Football news is a little slow, but that doesn’t mean the action here stops. The Tour de France is in full swing, and while cycling is not the most popular of sports in the U.S., it doesn’t mean that it’s not a big deal. After today’s stage 5, Lance Armstrong stands in 2nd place overall, a mere second behind the 1st place leader. The Tour is arguably one of the most grueling competitions in all of sports. It lasts three weeks, covering distances of 100+ miles per day, or in the time trials, pushes riders as hard as they can go for a solid 20 minutes. It’s a sport with a lot of history and great competitors. Bicycling.com has put together a list of the “Top 20 Tour Riders” to ever participate in the race. I’m going to share their list and descriptions of the riders from 10 down. Then, I’ll compare them to a mainstream sports athlete (past or present) Here goes:
10. Laurent Jalabert
While he was never a contender for the yellow jersey, Frenchman Laurent Jalabert earned a reputation as one of the most versatile riders in modern cycling. In unprecedented manner, Jalabert twice won the green points jersey, awarded to the best all-around sprinter and he twice won the polka-dot jersey for best climber. So why did he never win the Tour you ask? No one –not even Jalabert — seems to know.
Athlete: Carl Yastrzemski (Boston Red Sox)
Yastrzemski did it all for the Red Sox during his 23 year run with the team. Too bad he played for them during their 80+ year Championship draught. Yaz was an 18 time all star, earned 7 Gold Gloves, and is a member of 3,000 hit club. So why didn’t he ever win the Championship? Oh yeah – The Curse.
9. Frederico Bahamontes
This Spaniard defined the pure climber. And for years he defined Spanish cycling. Erratic and emotional, he could sprint to the top of a climb, simply so he’d have time to stop for an ice cream. Or he could drop out of the race, bored by flat stages. But Bahomontes, who grabbed the best-climber award six times, finally struck it big by winning the Tour outright in 1959.
Athlete: Brett Favre (Packers/Jets/?)
Like Bahomontes, Favre is very emotional and often time erratic on the field. While Favre never physically quit, many have called him out for mentally quitting. It was not unusual for him to throw 3-4 picks in one game even if he had 4 TDs and no INTs the week before. Even though his play was unpredictable, he finally struck it big by winning Super Bowl XXXI.
8. Erick Zabel
Established in 1953, the green points jersey is sometimes known as the sprinter’s jersey, because to win this jersey riders sprint for points throughout the three-week Tour. But quite often the fastest pure sprinters do not win this coveted prize because they are unable to contest any sprints on the mountain stages. German rider Erik Zabel has proven to be the ideal rider for such a prize. Not the fastest sprinter-that title generally went to Italy’s Mario Cipollini-Zabel nevertheless is the most versatile sprinter, and such qualities won him the green points jersey six times, more than any other rider in the history of the event.
Athlete: Michael Phelps (U.S. Olympic Swimmer)
Pretty much each race in the sport of swimming is a sprint and there’s no question Phelps is the most versitile sprinter around. He’s won 14 gold medals in races of various distances and swimming styles.
7. Raymond Poulidor
“The Eternal Second” never won the Tour de France, and he never even wore the yellow jersey. But he is remembered as one of its champions –its greatest loser –because he won the heart of French fans. Always a contender, never a winner, Poulidor is remembered as the down home alter ego to city slick Jacques Anquetil. And even at the end of his career he could be found giving Eddy Merckx a fight. Great champions, it is said, are defined by those they beat. And Poulidor always pushed them to a higher level.
Athlete: John Stockton (Utah Jazz)
Despite going to the NBA Finals twice in his long career, Stockton came up just short of becoming a champion himself. He became known as one of the greatest point guards to ever play the game, and won over the Mormons people of Utah with his work ethic and boyish charm. He was the timeless classic, even wearing thigh high shorts until he retired in 2003. Even towards the end of his career he could be found giving Michael Jordan a fight.
6. Philippe Tys
The Belgian would likely have won many more Tours. But he had to wait out World War I before he could return to win his third Tour de France in 1920. Known for his Herculean training routine, Thys defined the new kind of all-around rider, who could do a little of everything from climbing to sprinting to time trialing to rolling out big miles, that would win the Tour now that the high mountains of the Pyrenees and Alpes were a common feature.
Athlete: Derek Jeter (N.Y. Yankees)
This Yankee can likely win many more titles, but he has to wait out the title “draught” that the Yankees are in. Jeter is arguably one of the greatest all around ball players. His fielding is always exciting, and he’s clutch in the batters box. He will win another one soon.
5. Miguel Indurain
Big Mig broke the mold in many ways. In a country known for its great climbers, Indurain showed he could be an even better time trialer. Using a strategy that essentially called for not losing time in the mountains, then crushing everyone in the time trials, he became the first consecutive five-time winner by rarely attacking. His personality was as sedate, and unflappable, as his riding style.
Athlete: Tim Duncan (San Antonio Spurs)
Duncan was born in the U.S. Virgin Islands. In an area known for swimming, Duncan showed that he could be an even better basketball player. Routinely using a strategy that calls for bank shots, Duncan has brought the fundamentals back to the game. He’s not the most physical center in the league and like Indurain, his personality is very sedate.
4. Bernard Hinault
After Jacques Anquetil and eddy Merckx, Frenchman Hinault became the third five-time winner in the Tour. The volatile rider was a relentless fighter, earning himself the nickname, “The Badger.” But Hinault was also a master time trialer, a master tactician, and a master of the mental game.
Athlete: Peyton Manning (Indianapolis Colts)
Manning is a master of the huddle, a master behind center, and a master of the mental game. Like Hinault, he’s a true winner that isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty.
3. Jacques Anquetil
Master Jacques was the first five-time winner in the Tour. Using his stellar time trialing skills, he steamrolled his competition, in particular Raymond Poulidor. Anquetil represented the chic urban style of mod Paris (little matter that he actually lived in Rouen) and he reveled in his playboy image.
Athlete: Sean Avery (New York Rangers)
Avery is a talented hockey player but I draw the comparison to Anquetil for his playboy image. Avery took a summer internship with Vogue magazine because of his interest in fashion. He has been linked to many high profile women, and pretty much defines the term “urban chic” for males.
2. Eddy Merckx
The Belgian was clearly the greatest champion of his generation. From the moment he entered his first Tour, which he won in dominating fashion, he showed that he would be the man to beat for years to come. He destroyed his competition in 1969 and continued to do so until 1975 — but unlike modern heroes such as Miguel Indurain and Lance Armstrong, the Tour was just one more race Merckx won throughout the entire year; he raced a full calendar, from January to November, and won nearly every major race many times over. They did not call him the Cannibal for nothing.
Athlete: Michael Jordan (Chicago Bulls)
After winning his first NBA title, Jordan showed that he would dominate the league for years. He won 6 titles during his career and is regarded as the greatest player to ever play the game. There’s a reason why his logo is on many Nike products, and there’s a reason why there are Eddy Merckx bikes for sale.
1. Lance Armstrong
With seven Tour titles, Armstrong is the race’s ultimate champion. The American transcended the Tour with the story first of his heroic comeback from cancer then of his outright refusal to lose until he decided it was time to retire — but he also understood that his career, and his comeback was defined by the Tour de France. Attacking the race with unmatched discipline, he redefined how cyclists prepare for it. Entire training camps were devoted to the Tour and the team built solely to support Armstrong in the chase for yellow. He responded time and again, be it in the mountain or the time trials, by simply being the best, seven time running.
Athlete: Tiger Woods (Golf)
With 68 PGA Tour wins, Tiger is behind Sam Snead and Jack Nicklaus, respectively, for the most PGA Tour wins, and yet he’s only been playing for 14 years. When it’s all said and done, Tiger will be the best golfer this world has seen just like Armstrong is the best cyclist this world has seen. Tiger’s father, Earl Woods, died after a battle with prostate cancer in 2006. Tiger took 9 weeks off and then returned to win the U.S. Open Championship. Tiger has redefined what preparation is from a professional golfer’s standpoint. He spends countless hours on the course, studying his swing, working out (ahem, John Daly), and seeking advice.
Kim Constantinesco is Predominantly Orange’s lead blogger. Subscribe to her RSS feed.