July is not only the month to celebrate the yellow-coloured festivities of the Tour as France, the race’s home nation also marks their National Holiday, Bastille Day during the month of July. Naturally, the day offers itself up as a landmark day in the race’s calendar for the French. Over the years the French have pushed themselves to honour their nation on the yellow clad roads of France, resulting in 32 stage wins (as of the time of writing).
In this piece, we will look back at some of the most iconic and memorable exploits from riders who call France home on this extraordinary day.
Tony Gallopin & The Yellow Jersey (2014)Embed from Getty Images
Coming into the coveted Fête Nationale stage, an unexpected turn of events on the previous day in the Vosges Mountains brought Tony Gallopin into the yellow jersey on the eve of Bastille Day. Almost dazed in shock, Gallopin, a self-declared puncheur, came into the day hoping to show off the yellow jersey on full show and try to hold it even for just one more day.
After battling through the stage valiantly, it seemed to be a bridge too far for Gallopin who was dropped on the foot of the final climb of the day, La Planche des Belles Filles.
This day may not have been the one that French fans had hoped for, it was most certainly a thriller for the audience watching on their television at home on the other hand. A flurry of long-distance attacks from heavy hitters like Kwiatkowski and Rodríguez set the scene for what was Nibali’s crowning moment as he claimed the yellow jersey from the grimacing Frenchman Gallopin who sat almost 5 minutes down the road.
This day will go down as the day the 2014 edition was sealed, nonetheless, cementing Gallopin’s place in the Tour de France psyche for years to come.
Alaphilippe & Pinot: The French Revival (2019)Embed from Getty Images
With July 14th sitting at the end of the first week of racing, the scene was set for a crescendo on the roads leading to Saint Étienne.
Julian Alaphilippe had not put a foot wrong on his way to stage 9 as he sat impatiently in the runners-up position in the general classification. The prospect of reclaiming the jersey was all but too tempting for Juju who ran away from the bunch alongside French hope Thibaut Pinot on the hilly run into the line.
For the French, this was the moment they had waited for. The young pretender in Thibaut Pinot had finally come of age whilst Alaphilippe showed the French that there was still panache left in the legs of someone from their land. As anticipation built around the duo, they provided a new-found passion in the nation for the nationalist staple that the Tour is.
On Bastille Day a tidal wave of national pride in their hopefuls woke the nation up from their Tour de France siesta, ushering in what would soon become France’s most successful race in years.
Laurent Jalabert Plays His Joker In Mende (1995)
Julian Alaphilippe’s predecessor, Laurent Jalabert, lit the 1995 race up on a rolling stage in the depths of France. As a natural on the steep gradients and classic-style climbs, Jalabert rolled the dice and went for a long-range move, placing pressure on his GC competitors behind. Although Jalabert had never contended for the yellow jersey before, he declared his intent on this day by extinguishing Miguel Indurain and his Banesto team.
On the Côte de la Croix Neuve, the final challenge on the way to Mende, Jalabert dropped all of his courageous breakaway group to ride solo into the final straight. Commentators and the French press were left overwhelmed by the green jersey wearer’s exploits on this stage, leading them onto believe that he could challenge for a podium position alongside his inevitable maillot vert victory.
Bernard Thévenet Ends The Merckx Era (1975)Embed from Getty Images
By the time the 1975 Tour de France came around, the era of Eddy Merckx was still in full swing. However, after years of utter dominance, the French press and cycling community had fallen out of love with The Cannibal who was assumed to be on course to win his 6th Tour de France victory in 1975. As the race developed Merckx shook off every challenger to his maillot jaune, of which he held for the second week of the race. One challenger did respond to his early trace moves however, Peugeot’s French challenger Bernard Thévenet.
The day before 14 juillet saw Thévenet take a momentous win at the summit of Pra-Loup on the eve of Bastille Day, claiming the maillot jaune in the process. Whilst the sport prepared itself for the Frenchman to waver on the 16th stage, Thévenet took the opportunity to make Bastille Day the day where he would place the final nail in the coffin of the Merckx dynasty by placing a devastating attack on the day’s Alpine passes.
As he rode away to a 2-minute lead, the race leader made no effort to leave anything to chance as he delivered a ride that guaranteed his place on the top spot of the podium in Paris. The Tour would soon come to realise that this would be the last time Merckx would seriously contend the hallowed leaders’ jersey, making this a monumental ‘changing of the guard’ in terms of cycling eras.
Warren Barguil Wins In Polka-Dots (2017)Embed from Getty Images
The Bastille Day stage of the 2017 edition was one that would act as an experiment for the Tour. A noticeably short stage through the Pyrenees acted as a full-on day-long yellow jersey battle that saw its bearer, Fabio Aru, fight for his race leadership role.
Contador and Landa tried a couple of fliers, but a reduced group at the end would be left to battle it out for the win in Foix. After hunting mountain points all day, it was down to Warren Barguil to bear the expectations of a nation.
In the end, Barguil delivered a flawless sprint to take the stage win sporting the polka-dot jersey, an iconic image of the 2017 race. The victory on Bastille Day was the perfect remedy and vindication following a near miss on a previous stage that saw him wrongly declared as the victor.