The Tour de France returns to the climb of Pra-Loup on Wednesday afternoon, stage 17 of 2015 Tour. It’s the first time since 1980 that the Alpine climb has been included in the race route, though it was the events of five years earlier that cemented the little-used climb in Tour legend.
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It was 1975, and the Tour hadn’t had a home winner since Roger Pingeon in 1967. In the intervening period, the Belgian Eddy Merckx had triumphed five times, and French fans were starting to tire of his dominance.
Merckx had taken the yellow jersey after winning the stage six time trial, and felt the vitriol of the fans first hand nine days later. Climbing to the finish of stage 14 at Puy-de-Dôme, he was infamously punched in the back by a spectator, in an attack that left him with a bruised liver.
Despite this, Merckx still led the race by 58 seconds going into stage 15. Bernard Thévenet recalls how he tried desperately to attack throughout the stage, including multiple attempts on the Col de Champs.
His efforts seemed in vain when Merckx attacked on the descent of the Col d’Allos, and it looked as though his Tour domination would be continued as he reached the foot of Pra-Loup nearly a minute ahead of his rivals.
Thévenet refused to give up though, and even though he admitted to feeling low on energy, he resolved to make a move on the final climb. Up the road, Merckx was waning, and amazingly Thévenet caught and passed the Belgian before the top, eventually taking 1-56 on the race leader.
It was end of a legend, and the last time Merckx would ever wear yellow as Thévenet defended his lead all the way to Paris, sealing the first of his two Tour de France wins.