Podium Finishers and the Vuelta a Espana

The Vuelta a Espana is now just over a week away, it starts on August 28th with a team time trial around Seville which is due to take place at night. There have been races staged before which took place under street lights, a stage earlier this year in the Tour of Oman comes to mind, and there are many criteriums which are raced after the sun goes down. However, a Grand Tour stage is a very different proposition. There has been plenty of peloton power exercised by the riders in recent Grand Tour stages.  In this year’s Tour after a huge amount of riders crashed on the decent of the Stockeu on Stage two, a go slow was organised followed by a neutralised bunch sprint. Similarly, in last year’s Giro, due to rider’s concerns about hazards along the Milan circuit on Stage nine, the peloton decided not to race until the last of ten laps. This year, it’s the turn of the Spanish Grand Tour to host what could prove to be a controversial stage. Although the riders will not be racing as a bunch, and therefore won’t be able to act as one, if the organisation of the opening team time trial is not perfect, there is definitely potential for grievances and complaints.

For a team to be successful in a team time trial they must work in complete harmony. It is the one stage of any race where no rider can ride for themselves. However, because we are in the thick of the transfer season, many team leaders have already announced that they will be leaving their current teams to ride elsewhere. Big name race favourites such as Andy Schleck, Frank Schleck, Roman Kreuziger, Carlos Sastre and Denis Menchov will all be riding for new teams next year. While we should have no reason to believe that this would compromise any rider’s professional approach toward the race, surely the fact that a team leader no longer wishes to ride for his current team will play on the minds of their domestiques.

The 2001 Giro d'Italia podium. The only Giro or Tour podium full of riders who competed in that year's Vuelta.

Andy Schleck and Denis Menchov will be taking part in the Vuelta having finished on the podium of this year’s Tour de France. Surprisingly this is only the 4th occasion on which two Tour podium finishers will ride the Vuelta in the same year. This happened in 1956 (Walkowiak and Bauvin), 1973 (Ocana and Thevenet) and most recently in 2006 (Pereiro and Sastre). The fact that Tour de France winner Alberto Contador will not be competing in his home Grand Tour continues the trend of there never having been a year where the top three finishers in the Tour all competed in the that year’s Vuelta.

Interest in the Vuelta by the Giro podium finishers fares little better, with the Spanish Grand Tour having only once played host to the top three finishers in the Giro. That year was 2001, when Gilberto Simoni, Abraham Olano and Unai Osa filled the Giro podium and all competed in the Vuelta that September. Obviously the Giro comes before the Tour in the racing calendar, as did the Vuelta pre-1995, which means that the Tour podium for the year was unkown before these races occurred, but we won’t let that get in the way of a nice piece of trivia!

The Vuelta a Espana was first raced in 1935. Due to the outbreak of the Spanish civil war and subsequently World War II, it was put on hiatus for a number of years. As a result, the Vuelta has taken place in the same year as a Tour de France on 66 occasions. In addition, the Vuelta has taken place in the same year as a Giro d’Italia on 67 occasions. This gives a total of 133 combinations of Vuelta/Tour and Vuelta/Giro, which in turn gives us 399 riders who finished on the podium in the Tour or Giro in the same year that there was a Vuelta a Espana. Yet, only 62 of these 399 riders decided to race the Vuelta in the same year, that’s just 15%.

The first rider to ride the Vuelta in the same

Fiorenzo Magni. The first rider to finish on the podium of either the Tour or Giro and ride the Vuelta in the same year.

year as finishing on the podium of the Giro or Tour was Fiorenzo Magni aged 35. He won the Giro d’Italia and also won three stages of the Vuelta in 1955. The first rider to finish on the podium of either the Tour or Giro and the Vuelta in the same year was Jacques Anquetil in 1963 when he won both the Vuelta and the Tour de France. In doing so he became the first of only two men to win the rarest of Grand Tour doubles, the other was Bernard Hinault in 1978.

On 18 occasions a rider has finished on the podium of the Vuelta and also on the podium of another Grand Tour in the same year. The most recent examples come from 2008 when Contador won both the Vuelta and the Giro, while Carlos Sastre finished 3rd in the Vuelta and won the Tour. The only rider who has finished on the podium of the Vuelta and also on the podium of another Grand Tour twice is Mr. 2nd Place, Raymond Poulidor. He suffered the ignominy of finishing 2nd in both the Tour and the Vuelta in 1965. But the previous year, he finished 2nd in the Tour and managed to win the Vuelta, a Grand Tour victory oft forgotten amongst his superfluity of near misses at the Tour de France.

Two more interesting Grand Tour podium facts before I call it a day… In 1973, three of the six podium finishers at the Giro and the Tour rode the Vuelta. And these three riders, Eddy Merckx (1st in the Giro), Luis Ocana (1st in the Tour) and Bernard Thevenet (3rd in the Tour) managed to fill the Vuelta a Espana podium.

Finally, that famous 8 second gap meant that 1989 was the only year that the Tour de France podium consisted of the winners of all three Grand Tours, Greg LeMond (Tour), Laurent Fignon (Giro) and Pedro Delgado (Vuelta).

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