What happens when you lead the tour by at least 3 minutes after 11 stages?

Eleven stages are in the books and for the first time we’re more than half-way to Paris. Chris Froome has a daunting 3 minutes, 25 seconds lead over his nearest rival following yesterday’s dominant display in the individual time-trial in which only Tony Martin — a non-GC threat — could take time from him. Many think the Tour is all but won and that everyone else is fighting for second. Indeed it certainly looks that way given that the five behind him are separated by just 45 seconds, something that might see them fight one another for podium places rather than try reign in Froome together, but what does history suggest?

Well history is on his side. 15 times in the last 50 years someone has carried a three minute lead or greater after stage 11 and on 10 occasions that same man wore the Yellow jersey into Paris.

2004: Thomas Voeckler – 3’00” (Eventual winner: Armstrong)
2001: François Simon – 11’01” (Eventual winner: Armstrong)
2000: Lance Armstrong – 4’14” (Eventual winner: Armstrong)
1999: Lance Armstrong – 7’42” (Eventual winner: Armstrong)
1994: Miguel Indurain – 4’47” (Eventual winner: Indurain)
1993: Miguel Indurain – 3’23” (Eventual winner: Indurain)
1985: Bernard Hinault – 4’00” (Eventual winner: Hinault)
1984: Vincent Barteau – 7’37” (Eventual winner: Laurent Fignon)
1973: Luis Ocaña – 9’08” (Eventual winner: Ocaña)
1971: Luis Ocaña – 8’43” (Eventual winner: Eddy Merckx)
1970: Eddy Merckx – 3’00” (Eventual winner: Merckx)
1969: Eddy Merckx – 5’43” (Eventual winner: Merckx)
1967: Roger Pingeon – 4’02” (Eventual winner: Pingeon)
1965: Felice Gimondi – 3’12” (Eventual winner: Gimondi)
1963: Gilbert Desmet – 3’03” (Eventual winner: Jacques Anquetil)

And of those five times that someone blew a three minutes lead or greater over fifty years, only once was it by someone that could be considered a general classification contender. That was Luis Ocaña in 1971. That year Ocaña had taken a monumental lead in the Tour, but serious pressure by Merckx on the climbs and the descents forced a mistake from Ocaña. Merckx, a fine descender, attacked on stage 14 in heavy rain on the down hill of a mountain and Ocaña was forced to chase. Merckx crashed, but so too did Ocaña on the same corner. Another rider ploughed into Ocaña injuring him. Despite injuries that some feel could have seen him continue, Ocaña was broken and didn’t get up. He had to be airlifted out of the Tour and Merckx went on to win. Thankfully for him when he had another huge lead two years later he held onto it right through until Paris. Mind you, Merckx wasn’t riding the Tour that year.

So there is a glimmer of hope that this Tour could yet open up again, and while the Ocaña incident from 1971 proves it’s never quite over — especially if Froome finds someone willing to attack him relentlessly through the Alps — history does suggest that baring an accident there’s little chance of him losing the jersey. In fact, fifty years of history suggests there is no chance.

And let’s take it a step further and look at any kind of a lead after 11 stages. Even having that lead by any margin is in your favour of keeping it until Paris, though only just. In the past 25 years, 12 of the men who wore Yellow after stage 11 also wore it into Paris. (I count Alberto Contador in 2010 and Floyd Landis in 2009, as well as Lance Armstrong between 1999 and 2005 as the man who wore it into Paris despite later being stripped of those titles).

See below:

2012: Brad Wiggins – 2’05” (Eventual winner: Wiggins)
2011: Thomas Voeckler – 1’49” (Eventual winner: Evans)
2010: Andy Schleck – 41″ (Eventual winner: A. Schleck)
2009: Rinaldo Nocetini – 6″ (Eventual winner: Alberto Contador)
2008: Cadel Evans – 1″ (Eventual winner: Carlos Sastre)
2007: Michael Rasmussen – 2’35” (Eventual winner: Contador)
2006: Floyd Landis – 8″ (Eventual winner: Landis/Pereiro)
2005: Lance Armstrong – 38″ (Eventual winner: Armstrong)
2004: Thomas Voeckler – 3’00” (Eventual winner: Armstrong)
2003: Lance Armstrong – 21″ (Eventual winner: Armstrong)
2002: Lance Armstrong – 1’12” (Eventual winner: Armstrong)
2001: François Simon – 11’01” (Eventual winner: Armstrong)
2000: Lance Armstrong – 4’14” (Eventual winner: Armstrong)
1999: Lance Armstrong – 7’42” (Eventual winner: Armstrong)
1998: Jan Ullrich – 1’11” (Eventual winner: Marco Pantani)
1997: Jan Ullrich – 2’38” (Eventual winner: Ullrich)
1996: Bjarne Riis – 40″ (Eventual winner: Riis)
1995: Miguel Indurain – 2’27” (Eventual winner: Indurain)
1994: Miguel Indurain – 4’47” (Eventual winner: Indurain)
1993: Miguel Indurain – 3’23” (Eventual winner: Indurain)
1992: Pascal Lino – 1’27” (Eventual winner: Indurain)
1991: Greg LeMond – 51″ (Eventual winner: Indurain)
1990: Ronan Pensec – 1’28” (Eventual winner: LeMond)

Of course, there is one other instance that sprints to mind of a leader blowing a big lead late in the Tour. Remember 2006 and stage 16? Floyd Landis had a 10 second lead on Oscar Pereiro and over 2 minutes on his supposedly biggest rivals going into that stage but blew to pieces on the final climb to La Toussuire and lost over ten minutes dropping out of the top ten overall. That collapse might well have stood up on record as the biggest of all time had Landis now produced his epic ride on stage 17 to get back up to third overall before winning it on the final time-trial. That is, until we learned just how he was able to do what he did on stage 17 before being stripped of that title.

Still it does serve as a reminder that with enough mountain stages and enough pressure anyone can have a bad day and it could cost them huge.
History might suggest that this Tour is all but won, but the Tour is famous for new history being made.


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