eddy Merckx – Best Tour de France Winner

Eddy Merckx
  • Born: 1945
  • Nationality: Belgian
  • Tour de France Wins: 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1974

Eddy Merckx just needs to be at the top of the Tour de France winner rankings as he’s one of only four riders to win the race on five occasions.

What makes him stand out from the other three is that he didn’t only win the general classification in Tour de France but points and mountain classifications as well – something that no other rider has ever done.

After winning the Tour de France four years in a row, the organizers asked Merckx to skip the 1973 race so that other riders would stand a chance. If he didn’t listen to them, he’d probably be a 6-time winner.

Apart from being one of the top winners of the Tour de France, he’s also among the most successful cyclists in other Grand Tours. In fact, he’s the man with the most Grand Tour wins in the history of cycling (11).

2. Jacques Anquetil – Five-Time Tour de France Winner

Jacques Anquetil
  • Born: 1934
  • Nationality: French
  • Tour de France Wins: 1957, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964

If you’re wondering which country has the most Tour de France winners, it’s France. French riders have won the race 36 times, some doing it on multiple occasions.

In fact, 23 different Frenchmen have been crowned the Tour de France winners, with only two of them winning the race five times.

One of those is Jacques Anquetil, the man who in 1964 became the first Tour de France winner to end up wearing the yellow jersey for the fifth time.

Speaking of the yellow jersey, a.k.a. the Maillot Jaune, Anquetil is one of just four riders who managed to keep the jersey in their possession from Day 1 until the end of the race. He did it in 1961.

Even though he remains one of the greatest French cyclists in history, Anquetil’s career was tarnished after he admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs. Actually, he never tried to hide it, saying on the French TV that “Only a fool would imagine it was possible to ride just on water.

3. Bernard Hinault – The Last Frenchman to Win the Race

Bernard Hinault
  • Born: 1954
  • Nationality: French
  • Tour de France Wins: 1978, 1979, 1981, 1982, 1985

The French have, by far, the most Tour de France wins in the history of the race, but the last time a Frenchman won it was back in 1985. Bernard Hinault, who had previously won another four titles, was the man who did it.  

His first triumph happened in 1978, but it was a year later when Hinault achieved the greatest achievement of his career.

He won the general classification in the 1979 Tour de France while also getting ahold of the green jersey (points classification). Unlikely for him, he finished second in the mountain classification.

4. Miguel Induráin – Only Rider to Win the Race 5x in a Row

Miguel Induráin
  • Born: 1964
  • Nationality: Spanish
  • Tour de France Wins: 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995

Same as the previous three riders, Miguel Induráin is also one of the winners of the Tour de France who have won five times. The only exception is that he did it five times straight, becoming the first rider to achieve such a feat.

Important

After Lance Armstrong got stripped of his titles, Miguel Induráin (once again) became the record holder for most Tour de France wins in a row.

Another fun fact about Induráin is that he’s one of the tallest and heaviest riders ever to win the French Grand Tour. Standing at 6’1 (1.86), he’s the second-tallest Tour de France winner after Bradley Wiggins. Weighing 168 lb (76 kilograms), “Big Mig” is also among the heaviest Grand Tour winners ever.

5. Chris Froome – The Most Successful British Rider

Chris Froome
  • Born: 1985
  • Nationality: British
  • Tour de France Wins: 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017

With Lance Armstrong losing his titles, Chris Froome is now the most successful Tour de France winner in the 21st century. So far, he’s won the yellow jersey four times.

I say “so far” because, at the moment of writing, Froome is still competing at a professional level. Still, judging by the odds available at top cycling betting sites, it’s very unlikely we’ll see him get onto the Paris podium ever again. 

Froome did come very close to retiring a few years ago after suffering a horrific crash at the Critérium du Dauphiné in 2019. However, just a year after the accident, he made his comeback.

Froome is one of only two Brits who have won the Tour de France, the other one being Welsh rider Geraint Thomas. To recognize his contribution to British cycling, Queen Elizabeth rewarded Froome with an OBE (Order of the British Empire) in 2016.

6. Greg LeMond – The Most Successful American in Paris

Greg LeMond
  • Born: 1961
  • Nationality: American
  • Tour de France Wins: 1986, 1989, 1990

Once again, I got to talk about Lance Armstrong – with him losing his accolades, Greg LeMond is now the most successful American rider in Tour de France.

Winning the race three times is enough to label him one of the top American winners of the Tour de France. However, there are a few different reasons. For instance, in 1986, he became the first non-European to win the Tour.

The win put him in the spotlight of sports fans from both continents, the result of which was that he landed a $1 million contract, thus becoming the wealthiest cyclist in the world.

LeMond’s success story led to the increase in the popularity of cycling in the United States, especially after he became the first cyclist to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

7. Joop Zoetemelk – 6-Time Runner-Up, One-Time Winner

Joop Zoetemelk
  • Born: 1946
  • Nationality: Dutch
  • Tour de France Wins: 1980

Even though he’s won the race just once, Joop Zoetemelk has to be on the list of the greatest Tour de France winners. It’s because he narrowly missed the title several other times. In fact, Zoetemelk finished second in six races while also finishing fourth three times.

Zoetemelk holds the record for most Tour de France race finishes in the event’s history. He passed the finish line in Paris 16 times, from 1970 to 1986.

Although he’s not the oldest rider to win the Tour de France, he sure is among the oldest riders ever to participate in the race. Just months shy of his 40th birthday, he finished in the #24 place in the 1986 race.

8. Tadej Pogačar – The Winner of Three Distinctive Jerseys

  • Born: 1998
  • Nationality: Slovenian
  • Tour de France Wins: 2020, 2021

Tadej Pogačar is one of only two riders to win three distinctive jerseys at a single Tour de France (the other one being Merckx). He won the yellow, green, and polka dot jersey in 2020 on his debut in the French Grand Tour.

What’s interesting is that he did the same a year later, establishing himself as one of the best riders of his generation.

When Pogačar won the 2020 Tour de France, he was just 21 years old, making him the youngest winner in more than a century. However, the youngest rider ever to win this race is Henri Cornet, who did it when he was 19.

9. Henri Cornet – The Youngest Winner Ever

Henri Cornet
  • Born: 1884
  • Nationality: French
  • Tour de France Wins: 1904

Maurice Garin was the man who won the first edition of the Tour de France back in 1903. The prize money he received was enough for him to open his own petrol station.

The news traveled across the continent, attracting way more competitors the following year. Unfortunately, some of them were ready to cheat to get ahold of the main prize.

Garin was no exception – he and another three riders who finished the race before everyone else was later disqualified for cheating. Among the things they did to gain an advantage over others include the following.

  • Taking a train for part of a stake
  • Putting itching powder in other riders’ pants
  • Throwing broken glass on the road
  • Paying mob to attack rival riders with sticks and stones

Four months after the end of the 1904 race, the organizers decided to disqualify the top four finishers, awarding the #5 with the title. The man in question is Henri Cornet, who was only 19 at the time.

10. Firmin Lambot – The Oldest (and Slowest) Winner

Firmin Lambot
  • Born: 1886
  • Nationality: Belgian
  • Tour de France Wins: 1919, 1922

In 2005, Lance Armstrong set the record for the fastest average speed in Tour de France with 25.9 mph (41.7 km/h). The slowest average speed in the event’s history was almost half that number.

The 1919 Tour de France was where Firmin Lambot rode it at a 14.97 mph (24.1 km/h) speed.

That was the first Tour de France edition after a four-year hiatus caused by World War I. The riders had to cycle along shelled roads through areas that served as battlefields just months earlier.

That said, it’s no surprise that it took Lambot more than 231 hours to complete the race. It doesn’t seem impressive, but at least he finished the race – most other riders decided to quit earlier. In fact, only Lambot and ten others completed the 1919 race.

Three years later, however, Lambot did much better. He passed the finish line in Paris after 222 hours, winning his second tour de France. He was 36 years and four months old when he did it, which makes him the oldest rider ever to win this event.

(Dis)Honorable Mention – Lance Armstrong

From 1999 to 2005, American cyclist Lance Armstrong won seven consecutive Tour de France races. In 2012, however, the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) stripped him of all titles after it became clear he was using forbidden performance-enhancing drugs.

Armstrong, however, wasn’t the only one who owed his Tour de France success to “juicing.” The difference is that many others did it while doping was tolerated. It may seem strange, but doping was not illegal until well into the 1960s.

So, how many Tour de France winners were stripped of their titles? Armstrong is the best example, but a few other champs also lost their titles.

Alberto Contador, who had won three Tour de France titles, ended up with just two after it was revealed he was using banned substances during the 2008 race. The same happened to Floyd Landis two years earlier.

Be sure to visit the best Tour de France betting sites for gambling tips on your future bets.

Zarko Naric
Zarko Naric

Zarko Naric – the World's Greatest Sportswriter, according to his grandma.

Zarko started writing for GamblingSites.com in 2019, covering sports like soccer, tennis, and basketball,  as well as some more niche sports like cycling, for example.

In addition to writing news, picks, and blog pieces focused on sports, Zarko’s also been covering politics, TV/music contests, and so on.

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