I know that steel and aluminium frames were ridden in the Tour. I wonder if there was a time when titanium frames were ridden in the Tour de France. was ridden. I haven't found anything about this on the internet.
According to this page, Luis Ocana won the tour on a Ti bike; Lance Armstrong (attach all necessary asterisks to his name) rode a Ti time-trial bike in 1999. It looks like Lotto raced on Litespeed Ti bikes in the early 00s (the Litespeed brand still exists, but the company that built those bikes is now doing business under the Lynskey name), for a while painted to look like a sponsor brand's bike, later with Litespeed decals. There are probably other instances--these are just the ones I was able to find quickly.
There are many instances of one bike brand sponsoring a team, while the bikes are actually built by someone else—for a while, the BSO brand Huffy sponsored a bike team, and the bikes were duly painted in Huffy livery, but the bikes were actually built by Serotta.
Yes. In 1991 the "Z" Team lead by Greg LeMond, rode Merlin Ti bikes.
In 1991, a year after winning his third Tour de France, Greg LeMond’s Z Team came back to the race on prototypes of the Merlin Extra Light. The first titanium bike to fully achieve the metal’s promise, it was as strong as steel but lighter, and possessed a unique and pleasing road feel—slightly more forgiving, with a little extra spring and, somewhat counterintuitively, also more stiffness. Though LeMond failed to win a fourth title, his bike sparked a fervor for titanium that lasted through the mid ’90s.
Source: "Nothing Like It: Titanium Dream Bikes," Bicycling magazine, November 2012 (web archive link)
The question has already been answered, but this is why I think titanium never really made it into the Tour. Ti frames are either a bit lighter or similar weight to steel bikes. They were also tricky to weld. Aluminum frames were clearly lighter than ti and the material was easier to weld. It was available contemporaneously with titanium. Furthermore, carbon was just starting to make inroads when ti had made it to the peloton.
Compounding this, I don't believe that any of the largest bike manufacturers aside from Colnago (the CT-1) had ti bikes. Remember that pro road racing relies on sponsorships, and larger bike brands are more able to offer sponship than smaller ones. Furthermore, the C40 carbon road bike was contemporaneous with the CT-1, and I think the C40 probably had more take up. I'm not sure if the CT-1 ever made it to pro road races. It may have, it's just not prominent enough for me to remember. Litespeed did sponsor a team as pointed out, but I'd characterize them as more a mid-sized manufacturer at the time.
Hence, titanium never had a window where it was the dominant material for performance bikes. Even if titanium working techniques were discovered and widely disseminated earlier, it would still have had to compete with aluminum. Even if a major brand had backed the material, I think they wouldn't have made wide market penetration given the available alternatives. And as stated above, I wonder if there was a good reason that almost all major brands didn't work with ti.
My recollection is that in the early 2000s, aluminum was probably the most common material. The US Postal Service team was sponsored by Trek, and they rode carbon Treks. I believe most Colnago teams went with the C40. I recall that around 2006 or 2007, the industry in general switched to carbon manufactured in Taiwan (whereas at the time Treks were made in the US, I think C40s were made in Italy, although their tubes were probably sourced overseas).
Fun historical trivia
In 1999, Trek had not yet made a time trial bike. I believe the USPS team used rebadged Litespeed Blades that year. The Blade has a distinctive aero top tube, only the tube is oriented vertically. This would probably have made the bike stiffer vertically, which isn't desirable, and I suspect it would have done nothing for drag unless the bike were falling straight down.
This ESPN link has a picture of Lance Armstrong, who last won the 1998 Tour de Luxembourg, at the time trial in the '99 Tour. Bicycle Blue Book has a photo of the 2003 (but not the '99) Blade. The Blade has a distinctive seat tube, with a mast-like extension above the top tube but taking a regular seat post. This BBC article shows a glimpse of the seat tube.
Another fun fact: I believe that Colnago outsourced the CT-1's production to Wittson Cycles (link to Wikipedia), a Lithuanian firm. I assume this had to be after the fall of the Soviet Union, whereas I think the C40 may have debuted earlier than that. This page on the blog Steel Vintage Bikes corroborates the Wikipedia statement about Wittson. If interested for historical reasons, this thread on the Paceline forum has a brief Q&A with the principal, Vidmantas Zukauskas.
Gewiss Playbus, Bianchi Ti Mega Tube
Gewiss - Playbus was a team that rode in the 1996 TdF. 17 of the riders were Italian.
- BERTOLETTI Simone
- BERZIN Evgeni (Russia)
- BOBRIK Vladislav (Russia)
- BOTTARO Dario
- BRIGNOLI Ermanno
- BROGNARA Andrea
- CENGHIALTA Bruno
- CERIOLI Ivan
- COLOMBO Gabriele
- FINA Rosario
- FRATTINI Francesco
- GOTTI Ivan
- MINALI Nicola
- ODRIOZOLA Jon (Spanish)
- PERONA Davide
- REZZANI Michele (trainee as from 01/09)
- SANTAROMITA Mauro-Antonio
- TARTAGGIA Giuseppe
- VOLPI Alberto
- ZANINI Stefano
They were sponsored by Biachi so rode their bicycles - this is Evgeni Berzin holding his Bianchi:
Team Gewiss was sponsored by Bianchi back in 1995-96 seasons. Team Gewiss Playbus was winning with Bianchi’s top-end model, the ”Ti-Mega” which is made of lightweight 3AL-2.5V titanium tubeset.
Team Gewiss Playbus was one of the best team back in 1996. Their riders won biggest races like Milano-San Remo (G.Colombo), Amstel Gold Race (S.Zannini), Paris-Tours (N.Minali), stages at the Giro and Tour (E.Berzin) on Bianchi Ti-Mega bikes.
ANSWER Yes, this team rode Titanium bikes in the TdF in 1996, and Berzin won stage-8.