Losing by a hair during a sprint finish in one thing, but losing by eight seconds after the rigors of the most difficult sporting event in the world is bound to create a life's worth of second guessing and what-ifs. These six painfully close Tour de France finishes have probably caused countless sleepless nights for the runner-up.
Andy Schleck (2010)1 of 6
In what was a battle of titans, defending champion Alberto Contador and the previous year's runner-up Andy Schleck traded jabs through the first 14 stages. With a 31-second advantage entering Stage 15, Schleck threw his chain and controversially lost his yellow jersey to Contador who now had an eight-second advantage. After an individual time trial, Contador wound up winning yellow by 39 seconds, the same amount of time he gained on Schleck after the Stage 15 mishap. Despite the drama and controversy, the UCI awarded Schleck the victory after Contador tested positive for a banned substance.
Stephen Roche (1987)2 of 6
The 25-stage Tour de France, which consisted of over 2,600 miles of cycling, resulted in one of the Tour's closest finishes ever. After the maillot jaune traded hands eight times through the first 20 stages, Pedro Delgado, the best climber in the peloton, looked to put his main rival, Stephen Roche, on the ropes with an impressive attack on the final climb of Stage 21. Roche was able to limit his losses with a gutsy performance that famously left him requiring oxygen at the end of the race and remained within striking distance. Ultimately, Roche, despite being down 21 seconds, won back over a minute on Delgado during the final individual time trial, securing his victory by 40 seconds.
Jan Janssen (1968)3 of 6
A sprinter by trade, Jan Janssen saw his hopes of winning the maillot jaune fade when he was, at one point, over six minutes behind the race leader. The Dutchman would surprisingly make up large chunks of time in the mountains before winning the final individual time trial into Paris. With this performance, Janssen won by 38 seconds over rival Herman Van Springel. The first time Janssen donned yellow was on the podium in Paris.
Alberto Contador (2007)4 of 6
The year after Lance Armstrong retired for the first time, the world of cycling quickly found another top dog in Alberto Contador. In his first-ever Tour de France, Contador and Levi Leipheimer's roles were reversed when it became apparent how strong the Spaniard was in the mountains. After race leader Michael Rasmussen was removed from the Tour for lying to his team about his whereabouts in the lead-up to the race, Contador took the maillot jaune and never relinquished it. Entering the final time trial, Contador had a slim lead that became slimmer after brilliant rides from Cadel Evans and teammate Leipheimer. Ultimately, only 31 seconds separated Contador from the third-place finisher, making it the closest top three finish in Tour history.
Greg LeMond (1989)5 of 6
How has this magnificent sports moment managed to slip by Hollywood execs for so long? Easily one of the greatest finishes of all time, Greg LeMond, who had just returned to the sport of cycling after a near-fatal hunting accident, was a dark horse candidate—at best—to win the Tour. Yet, LeMond proved himself a favorite when he and Laurent Fignon traded the maillot jaune four times through the first 20 stages and entered the final stage 50 seconds behind his rival. Making up that amount of time on a 25km time trial was considered a nearly impossible task. French newspapers had even prepared special edition papers with Fignon on the front page. While much has been made about the effects of aerobars, saddle sores and ponytails, LeMond still cycled 58 seconds better than Fignon to take yellow by a mere eight seconds.