February 1, 2011 by Irish Peloton
The search for a home victory
One thing about the recent Tour Down Under which is apparent when reviewing the results is just how Australian they all are. Cameron Meyer won the overall prize and a stage, Matthew Goss finished runner up overall, took the points classification and won two stages (if you count the warmup crit race), Michael Matthews won a stage and finished 4th overall and finally, Luke Roberts won the mountains classification. In the races history, Australians have won overall more often than not, winning seven of the 13 editions. Even after the race was granted Pro Tour status (now World Tour status), and the peloton swelled with far more quality international riders, Australians have won two of the four editions overall, as well as taking 12 stage victories via nine different riders.
Riders who take part in races in their home country will naturally be more motivated to win than a non-native. This results in the fact that the Tour Down Under has maintained plenty of indigenous victors, despite not taking place in the cycling motherland of mainland Europe. So, are other races as conducive to home grown winners as the Tour Down Under?
If all of the World Tour races are considered, the older ones anyway, throughout their beginnings many decades ago, it was very rare for a non-native to win. This was simply due to the fact that Italians tended to race in Italian races, Spaniards tended to race in Spanish races etc. To illustrate, in the first 31 editions of the Tour of Flanders, there was one non-Belgian winner (Heiri Suter in 1923). The Giro d’Italia was first raced in 1909, but it wasn’t until 1950 that the Swiss Hugo Koblet put an end to the Italian monopoly on the race. But as the sport developed, so did the diversity of nationalities winning races and home grown winners were no longer a guarantee.
The most famous example of a nation unable to win their own race is of course the Tour de France. The last French winner of the Tour was Bernard Hinault in 1985. Of all 24 races which currently make up the World Tour calendar, this drought of 26 years is by far the longest any of the races have gone without producing a home grown winner.
The lack of French cycling greats in the past two decades makes it perhaps unsurprising that the two races that come next after the Tour de France in terms of suffering a home win drought are also both French. Both Paris-Nice and Paris-Roubaix have been waiting 14 years for a French winner. 1997 was perhaps the last truly great year for French cycling in terms of results. Laurent Jalabert won Paris-Nice for the third year in a row, Frédéric Guesdon won Paris-Roubaix and Richard Virenque finished runner up and won the polka dot jersey at the Tour de France. In addition to those successes, Jalabert added Fléche Wallonne, the Tour of Lombardy and the World Time Trial Championships, Christophe Agnolutto won the Tour de Suisse and Philippe Gaumont won Ghent-Wevelgem.
Since then it has most certainly been downhill for the French riders. Since Jalabert finished second in the 1998 edition of Liége-Bastogne-Liége, no French rider has even finished on the podium of a monument classic. For those counting, that’s 61 races and 183 podium places with no French presence.
In 1999, the year after Jalabert’s final monument podium place for the French, Franck Vandenbroucke won the same race, Liége-Bastogne-Liége. He was the last Belgian rider to do so, which makes this Ardennes classic fourth on the list of races waiting the longest amount of time for a home winner. Philippe Gilbert will no doubt be aiming to correct that this year, having finished third and fourth in the past two years.
If the French are having trouble winning their own races, seemingly the opposite is true of the Italians. Ivan Basso’s win in last year’s Giro d’Italia reclaimed the Italian Grand Tour from the foreigners who had invaded for the past two years through Denis Menchov (2009) and Alberto Contador (2008). Before that, an Italian had won the Maglia Rosa every year since 1996. It’s a similar scenario with the Tour of Lombardy. Before Gilbert took over in 2009, the previous eight editions were all won by Italians. At Milan San Remo there has been four different Italian winners in the past ten years, Mario Cipollini, Paolo Bettini, Alessandro Petacchi and Filippo Pozzato. Even Tirreno-Adriatico has been won by Italians in the past two years through Stefano Garzelli and Michele Scarponi.
The Spaniards have also proven fairly adept at winning their own races. The Volta a Catalunya has been won by a Spanish rider ten out of the last twelve years. Chris Horner stopped a four year Spanish run on the Tour of the Basque Country with his victory last year. And the Vuelta a Espana itself has seen a home victory in seven of the previous 11 editions.
Other races on the World Tour calendar not previously mentioned that haven’t seen a home winner in the past ten years are the Tour of Romandie and despite being ‘home’ to three nationalities, the Eneco Tour.
Sadly for the French, the drought of winning their own biggest races shows no signs of abating. Their best hope lies with Sylvain Chavanel who finished eighth in Paris-Roubaix as recently as 2009. But with rivals like Boonen, Hushovd and Cancellara to contend with, Chavanel doesn’t really have a genuine chance of victory. More likely for him would be success at Paris-Nice, a race in which he finished third, and held the leader’s jersey in 2009 and where rider goals are less defined. As for the Tour de France, their best hope for as much as a top 10 finish lies with a rider who is no longer French, for he is now Irish, Nicolas Roche!