The history of the Tour de France

Year 1971


  • In the eyes of most, Eddy Merckx would be unbeatable in the 1971 Tour. But no one told Spanish rider Luis Oçana. As usual, Merckx won the Prologue. But on Stage 11 Oçana surprised with a long solo attack. At the finish in Orcières-Merlette, he finished with an 8 minute 42 second advantage over Merckx. The Belgian countered the following day, but to little avail. And only after the Spaniard crashed and abandoned in the Pyrénées did Merckx recapture the yellow jersey. The 1971 Tour would not be remembered as his most impressive win. But it was his third consecutive victory.

  • About the only thing more impressive than Luis Oçana's stage win at Orcières-Merlette, was his horrific crash of the Mente Pass in the Pyrénées. On the rain-sodden descent, Merckx and Oçana crashed in a turn. Merckx immediately got up and continued. But out of the fog Holland's Joop Zoetemelk slid into Oçana and the Spaniard was once again down. This time for good. Tragically, he was forced to drop out of the Tour that seemed destined to be his.

  • Following Ocana’s withdrawal, Merckx becomes the new leader in Luchon, but refuses to wear the yellow jersey at the start of the next stage. Last rider: Chappe (94th), 3 h 4 min. 54 sec. behind.

  • Luis Ocana’s fall. Then the race’s leader, Ocana falls in the col de Mente descent, in the rain, and withdraws, his victory at hand. First airplane transfer.

  • Women receive the right to vote in Switzerland; Jazz legend Louis Armstrong dies; Americans drive a jeep on the moon.

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