November 4, 2009 by Irish Peloton
A Tour/Monument double
In a previous post I discussed the difficulties of winning all five of cycling’s monument classics, a feat only achieved by three men, Rik van Looy, Roger de Vlaeminck and as usual with these kind of stats, Eddy Merckx. Seemingly, the last cyclist capable of such a feat was Seán Kelly in the 1980s. While winning one day classics is immensely challenging, targeting the General Classement in a Grand Tour poses a whole other set of challenges. While Kelly did win a Grand Tour in 1988 and Eddy Merckx is an exception to most of the rules of winning bike races, van Looy and de Vlaeminck never came close to winning a Grand Tour. This pair of classics specialists were hard men, masters on a bike, but men not equipped with the necessary attributes to challenge effectively over a three week stage race.
To win a classic you need immense power on the flat, a strong kick going up a hill, a shrewd tactical mind and while not always necessary, being capable of winning out in a sprint always helps. To win a Grand Tour, you need to be able to handle the high mountains, to be able to time trial with the best, you need excellent day to day recovery and you need to be surrounded by a strong team. To be able to win both a monument classic and a Grand Tour, you need to strike a balance between all of these attributes…quite the task. So, are there any riders in the current peloton who’ve acheived the dual success of winning a Grand Tour and a monument classic in their careers?
The answer is yes, there are a few. Reigning Vuelta champion Alejandro Valverde also won Liége-Bastogne-Liége twice in 2006 and 2008. Alexander Vinokourov, however unpopular he may be, has also won both of these races. Damiano Cunego won the Giro d’Italia at the spritely age of 22 and he has subsequently won the Tour of Lombardy three times. Finally there’s Danilo di Luca who won the Giro in 2007 and has also won Liége-Bastogne-Liége and the Tour of Lombardy. Of these four riders only Di Luca and Cunego have acheived a monument/Grand Tour double in the same season.
Noticeably, there are no Tour de France winners in this list. It has been the prerogative of Tour contenders in recent years to focus more and more on the Tour and only the Tour, a trend usually blamed on Lance Armstrong but actually it’s a trend that has stemmed from the Spaniard Miguel Indurain. Of course unlike Armstrong, Big Mig also targeted the Giro most years but he always ignored the classics. This attitude to the classics was then harvested by the likes of Armstrong, Pantani and Ullrich and has now also been adopted by current Tour champion Alberto Contador. To find the last Tour de France champion who has also won a monument classic you have to go back to 1989 when the ’83 and ’84 Tour champion Laurent Fignon won Milan San Remo. There are two Tour champions who have won non-monument classics in recent years, Bjarne Riis and Lance Armstrong himself. Riis won Amstel Gold in 1997 but this was after he had been usurped as a Tour contender by his team mate Jan Ullrich. Similarly, Armstrong also wasn’t considered a Tour contender in his pre-cancer days when he won Fléche Wallonne in 1996.
While Fignon was the last man to have won a Tour de France and a monument classic, you need to go back even further still to find a rider who has won both in the one season. The year was 1981 when Bernard Hinault secured the yellow jersey after winning Paris-Roubaix in the spring. In fact a Tour/Monument double in one season has only been achieved by four riders since World War I, Bernard Hinault, Eddy Merckx, Louison Bobet and Fausto Coppi, four legends of the sport. To illustrate just how dominant Merckx was in his day, in only one of his five Tour winning years did he not couple it with at least one victory in a monument classic. That was 1974, but to make amends he did win the World Championships later that year.
All of these feats are from a bygone era, are there any riders capable nowadays of securing a Tour/Monument double, in a time when individuals train for such specific goals? Of the names already mentioned that are still racing, Di Luca and Vinokourov (all drugs aside), are both probably too old to win either anymore. Valverde may be a good bet (also all drugs aside), but having won the Vuelta this year, it seemed to come at the expense of any sort of classics campaign. If he can’t handle both the classics and the Vuelta, he will find doing so with the Tour even harder. Cunego has already made the grade of riders who’ve won both a Grand Tour and a monument in a single season, but I don’t think he will ever find himself being considered a serious contender at the Tour. Especially now that he’s said he no longer harvests an interest in aiming for Grand Tour victories.
While riders in the past have, in a single season, won a Tour along with a Milan San Remo, a Paris-Roubaix or a Tour of Flanders, these three monument classics nowadays seem to be generally devoid of any serious Tour de France contenders. However Liége-Bastogne-Liége and the Tour of Lombardy are different and do provide the perennial July favourites with a stage on which to perform. Evans, the Schlecks, Valverde, Gesink, Basso and Sastre all tend to show themselves in either or both of these hilly classics.
In recent years, even riders who’ve finished in the top three at the Tour de France have found it difficult to win a monument classic. Since the early nineties when the likes of Gianni Bugno, Claudio Chiapucci and Tony Rominger all managed it, only two riders have finished on the Tour podium and won a monument. The first is Alexander Vinokourov, and the most recent is Andy Schleck who this year won Liége-Bastogne-Liége and finished 2nd to Contador at the Tour. One can’t help but notice that Alberto Contador doesn’t race any of these classics, instead spends all his time honing his fitness at week long stage races. Perhaps winning a Tour and a monument in one season is just a stretch too far for any rider in this era of such race-specific training . Maybe Andy Schleck might take a look at his itinerary for next year and take the decision to sacrifice some ambitions in April to better his chances for his greatest ambition in July.