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Le Tour '07: The One Offs

Last year, for the first time in eons, the Tour de France field consisted of no former winners (once Jan Ullrich was sent home), and until Floyd Landis is pronounced guilty, this year will be the second such event. With the Tour peloton roiled by doping and natural turnover, we're in a rare phase where there are seemingly no characters poised to dominate.

For years we watched Lance, and before him Indurain, with a couple of major protagonists (Ullrich and Pantani) sandwiched in between. Now, after a steady diet of stars, we're left watching guys whose Tour potential is at best unsettled. And unless Alejandro Valverde reaches the heights people are predicting, we may be in a phase where the Tour is routinely won by one-off maillot jaunes.

This made me think it would be fun to take a brief look back at the one-time winners in the post war era. So here goes:

Jean Robic 1947
Kept the jersey warm for Bartali and Coppi, neither of whom made it to the 1947 edition. Robic was the big fish in the small pond of post-war Cycling: the closest thing to a recognizable name from the 1947 GC is Jean Kirchen of Luxembourg... surely some modern day bloodlines?

Ferdi Kübler 1950
Beat an aging Gino Bartali, and Coppi was absent. Kübler was a World Champion and a Classics rider who also won the green jersey in 1954.

Hugo Koblet 1951
Unlike his countryman Kübler, Koblet was a grand tour rider, and he earned his one Tour win by beating Coppi head to head. He also won the 1950 Giro, 3 Tours de Suisse, and some other classics. Died mysteriously in a car crash in 1964.

Roger Walkowiak 1956
One of the legendary Tours, and a blueprint for Oscar Pereiro's "win". Walko gained 18 minutes in an early breakaway to take yellow; then lost it; then won it back in the penultimate climbs where he lost 8 minutes to Charly Gaul while others lost 16 minutes. Anquetil hadn't arrived and nobody else could catch this decent all-rounder. Walko was once 2nd in the Dauphine, but never better than 47th in Tour otherwise. Everyone either loved or hated him for his gutty but, um, unscripted win.

Charly Gaul 1958
The Angel of the Mountains. Gaul was a climbing specialist, and competent enough in grand tours to win the Giro, twice. Two maillot pois wins as well. Crashed out a few times.

Federico Bahamontes, 1959
The Eagle of Toledo (nicknames were really cool back then). Bahamontes was a six times KOM winner! A record that meant something before Virenque emerged and turned it into a prize for the best climber among the riders that none of the GC men would ever bother chasing down. Anyway, Bahamontes was a star, taking two other Tour podiums and a Vuelta win, in the highly competitive, pre-Anquetil era.

Gastone Nencini 1960
The Lion of Mugella also won the 1957 Giro, plus Maillot Pois in the same year. Other minor placings to his name... he was a fine climber, but it should be noted that Anquetil sat in 1960.

Felice Gimondi 1965
The Phoenix won all 3 grand tours, including 3 Giros, plus a rainbow jersey and other classics. But in 1965, before this distinguished career, he was a last-minute substitute riding the Tour for the first time. He dethroned the absent Anquetil with three stage wins, beating Raymond Poulidor (a.k.a. Pou-pou, a.k.a. "eternal second").

Lucien Aimar 1966
The next Walkowiak? Aimar was an Anquetil domestique who got the jersey in an early breakaway, and Anquetil helped him keep it away from Pou-pou, whom he hated. Not good times: the entire peloton except Poupou fled rumored doping tests at a hotel before they could take place, and staged a brief protest.

Roger Pingeon 1967
Pingeon was a competent grand tour rider, winning two Vueltas too, and beat other past and future maillot jaunes Janssen, Aimar, Polidor, and Gimondi... before Merckx. Also not good times: this edition of the Tour is known mostly for Tom Simpson's collapse.

Jan Janssen 1968
A sprinter wins! Janssen's win is truly a unique moment in Tour history, though it should be noted Janssen also won a Vuelta. But he was a classics champ, with things like Paris-Roubaix and a world title in his palmares. Snatched le Tour from Herman Van Brinckel in last-stage time trial by 38 seconds overall. Few famous Tour names were participating in 1968... but Janssen's victory ended this brief era of one-offs before Merckx took over.

Luis Ocaña 1973
Won with Merckx sitting out the Tour after being asked to do so, part of the long antipathy between the race and the Cannibal. Anyway, Ocaña was often Merckx's main rival, even though Merckx usually got the best of him. He was a climbing specialist, but in 1973 he won every stage that mattered -- 4 climbs, 2 ITTs -- and took the overall win by almost 16 minutes.

Lucien Van Impe 1976
With no more Merckx, this classic "Man of the Tour" won six KOMs, and finished the Tour 15 times. Dueled with Joop Zoetemelk, won in Pyrenees. Several top 10s, handful of podiums.

Joop Zoetemelk 1980
In grand tours, Zoetemelk was a fitting rival to Van Impe, occasionally trading blows and otherwise matching each other's endurance: Zoetemelk owns the record by completing 16 Tours! Cycling4All calls him the eigth greatest cyclist of all time. He won the Tour, a Vuelta, several classics and the worlds--once each.

Stephen Roche 1987
His famous Triple Crown in '87 (Giro, Tour, Worlds) should tell you most of what you need to know. Knee tendinitis (red flags!) limited him most years.

Other recent one-offs: Pedro Delgado, Bjarne Riis, Jan Ullrich, Marco Pantani, Floyd Landis... see a pattern here? I don't need to chronicle these guys, both because they're all well known and littered with asterisks.