The 1974 Tour de France was the 61st Tour de France, taking place June 27 to July 21, 1974. It consisted of 22 stages over 4098 km, ridden at an average speed of 35.241 km/h. Eddy Merckx was attempting to win his fifth Tour de France in as many races, while Luis Ocaña and Joop Zoetemelk were notable absentees from the 1974 Tour.
In 1974 the tour made its first visit to the United Kingdom, with a circuit stage on the Plympton By-pass, near Plymouth, England.
The race was won by favourite Eddy Merckx, who thus at that point had won all five Tours that he had entered, and had equalled Jacques Anquetil in Tour victories. Merckx also won the combination classification. Fellow Belgian Patrick Sercu won the points classification, while Spanish Domingo Perurena won the mountains classification.
The 1974 Tour de France had 13 teams, with 10 cyclists each:
Merckx, who had been absent in 1973 after winning four Tours in a row, was present again. Merckx had not been as dominant in the spring as in other years; it was his first year as a professional cyclist in which he did not win a spring classic. He did win the 1974 Giro d’Italia and the Tour de Suisse, but after winning the latter he required surgery on the perineum, five days before the 1974 Tour started.
Notable absents were Ocana and Zoetemelk. Zoetemelk was injured during the Midi Libre and was in hospital with life-threatening meningitis. Ocana had crashed in the Tour de l’Aude, gone home and was fired by his team for not communicating. Bernard Thevenet, who was considered a potential winner, had crashed several times in the 1974 Vuelta a España. He did start in the Tour, but was not yet back at his former level.
Merckx won the prologue, with his team mate Joseph Bruyere in third place. In the first stage, Bruyere was part of a breakaway, and became the new leader.
The second stage was in Plymouth, the first time that the Tour de France visited England. The riders did not like the experiment, as the British immigration officials made the cyclists wait for a long time when entering the country and again when returning to France.
Merckx collected bonus time in the sprints, and in the fourth stage took back the leading position in the general classification, with Gerben Karstens in second place. Karstens was also doing well in the points classification, and felt Merckx and Patrick Sercu, the leaders in the general and points classification, were helping each other.[notes 1] Karstens was angry and after the finish quickly went away, but forgot that he had to go to the doping control. For this, he was given ten minutes penalty time, and thus he lost his second place in the general classification. Karstens complained to the jury, and other cyclists threatened with a strike, so the jury removed the penalty after the fifth stage. Thanks to bonification seconds in that stage
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, Karstens took the leading position after that stage.
It was still close in the top of the general classification. Patrick Sercu became the new leader after the first part of the sixth stage, but Karstens regained the lead after the second part of the sixth stage, a team time trial won by Merckx’s team, Molteni. Merckx won the seventh stage, and became the next leader.
The Alps were the first serious mountains to be seen, in stage nine. Merckx won the stage, but the surprise of the day was Raymond Poulidor, who at 38 years old was still able to escape during the toughest part of the stage. This also happened in the tenth stage: Poulidor joined the crucial escape, but could not beat Merckx in the final sprint.
In the tenth stage, the hardest Alpine stage, Vicente Lopez Carril from the KAS team stayed away. Merckx was in the next group, together with Francisco Galdos and Gonzalo Aja, also from the KAS team. Aja was in third place in the general classification, so Merckx was unable to chase Lopez Carril without helping his rival Aja.
The next stages did not change the general classification. In the fifteenth stage, the Pyrenées were encountered. There was a crash that took down Galdos, now in sixth place in the general classification, and he had to leave the race. The Tour was in Spain at that point, and Basque separatist placed bombs on press and team cars. Nobody was hurt, but cyclists were scared: Spanish champion Lopez Carril did not wear his national champion’s jersey, afraid to become a target because of the Spanish flag on it.
In the sixteenth stage, with an uphill finish, Poulidor won, his first Tour stage victory since 1965. Merckx finished in fourth place, losing time to Poulidor, Lopez Carril and Pollentier.
In the seventeenth stage, Poulidor again won time, finishing second after Jean-Pierre Danguillaume, and jumped to the third place in the general classification, behind Merckx and Lopez Carril. Danguillaume also won the eighteenth stage, the last mountain stage. The favourites stayed together with Merckx, and at that point Merckx was more or less certain of the victory, with two time trials remaining, in which he normally would gain time on the others.
Poulidor battled with Lopez-Carril for the second place. After the time trial in the second part of stage 21, Poulidor captured the second place by just one second. Surprisingly, Merckx was in second place in that time trial, beaten by Michel Pollentier. In the last stage, Poulidor increased the margin to Lopez Carril to five seconds due to bonus seconds.
The 1974 Tour de France started on 27 June, and had two rest days, in Aix-les-Bains and Colomiers.
There were several classifications in the 1974 Tour de France, three of them awarding jerseys to their leaders. The most important was the general classification, calculated by adding each cyclist’s finishing times on each stage. The cyclist with the least accumulated time was the race leader, identified by the yellow jersey; the winner of this classification is considered the winner of the Tour.
Additionally, there was a points classification, where cyclists got points for finishing among the best in a stage finish, or in intermediate sprints. The cyclist with the most points lead the classification, and was identified with a green jersey.
There was also a mountains classification. The organisation had categorized some climbs as either first, second, third, or fourth-category; points for this classification were won by the first cyclists that reached the top of these climbs first, with more points available for the higher-categorized climbs. The cyclist with the most points lead the classification, but was not identified with a jersey in 1974.
Another classification was the combination classification. This classification was calculated as a combination of the other classifications, its leader wore the white jersey.
The fifth individual classification was the intermediate sprints classification. This classification had similar rules as the points classification, but only points were awarded on intermediate sprints. In 1974, this classification had no associated jersey.
For the team classification, the times of the best three cyclists per team on each stage were added; the leading team was the team with the lowest total time. The riders in the team that lead this classification wore yellow caps.
The combativity award was given to Eddy Merckx.
With his fifth Tour victory, Merckx equalled Jacques Anquetil. Moreover, Merckx had won the first five Tours that he entered. Merckx set a few new records after winning the 1974 Tour:
Merckx had already won the 1974 Giro d’Italia earlier that year, and after winning the 1974 Tour de France also won the world championship, and became the first cyclist to win the Triple Crown of Cycling.
Cyrille Guimard, who had won the first part of stage eight, tested positive for piperidine after stage thirteen. Three other cyclists tested positive: