Having won Stage 12 of the Vuelta a Espana Mark Cavendish has now won an individual stage in all three of cycling’s Grand Tours. He is one of eight riders in the current peloton who can claim this honour. The others are Daniele Bennati, Simon Gerrans, Thor Hushovd, Pablo Lastras, Denis Menchov, Alessandro Petacchi and David Zabriskie. Petacchi is one of only three riders who have ever achieved the feat in the one season, the others are Miguel Poblet (1956) and Pierino Baffi (1958). Should Cavendish wish to achieve this feat himself next year, the fact that André Greipel will no longer be his team mate, in terms of his race program, the Manxman should be free to give it a go.
However, there is another Grand Tour triple which Cavendish which will no doubt want to complete throughout his career, and that is to wear the leader’s jersey in all three races. He has already worn the Maglia Rosa at the Giro in 2009 after his team won the team time trial. His team won the team time trial again in this year’s Vuelta allowing him the honour of wearing the leader’s red jersey. Missing on his palmarés is the yellow jersey at the Tour de France. Not helping his cause is the fact that the Tour organisers have done away with time bonuses (although the lack of an opening time trial in next year’s Tour might present him with his best opportunity at taking the jersey).
Gone are the days where sprinters would go all out to put in a good prologue time in the knowledge that they had a realistic chance of taking the yellow jersey should they grab a few time bonuses over the coming days. I recall one of my favourite Tours de France back in 1993 when Wilfred Nelissen, Mario Cipollini and Johan Museeuw passed the parcel that was the Maillot Jaune for the first week before Miguel Indurain finally showed them who’s boss in the first long tie trial. Had there been no time bonuses in that Tour, Indurain, who won the prologue, would have led from start to finish. Time bonuses have also allowed great riders such as George Hincapie, Robbie McEwen and Erik Zabel the opportunity to wear the yellow jersey at the Tour.
In the past week at the Vuelta we’ve seen the merits of time bonuses and the excitement they create. Joaquim Rodriguez stole away to gain a time bonus in an intermediate sprint on Stage 10, stealing the leader’s red jersey away from Igor Anton. Rodriguez said after the stage “It’s sensational. The value of this jersey is even higher because of the hard work we’ve done to get it.” The Tour de France organisers have said that the rid the race of time bonuses because they wanted the overall winner to be the rider who rode around France in the quickest time.
While this fundamental view of racing is admirable, the excitement to be gained by introducing time bonuses is vast. It’s highly unlikely, I for one would relish the prospect of Schleck and Contador battling for intermediate time bonuses on the Champs Elyseés. It’s a situation which presented itself in this year’s Tirreno-Adriatico when Stefano Garzelli earned a two second time bonus on the final stage to draw level on time with defending champion Michele Scarponi. Due to Garzelli’s superior stage placings throughout the week, he pipped Scarponi to the overall win. It made for fantastic viewing, in what would have otherwise been a standard breakway-catch-sprint Cavendish victory.
Igor Anton, having been ousted as race leader due to a time bonus, is now back in the red jersey and he holds a 45 second lead over the Italian Vincenzo Nibali. Anton has finished in the top 10 of the Vuelta before (8th in 2007) but his record in the Tour de France is pale in comparison. He has twice started the Tour, once he didn’t finish and in 2009 he finished 65th. If he was to go on and win the Vuelta a Espana, his 65th place would be the lowest best Tour de France placing achieved by a Vuelta winner in 20 years*. In 1991, Melchor Mauri won the Vuelta a Espana having only previously managed 78th at the Tour. In fact, for the past 15 years, every Vuelta winner had managed to finish at least 11th at the Tour de France before winning the Vuelta.
Both Xavier Tondo and Ezequiel Mosquera, 3rd and 5th overall respectively, lie less than a minute and a back from Igor Anton. Neither rider has ever ridden in the Tour de France. If either rider were to eventually win the Vuelta a Espana, they would become the first rider to win the Vuelta having never entered the Tour since Faustino Ruperéz in 1980. Incidentally, the rider previous to Ruperéz to win the Vuelta without having ridden the Tour was a 24 year old Bernard Hinault, who was riding his first ever Grand Tour.
Nibali is even closer to Anton on G.C. than either Tondo or Mosquera. Should Nibali win the Vuelta (and I think he will), he will become the first Italian rider to do so since Marco Giovannetti in 1990. This would take Italian overall wins at the Vuelta to five. Along with Giovannetti, Giovanni Battaglin, Felice Gimondi and Angelo Conterno have all won the Spanish Grand Tour once. On the flip side, thanks to Alberto Contador and Miguel Indurain (twice), Spaniards have won the Giro only three times.
The Tour de l’Avenir is also being contested at the moment. It is seen as a mini Tour de France where the stars of the future are born (Tour de l’Avenir literally means Tour of the Future). There’s a great history of it written by Les Clarke on the cyclingnews website. The race is currently being led by a Belgian called Yannick Eijssen. This race has launched the careers of future Grand Tour winners Felice Gimondi, Joop Zoetemelk, Greg LeMond, Miguel Indurain and Denis Menchov. Stephen Roche won a stage of the race in 1981 where he beat a former two time winner Serguei Soukhoroutchenkov into 2nd place in a 21 kilometre time trial. A stage victory was also had by Nicolas Roche in this race back in 2006.
Roche currently lies in 9th place overall on G.C., the same position occupied by compatriot Philip Deignan at the end of last year’s race. If Roche could hold on to his top 10 place it would be an excellent result to place alongside his 15th at the Tour de France. The Vuelta will also provide him with a solid platform to have a good go at the Worlds road race, where Filippo Pozzato has been talking Roche up as a serious threat. Stranger things have happened!
*This does not include 2003 Vuelta winner Aitor Gonzalez who was the only rider throughout this period not to have finished the Tour de France before he won the Vuelta. He started the Tour in 2001 and 2003 but abandoned on both occasions.