Which Cyclist Has The Most Tour de France Wins?

Climbing the road to Col de Iseran during the stage 19 of Le Tour de France
Credit: bigstock / RazvanPhotography

The 2023 edition of the Tour de France, the 110th edition of this incredible race, started on the 1st of July in Bilbao. Over the years we have seen many unbelievable Tours and sensational individual rides. Over the previous 109 renewals of the grueling race, we have witnessed many riders etch their names into the TdF history books, but which cyclist has won the most overall wins to their name?

Riding into Paris just once with the hallowed yellow jersey on their back is enough to mean a cyclist can be classed as a great. Indeed, a General Classification win in any of the three Grand Tours is all that many riders dream of. However, the Tour de France is the most prestigious of the three, ahead of the Vuelta a Espana and Giro d’Italia. And any athlete who can win the Tour de France more than once can truly be ranked as among the best of the best. 21 men have won at least two Tours but the following five are the very best of the best.

5) Chris Froome – 4 Wins, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017

Froome was born in Kenya in 1985 but has British parents. He was raised in Kenya and South Africa and became a pro cyclist at the age of 22. He initially rode (both before and after turning pro) under the Kenyan flag but let British officials know that he felt British and had a UK passport. He first rode at the Tour de France in 2008 and finished 83rd but it was clear he had real potential.

He joined Team Sky for the 2010 campaign and won his first Grand Tour the following year in the Vuelta. In 2012 he came second in the TdF but then claimed his first title in 2013. In 2014 crashes on the fourth and fifth stages forced him to retire due to hand and wrist injuries but he bounced back in fine style with a hat-trick of wins from 2015 onwards. With two Vueltas and the 2018 Giro also to his name, his tally of seven Grand Tour wins is hugely impressive and Froome is a true great of British cycling.

Joint 1st) Miguel Indurain – 5 Wins, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995

Spaniard Indurain is hugely revered in his home country and is held in similar esteem to Rafa Nadal and footballing greats such as Xavi and Raul. No rider has won the Tour de France more than the man from Navarre, who has the unique distinction of winning the title five times in a row.

Big Mig never managed to win the Vuelta on home soil but won two Giro titles, including in 1992 and 1993 when he chose not to ride in the Vuelta and go for the hat-trick. His best finish in his “home” Grand Tour was in 1991 when he came second to compatriot Melcior Mauri.

Joint 1st) Bernard Hinault – 5 Wins, 1978, 1979, 1981, 1982, 1985

One of the most popular French riders of all time, Hinault was nicknamed the Badger due to his aggressive riding style. He was a brilliant all-round cyclist and his record in the sport’s biggest three races is truly staggering and he won each of them at least twice. His 10 Grand Tour wins do not tell the whole story though as he only entered these races 13 times in total. 10 wins and two seconds is an insane return, whilst his only failure to make the podium occurred at the 1980 Tour when he had to quit the race due to a knee issue. He was the holder of the yellow jersey at the time!

Joint 1st) Eddy Merckx – 5 Wins, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1974

Many experts class Merckx as the greatest road cyclist of all time and the Belgian’s record 11 wins in Grand Tours make that hard to refute. He won four Grand Tour races in a row in 1972 and 1973, has the most Grand Tour stage wins to his name (64), the most wins in TdF stages (34, tied with Mark Cavendish at the time of writing), the most days in the yellow jersey and … we could go on. And on. His two main nicknames were il mostro, or the Monster and the Cannibal, which says a lot about his style. Merckx won almost everything the sport could offer and is undoubtedly Belgium’s greatest-ever athlete.

Joint 1st) Jacques Anquetil – 5 Wins, 1957, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964

Anquetil is not quite held in the same regard as some of the other riders on this list, in part because his wins were achieved a little earlier, before TV coverage was quite so widespread. He was a specialist in time trials and also won the Vuelta (1963) and Giro (1960 and 1964). He was quite open about his doping in an era when such behaviour was systemic and semi-accepted. It was less scientific, however, and more aimed at treating pain and enabling cyclists to endure the hardship of long hours on the bike. None the less, Anquetil is a great of the Tour and a hero to many French people.

What About Lance Armstrong?

American cyclist Lance Armstrong “won” the Tour de France for seven years in a row between 1999 and 2005. Now disgraced, the Texan was stripped of all of his titles following a protracted investigation into whether or not he had cheated. All seven of those editions are now classed as having no winner and in 2013 Armstrong admitted to doping.

The Armstrong case is far too complex to go into here and several books have been written about what he did, why he did it, the multi-agency investigation and the aftermath. However, whilst some despise him for what he did – and there are certainly many unsavoury elements about the affair – lots of other cycling fans would argue that for much of cycling’s history very few riders have been entirely clean.

None of the five riders listed above have ever been caught doping at the Tour de France. Nor have they ever attracted quite the same level of suspicion that Armstrong did, with perhaps the exception of Anquetil. However, there are many who would suggest that stripping the US rider of his titles was wrong. It is a highly complicated and controversial subject but in our opinion, it is correct that Armstrong is not classed as one of the greats, even if his behaviour in some regards was not all that different to other multiple Tour winners.