By Barry Boyce, CyclingRevealed



Top 25 All Time Tours #24

1976- Van Impe Trades Polka Dot for Yellow

Defending champion Bernard Thevenet came to the Tour de France (TdF) with less than ideal racing form. Five-time champion Eddy Merckx was recovering from surgery and under doctor's orders reluctantly chose not to race. Belgian climber Lucien Van Impe, Dutchman Joop Zoetemelk, and 40 year old veteran Raymond Poulidor all laid claim to a place on the pre-race list of favorites.

Former racer Cyrille Guimard returned to the TdF in 1976, as a team director of Van Impe's Gitane team. Guimard's strategic plan would play a large role in the story of the 1976 Tour.

Zoetemelk was the first climber to step forward with a very hard tempo on the climb to Alpe d'Huez. He shook everyone except Lucien Van Impe. Guimard's plan was to match, not attack, the talented Dutch climber. Zoetemelk nipped Van Impe for the stage win over 2 minutes ahead of their main rivals. Van Impe's time gain gave him the race lead and Zoetemelk was now second.

Van Impe held a slim 7-second lead in the overall classification as the Tour left the Alps. The Pyrenees Mountain stages would be critical to the final determination of this year's Tour.

The climbing stages continued in the Pyrenees Mountains. Peugeot's Raymond Delisle (Fra) attacked the peloton at the top of the first climb on stage 12. Guimard ordered Van Impe not to chase, but to stay with Zoetemelk. Delisle continued to push the lead group up the finishing climb of the Pyrenees 2000. The group of the Maillot Jaune never mounted a serious chase. Van Impe and Zoetemelk rolled up to the finish line almost 7 minute behind stage winner Delisle. Van Impe relinquished the race lead.

The penultimate mountain stage 14 had four major climbs and finished at the top of St. Lary Soulan/Pla d'Adet. It was here that Guimard's master plan became evident. He ordered Van Impe to attack Zoetemelk on the first climb of the day. Van Impe was reluctant to attack so early on the hard stage and was scolded by Guimard. Respecting his director's order, the Belgian climber attacked. Zoetemelk, new race leader Delisle, and Poulidor did not react to the foolhardy, early move and Van Impe rolled away. On the Col du Peyresourde, the third climb of the day, Van Impe caught a 5-rider breakaway group and gained a 2-minute lead on the race leader's chasing group. Zoetemelk now realized the urgency of the situation and started to work on a solo chase. Through the valley leading to the climb of Pla d'Adet, Van Impe worked smoothly with the breakaway group, while Zoetemelk chased alone. An inspired Van Impe, climbing aggressively, dropped the final two riders in the break and rode alone to the finish. A hard charging Zoetemelk passed the remnants of the original breakaway and finished second on the stage, but was 3'14” behind. Race leader Raymond Delisle cracked on the final climb and rolled in 12'08” behind. Van Impe was back in the Maillot Jaune.

Zoetemelk had one final chance to take time back from Van Impe on the fabled, finishing climb of the Puy de Dome . Van Impe held a 4'33” lead on the Dutchman and merely needed to avoid disaster to claim the Tour victory. True to form, Zoetemelk set a brutal pace up the steep climb, but the effort could not crack Van Impe. Zoetemelk did get the stage win but the time gain was only 12 seconds. Lucien Van Impe rode down the Champs Elysees in Paris for his first Tour de France victory. Guimard's master plan in the Pyrenees Mountains had paid big dividends.

Race Notes: The very popular Frenchman Raymond “Pou Pou” Poulidor rode a great race as he bid farewell to the Tour at the age of 40. During his career “Pou Pou” started 14 Tours (1962-70, 1972-76), and finished on the podium a record 8 times (3 seconds, 5 thirds). Unfortunately, for such a talented rider, he never won the overall Tour. Amazingly, he never had the honor of wearing the Maillot Jaune for even a stage. Poulidor joined the company of two superb riders Eugene Christophe and Rene Vietto as “eternal seconds.”

TdF 1976 Recap

Stage and Distance

Stage Winner

Race Leader

Prologue ST JEAN DE MONTS, 8 km ITT Freddy Maertens (Bel) Freddy Maertens (Bel)
Stage 1 ST JEAN DE MONTS - ANGERS, 173 km Freddy Maertens (Bel) Freddy Maertens (Bel)
Stage 2 ANGERS - CAEN, 237 km Giovanni Battaglin (Ita) Freddy Maertens (Bel)
Stage 3 LE TOUQUET PARIS PLAGE, 37 km ITT Freddy Maertens (Bel) Freddy Maertens (Bel)
Stage 4 LE TOUQUET - BORNEM, 258 km Hennie Kuiper (Ned) Freddy Maertens (Bel)
Stage 5b LOUVAIN - VERVIERS, 144 km Miguel - Maria Lasa (Esp) Freddy Maertens (Bel)
Stage 6 BASTOGNE - NANCY, 209 km Aldo Parecchini (Ita) Freddy Maertens (Bel)
Stage 7 NANCY - MULHOUSE, 206 km Freddy Maertens (Bel) Freddy Maertens (Bel)
Stage 8 VALENTIGNEY - DIVONNE LES BAINS, 220 km Jacques Esclassan (Fra) Freddy Maertens (Bel)
Stage 9 DIVONNE LES BAINS - ALPE D'HUEZ,258 km Joop Zoetemelk (Ned) Lucien Van Impe (Bel)
Stage 10 BOURG D'OISANS - MONTGENEVRE, 166 km Joop Zoetemelk (Ned) Lucien Van Impe (Bel)
Stage 11 MONTGENEVRE - MANOSQUE, 224 km Jose-Luis Viejo (Esp) Lucien Van Impe (Bel)
Stage 12 PORT BARCARES - PYRENEES 2000, 206 km Raymond Delisle (Fra) Raymond Delisle (Fra)
Stage 13 FONT ROMEU - ST GAUDENS, 188 km Willy Teirlinck (Bel) Raymond Delisle (Fra)
Stage 14 ST GAUDENS - ST LARY SOULAN, 139 km Lucien Van Impe (Bel) Lucien Van Impe (Bel)
Stage 15 ST LARY SOULAN - PAU, 195 km Wladimiro Panizza (Ita) Lucien Van Impe (Bel)
Stage 16 PAU - FLEURANCE, 152 km Michel Pollentier (Fra) Lucien Van Impe (Bel)
Stage 17 FLEURANCE - AUCH, 38.8 km ITT Ferdinand Bracke (Bel)

Lucien Van Impe (Bel)

Stage 18a AUCH - LANGON, 86 km Freddy Maertens (Bel) Lucien Van Impe (Bel)
Stage 18b LANGON - LACANAU OCEAN, 123 km Freddy Maertens (Bel) Lucien Van Impe (Bel)
Stage 18c LACANAU OCEAN - BORDEAUX, 70 km Gerben Karstens (Ned) Lucien Van Impe (Bel)
Stage 19 STE FOY LA GRANDE - TULLE, 219 km Hubert Mathis (Fra)

Lucien Van Impe (Bel)

Stage 20 TULLE - PUY DE DOME, 220 km Joop Zoetemelk (Ned) Lucien Van Impe (Bel)
Stage 21 MONTARGIS - VERSAILLES, 145 km Freddy Maertens (Bel) Lucien Van Impe (Bel)
Stage 22a PARIS/Champs Elysees, 6 km ITT Freddy Maertens (Bel) Lucien Van Impe (Bel)
Stage 22b PARIS/Champs Elysees, 91 km Gerben Karstens (Ned) Lucien Van Impe (Bel)

Lucien Van Impe (Bel)

Giancarlo Bellini (Ita)

Freddy Maertens (Bel)

Starters: 130


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