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March 2006
   
 

By Barry Boyce, CyclingRevealed
Historian

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Top 25 All Time Tours #7

1975: Thevenet Exploits a Vulnerable Merckx

CR Timeline 1975 [also see Special Notes below]

Eddy “the Cannibal” Merckx entered the 1975 Tour de France in search of a record setting sixth championship. He had extensive preparation for the Tour including victories in the prestigious classics Milan-San Remo (Ita), Tour of Flanders (Bel), Liege-Bastogne-Liege (Bel), Amstel Gold (Ned). The defending champion seemed well prepared to face a talented list of contenders.

Young Italian star Francesco Moser won the prologue time trial In Charleroi (Bel) by two seconds over defending champion Eddy Merckx. Merckx and Moser battled through the first day of racing setting a torrid pace and gaining substantial time on most of the other contenders. Merckx had the fast paced race he wanted.

Merckx, the master of the race against the clock , beat Moser by 31 seconds on the 16 km individual time trial (ITT) on stage 6. He earned his first Maillot Jaune (race leader's Yellow Jersey) of 1975.

Bernard Thevenet quietly slipped into third place in the overall classification and seemed primed for a great battle with Merckx in the mountains. The Tour entered the famed “Circle of Death” (the hardest day in the Pyrenees Mountains ) on Stage 11 . The stage featured the climbs of the Col du Tourmalet and the Col d'Aspin before finishing at the top of the Pla d'Adet. At the bottom of the final 8 km climb to Pla d'Adet, Thevenet attacked and shattered the lead group. Merckx, Zoetemelk, Van Impe and Ocana struggled but answered the move. Dutchman Joop Zoetemelk launched the next attack soon after Thevenet was caught. An inspired Thevenet was the only one to respond and the two rode to the finish line alone. The Dutchman held on to gain a 6 second stage win ahead of Thevenet. Merckx struggled in with Van Impe, 55 seconds behind. Merckx managed to retain the Maillot Jaune, but the Cannibal showed his first sign of weakness in the mountains.

The finishing climb on the Puy de Dome (12 km, 7% gradient) was next on the schedule. The legendary giant of the Massif Central has provided the Tour with great drama over the years. This year's battle will write another chapter in Tour history. Just over 4 kilometers up the finishing climb, Thevenet charged off the front with Van Impe in tow. The two slowly pulled away from Merckx and Zoetemelk. The race leader, trying to limit his time loss, was forced to do all the work in pursuit of the breakaway. As Merckx closed the gap near the top of the climb, an angry, drunken fan jumped onto the road and delivered a punch to Merckx's kidney. Merckx staggered in pain and gasped for breath but continued to climb. The punch slowed the effort and he did not catch the breakaway. Gallantly Merckx held on to finish third, 34 seconds behind Thevenet. The Frenchman cut into the overall lead and trailed Merckx by only 58 seconds as the Tour headed into the Alps .

After a rest day in Nice, the Tour continued with a 5-climb stage. On the Col des Champs, the third climb of the day, Thevenet repeatedly attacked in an effort to crack the race leader. Gamely Merckx was able to cover all of Thevenet's moves and launched an attack of his own on the descent. Thevenet managed to catch Merckx in the valley just before the Col d'Allos. The always-aggressive Merckx, searching for weakness, attacked again on the Allos. Over the top with a lead, he plunges down the descent. On the narrow bumpy road, Merckx took all the risks necessary to gain time. He sailed through the bottom of the descent with over a minute lead on the Thevenet led chasers. The Cannibal now sets his sights on the final climb to the top of Pra Loup. He had a 2-minute lead on the chasers as the road turned upward.

Merckx was 6 km from putting the race out of reach. However, the long breakaway effort had taken its toll and Merckx begins to slow. Gimondi was the first to catch the leader, then Thevenet, then Van Impe and Zoetemelk. The Frenchman sensed a weakness and sprinted by the tired race leader. Thevenet took the stage win by 1'58” over Merckx and gained the race lead.

Inspired by the Maillot Jaune, Thevenet attacked on the next stage and rode away from the Merckx group on the classic climb of the Col d'Izoard. He rode alone to win his second stage in a row. Thevenet's win and time gain widen the gap to the now second placed Merckx to 3'20”. There was still one climbing stage remaining in the Alps and Merckx need time gains.

Eddy Merckx has one intention at the start of stage 17 in Valloire, get back the Maillot Jaune. Merckx launched an all-out attack from the starting line, 225km from the finish at the top of the Col d'Avoriaz. Misfortune struck early when Merckx slid and crashed heavily. Although injured, he quickly remounted his bicycle and continued the race. His injuries include a bruised hip and knee, as well as a broken jaw, but he continued to ride hard. Although struggling to breathe, he refused treatment. By the end of the stage, the injured Cannibal finished third, 2 second ahead of Thevenet. The “never say die” Belgian was fighting all adversities to the end.

Gamely Merckx gained another 15 seconds on the final ITT in Chatel, but the finish in Paris was only four flat stages away. When the Tour reached the final stage, Thevenet had an insurmountable 2'47” lead on Merckx and cruised down the Champs Elysees for his first Tour de France victory. Gracious in defeat the second placed Merckx said, “I tried everything and it didn't work. It's always the strongest that wins, and the strongest is Thevenet.” The winner returned the compliment saying, “Tell me who was second to you and I will tell you the value of your victory.”

The first ever winner of the climber's Maillot Pois (Polka Dot Jersey) was Belgian Lucien Van Impe, who also finished third overall. [see Special Notes 2 below]

TdF 1975 Recap

Stage and Distance

Stage Winner

Race Leader

Prologue CHARLEROI (Bel), 6.3 km ITT

Francesco Moser (Ita)

Francesco Moser (Ita)

Stage 1a CHARLEROI-MOLENBEEK (Bel), 94 km

Cees Priem (Hol)

Francesco Moser (Ita)

Stage 1b MOLENBEEK (Bel)- ROUBAIX , 109 km

Rik Van Linden(Bel)

Francesco Moser (Ita)

Stage 2 ROUBAIX-AMIENS, 122 km

Ronald De Witte (Bel)

Francesco Moser (Ita)

Stage 3 AMIENS-VERSAILLES, 169 km

Karel Rottiers (Bel)

Francesco Moser (Ita)

Stage 4 VERSAILLES-LE MANS, 223 km

Jacques Esclassan (Fra)

Francesco Moser (Ita)

Stage 5 SABLE SUR SARTHE-MERLIN PLAGE, 222 km

Theo Smit (Hol)

Francesco Moser (Ita)

Stage 6 CIRCUIT MERLIN PLAGE, 16 km ITT

Eddy Merckx (Bel)

Eddy Merckx (Bel)

Stage 7 ST GILLES CROIX DE VIE-ANGOULEME, 235 km

Francesco Moser (Ita)

Eddy Merckx (Bel)

Stage 8 ANGOULEME-BORDEAUX, 134 km

Barry Hoban (GBr)

Eddy Merckx (Bel)

Stage 9a LANGON-FLEURANCE, 131 km

Theo Smit (Hol)

Eddy Merckx (Bel)

Stage 9b FLEURANCE-AUCH, 37 km ITT

Eddy Merckx (Bel)

Eddy Merckx (Bel)

Stage 10 AUCH-PAU, 206 km

Felice Gimondi (Ita)

Eddy Merckx (Bel)

Stage 11 PAU-ST LARY SOULAN, 160 km

Joop Zoetemelk (Hol)

Eddy Merckx (Bel)

Stage 12 TARBES-ALBI, 242 km

Gerrie Knetemann (Hol)

Eddy Merckx (Bel)

Stage 13 ALBI-SUPER-LIORAN, 260 km

Pollentier Michel (Bel)

Eddy Merckx (Bel)

Stage 14 AURILLAC-PUY DE DOME, 173 km

Lucien Van Impe (Bel)

Eddy Merckx (Bel)

Stage 15 NICE-PRA LOUP, 217 km

Bernard Thevenet (Fra)

Bernard Thevenet (Fra)

Stage 16 BARCELONNETTE-SERRE CHEVALIER, 107 km

Bernard Thevenet (Fra)

Bernard Thevenet (Fra)

Stage 17 VALLOIRE-MORZINE/Avoriaz, 225 km

Vicente Lopez-Carril (Spa)

Bernard Thevenet (Fra)

Stage 18 MORZINE-CHATEL, 40 km ITT

Lucien Van Impe (Bel)

Bernard Thevenet (Fra)

Stage 19 THONON les BAINS-CHALON sur SAONE , 229 km

Rik Van Linden(Bel)

Bernard Thevenet (Fra)

Stage 20 POUILLY EN AUXOIS-MELUN, 256 km

Giacinto Santambrogio (Ita)

Bernard Thevenet (Fra)

Stage 21 MELUN-SENLIS, 220 km

Rik Van Linden(Bel)

Bernard Thevenet (Fra)

Stage 22 CIRCUIT PARIS/Champs Elysees, 163 km

Walter Godefroot (Bel)

Bernard Thevenet (Fra)


Starters: 140

Finishers: 86

Distance: 3,996 km

Average: 34.899 km/h


Green Jersey :

1. Rik VAN LINDEN (Bel) 342 pts

2. Eddy Merckx (Bel) 240 pts

3. Francesco Moser (Ita) 199 pts


Polka-Dot Jersey :

(First year awarded to the Best Climber Category)

1. Lucien VAN IMPE (Bel) 285 pts

2. Eddy Merckx (Bel) 206 pts

3. Joop Zoetemelk (Hol) 171 pts

Special Notes: Three major innovations were introduced in 1975:

•  The Tour Ending Finish Line was Moved- Tour organizers recognized the increasing popularity of the “final stage spectacle” and moved the finish line from the Parisian velodrome finish ( Parc des Princes Velodrome 1903-1967, La Cipale Velodrome 1968-1974 ) to the Champs Elysees .

•  King of the Mountains- the Best Climber Category had been in place since 1933, but it was not until 1975 that organizers awarded a distinctive jersey to the best climber. The first Maillot Pois (Polka Dot Jersey) was sponsored by Poulain Chocolates. The candy company wanted increased public exposure for its products and jumped at the chance to sponsor a Tour jersey. The white jersey with red polka dots was chosen for the sponsor's distinctive candy bar wrapper. Over the years the Polka Dot Jersey has become the second most recognizable jersey in cycling.

•  Best Young Rider Prize- past awards of the Maillot Blanc (White Jersey) had meant the lead rider in the Combination Classification (best rider in the overall, points and climbing competitions). In 1975 the award of the Maillot Blanc was changed to the Best Young Rider Classification (less than 26 years of age). The classification was calculated the same as the Maillot Jaune (race leader's Yellow Jersey), but only available to young riders.

 

 

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