The 1987 Tour de France was the 74th edition of the race….while taking place from July 1st to 26th….and consisted of 25 stages over 4,231 km (2,629 mi)….which provided the closest three-way finish in the Tour until the 2007 Tour de France….and was won by Stephen Roche….the first and so far only Irishman to do so….as the winner of the 1986 Tour de France, Greg LeMond was unable to defend his title following a shooting accident in April prior to the race. Following Stage 1, Poland’s Lech Piasecki became the first rider from the Eastern Bloc to lead the Tour de France. He was one of eight different men to wear yellow, a new record for the Tour.
The prologue was won by specialist Jelle Nijdam…as none of the favorites lost much time. The second place in the prologue was for Polish cyclist Lech Piasecki….and when he was part of a break-away in the first stage that won a few seconds….as he became the new leader in the general classification….who kept his lead in the team time trial of stage 2….but lost it in the 3rd stage when a break-away gained several minutes….as Erich Maechler became the new leader…..which he kept through stage 9.
The mass-start stages were dominated by breakaways of cyclists who were not considered relevant for the final victory….as 6th placed Charly Mottet was the only cyclist in the top 15 who had real chances of finishing high. The tenth stage was an individual time trial and the first real test for the favorites….which was won by Stephen Roche….with Mottet in second place…..as he became the new leader of the general classification. After a successful escape in the eleventh stage, Martial Gayant became the new leader. The twelfth stage ended in a bunch sprint that did not change the general classification. The Tour arrived in the Pyrenees in the thirteenth stage…..as non-climbers, such as Gayant, lost more than fifteen minutes ….which meant the non-climbers were removed from the top positions of the general classification….with the new top three being Mottet, Bernard and Roche….all of whom were serious contenders for the final victory.
The eighteenth stage was an individual time trial with a finish on the Mont Ventoux….which was won with a great margin by Jean-François Bernard….who became the new leader of the general classification….as well as the new hope of the French cycling fans. Bernard was a good climber and good at time-trials…. plus, he had the support of a good team…..so, he had a good chance of staying the leader until the end of the race….but already in the next stage, Bernard lost considerable time…..as he had a flat tire just before the top of a climb….thus losing contact with the other riders while he had to wait for repairs….which required expending lots of energy to get back in the race….to which his rivals Mottet and Roche had made a plan to attack in the feed zone where cyclists could get their lunch…..since Mottet and Roche had packed extra food at the start of the stage….and attacked while Bernard was at the back of the peloton. Bernard chased them, but was not able to get back to them and lost four minutes in that stage….which made Roche the new leader….who was closely followed by Mottet and Delgado. In the twentieth stage, the riders went through the Alps to finish on the Alpe d’Huez…..when Roche finished in fifteenth place and lost the lead to Delgado.
The pivotal stage was stage 21….wherein the first part of this stage, the Colombian cyclists of the “Cafe de Colombia” team….which included Luis Herrera and Fabio Parra….who were fifth and sixth in the general classification….maintained a high pace causing many cyclists to drop back considerable….so, Roche, Delgado and Mottet decided to work together to get rid of the Colombian cyclists on the descent of the Galibier….mainly out of fear that Herrera and Parra would leave them behind in the next climbs. Their plan worked, but Delgado’s teammates were also dropped….so, Roche saw this opportunity and escaped….while climbing the Madeleine in a small breakaway group. Somewhat later, Delgado’s team got back to Delgado and together they chased Roche….who they caught just before the climb of La Plagne. Roche then anticipated that Delgado would keep attacking on the climb….and knowing Delgado was the better climber….Roche decided he would not follow Delgado’s attack. …but instead, he let Delgado get away until the margin was one minute….thus giving Delgado the impression that he could safely save energy for the next stages….then at the last part of the stage…..Mottet gave it everything he had to reduce the margin….as Roche followed that tactic….which confused not only Delgado….but also the commentators and the Tour organisation…..as Roche finished a few seconds behind Delgado….and after the finish he collapsed and was given an oxygen mask in an ambulance.
Roche was only 39 seconds behind Delgado in the general classification and could still win the Tour….but it depended on if he could recover in time for the 22nd stage….which included the last serious climb of the Tour….so Delgado had his final opportunity to gain time on Roche and he attacked….however, Roche was able to come back to Delgado twice….then, Roche attacked, and Delgado could not keep up. Roche won back 18 seconds on Delgado….so he had reduced his margin to 21 seconds….and being a talented time-trial specialist….he knew that he could easily make up for it on the penultimate stage….which was an individual time trial at Dijon. Indeed, Roche won almost a minute on Delgado….and this was enough to secure the overall win….as this time trial was actually won by Jean-François Bernard….who finished the Tour in third place….so, if Bernard had not lost four minutes after the flat tire in the nineteenth stage….he would have won the Tour…..but as grand pappy used to always say….“If ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ were candy and nuts….we’d all have a merrier Christmas.” but any way you cut this pie….this is one outstanding Tour de France that is worth the price of any ticket…..especially this one.