The 1976 Tour de France was memorable for a number of reasons, one of them was the focus on hill-finishes: this race had five of them. This gave the 1976 Tour de France an interesting edge, it meant that riders with a climbing advantage could take a step up, and amongst these budding young athletes was Belgian cyclist Lucien van Impe. What was also worth noting in 1976, was that Eddy Merckx, who, from 1968, had finished in the top 2 for the last 8 years, only missing one Tour in 1973 for a break, was not going to be starting, which left the 1976 Tour de France wide open for anyone.
At the start of the Tour, it was announced that the prize format was going to be different than previous years, with an apartment thrown into the winner’s ‘hamper’ as well as the usual cash prize. There were 13 teams and 130 riders at the start of the Tour, and although hot riders were present there wasn’t necessarily a strong or obvious favourite.
With the absence of the cannibal , looking threatening at the start line were Joop Zoetemelk, Bernard Thévenet, Luis Ocaña and Hennie Kuiper.
Luck of Lucien
It was an amalgamation of these circumstances and variables that led to the young Lucien van Impe being in a good position to take the lead. After an onslaught of hills, thrills and knee scrapes, a race much different to its previous incarnations began to take shape, and with riders from all over Europe taking stage wins, the glory days of fast, fierce and aggressive riding were over, and the slow slog of hill climbs threw everything off balance.
Emerging, as an underdog, an athlete and a hero, was Lucien van Impe, holding the Yellow Jersey high.