The British riders to have led one of the Grand Tours

Here we look back at all the British riders to have led one of the three Grand Tours

Chris Froome at the 2017 Tour de France
(Image credit: Yuzuru Sunada)

British cyclists have taken the race lead in all three of the Grand Tours – the Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a España. We list who led which race and when on this page.

If you want to know all the British riders to have won a stage of the big three – from Brian Robinson at the 1958 Tour to the current crop of Tour champions over half a century later, look at our list of all the British grand tour stage winners.

Tour de France

1962 Tom Simpson – 1 day

Tom Simpson became the first British rider to wear the maillot jaune in the Tour de France when he finished in the front group on the 207-kilometre 12th stage from Pau to Saint-Gaudens. However, his only day in yellow was an 18-kilometre uphill time trial to Superbagnères, where he lost more than five minutes to winner Federico Bahamontes and saw the famous jersey transfer to Josef Planckaert of Belgium.

1994 Chris Boardman – 3 days

As debut days in the Tour de France go, it couldn’t have been better. The boy from Hoylake blasted round the 7.2-kilometre prologue course in Lille, beating Miguel Indurain by a whopping 15 seconds. Boardman successfully defended the jersey for two stages, but lost it in the 66-kilometre team time trial in Calais when his Gan team fell to pieces.

Sean Yates and Chris Boardman in the 1994 Tour de France. Photo: Graham Watson
(Image credit: Graham Watson)

1994 Sean Yates – 1 day

Boardman wore the jersey for three days, then the Tour visited Britain for two days. On its return to France, Sean Yates got into a seven-man break that went clear in the final 30 kilometres of the stage to Rennes. He needed it to stay clear by 38 seconds to take the yellow jersey, which he did.

Yates was nearing the end of his career and as he said after the finish: “It just goes to prove, it’s not over till the fat lady sings.” Yates’s spell in yellow lasted just one day and came to a controversial end. At one of the intermediate sprints, the Danish rider Rolf Sorensen grabbed Yates’s jersey, preventing him from contesting the time bonus, which was taken by Sorensen’s team-mate Johan Museeuw, who took the race lead as a result.

1997 Chris Boardman – 1 day

Boardman’s second prologue win, in Rouen, made him the first British rider to wear the yellow jersey in two separate spells. Mario Cipollini won time bonuses and the first stage the next day to make it a short-lived stay in yellow.

Chris Boardman (right) ralks to world champion Lance Armstrong at the 1994 Tour de France. Photo: Yuzuru Sunada
(Image credit: Yuzuru Sunada)

1998 Chris Boardman – 2 days

Victory in Dublin was unexpected for Boardman, who had gone into the race playing down his chances. A successful defence of the road stage around Dublin was followed by disaster on the final day of the race’s Irish adventure. On the stage to Cork, Boardman crashed heavily and was taken to hospital where his yellow jersey had to be cut off him by medics tending his injuries.

2000 David Millar – 3 days

Like Boardman, David Millar took the yellow jersey on his Tour de France debut. The 23-year-old won the opening time trial at Futuroscope by two seconds, ahead of Lance Armstrong. Millar’s Cofidis team rode well in the team time trial a few days later, but Laurent Jalabert of the winning Once team took over the lead.

2012 Bradley Wiggins - 14 days (and overall win)
Bradley Wiggins became the first British rider to win the Tour de France in 2012. He donned the yellow jersey after stage seven, and never gave it up all the way into Paris taking two stage wins along the way. Wiggins followed his historic Tour win up in the following London 2012 Olympic Games with time trial gold, famously sitting on a golden throne to celebrate.

The first Briton to win overall: Bradley Wiggins at the 2012 Tour de France. Photo: Graham Watson
(Image credit: Watson)

2013 Chris Froome - 14 days (and overall win)
Defending champion Wiggins did not return to the 2013 Tour having crashed out of an attempt to win the Giro in May, leaving the path clear for team-mate Chris Froome to lead the squad. Froome won stage eight and – like Wiggins the year before – did not relinquish the race lead all the way to the final podium, and won three stages along the way.

2015 Chris Froome - 16 days (and overall win)

After crashing out of the 2014 Tour, Froome was back to his best in 2015. Froome took the yellow jersey early, on stage three which finished on Mur de Huy. He then lost it for three days to Tony Martin, before retaking it on stage seven to Fougères and again wearing it all the way into Paris.

2016 Mark Cavendish - 1 day

British sprint ace Mark Cavendish became the seventh British rider to don the maillot jaune after winning the opening stage of the 2016 Tour to Utach Beach. It filled a hole in his bulging palmares as he became part of an elite group to wear the leader's jersey in all three Grand Tours. He would go on to claim four stages to bring his total Tour stage win tally to 30 – second only to Eddy Merckx (34).

2016 Chris Froome - 14 days (and overall win)

A win on stage eight saw Froome take the overall lead and in a pattern that matched the preceding years, he never looked back. A further stage win (18) followed and he joined the all-time greats as a three-time Tour winner and firmly established himself as the dominant force in Grand Tour racing of his generation.

Chris Froome at the 2017 Tour de France. Photo: Yuzuru Sunada
(Image credit: Yuzuru SUNADA)

2017 Geraint Thomas - 4 days

Welshman Geraint Thomas became the eighth British rider to wear the yellow jersey after a surprise win in the opening time trial of the 2017 Tour. Thomas had crashed out of the Giro d'Italia in May, and was drafted into support Froome at the Tour. When he did give up the jersey on stage five, he handed it to team-mate Froome.

2017 Chris Froome - race in progress

Froome took the race lead on stage five, with Sky team-mate Thomas passing the yellow jersey across to his leader.

Giro d'Italia

2009 Mark Cavendish – 2 days

Cavendish was the first member of the Columbia-Highroad team across the line at the end of the team time trial in Lido di Venezia. And when Columbia’s time was proved enough to win the stage, Cavendish pulled on the pink jersey. He defended it on the opening road stage, where he was beaten into second place by Alessandro Petacchi.

Mark Cavendish at the 2009 Giro d'Italia. Photo: Yuzuru Sunada
(Image credit: Yuzuru Sunada)

2010 Bradley Wiggins – 1 day

It was Team Sky's first day on one of the grand tours and Wiggins scorched round the course in Amsterdam to take the pink jersey. He lost it the following day as crashes interrupted the second stage.

2011 Mark Cavendish - 1 day

Just as they did in 2009, HTC won the opening team time trial. But this time they elected to have the Italian Marco Pinotti cross the line first to take the pink jersey. However, the following day at Parma, Cavendish took it from his team-mate's shoulders. Alessandro Petacchi won the stage in mildly controversial circumstances. Cavendish was initally upset Petacchi had moved off his line in the sprint. However, the pink jersey was some consolation

2011 David Millar - 2 days

Millar became the first British rider to lead all three Grand Tours, although the feat was understandably overshadowed by the day's tragic crash. On the stage from Reggio nell'Emilia to Rapallo, the Belgian Wouter Weylandt crashed heavily on a descent and later died from his injuries.

Up ahead, not realising the severity of the situation, the race continued. Millar got in a late break with Angel Vicioso and narrowly lost out to the Spaniard in the sprint. Millar took the pink jersey but the podium presentations were cancelled. The following day, the peloton paid tribute to Weylandt and Millar was the perfect ambassador for the sport, wearing the maglia rosa with dignity.

The next day, the jersey passed to the Dutch stage winner Peter Weening after a remarkable stage to Orvieto on the Tuscan white roads. Millar found himself chasing long and hard to get back to the front of the race after a mechanical and finally succumbed to the fierce pace on the final climb.

Millar in pink on stage four of the 2011 Giro. He was the first British rider to wear the leader's jersey in all three Grand Tours. Photo: Graham Watson
(Image credit: Graham Watson)

2013 Mark Cavendish - 1 day

Cavendish appeared in the maglia rosa for a third time after winning the short 130km opening sprint stage around Naples. Cavendish beat Elia Viviani and Nacer Bouhanni to the win by over a bike length. It was the first time the race had not started with a time trial since 2003, and therefore this was Cav's first solo taking of the race lead rather than from a team time trial.

Vuelta a España

1968 Michael Wright – 1 day

Belgium-raised Brit Michael Wright was born in Bishop's Stortford but his family moved to Belgium when he was three. Wright had already won a stage at Lerida when he took his second victory of the race at Salou to capture the leader’s jersey. He lost the lead the following day to Rudi Altig of West Germany.

1969 Michael Wright – 2 days

Wright won the road stage held on the first day of the race to take the lead, which he defended for one day, before the Italian Luigi Sgarbozza relieved him of it.

1985 Robert Millar – 8 days

The Scottish climber took the jersey at the end of the 10th stage and held it until the 17th of 19 stages. Millar led a Colombian rider, Francisco Rodriguez by ten seconds, with Pello Ruiz Cabestany third, a minute back. On stage 17 to the Dyc distillery near Madrid, Millar punctured, and Pedro Delgado, who was six minutes down overall, attacked with a Colombian, Jose Recio.

After that there are several versions of the story. Millar, left with little help from his Peugeot team, who had all got dropped, was isolated. His directeur sportif, Roland Berland, alleged that time checks were infrequent. No one would work with Millar to chase the leaders. There are even suggestions that a level crossing came down in front of them, but no train ever came.

When he crossed the line, Millar had lost more than six minutes and the race lead to Delgado. Millar was second overall.

1986 Robert Millar – 5 days

Millar hoped to get his own back at the Vuelta in 1986, but again was second overall. He led for five days in the middle of the race, before conceding the jersey to Spain’s Alvaro Pino in the Valladolid time trial. Pino went on to win the race, with Millar again second.

David Millar at the 2001 Vuelta a España. Photo: Yuzuru Sunada
(Image credit: Yuzuru Sunada)

2001 David Millar – 3 days

Millar won the 12.3-kilometre time trial at Salamanca by a single second from Colombia’s Santiago Botero and held the leader’s jersey until stage four. That day, on the run-in to Gijon, there was a crash two kilometres from the line. In those days, a rider only got credited with the same time as the bunch if the crash happened in the final kilometre. Botero got past, Millar did not, so the jersey changed shoulders.

2010 Mark Cavendish – 2 days
Cavendish became the fourth British rider to lead the Vuelta when he headed the HTC-Columbia team as they crossed the line at the end of the Seville team time trial, held under floodlights late in the evening. Cavendish became the first rider to wear the new red leader's jersey in the 2010 Vuelta.

2011 Chris Froome - 1 day

Froome became the surprise leader of the Vuelta a España after placing second in the race's only individual time trial behind stage winner Tony Martin - one place ahead of Sky team-mate Bradley Wiggins. Froome had been riding tirelessly as mountain domestique for Wiggins in the previous week and looked genuinely surprised to have taken the race lead. Froome held it for one day before working for Wiggins on stage 11 and handing the leader's jersey to his team-mate. Froome went on to finish second overall.

Bradley Wiggins during the 2011 Vuelta a España. Photo: Graham Watson
(Image credit: Graham Watson)

2011 Bradley Wiggins - 4 days
Wiggins took the race lead from Sky team-mate Chris Froome after the pair upped the pace on the final climb of stage 11 to Manzaneda. Froome dropped back slightly at the finish and reliquished the lead, sitting second overall to Wiggins after the stage by just seven seconds. He held on to the red jersey until stage 15's mountain top finish on Angliru, where Juan Jose Cobo moved to the head of the GC. Wiggins went on to finish third overall.

2016 Peter Kennaugh - 1 day

Manxman Peter Kennaugh added his name to the list of British riders to have worn a rand Tour leader's jersey after he crossed the line first for Team Sky in the opening team time trial. Kennaugh's time in the jersey was brief, as he passed it to Polish team-mate Michal Kwiatkowski the following day.

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Sports journalist Lionel Birnie has written professionally for Sunday Times, Procycling and of course Cycling Weekly. He is also an author, publisher, and co-founder of The Cycling Podcast. His first experience covering the Tour de France came in 1999, and he has presented The Cycling Podcast with Richard Moore and Daniel Friebe since 2013. He founded Peloton Publishing in 2010 and has ghostwritten and published the autobiography of Sean Kelly, as well as a number of other sports icons.