Debutant Winners of a Monument Classic

A new year, a new cycling season and a new set of five monument classics waiting to be won by the strongest riders. Whenever talk turns to contenders for these one-day races, it’s often the case that we look to the names of previous winners as the riders most likely to battle it out for the win once more: John Degenkolb, Alexander Kristoff, Tom Boonen, Fabian Cancellara, Philippe Gilbert, Simon Gerrans, Dan Martin, Alejandro Valverde.

Failing that, there are plenty of other riders who have come close and have not quite made the top step of the podium, but who we would also expect to see in the thick of it in the monument classics: Greg van Avermaet, Sep van Marcke, Zdenek Stybar, Geraint Thomas.

The winners and likely winners of these races can be a closed group – invitees only. You must first earn the right to be considered a part of this group, which takes years, as Sean Kelly describes in his autobiography, Hunger:

“To become one of the stars, you have to win a big race and that is far from an easy thing to do. Cracking into the small group of stars who were always among the favourites for the major one-day races was easier said than done. At the time, the Classics were controlled by people like Jan Raas of the Netherlands, Roger de Vlaeminck of Belgium, a couple of Italians, Francesco Moser and Giuseppe Saronni, and on or two others.

“They were the riders who won the biggest races each season and they wanted it to stay that way. They didn’t want any upstarts coming along to upset the order of things, so they liked to gang up to maintain the status quo.

“Cycling has always been the same. The top riders want to stay at the top for as long as possible. There are only a small number of big races to go round, so they’d rather ensure those honours were shared among a small group of elite riders, otherwise there would be less to go round”.

As if winning one of these races isn’t hard enough, to win your first and (hopefully) set the dominoes falling to win more and more, first you must beat the collaborating closed ranks of the cream of the crop of cyclists.

What hope then has a rider of winning one of these races who has never even ridden one before?

T he answer is not a lot, but it has been done. Last year I spent a worrying amount of time compiling a set of data regarding the winners of all five monument classics for the last 50 years. My focus was on what the best previous result of each winner had been in that particular race. I was attempting to prove (as if proof was needed) that Paris-Roubaix is the hardest one-day classic. One of the measures I used was how many riders had been able to win this race at their first attempt.

For the race they call the Queen of the Classics, the answer was none. For the last 50 years (at least), no rider has won Paris-Roubaix without having ridden it before.

However, the same is not true of the other four monuments:

Number of debut winners in past 50 years

Milan San Remo 5
Tour of Flanders 4
Paris Roubaix 0
Liege Bastogne Liege 5
Tour of Lombardy 5

I was recently asked to expand on this table and list the début winners of each of these races, so here it is:

Milan San Remo Tour of Flanders Paris Roubaix Liege-Bastogne-Liege Tour of Lombardy
Eddy Merckx - 1966 Dino Zandegu - 1967 Jacques Anquetil - 1966 Felice Gimondi - 1966
Jan Raas - 1977 Cees Bal - 1974 Valere van Sweevelt - 1968 Jean-Pierre Monseré - 1969
Marc Gomez - 1982 René Martens - 1982 Bernard Hinault - 1977 Fons de Wolf - 1980
Gabriele Colombo - 1996 Jacky Durand - 1992 Steven Rooks - 1983 Raimondas Rumsas - 2000
Mark Cavendish - 2009 Evgeni Berzin - 1994 Damiano Cunego - 2004

The identities of the riders are a rather mixed bag of legends, chancers and classics stars in the making. This data comes with the caveat that it is extremely difficult to determine startlists of races even as recently as ten years ago. Therefore determining whether a rider had previously ridden a race, especially if they had not finished, is arduous at best. This table is the result of my best effort, but I’m open to correction with any of these riders.

#Anquetil#Bal#Berzin#De Wolf#Durand#Gimondi#Gomez#Merckx


  1. Ankush Agarwal - January 2, 2016 @ 11:40 am

    Thanks for this effort Cillian. 1994, victory of Berzin sticks out…

  2. Irish Peloton - January 2, 2016 @ 12:16 pm

    Thanks Ankush.

    Sticks out in more ways than one. Won the Giro that year too. A monument and a Grand Tour in one year is quite rare too.

  3. Gareth Allen - January 2, 2016 @ 8:34 pm

    Interesting to see Anquetil and Merckx both in the same year. You think of them as being from different eras, but instructive to see such a clear example of their crossover.

  4. Irish Peloton - January 3, 2016 @ 12:19 pm

    Yeah, was pretty much the only year of overlap. Merckx only started halfway through 1965. That 1966 Milan San Remo was the first monument he ever started.

    And by summer 1967, Anquetil was goosed.

    Also, funnily enough, if you like crossovers of eras. That 1977 Liege-Bastogne-Liege that Bernard Hinault won was the last monument classic that Merckx ever rode.

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