When Roche and Kelly reigned over Tour de France short stage

Posted on: July 25th, 2018

Stephen Roche 1985 Tour de France stage 18b

The Tour has a very short stage on Wednesday. When the race had a really short one in 1985, Stephen Roche and Sean Kelly cleaned up.


Stephen Roche, Sean Kelly 1985 Tour de France stage 18b


The Tour de France riders face a 65km stage today, Wednesday; the shortest road stage in the modern era.

However, going back the decades such short stages were not unheard of when the race featured split stages – two races in one day.

And on one of those, back in 1985, Stephen Roche scored his first ever stage win in the big one.

Stage 18b took the riders just 52.5km from Luz-Saint Sauveur to the summit of Col d’Aubisque.

And riding for La Redoute Roche emerged the victor. He won by 1:03 from compatriot Sean Kelly (Skil-Sem).

Paul Wellens (Tönissteiner – TW Rock) was next, some four seconds behind Kelly. And then followed a group of four 1:15 behind Roche.

In that group were:  Lucho Herrera (Cafe de Colombia), Phil Anderson (Panasonic-Raleigh), Pedro Delgado (Seat-Orbea) and Greg LeMond (La Vie Claire).

LeMond’s team mate Bernard Hinault, who was in yellow, finished 15 seconds down on the group.

Hinault led the Tour that day from LeMond, Roche and Kelly in that order.  And that’s how it would finish in Paris days later.

That morning Roche’s team mate Regis Simon had won the 83.5km stage 18a into Pau, with Kelly 3rd.

For the afternoon race, Roche’s team manager Raphael Geminiani handed him a silk skinsuit specially made for the stage.

So unconventional was it that he decided to disguise it for the early part of the stage by wearing a regular jersey over it.

And once he started to climb he took the jersey off and threw it away.

“There were lots of attacks, notably from Lucho Herrera,” Roche wrote of the stage in his book Born to Ride.

“He went off early on the climb and got a decent gap. Then I made my move from the group behind, caught Herrera and went straight past him.

“I was thinking all the time what Geminiani had said about my fast tempo; that no one would catch me if I got clear.

“Of course, Gem had also been telling everyone for the last nine months that I was going to win this stage, so I couldn’t let him down.

“Thankfully I didn’t, his strategy was spot on. Kelly was 2nd a little over a minute back.”

Roche said of the Tour that he wasn’t disappointed to finish 3rd overall. He said he got clear of Hinault with LeMond and Delgado on the Tourmalet.

And that fact, coupled with his stage win, how he rode in the TTs and that he had had no bad days during the race proved he was “going in the right direction”.

He was 3rd, 2nd, 5th and 6th in the four individual TTs that year on the race.

Incidentally, Kelly was 2nd five times that year and 3rd four times. Of the 23 stages, he was in the top 10 sixteen times. Kelly won the points jersey, Roche 3rd in that contest.

Roche would go on to win the Tour two years later in his second year with Carrera.

But in his first year with the team, 1986, and having been 3rd in the Tour the previous year, he had a poor race.

He was 3rd overall going into stage 12 into Pau. But he lost 21 minutes having been dropped on the Col de Marie-Blanque.

And the next day on the stage to Superbagneres he climbed off his bike. He sat down by the roadside with his head in his hands.

It was only when a spectator came over to him and encouraged him not to quit that he gathered himself and remounted.

He’d finish the stage, but in 132nd and 32 minutes down; LeMond winning from Robert Millar (Panasonic).

And in Paris Roche would place 48th overall, some 1½ hours behind winner LeMond.


Stage 18b 1985 and general classification that day


Final stage and overall 1985