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Ranking of post-war Tours de France wins

An analysis taking into account the changes that have occurred over the past 75 years

by Roger Koeijvoets

Tech articles | Commentary articles

Roger Koeijvoets was kind enough to share his method of ranking Tour de France wins with BikeRaceInfo readers:

Last year (2020), I wondered how Tadej Pogačar’s Tour de France win would compare to winners of the past, like Froome, Thomas, Bernal, or the giants Coppi, Anquetil, Merckx, Indurain and even Armstrong. I ran into a ranking method described by Dutch writer, chess player and cycling amateur Tim Krabbé in his book 43 wielerverhalen’ (‘43 Cycling Stories’) and its successor ‘De veertiende etappe’ (‘The Fourteenth Stage’), by which he classified all post war winners.

I would like to compensate for the fact that the multiplication and divisions in the formula amplify the differences. In Krabbé’s ranking Hinault 1979 is first and Froome 2017 is last. Hinault’s score is more than 50 times as high as Froome’s which is a bit unrealistic. So I took the geometrical mean of the new formula, i.e. taking the quadratic root. Besides, I standardized it to achieve an average score of 100%. Thus we get the following (post WWII) ranking.

Disqualified riders were left in, but their names are in italics.

Bernard Hinault

A scene from Roger Koeijvoets' #1 Tour win: Bernard Hinault racing up the Galibier with Joop Zoetemelk on his wheel in the 1979 Tour de France, stage 17. Sirotti photo

More about this ranking and how it was achieved is below the ranking chart:

Rank Year Winner Country Score L5
(mm:ss)
#Stage
Wins
#Riders
Arrived
in Paris
Time (hh:mm:ss)
1 1979 Bernard Hinault France 151,4% 32:43 7 89 103:06:50
2 1969 Eddy Merckx Belgium 141,4% 33:04 6 86 116:06:02
3 1981 Bernard Hinault France 137,6% 20:26 5 121 96:19:38
4 2004 Lance Armstrong USA 137,4% 14:30 5 147 83:36:02
5 1973 Luis Ocaña Spain 136,9% 30:20 6 87 122:25:34
6 1970 Eddy Merckx Belgium 136,7% 19:54 8 100 119:31:49
7 1999 Lance Armstrong USA 128,5% 15:11 4 141 91:32:16
8 2001 Lance Armstrong USA 127,2% 13:28 4 144 86:17:28
9 1984 Laurent Fignon France 126,5% 16:35 5 124 112:03:40
10 1952 Fausto Coppi Italy 126,4% 35:36 5 78 151:57:20
11 1972 Eddy Merckx Belgium 126,2% 19:09 6 88 108:17:18
12 2014 Vincenzo Nibali Italy 124,7% 11:24 4 164 89:59:06
13 1971 Eddy Merckx Belgium 124,1% 21:00 4 94 96:45:14
14 2002 Lance Armstrong USA 123,5% 13:54 3 153 85:05:12
15 1974 Eddy Merckx Belgium 121,2% 11:24 8 105 116:16:58
16 1948 Gino Bartali Italy 120,8% 37:53 7 44 145:36:56
17 1951 Hugo Koblet Switzerland 120,8% 32:53 5 66 142:20:14
18 1997 Jan Ullrich Germany 118,7% 20:32 2 139 100:30:35
19 1982 Bernard Hinault France 118,0% 12:16 4 125 92:08:46
20 1992 Miguel Indurain Spain 115,1% 14:37 3 130 100:49:30
21 1993 Miguel Indurain Spain 112,9% 16:26 2 136 95:57:09
22 2021 Tadej Pogačar Slovenia 112,8% 10:13 3 141 82:56:36
23 1954 Louison Bobet France 109,8% 31:38 3 69 140:06:05
24 1989 Greg Lemond USA 109,1% 9:39 3 138 87:38:35
25 2013 Chris Froome UK 108,7% 7:27 3 169 83:56:40
26 1986 Greg Lemond USA 108,1% 24:36 1 132 110:35:19
27 1998 Marco Pantani Italy 108,0% 11:26 2 158 92:49:46
28 2012 Bradley Wiggins UK 107,8% 11:04 2 153 87:34:47
29 1949 Fausto Coppi Italy 107,5% 38:59 3 55 149:40:49
30 1988 Pedro Delgado Spain 104,0% 14:04 1 151 84:27:53
31 1963 Jacques Anquetil France 104,0% 15:00 4 76 113:30:05
32 1950 Ferdi Kübler Switzerland 102,9% 34:21 3 51 145:36:56
33 1991 Miguel Indurain Spain 102,7% 10:10 2 158 101:01:20
34 1958 Charly Gaul Luxemburg 101,3% 13:33 4 78 116:59:05
35 1975 Bernard Thévenet France 100,5% 19:29 2 86 114:35:31
36 1995 Miguel Indurain Spain 100,0% 11:34 2 115 92:44:59
37 1965 Felice Gimondi Italy 99,8% 12:56 3 96 116:42:06
38 1957 Jacques Anquetil France 99,3% 20:17 4 56 135:44:42
39 2020 Tadej Pogačar Slovenia 98,8% 6:07 3 146 87:20:05
40 2005 Lance Armstrong USA 98,0% 11:01 1 155 86:15:02
41 2015 Chris Froome UK 96,3% 9:48 1 160 84:46:14
42 1978 Bernard Hinault France 96,3% 12:50 3 78 108:18:02
43 1980 Joop Zoetemelk Netherlands 96,0% 15:37 2 85 109:19:14
44 1962 Jacques Anquetil France 94,8% 14:04 2 94 114:31:54
45 1964 Jacques Anquetil France 94,1% 10:34 4 81 127:09:44
46 2009 Alberto Contador Spain 93,7% 6:04 2 156 85:48:35
47 2000 Lance Armstrong USA 93,3% 11:50 1 127 92:33:08
48 2018 Geraint Thomas UK 92,9% 6:08 2 145 83:17:13
49 1953 Louison Bobet France 92,8% 18:05 2 76 129:23:25
50 2016 Chris Froome UK 92,1% 5:17 2 174 89:04:48
51 1985 Bernard Hinault France 91,0% 7:44 2 144 113:24:23
52 1996 Bjarne Riis Denmark 90,4% 7:07 2 129 95:57:16
53 1961 Jacques Anquetil France 90,3% 16:09 2 72 122:01:33
54 2007 Alberto Contador Spain 87,9% 8:17 1 141 91:00:26
55 2003 Lance Armstrong USA 86,5% 6:51 1 147 83:41:12
56 1994 Miguel Indurain Spain 85,5% 10:10 1 117 103:38:38
57 1987 Stephen Roche Ireland 84,9% 9:32 1 135 115:27:42
58 1947 Jean Robic France 84,6% 15:23 3 53 148:11:25
59 1955 Louison Bobet France 83,7% 13:18 2 69 130:29:26
60 1976 Lucien Van Impe Belgium 81,5% 12:39 1 87 116:22:23
61 1977 Bernard Thévenet France 79,4% 12:24 2 53 115:38:30
62 2006 Floyd Landis USA 78,0% 5:08 1 139 89:40:27
63 2011 Cadel Evans Australia 77,3% 3:57 1 167 86:12:22
64 1983 Laurent Fignon France 74,5% 7:53 1 88 105:07:52
65 2010 Alberto Contador Spain 73,8% 6:54 0 170 91:58:48
66 1967 Roger Pingeon France 73,6% 9:47 1 88 136:53:50
67 2008 Carlos Sastre Spain 69,8% 3:05 1 145 87:52:52
68 1960 Gastone Nencini Italy 68,6% 13:12 0 81 112:08:42
69 1959 Federico Bahamontes Spain 67,3% 8:22 1 65 123:46:45
70 1990 Greg Lemond USA 66,9% 5:00 0 156 90:43:20
71 2019 Egan Bernal Colombia 64,9% 4:05 0 155 82:57:00
72 1956 Roger Walkowiak France 64,4% 10:25 0 88 124:01:16
73 2017 Chris Froome UK 61,0% 3:05 0 167 86:20:55
74 1968 Jan Janssen Netherlands 58,2% 3:29 2 63 133:49:42
75 1966 Lucien Aimar France 54,5% 5:27 0 82 117:34:21

Hinault 1979 is the clear winner, although intuitively I would have placed my bets on Merckx 1969, who comes in second. From a statistical point of view, however, Hinault is superior, his achievements are similar to Merckx’, but achieved in far less time, therefore his lead is deserved.

This is no different from Krabbé’s list. But as we move on we can see that Krabbé’s top 11 still has not changed since 1981, whilst my new method has 4 new entries: 3 times Lance Armstrong and 1 time Laurent Fignon. The best entry from the last 10 years is Vincenzo Nibali (2014). We can find him on the 12th spot.

This year, Pogačar’s win was more convincing than last year’s. This has resulted in a 22nd place (39th last year), right between Indurain 1993 and Bobet 1954.

Of course, this entire ranking system is open for dispute, as Krabbé already admitted. One might argue that other parameters should be included. E.g other jerseys (Pogačar won 3 of the 4 available ones), or team strengths (the weaker the team, the better the individual achievement). It would be very interesting to see how others would go about it. So feel free to give it a try! However, I totally agree with Krabbé’s opinion that any ranking method should pass the gut feeling test.

How the ranking was achieved:

From this (Krabbé's) story (1982) we can read as follows (the translation is mine):

The first criterion was of course the lead. I didn't take the lead over number 2, which is often the result of calculation, but the lead over number 5 – in this number, L5, the lead is distributed more normally. As a second criterion I included the Tour winner's grit or superiority. How would I express that better than in the number of stage wins achieved, denoted by S?

“To temper the chance factor that this entails, I added 1 to it; as a result, the final product for Tours whose winner did not win a single stage (Walkowiak, Nencini, Aimar) would also not be 0.

“Then a correction was needed for the leveling that has taken place over the years. It is known: the faster the Tour is ridden, the easier it is for the riders. But also: the more difficult for the stars to excel. (And, conversely, the harder the easier.) Well, the Tours used to be much more difficult due to worse roads, longer stages, more difficult regulations (until 1955 the rider had to change a flat tire himself). I express the heaviness of the Tour in the average speed of the winner, ASW. The higher ASW, the more valuable a win, so that figure can just be multiplied.

“Finally, a correction had to be made for the differences from Tour to Tour; courses, weather conditions, distance. I expressed that in the percentage of the started riders that made it to Paris, PP. The same paradox applied to this figure as to ASW, so PP was also directly included in the denominator. (Krabbe is wrong here, he means 'numerator', there is no denominator in the whole formula, RK).

“Overall, my merit formula for Tour wins was: L5 x (S+1) x ASW x PP.”

Next comes the list, which he updated and put online in 2001. In 2014 he published the list again. He noticed the top 11 had not changed and many recent winners were ranked low. Krabbé:

That seems to indicate that I counted stage wins too strongly. And those are more and more difficult to achieve by the larger pelotons. In the early eighties there were about one hundred and fifty departures; in recent years there have been almost two hundred. I could adjust my formula – but then I would take it too seriously.”

So Krabbé decided to leave it that way. I didn’t. Last year I published a new list, that I updated after this year’s Tour. They’re in Dutch, which is the reason for this new blog post.

A few corrections to Krabbé’s approach seemed necessary, to compensate for the developments Krabbé already mentioned. According to me, however, there is no reason to change the lead (V5) or the number of stage wins (S+1). At the same time the Tours have become much shorter over the years and were completed in much less time. By not including the distance but the time spent on the bike (T), we implicitly use the speed (ASW) that Krabbé already used, but also the fact that Tours have become ever shorter. Coppi used almost 152 hours for his Tour win in 1952, while Pogačar did it in less than 83 hours this year. He, therefore, had much less time to build up a lead. I put it in the denominator: the less, the better.

In addition, Krabbé uses the percentage of riders who arrived in Paris, but he also acknowledges in his postscript that the number of participants has increased significantly over the years. Combining these two data, I don’t use the percentage but the number of riders who have arrived in Paris (AP). Then you get the formula V5 x (E+1) * AP / T.