LeMond v Hinault - Alpe d'Huez 1986
Who can forgot the iconic image of these two warriors approaching the finish line at the summit of Alpe d'Huez, arm in arm in 1986. The story of the 86 Tour is nothing short of amazing. Both Hinault and LeMond were riding for the La Vie Claire team, but having helped Hinault to his fifth Tour victory in 1985, Hinault had publicly said he would do the same for LeMond in 86.
Once the race reached the second week though, Hinault clearly had different ideas and was sitting in the yellow jersey. The Tour reached the Alps in it's final week before LeMond finally manged to wrestle the yellow jersey away from Hinault on stage 17. Everything was set up perfectly for stage 18 to decide the race with a summit finish up the legendary Alpe d'Huez. Before they reached Alpe d'Huez the stage also saw ascents up Col du Galibier and Col de la Croix de Fer. Hinault attacked at every opportunity, at one point opening a huge lead over the rest of the field. LeMond realised he had to give chase, leaving everyone else trailing as he set off after his team mate.
At the foot of Alpe d'Huez the two riders were back together and over 5 minutes ahead of the chasing pack. It is here where we finally see the 2 men working together, Hinault telling Lemond to stay behind him while he negotiates his way through the huge crowds that were gathered all the way up the mountain. Hinault steadily guides them all the way to the finish where the two men finally embrace one another.
LeMond would go on to seal his first Tour de France victory before winning twice more in 1989 and 1990.
Armstrong v Pantani - Mont Ventoux 2000
History tells us that this duel up Ventoux may have had some pharmaceutical assistance, but at the time and even now looking back it was pretty incredible to watch. Armstrong was back at the Tour defending the title he won for the first time the previous year, Pantani was back after doing the Tour, Giro double in 1998 before failing a drug test at the 1999 Giro.
Armstrong was already in Yellow as the race reached stage 12 and was looking odds on to repeat his win from 12 months earlier. Pantani was out of contention for the GC win but was more than capable of claiming stage wins in the mountains.
At the lower slopes of Ventoux, Pantani mounted a trademark attack, flying away from the leading group and building a big lead in no time at all. With no one wanting to follow, Armstrong decided to chase down the Italian and set of in pursuit.
With the summit in site, Armstrong caught up to The Pirate and then immediately attacked again and again, trying to break Pantani. Pantani managed to respond each time and even mounted his own attacks on Armstrong.
As the pair approached the finish line Armstrong was slightly ahead only for Pantani to snatch victory with metres to spare. After the stage, Armstrong claimed to have given the win to Pantani. A comment that understandably caused much friction between the two.
A furious Pantani went on to win stage 15 in the mountains a few days later but Armstrong would hold the yellow all the way to Paris for a comfortable victory.
Stephen Roache - La Plagne 1987
The 1987 Tour de France gave us the only ever Irish winner of the race in Stephen Roach. Back then the Tour was a brutal 25 stages long with Roach not wearing yellow for the first time until after stage 19. With 6 stages still to go there was a lot of work to do! This was shown the very next day when Spaniard Pedro Delgado won the stage gaining 1m 44s over Roach and taking the yellow jersey.
The next day offered a summit finish at La Plagne. It was vital that Roach lost no more time on Delgado if he was to be in with a chance of winning the Tour.
Roach gambled and attacked early in the stage. The plan seemed to be working a charm until Delgado upped his tempo, slowly reeling Roach in then passing him and building a lead of 1m 25s on the road. Roach's dreams appeared to be over as the riders ascended La Plagne. Delgado maintained a steady pace all the way up the climb, unaware of what was unfolding behind him. Roach who had seemed done for at the foot of the climb pulled the ride of his life out of the bag, no one could believe their eyes as the camera panned down the road after Delgado had crossed the line to see Stephen Roach right there behind him. The legendary Phil Liggett's commentary is amazing, perfectly capturing the amazement and drama of the moment: “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!”
Exhausted as he crosses the line, Roach collapses to the floor and requires oxygen for some time. He was still 21 seconds down on Delgado in the GC but with a time trial to come 2 days later he was confident he had done enough.
Two days later Roach delivered, beating his rival by 61 seconds in the time trial, taking the yellow jersey and becoming the first Irish man to win the race.
Contador - Schleck - Col du Tourmalet 2010
Stage 17 of the 2010 Tour was brutal to say the least, taking the riders over the first category climbs of Col de Marie-Blanque and Col de Soulor before the mouth watering summit finish atop the hors category Col du Tourmalet.
Contador and Schleck had already shown themselves to be the strongest riders in the race, with Contador holding the lead over his younger rival. At the foot of the climb they distanced themselves from the leading group and began their duel up the mountain. Schleck repeatedly attacked the yellow jersey but Contador held firm bobbing up and down, dancing on the pedals out of the saddle as he so often did.
Schleck would take the stage win but could not do enough to gain back any time on the Spaniard. Contador would hold the yellow jersey all the way to Paris, winning what he thought would be his third Tour de France tittle, only for the victory to be taken away from him almost 2 years later after a failed drugs test.