One Hit Wonders of the Tour

There are many many musicians out there who practiced their instrument for years, slogged away in shady pubs playing in front of a dozen people hoping against hope that one day they’d hit the big time. One day they finally get lucky and a record executive happens upon them one night and likes what he hears. The musician is signed up to a major record label. The first album gets made and sells very little, the second album gets made and sells even less. Then an amazing thing happens, out of the blue, a hit single. The musician has a song on the top of the charts, it’s incredible, everything they ever wished for. They get recognised on the street, they sign autographs, they ride they wave of publicity and it feels great. Inevitably, the third album gets made, doesn’t sell. The record company grow impatient and give the musician one last chance. A fourth album. Still no luck. The musician fades away, consigned to the annals of history to be forever referred to as a one hit wonder.

There have been many equivalent stories in the world of professional cycling, and in particular the Tour de France. The one hit wonders of the Tour come in many varieties. In some cases the one good performance came from years and years of hard work to reach the pinnacle of athleticism only to be struck down by injury therafter. In other cases it was merely a case of the rider putting on a show in the one and only year that his team has been invited to France in July. Sadly sometimes, the ‘hit single’ was a result of performance enhancing drugs and was followed by a ban and a reluctance by the Tour organisers to extend an invitation to that rider ever again. In recent years there has been plenty of examples of the cycling one hit wonder.

In the 1993 Tour there were two such wonders who finished 3rd and 4th, they are respectively, Zenon Jaskula and Alvaro Mejia. Jaskula was a Polish rider who was taking part in his 2nd Tour de France having failed to complete the race in 1992. He rode for the very strong GB-MG team and finished on the podium alongside cycling greats Tony Rominger and Miguel Indurain winning a mountain stage along the way. He participated in three more Tours after this but never managed to finish in the top 40. Hot on his heels for that final podium place was Mejia, who was riding with Lance Armstrong on the Motorola team. The Colombian was still in with a chance of taking third spot up until the final time trial but was beaten out by Jaskula. Mejia even surprised his own team with his performance by taking the reigns of designated team leader away from Andy Hampsten as the Tour unfolded. Hampsten eventually finished 8th while supporting Mejia who took 4th, (eerily similar to the Wiggins/Vande Velde story at the 2009 Tour). Mejia took part in the Tour on five other occasions during his career but never again got near the podium. Although he may be considered somewhat of a two hit wonder as he did win the white jersey as best young rider in 1991, however his 19th position on G.C. that year has been the lowest for a white jersey winner in the past 20 years.

Then came Peter Luttenburger who finished 5th in the 1996 Tour. Luttenburger was always in the mix on the mountain stages that year with only his time-trialling letting him down in his push for a podium spot. He was an Austrian climber who looked remarkably similar on the bike to his then Carrera team mate Marco Pantani. 1996 was Luttenburger’s first Tour but he never again managed to challenge for the podium, only mustering a couple of anonymously achieved 13th places in later years.

A similar story arrived in 1998 in the shape of Christophe Rinero who finished 4th that year. It was the year that the Tour began in Dublin but unfortunately it was also the year of the Festina affair and will always be remembered as such. The subsequent tragedy of the 1998 Tour winner Marco Pantani has made it easy to forget the other winners of 1998. It was Rinero who won the King of the Mountains competition. But, in true one hit wonder fashion, he never finished in the top 40 of the Tour again despite another five participations.

Baden Cooke has participated in five Tours de France but it was in his second Tour in 2003 where he scored his only hit with a stage win and the Green Jersey as the winner of the points classification. He only sealed the Green Jersey on the final stage, with Robbie McEwen finishing the Tour only 2 points behind his compatriot. In the other four Tours that Cooke played a part in he never challenged for the points classification. But he will always now be remembered for being one of only two Aussies, along with McEwen, to have won the Green Jersey at the Tour de France.

The 2006 Tour de France was the story of two very different one hit wonders. The original winner Floyd Landis had been part of the US Postal machine that propelled Armstrong to his numerous Tour victories. But in 2005 he jumped ship to the Phonak team where he assumed the role of leader. He finished the Tour a creditable 9th. In 2006, in the aftermath of Operácion Puerto where many of the favourites were ejected from the race before it started, Landis seized the opportunity to launch an assault on the yellow jersey. Memorably, on Stage 16 to La Toussuire he lost  eight minutes and seemingly all hope of a Tour victory. The next day he completely reversed his performance and took back most of his deficit by launching a solo attack very early in the stage. His performance in the final time trial ensured him the Tour victory but a few days later he tested positive for synthetic testosterone and was stripped of his victory. He was banned for two years and has yet to appear at the Tour since. Since his ban ended he has been racing on the American domestic circuit and will probably never be allowed the chance to ride in the Tour ever again.

The rider who can feel most cheated by Landis is the rider the Tour victory was eventually awarded to, the Spaniard Oscar Pereiro. He was robbed of the plaudits afforded to a Tour winner and never got to stand atop the winners podium in Paris. He has finished 10th in the Tour on three separate occasions but was never ear-marked as a possible Tour winner. But a breakaway on stage 13 of the 2006 Tour changed all that. Pereiro was part of a group that was allowed to gain almost half an hour on the peloton and propelled him into the yellow jersey which was eventually awarded to him after Landis’ misdemeanors were exposed. Since then he has seriously contemplated retirement at the relatively young age of 32 but has recently changed his mind to join current Tour champion Alberto Contador’s Astana team.

The most recent one hit wonder that comes to mind is Bradley Wiggins. Although having Wiggins in this article is rather harsh considering he hasn’t had his opportunity yet to prove that it wasn’t just a once off. Wiggins came from G.C. obscurity to finish in 4th place last year only 37 seconds away from Lance Armstrong and the podium. It will now be up to Wiggins’ new Team Sky to ensure that he won’t go down in history with the rest of the Tour de France one hit wonders.

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