Best Stage Winning Grand Tour Debuts

The sprinting sensation of the recent Giro d’Italia was Fernando Gaviria. Still just 22 years old, the Colombian won four stages on his Grand Tour debut. He was also the only rider to win more than one road stage. His fourth and final win on Stage 13 to Tortona was incredible. With 100 metres to the line he still wasn’t even visible in the overhead shot of the front of the bunch. But he launched himself past everyone over the line and into the history books.

Gaviria is the first rider to win four stages on his Grand Tour debut for 38 years.

For riders of any nationality, having a career which coincided with the all-conquering Eddy Merckx was an unfortunate hand to be dealt. Faced with such an insatiable winning machine could not have been easy. This was particularly true for other Belgians who would constantly be compared to Merckx – and of course there was no comparison.

But spare a thought also for the generation of Belgians whose careers began just as Merckx’s was coming to an end. The search immediately began for the next-Eddy Merckx. The door was open for another Belgian to take over world cycling and there was no shortage of candidates ready to be overhyped.

In 1979, the prime candidate was Alfons de Wolf, or Fons de Wolf as he was better known.


Cartoon De Wolf

As an amateur, De Wolf’s notable results were a fourth place in the 1976 Olympics road race, a victory in the U-23 edition of Paris-Roubaix and becoming Belgian national amateur champion in 1978. He turned pro in 1979 and as first year’s in the pro ranks go, De Wolf’s was up there as one of the best ever.

He finished in the top 10 of races as diverse as Paris-Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the Vuelta a Espana. Then on his Grand Tour debut at the Vuelta a Espana that Spring, he won five stages. The German Uwe Raab won three on his Grand Tour debut at the 1990 Vuelta. And Peter Sagan bagged a debut treble at the 2011 Vuelta. But it wasn’t until Gaviria’s win on Stage 13 at this year’s Giro, that a rider had won four stages in their maiden Grand Tour since De Wolf did it in 1979.

De Wolf says about his early career:

“I had to win from the start. It’s different now. Riders become pros earlier but the managers give them time to mature, they get maybe four years to grow. They can turn pro at 20, but nobody expects them to win at that age. We had to wait to turn pro until we were 22 and there was no time to learn. Plus, Driessens was not a good manager, he made me ride too many races.

The Driessens that De Wolf mentions is Lomme Driessens, directeur sportif of the Boule d’Or team which De Wolf rode for, during the first two years of his career.

Writing in Cycle Sport magazine in 2001, journalist Chris Sidwells said the following about the Belgian team manager:

“Driessens is an enigma, a man who at one time or another has been the best friend or worst enemy of just about everybody involved in Belgian cycling. A man who seemed compelled to try to appear the good guy, even to the point of diminishing the achievements of his riders”.

At one stage or another during his career, Driessens managed most of the greats of Belgian cycling: Merckx, Van Looy, De Vlaeminck, Maertens.


Cartoon Merckx

Daniel Friebe writes about Driessens at length in his Eddy Merckx book ‘The Cannibal’. In it he quotes Rini Wagtmans, a team-mate of Merckx’s speaking about Driessens and how he parted ways with Merckx and the Molteni team in 1971:

“He loved to play these psychological games. Sometimes, in the race, he’d tell someone to attack, and they would, then you’d get back to the hotel that night and he’d berate them for attacking, saying, “when I say attack, that means you do nothing. When I want you to attack, I’ll say Wait!. He was always trying to trick the opposition.

“I think Eddy got to the point where he didn’t need those games. Cycling was simple to him. It was just a race. We weren’t animals in a circus. We were racers. Eddy knew that.”

In 1980, De Wolf had become the star attraction in Driessens’ circus and it ruined his career. He was over-raced and mismanaged. After 1981, still aged only 25 De Wolf was never the same rider.

Gaviria is the 10th rider to have won at least four stages on his Grand Tour debut. The table below shows the full list.

Year Rider Grand Tour Stage Wins
2017 Fernando Gaviria Giro 4
1979 Fons de Wolf Vuelta 5
1978 Bernard Hinault Vuelta 5
1976 Freddy Maertens Tour 8
1976 Dietrich Thurau Vuelta 5
1957 Jacques Anquetil Tour 4
1947 Félix Adriano Vuelta 4
1936 Vicente Carretero Vuelta 4
1919 Honoré Barthélémy Tour 4
1905 Louis Trousselier Tour 5

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