1975 Bernard Thevenet, the Climber Who Beat the Dominant Merckx as He Sought His Unprecedented Sixth Straight Championship
In 1975, Merckx sought to win his sixth straight Tour de France, a feat that nobody had accomplished before.
But the crown went to a local Frenchman who got in the way: Bernard Thevenet.
Remembered as the athlete who put a stop to Merckx’s golden age, Thevenet, with his long sideburns, had a distinctive look that did not come off as that of a climber.
That year, the maillot blanc (meaning “white jersey”) was introduced as a new prize given to the rider under 25 years of age with the best overall performance.
Although it was only his first Tour de France, Francesco Moser won the new award, and also donned the maillot jaune until Stage 5.
The young upstart threw Merckx the champion’s strategy into disarray. Merckx posted the best time in the individual time trial for Stage 6 and kept the maillot jaune until Stage 14. It was then, after a rest day in Nice, that trouble came on the next five mountainous stages.
Pra Loup, the goal at the summit, was where the changing of the guard took place. At the beginning of the climb, Thevenet was over a minute behind, but he overtook Merckx to gain a lead of 1 minute 58 seconds by the time he reached the peak to take the maillot jaune.
The next day, during Stage 16, riders followed a short but tough 107-km course through two passes in the Alps.
Thevenet, wearing the yellow jersey, attacked on the second half of the Col d’Izoard to widen his lead against Merckx and ensure his victory in the general classification.
Then, at the Champs-Elysees, which was made the final finish line for the first time that year, President Giscard d’Estaing and 500,000 others were waiting to witness the birth of a long-awaited French champion.
Without Two Pieces of Bad Luck, Would Merckx Have Won His Sixth Straight Tour de France?
The winner of the previous year’s World Cycling Championships wearing the maillot arc-en-ciel (“rainbow jersey”) was a nearly 30-year-old Merckx.
His power was far from declining, and he maintained good performance in the classic race serving as the runup
to the Tour de France. Few fans doubted Merckx would win his sixth Tour.
However, he had two pieces of bad luck.
During Stage 14, near the peak of the Puy de Dome lava dome,
a spectator punched Merckx in the kidney. By the time the stage was over, he was out of breath.Therapeutic medicine reduced his cardiorespiratory capacity, an effect Merckx struggled with until the end of the Tour.
Then, right before the start of the race in Stage 17,
Merckx collided with another cyclist as they rode up to the starting line in front of spectators.
Merckx fell on his face and broke his cheekbone. After having it set with wire, he continued racing.
Unable to chew, Merckx could not eat properly and he ended up finishing second. You would think that after experiencing such bad fortune, he would blame the violent spectator or the rider who collided with him, but Merckx said,
“The strongest man is the one who wins. So Thevenet was the strongest.”
He was a king of the sport, but also a great human being.
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