Philippe Thys Photo Gallery
I believe Belgian racer Philippe Thys (October 8, 1889–January 16, 1971) is the greatest Tour de France rider in history.
Thys was the first three-time winner of the Tour (1913, 1914, 1920), a feat that was not matched until Louison Bobet won his third Tour in 1955 and not exceeded until 1963 when Jacques Anquetil won the Tour for the fourth time.
To understand the greatness of Thys' accomplishment one must understand what he was up against and how times have changed.
The bikes Thys and his cohorts rode were fragile. Forks and wheels regularly broke. Roads were often terrible, especially in the high mountains.
Riders back then had to perform their own repairs making an equipment failure potentially catastrophic. Eugène Christophe was in second place and the virutal leader in the 1913 Tour when his forks broke. The time Christophe lost performing the repair at a blacksmith's shop cost him any hope of winning. Thys was headed to victory in 1922 when a broken wheel that cost him 3½ hours.
Not only was Thys skilled and strong enough to win consistently when others couldn't, he won with an impressive dominance.
Though he suffered mechanical problems in the 1913 Tour just like the rest of the riders Thys suffered a fall that knocked him cold. Yet he still won.
His 1914 victory was over a superb peloton. All Tour winners from 1905 to 1923 except René Pottier were there, a total of eleven past and future Tour winners. He took the lead in the first stage of the 1914 Tour and held it to the end. In 1920 he took it on the second stage and kept it to Paris.
Tour father Henri Desgrange thought it likely that Thys would have won seven Tours if his career had not been interrupted by the First World War.
1910: Belgian Cyclo-Cross Championship
1911: Circuit Peugeot, Paris-Toulouse, Paris-Torino
1913: Tour de France
1914: Tour de France, Milan-Menin
1917: Paris-Tours, Giro di Lombardia
1920: Tour de France with four stage wins
1921: Critérium des As
1924: Two Tour de France stage wins
1919-1921: La Sportive
1927: Opel-ZR III
Nicknames: Fat Dog, The Basset Hound (because of his low riding position)
What racers were up against in 1913. Here Philippe Thys, Eugène Christophe, Goutave Garrigou and Marcel Buysse ascend a muddy Pyrenean pass.
1913 Tour de France, stage 6 (Bayonne - Luchon): Thys descending the Tourmalet
Philippe Thys wins the 1913 Tour de France
Another shot of Thys after he won the 1913 Tour de France
Undated picture of Thys
Stage 11 of the 1914 Tour de France. Thys at the crest of the Galibier.
An Italian postcard printed after Thys won the 1914 Tour.
Thys has won something, but I don't know what.
Philippe Thys before the 1919 Paris-Roubaix
Thys has just won the13th stage of the 1920 Tour de France and has a 57 minute 21 second lead over Hector Heuseghem.
Thys after winning the 1920 Tour de France
And still more flowers...
Stage 9 (Toulon-Nice) of the 1924 Tour de France. Thys won the stage, Ottavio Bottecchia won the Tour.