The 1987 Tour de France was the race’s 74th edition….which took place from July 1st thru 26th….and consisted of 25 stages over 4,231 km (2,629 mi)….which resulted in the closest three-way finish in the Tour until the 2007 Tour de France….and it was won by Stephen Roche….who was the first and only Irishman to do so….after the winner of the 1986 Tour de France, Greg LeMond….was unable to defend his title following a shooting accident in April.
The prologue was won by specialist Jelle Nijdam….as none of the favorites lost much time….while the second place in the prologue was for Poland’s Lech Piasecki….when he was part of a break-away in the first stage that won a few seconds….he became the new leader in the general classification….as the first time that an Eastern-European cyclist had ever led the Tour de France. Piasecki kept his lead in the team time trial of stage 2….but lost it in the third stage when a break-away gained several minutes….as Erich Maechler became the new leader….and kept the lead for several stages….while still leading after stage nine….but then the mass-start stages were dominated by breakaways of cyclists who were not considered relevant for the final victory….with 6th placed Charly Mottetwas the only cyclist in the top 15 who had any real chance of finishing high in the standings.
The tenth stage was an individual time trial….and the 1st real test for the favorites….which was won by Stephen Roche….with Mottet in second place….which meant that he became the new leader of the general classification. After a successful escape in the 11th stage….Martial Gayant became the new leader….The 12th stage ended in a group sprint that did not change the general classification….as the Tour arrived in the Pyrenees in the 13th stage….when non-climbers, such as Gayant lost more than 15 minutes… and so the non-climbers were removed from the top positions….with the new top three becoming Mottet, Bernard and Roche….all of whom were serious contenders for the final victory.
The 18th 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….and the new hope of the French cycling fans. Bernard was a good climber and a good time-trial racer….and had the support of a good team….so, he could be able to stay leader until the end of the race….but already in the next stage….Bernard had lost considerable time when he had a flat tire just before the top of a climb ….which caused him to lose contact with the other riders while he had to wait for repairs….thus having to spend energy to get back with the lead group….as his rivals, Mottet and Roche, had made a plan to attack when cyclists typically get their lunch in the feed zone….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….as 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, closely followed by Mottet and Delgado.
The riders went through the Alps in the 20th stage….while finishing on the Alpe d’Huez….as Roche finished in 15th place….and lost the lead to Delgado. The pivotal stage was the 21st….where in the first part of this stage the Colombian team of “Cafe de Colombia” team including Luis Herrera and Fabio Parra in 5th and 6th place kept a high pace….causing many cyclists to be dropped….wlhen Roche, Delgado and Mottet decided to work together to get rid of the Colombian cyclists on the descent of the Galibier….out of fear that Herrera and Parra would leave them behind in the next climbs…..as 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….when somewhat later, Delgado’s team got back to Delgado…. and together they chased Roche….catching him just before the climb of La Plagne….as 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 would let Delgado get away until the margin was one minute….giving Delgado the impression that he could safely save energy for the next stages….then at the last part of the stage….Roche gave it everything he had to reduce the margin. Roche followed that tactic, and confused not only Delgado, but also the commentators and the Tour organisation….as the Irishman 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….so, Roche 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…. as Roche won back 18 seconds on Delgado….so, he had reduced his margin to 21 seconds….for being a very talented time-trial racer….he knew that he could easily make up the 21 seconds during the penultimate stage….an individual time trial at Dijon….which Roche won almost a minute on Delgado….as this was enough to secure the overall win. This time trial was won by Jean-François Bernard….who finished the Tour in 3rd place….for if Bernard had not lost four minutes after the flat tire in the 19th stage, he would have won the Tour.
Any way you cut the pie….this 1987 Tour de France was one of the most exciting Tours ever raced….and certainly the closet finish ever….which makes this video MUST SEE TV for any cycling fan.