Tour de France: six memorable moments

Which is your favourite moment in the Tour de France? It's a difficult question to answer.

Like many a Tour nut, I love reading stories and watching archival footage of fabled moments of more than a century of race drama. Eugene Christophe welding his broken forks mid-race. Jacques Anquetil and Raymond Poulidor shouldering it out in the mountains. Greg LeMond's narrowest-ever winning margin

But the times that really resonate with me are the ones I watched live. So, as the Men of July battle it out in France, here are six of my favourite moments in the years leading up to this 102nd edition of La Grande Boucle. 

Hushovd, mountain man

The Tour got very real for me in 2009 when I went as a spectator. Headline-wise, it was the year of Astana dominance and the stand-off between Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong, including the famous splitting of the bunch on stage 3. But from the roadside, my sweetest moment was two weeks later, when Thor Hushovd decided to erase all doubt about his ownership of the sprinter's jersey after his rival, Mark Cavendish, was docked points on an earlier stage. Hushovd attacked in the mountains, gobbling up intermediate sprint points, and the sight of the Norseman in green storming past me up the Col de Saisies - captured above by another spectator - is one I'll never forget. 

Schleck's dropped chain

Sometimes, you only find out about great moments long after they've occurred – such as The Legend of Jens Voigt and the Tiny Bike. After crashing out the year before, Voigt's determination to make it to Paris in 2010 saw him do some 20 kilometres on a borrowed bike built for a child. I must have watched this video of him telling the tale half a dozen times. But the biggest drama of that year was probably "Chain-gate" – when Andy Schleck, in the yellow jersey, had a mechanical problem on stage 15 but Contador rode on. The debate about tradition and ethics continued to Paris, where Contador mounted the top step – only to later lose his place to Schleck due to a doping sanction.

Evans' emphatic victory

Finally, an Australian winner of the Tour in 2011. But which was the moment that encapsulated Cadel Evans' victory? His pursuit of Schleck on the Galibier? The coronation on the Champs-Elysees? For me, it was the final time trial. After coming up short in his race to catch Carlos Sastre in the TT in 2008, Evans smashed it three years later, as Australian fans went from suspense to euphoria. And that shrug of the shoulders as he crossed the line seconds shy of Tony Martin's mark … he wanted the stage, too.

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Wiggins and Froome

One year later, and it was Britain's turn to celebrate their first winner, as the Sky team stamped its authority on France's famous race. But what of the dynamic between Bradley Wiggins and his lean lieutenant, Chris Froome (and their partners on social media)? With some two minutes separating them, Froome was called back via race radio after surging ahead of his captain on the summit finish of La Toussuire. Six days later on the climb up Peyragudes, a lively-looking Froome was urging Wiggins on, while Alejandro Valverde was unchallenged for the stage.

Fighting the crosswinds

The 100th edition of the Tour in 2013 had a feast of moments, good and bad. The emerging talents of Nairo Quintana and Marcel Kittel, Orica GreenEdge's winning team time trial and retention of the yellow jersey for four days, eventual winner Froome's mountain dominance and the controversial clash between Cavendish and Tom Veelers. But stage 13 was one of the most gripping of the tour, as a hellish crosswind split the peloton into angled bunches fighting for survival. Who said flat stages are boring?

Cobbles and crashes

There's something weird about sitting on a comfy couch in a warm loungeroom, watching the best cyclists in the world put themselves through mile upon mile of misery. That, for me, was last year's stage 5. Cobbles were on the menu, then rain got added, and the world watched as defending champion Froome crashed, then crashed again, and made an inauspicious departure from the tour in a team car. The big winner on the day was Vincenzo Nibali, who built his advantage into the biggest overall victory margin this century.

TdF 2015

And what about this year? Already, we've seen yellow jersey holder Fabian Cancellara abandon with fractures in his back in a bunch crash so severe that officials paused the race. Who knows what else will happen in the stages to come? But for me, the inclusion of MTN-Qhubeka – a team based in Africa, with two Eritrean riders lining up – is already one of the key moments of 2015, as an event that began as a domestic endurance challenge more than a century ago continues to spread its influence around the world.  

What are your most memorable Tour de France moments - recent or all-time? Let us know in the comments below.

Fairfax journalist Michael O'Reilly will join Al Hinds and Anthony Tan for an SBS Cycling Central podcast released every Thursday afternoon during the Tour.  

Follow Michael on Twitter or Facebook, email him or read more of his blogs.

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