Grand Tour Grand Slam? No chance.

This week Bjarne Riis announced that in the coming years Alberto Contador will attempt to win all three of cycling’s three week Grand Tours in the one season, the ‘Grand Tour Grand Slam’. Also this week, Alberto Contador announced that this is not a goal of his and Riis’s words must have been lost in translation. In addition, Contador’s agent has also played down these reports, claiming that the Tour de France champion will continue to focus solely on the Tour de France. Perhaps the language excuse is valid, or perhaps Riis is getting a bit over enthusiastic with his new signing. Either way, the idea of one cyclist attempting to win the Giro d’Italia, the Tour de France and the Vuelta a Espana in the same year is most certainly a far fetched one.

To win all three Grand Tours, a rider would have to hit a considerable peak of form on three separate and not too distant occasions. I have written before about the likes of Hushovd and Cavendish peaking for Milan San Remo, the Tour and finally for the Worlds as a distinct possibility. There is a six and a half month gap between Milan San Remo and the World Road Race Championships. In contrast, there is less than four and a half months between the start of the Giro d’Italia in May and the end of the Vuelta a Espana in September, considerably less time to hit three form peaks.

In addition to the personal challenge of hitting three separate peaks in form in such a short space of time, there is also the factor that one would be competing against riders who are aiming to peak just once in the year, as Contador did this year for the Tour de France. If Contador was to attempt to stretch out his form two months either side of July, his form for the Tour de France would suffer. It’s not as if Contador had minutes to play with this year in terms of his winning margin. A gap of 39 seconds is not sufficient to be compromising one’s form by attempting to win another two Grand Tours. To illustrate, I give you a hand drawn graph of the form of a rider aiming to peak solely for the Tour de France, versus a rider aiming to peak for each of the three Grand Tours:

The form of a rider aiming to peak solely for the Tour de France (blue), versus the form of a rider aiming to peak for all three Grand Tours (red).

A rider aiming to win all three Grand Tours will be considerably handicapped when racing against riders who are concentrating on the Tour. There will also be riders who are focused solely on the Giro or the Vuelta also.

Obviously, winning three Grand Tours in one season has never been achieved before. Although many riders, including Alberto Contador have done a double of one form or another. As a result of his Astana team being banned from the Tour de France, Contador achieved the Giro/Vuelta double in 2008. As well as Contador, a Grand Tour double, be it Giro/Tour, Giro/Vuelta or Tour/Vuelta, has been achieved by eight other riders. However, all nine of these riders didn’t take to the start line of the third Grand Tour in the year they won the other two.

Even finishing three Grand Tours in one season is a feat which has only ever been achieved by 29 riders. King among them is Marino Lejarreta, who I seem to be referring to a lot lately. He started and finished three Grand Tours in one year on four separate occasions. Remarkably, he did it three times in a row in 1989, 1990 and 1991. His best performance came in 1989 when he finished in the top 20 in all three races, 5th in the Tour de France, 10th in the Giro d’Italia and 20th in the Vuelta a Espana.

However, Lejarreta’s performance in 1989 is not the best performance from a rider to have completed all three Grand Tours in one year. That honour belongs to Gastone Nencini who won the Giro in 1957 and also finished 6th in the Tour and 9th in the Vuelta in the same year. He remains the only rider to have won one of the Grand Tours in a year when he finished the other two. He also won two stages and the mountians classification in the Tour de France that year. However, if we were to add up the final positions in the G.C. of riders who have completed all three Grand Tours in one year, the rider with the lowest score would be the Frenchman Raphael Geminiani who impressively finished 3rd, 4th and 6th in the Vuelta, Giro and Tour respectively in 1955.

While Nencini is the only rider to have won a Grand Tour on his way to completing all three in one year, three other riders have won the mountains classification of a Grand Tour having completed all three. Triple Grand Tour finisher Inaki Gaston won the mountains classification in the Giro d’Italia in 1991, Manuel Fuente did the same in 1971, his first of four mountains jerseys in a row at the Giro. Finally, Federico Bahamontes won the mountains jersey in both the Tour and the Vuelta in 1958 while also finishing 17th in the Giro d’Italia. Bahamontes is the only rider to have won a classification in two separate Grand Tours, having completed three in one year.

Achieving success in all three Grand Tours in one year is clearly a monumental task. Winning all of them is seemingly impossible. However there is another, never been done before, achievable goal which Contador could conceivably aim for, and that is completing all three Grand Tour doubles in his career. Three men, each of whom are five time winners of the Tour, have achieved two of the Grand Tour doubles. Both Bernard Hinault and Jacques Anquetil have done the Tour/Vuelta and the Tour/Giro doubles, while Eddy Merckx is the only rider to have achieved the Tour/Giro and the Giro/Vuelta double. Alberto Contador has already won the Giro and the Vuelta in the one year, he has two doubles left to go, both of which include his major goal of each season, the Tour de France. Three Grand Tours in one season is beyond any man, but a Tour/Giro or Tour/Vuelta double could be within reach of the best Grand Tour rider in the current peloton.

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  1. ciaran - August 6, 2010 @ 11:15 am

    love the graph! great article as always

  2. Ankush - August 24, 2011 @ 5:24 pm

    Rummaging through your posts and found this. Latest fan

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