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Graham Watson was the first photographer to cover the Tour de France from the back of a motorcycle, and he covered the event ever since, until his recent retirement.    

Having witnessed the race in the closest possible way for the best part of four decades, he has seen plenty of excellent riders and so I asked Graham to select his ideal Tour de France team.  However, there was a slight restriction, he could only select those that he had photographed. This has meant that he has not been able to include some of the new generation of riders such as two-time Tour de France winner, Jonas Vingegaard and his team mate Wout Van Aert and recent Giro d’Italia winner, Tadej Pogacar. 

This restriction has also meant that Graham has not been able to select Eddy Merckx, who many consider to be the greatest bike rider to have ever lived, because as Graham noted “I only got a one-shot glimpse of one wet afternoon in Paris on the last stage of the 1977 Tour.” 

Graham has also opted to select nine riders because he believes “the Tour alone, is entitled to have nine riders instead of eight – it’s the biggest, most demanding race in the business.”  I can also support this choice because it is only recently that the eight-man selection has been imposed upon teams.  

Photography legend Graham Watson sits down to reflect on his Tour de France “Dream Team.”

Team Leader 

Starting with the Team Leader or General Classification (GC) rider, Graham explained “I’ve gone with a one-leader line-up, meaning I’ve had to leave so many brilliant cyclists out – they’d all want to win otherwise.”  The two options that Graham debated were Bernard Hinault and Miguel Induráin.  Both were exceptional riders, winning the Tour de France five times each.   

Bernard Hinault’s five Tours were in 1978, 1979, 1981, 1982 and 1985 – along the way he accumulated 28 stage victories.  In addition to winning the Tour de France he also won the Giro d’Italia three times and La Vuelta España twice.  That’s not all though as he was World Champion in 1980 and won multiple ‘Monuments,’ Liège–Bastogne–Liège (1977, 1980), Giro di Lombardia (1979, 1984) and Paris–Roubaix (1981). 

Despite Hinault’s impressive palmarès, it is Spaniard Miguel Induráin that Graham has selected to be his leader, this is because “Hinault was so indomitable. Everybody basically did what he told them to, including the Sport Director and staff. Induráin was a near-perfect athlete on a bike who only needed to be fed and watered each day and who pretty much let the DS [Directeur Sportif] organise tactics and race-strategy. He was like a pedalling Duracell bunny, racing day after long day with little sign of stress or breakdown. He was kind to his team mates, respectful of his rivals, and courteous to anyone who approached him for a chat. In other words, a dream to work with.” 

It is important to note that Miguel Induráin had an impressive set of results too, as well as winning the Tour de France five consecutive times from 1991 to 1995, he also won the Giro d’Italia in 1992 and 1993, completing a historic Giro-Tour double.  A proven and consistent winner.    

Directeur Sportif 

Graham provides a unique insight that is often overlooked and this is the importance of the Directeur Sportif (DS).  This is the name given to the person directing the cycling team during a race.  As Graham explains “As important as the team-leader is, if you want to win a Tour then the DS is at least as important as its leader.” 

The person that Graham would select for the DS role is Sean Yates.  He was a veteran rider competing in 12 Tours and completing nine, including one stage victory.  Graham notes “Sean’s talents truly emerged when, post-retirement, he directed teams like CSC, Astana, Discovery Channel, Sky, and Tinkoff-Saxo, guiding riders like Paolo Savoldelli, Alberto Contador, Bradley Wiggins and Peter Sagan to success in the Grand Tours. Under Yates’ guidance, Wiggins won the 2012 Tour de France as well as the Olympic Games TT one week later. Sean’s a no-nonsense type of person who also won respect from his fellow sport directors – an important asset to have when un-official allegiances are needed during the course of a three-week race.”   

Team Captain 

Within the cycling team there are multiple roles, one of these is the Team Captain.  “This is someone who the DS trusts to organise the riders out on the road, to pass down instructions to his team mates, to liaise and even negotiate with rival cyclists,” Graham explains. 

Graham would select Tony Martin for this role.  He is a four-time winner of the World Time Trial Championship.  Graham recalls that he was “a legendary powerhouse, blessed with a mindset that easily matched his physical power – he said little but led by example, and when he did talk, everyone listened, no-one answered back. Tony was also a guarantee to win at least one TT in the Tour, to be of utmost importance if a TTT was included in the race, and was a most dependent pilot for others to follow through the peloton, particularly the team’s sprinter or General Classification (GC) leader.” So all-in-all a great cyclist to have on-board. 


With the leadership in the team established, Graham has decided to take one sprinter. He has chosen Australian Robbie McEwen.  Appreciating that Miguel Induráin would have a team dedicated to support his GC ambitions, Robbie McEwen didn’t need a lot of support to win.  Graham recalls “McEwen was a sprinter who never really needed a lead-out man – he freeloaded off other teams lead-out men and won a total of twelve Tour stages as well as another dozen in the Giro d’Italia and that’s why I’m taking him to the Tour.” 

Super domestiques 

Creating a harmonious team is fundamental to success, Graham has observed this over the years of covering the Tour de France in the most intimate way.  Consequently, several of the domestiques that Graham has selected are Spanish.  This is because Graham recommends “it’s important to service him with some Spanish team mates in this multi-national, predominantly English-speaking team.”  As a result, Graham has opted for Pedro Delgado, himself a winner of the Tour in 1988 and Jose-Luis Rubiera, who was “a renowned team-worker with the ability to offer support on the flat and in the mountains.”  

These quality riders are referred to a “Super domestiques.”  Graham remembers that “Delgado once had Miguel as his protégé before their roles began to reverse in the 1990 Tour. Once Delgado realised his chances of winning had gone for good, he lent his strength and experience to help Induráin win the Tour in 1991, 92 and 93, before retiring in 1994.” 

Regarding Jose-Luis Rubiera, Graham states that “he was known affectionately as ‘Chechu’ and was a superb climber, winning stages of the Giro d’Italia in 1997 and 2000. He became Lance Armstrong’s favourite support-rider in the early-2000’s, able to set a ferocious pace over multiple ascents, and helped Alberto Contador win the Giro and Vuelta in 2008. His loyalty, his strength and his tactical nous was invaluable.”  Therefore, due to these qualities, he makes the team. 

Australian Richie Porte is also included.  He was a “supremely talented cyclist able to go deeper into a mountain stage than even the two afore-mentioned Spaniards.  He was a team-leader for BMC in several Tours, and served Wiggins and Chris Froome extremely well at Team Sky before securing his peak result at Trek – he took 3rd place overall in the 2020 Tour. Porte is also a two-time winner of Paris-Nice, and boasts of a win each in the Tour de Romandie, Dauphiné-Libéré and Tour de Suisse” states Graham. In addition to these talents, he was a good time trialist and in the event of a team time trial, would be very useful and he could also double-up as the leader, if Induráin crashed.    


The final spots on Graham’s team roster are for the domestiques, which are as Graham says “probably the hardest choices to make.”   

The role of a domestique is to work for the benefit of their team and leader and the people that Graham would select are Bob Jungels, Michael Schar and Luke Rowe. 

Bob Jungels, Michael Schar and Luke Rowe are the rouleurs who will fetch bottles, pedal into the wind, protect their climbers, and generally do the work that has made them legends in the modern-day peloton. All three are capable of being captain if anything untoward were to happen to Tony Martin. 

Knowing these people on a more intimate level than most, Graham believes that “Between Rowe, Schar and McEwen, this team has an absolute surfeit of comedians who will make Induráin’s time at the dinner table each evening quite memorable. It’s not solely about the racing, you see!  A happy Tour team is generally a successful one too.” 

Summing up 

Graham’s ultimate Tour de France team is multi-national and reads as follows: 

Directeur Sportif – Sean Yates (UK) 
General Classification – Miguel Induráin (Spain)  
Team Captain – Tony Martin (Germany) 
Sprinter – Robbie McEwen (Australia) 
Super domestiques – Pedro Delgado (Spain), Jose-Luis Rubiera (Spain), Richie Porte (Australia) 
Domestiques – Bob Jungels (Luxembourg), Michael Schar (Switzerland) and Luke Rowe (UK) 

Their overall Tour de France results are: 

 General Classification Points Classification Mountain Classification Stage wins (includes TTT) 
Miguel Induráin 12 
Tony Martin 
Robbie McEwen 12 
Pedro Delgado 
Jose-Luis Rubiera 
Richie Porte 
Bob Jungels 
Michael Schar 
Luke Rowe 
Total 41 


It’s interesting to see that some of the greats have been omitted such as Bernard Hinault, Mark Cavendish and Fabian Cancellara but Graham has focussed on creating a cohesive team unit where the character of the rider, as much as their results have been factored into the decision.  It’s interesting that despite being a multi-national team, the key support roles are Spanish, ensuring that the main man, Miguel Induráin is well supported and settled. There is a lot to be said for familiarity with language and culture.