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"Six" factor adds to Tour mystery

Written by: Staff

PARIS, June 29 (Reuters) The end of Lance Armstrong's seven-year reign heralds a wide open race on the roads of the 2006 Tour de France.

Another factor adds to the mystery of the 93rd Big Loop: all the Tours run in a year ending with the number six closed an era and produced an unexpected winner.

In 1956, Louison Bobet threw the Tour into disarray when he pulled out of the race he had won the three previous years.

Charly Gaul, winner of the preceding Giro d'Italia, became the favourite but the Luxembourg rider had neither the will nor the means to control the peloton.

In the seventh stage between Lorient and Angers, 31 riders broke away and gained a lead of 18 minutes.

Among them was Roger Walkowiak, a young rider who had not been judged good enough for the French national team and was wearing the jersey of the North-East-Centre regional team.

The French team led by Andre Darrigade were watching Gaul and the Luxembourg climber was waiting for the mountains. He attacked in the Pyrenees and then in the Alps, but to no avail.

Walkowiak claimed the yellow jersey after keeping up with Gaul in the Col de la Croix-de-Fer, the final climb of the Alps, and defended it all the way to Paris. It was to be the one moment of glory in his career.

Gaul ultimately enjoyed his moment of triumph when he won the 1958 Tour.

ANQUETIL PLOY In 1966, Jacques Anquetil, winner of five Tours de France, and Raymond Poulidor, his arch-rival, resumed their duel.

In the second stage Poulidor crashed and Anquetil attacked. From then on, the two French riders concentrated on countering one another, paying little attention to the others.

On the first day in the mountains, in Pau, they lost nine minutes to a group of nine riders. Lucien Aimar, 24, was representing Anquetil's team.

In the Alps, in dreadful weather conditions, Anquetil realised that, at 32, he did not have the strength to win a sixth Tour. He decided to play the Aimar card to stop Poulidor.

He helped his former ''domestique'' until the end of the Alps and retired. The race was to be Anquetil's last Tour and Aimar's only major win.

Poulidor was fated never to win the Tour.

BELGIAN SUCCESSION In 1976, five-times winner Eddy Merck pulled out of the Tour, burned out by his long career.

Bernard Thevenet, who had beaten the Belgian to win the Tour the previous year, Luis Ocana of Spain and Dutchman Joop Zoetemelk were in line for the succession.

The surprise came from a young team director, Cyril Guimard, and his leader, Lucien Van Impe, a Belgian climber who had never been regarded as potential overall winner.

More Reuters PM DB0931

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