Norwegian, Swiss, Dutch, Australian and Irish -the nationalities of the five winners of the 2014 monument classics were unusually diverse. It was only the fifth time that all five races were won by riders from different countries. Notably the winners didn’t include any Belgians, French, Italians or Spaniards. This is not quite a first in cycling history, but it almost is.
Labelled ‘La Doyenne’ for good reason, the first ever monument classic that took place was Liége-Bastogne-Liége in 1892. Only one year has passed since then where none of the five took place, 1895. The following year after that barren Spring, Paris-Roubaix arrived, soon followed thereafter by the Tour of Lombardy and then Milan San Remo. In 1913, the Tour of Flanders completed what we now hold dear as the set of five biggest one day races and not a year has passed since then, despite the two World Wars, where at least one of them hasn’t taken place.
In the 122 years following the first monument classic, in only one of those years were none of the races won by anyone from Belgium, France, Italy or Spain. That year was 1896, when the only one of the five which took place was Paris-Roubaix, its first edition won by the German Josef Fischer.
And then came last year, the first time since 1896 that such an abomination has befallen cycling’s five one-day majors.
The following is a graph of the victories and podium places of riders from four of the traditional cycling nations in the five monument classics:
The blue line at the top illustrates the number of podium places bagged by riders from the four countries since 1892 and the red line at the bottom illustrates the number of wins. It’s logical that the more podium places these countries achieve, the more wins they are likely to achieve. This is evident in the graph because the two plots are strikingly similar.
There are some interesting historical pieces of data which are shown in the graph and are worth explaining. In 1949 and 1957 the number of wins reaches as high as six. How can there be six winners of five races? Well, in those two years, one of the races resulted in a shared victory. In 1949, Paris-Roubaix was shared between Serse Coppi and André Mahé after some confusion about the finishing laps. Helped by some threats to the race organisers by Serse’s brother Fausto, they agreed to award both riders the victory. In the 1957 Liége-Bastogne-Liége, after an argument about an illegal traversal of a closed railway crossing, the win was eventually shared between Germain Derijcke and Frans Schoubben. In 1949, the Paris-Roubaix incident is also reflected in the overall podium total of the five races reaching a value of 16.
It’s also worth pointing out the three obvious troughs in the podium total. Two of them coincide with the World Wars between 1914 and 1919 and between 1939 and 1945. During these two periods there were some years where only one or two of the races actually took place, consequently this obviously limited the number of podium places that were achievable.
The third notable trough in the podium total occurs between the years 1983 and 1988. This trough is thanks largely to the success of Sean Kelly and the proliferation of a number of talented Dutch riders such as Jan Raas, Hennie Kuiper and Adri Van Der Poel.
It’s also worth mentioning the inclusion of Spanish results in this graph. The reason for including Spain is that in recent years, its riders have consistently contributed to making it the most successful cycling nation. Although much of the Spanish success has come in stage races, in the last decade, Spanish riders have consistently achieved podium places in the monuments. It’s also natural to place Spain alongside Italy and France as they are the three home nations of the Grand Tours. While Belgium is not part of this triumvirate, it is included due to its historical ability to produce classics winning monsters, not to mention the fact that two of the monuments in question take place in Belgium.
Despite Spain’s recent successes, there have actually only been nine Spaniards who have ever finished on the podium of a monument (Miguel Poblet, Oscar Freire, Juan Antonio Flecha, Iban Mayo, David Etxeberria, Alejandro Valverde, Pablo Lastras, Joaquim Rodriguez and Samuel Sanchez). And before the turn of the century, only Poblet had managed it.So if we were to remove Spanish riders from the data it doesn’t change the conclusion much, in both 2013 and 2014 there have been no Belgian, Italian or French winners of a monument. The last time this happened even once was also 1896.
Whatever way we slice it, it’s bad news for the traditional cycling nations. The Spanish riders who have delivered success in recent years are all in their mid-thirties. The last time a French rider won a monument classic was in 1997, thanks to Laurent Jalabert and Belgium’s old reliables Phillipe Gilbert and Tom Boonen seem to be fading from the very top end of the sport.
The fourth trough in the graph is of course, the period we are in right now. The major favourites for next year’s monument classics include Mark Cavendish, Alexander Kristoff, John Degenkolb, Fabian Cancellara, Peter Sagan, Zdenek Stybar, Michal Kwiatkowski, Daniel Martin and Simon Gerrans – none of whom belong to the graph above.
The traditional nations still have the aging Spaniards as well as the likes of Vincenzo Nibali, Arnaud Demare, Greg van Avermaet and Sep Vanmarcke. But as the peloton grows evermore diverse, it’s hard to see a way out of this current monumental trough that these countries find themselves in currently.
In London tomorrow, the cycling road race takes place over 250km and provides each of the competitors the opportunity to secure the first medals on offer at the 2012 Olympic games. Representing Ireland are David McCann, Nicolas Roche and Daniel Martin. Although Ireland have never won a medal of any sort in this discipline, the green jerseys are not without their history in this prestigious event. With Roche and McCann both having competed in previous games, Martin is set to be the 30th cyclist to represent Ireland in the Olympic games men’s road race.
As cycling remained an amateur event at the Olympics until 1996, many of Ireland’s top amateurs have represented Ireland in the road race. The very first Irish competitor was Dubliner John Woodcock who finished 44th out of 75 starters at the 1928 games in Amsterdam. There was a lull then until the sixties when the likes of Peter Crinnion and Liam Horner had the honour of competing.
However, for riders who were good enough to consider turning professional, there was really only one opportunity to compete at the Olympics, while they were still young and eligible before they turned professional. For Ireland’s best ever cyclists Sean Kelly and Stephen Roche, they never had the chance to shine at the summer games for very different reasons.
Kelly was caught, along with Pat McQuaid, racing in the Rapport Toer in South Africa under false names and nationalities at a time when competing within this country was banned in protest against Apartheid. As a result, the pair were banned from competing in the Olympic games for life. This meant Kelly could not compete at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal which would have been his only chance to compete anyway because he turned professional the following year.
Unlike Kelly, Roche was afforded the opportunity to go to an Olympic games, in 1980 in Moscow. The youngster from Dundrum had won the Rás the previous year and had recently won the amatuer edition of Paris-Roubaix. Roche was headed for the Olympics with realistic ambitions of bringing home a medal.
But over the 189km route, Roche suffered badly and performed well below expectations coming home in 45th place. The race was won by the home Soviet rider Sergei Sukhoruchenkov who finished more than seven minutes ahead of all but two riders. Peter Crinnion was the Irish team manager in Moscow and having competed himself 20 years previously, he knew first hand what to expect from the Olympic games road race:
In 22 years in cycling, I have never seen anything to match the display of power produced by Sukhoruchenkov yesterday and I honestly believe that even the great Eddy Merckx, in his heyday,might have been pushed to match it.
At the next Olympic games in Los Angeles in 1984, Martin Earley became the first rider to crack the top 20 when he finished in 19th place behind the winner, Alexi Grewal. Earley would go on to ride the mountain bike event at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics where he finished in 25th (a 19 year-old Cadel Evans finished in ninth).
It wasn’t until 2004 that Earley’s best road race placing of 19th was beaten as the best placed Irish rider in the race finished in 13th place. It remains the best placing an Irish road race rider has ever achieved at the Olympic games and it was achieved by Ciaran Power.
In the early part of the millenium, Power was plugging a massive gap in Irish professional cycling caused be the retirements of Kelly, Roche and Earley. Until Mark Scanlon turned professional, folllowed later by Nicolas Roche and Philip Deignan, Power was the only Irish rider to take part in a Grand Tour when he completed the Giro d’Italia in 122nd place at the age of 24 as part of the ill-fated Linda McCartney cycling team.
After the Linda McCartney team ceased to be, after a brief hiatus at a lower level French team, Power found himself riding for an American team, Navigators Cycling where he would ride alongside compatriot David O’Loughlin.
Although he was no longer riding Grand Tours, Power won the Rás in 2002 and won two stages the following year. Power had already competed at the Olympics in 2000 where he finished the road race in 74th but in 2004, he made the Irish Olympic road race team once more as he was selected alongside Scanlon who had just completed his first Tour de France.
In the hazy heat in Athens on 15th August 2004, Power put in a performance which he holds high above any he ever produced in winning multiple stages and the overall at the Rás Tailteann:
That was definitely as good as I’d hoped. My best race ever. I wanted to get into the top 30, but in the back of my mind thought top 20. So yeah, I’m delighted.
The race consisted of 17 laps on a circuit producing a total of 224km. After 13 of the 17 laps, Power was part of a six-man breakaway alongside the likes of Robbie McEwen. Annoyingly for Power, the break was caught with three laps to go and it looked like his hopes for a high placing were lost, but Power held on.
Bettini attacked off the front bringinig Sergio Paulinho and the pair would fight it out for Gold and Silver. Axel Merckx broke from the bunch coming up to the line to take an Olympic bronze medal, finally something he could lord over his father. But back in the bunch, Power fought his way to the front to take 13th place punching the air with satisfaction as he crossed the line.
The Irish manager on the day was Martin O’Loughlin:
I’d a sneaking suspicion Ciaran would do that. In Cyprus he was training behind me on a motorbike and he was just getting faster and faster. His speed was going up every day. And in the sprints I’d be doing 46 or 47 miles an hour and he’d still beat me.
…and no Irish rider has beaten Power since.
With Team Sky set to deliver a one-two at the top of the general classification via Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome as well as nabbing four stages so far with four different riders, this is undoubtedly the best year ever for Great Britain at the Tour de France.
After today’s stage in the Pyreneés, it seems clear that all of Wiggins’s potential rivals are either unwilling or unable to attack him. The only threat that could conceivably see Wiggins not reaching Paris with the yellow jersey seems to be from within his own team.
Previously, in terms of performances by a number of riders, the best any British riders had managed were stage wins by Michael Wright and Barry Hoban in 1967. The pair repeated the feat in 1973, with Hoban also adding a third stage win for Britain that year. And in 1994, Chris Boardman won the prologue and both Boardman and Sean Yates had stints in the yellow jersey.
This year they have doubled their best ever number of riders who have taken a stage. Mark Cavendish, Froome, Wiggins and David Millar have all won a stage of this year’s Tour de France. What’s more, respectively, the victories came in a sprint, in the mountains, in a time trial and in a breakaway.
But it hasn’t escaped the attention of many, that actually, none of these riders were born in England, Scotland or Wales. Cavendish was born and bred on the Isle of Man. Froome was born in Kenya and didn’t ride with a British license until 2008. Wiggins was born in Ghent in Belgium and finally Millar was born in Malta and spent his formative years in Hong Kong.
A motley crew indeed, but the top Irish cyclists are no different.
There are two Irish cyclists currently riding the Tour de France, cousins Nicolas Roche and Daniel Martin. Although Roche is the son of an Irish Tour de France winner, he was born in France and has a French mother. Martin was born in Birmingham and is the son of former British cyclist Neil Martin. The only other World Tour level cyclist representing Ireland is Matt Brammeier who was born in Liverpool and only declared for Ireland as recently as 2009.
The English author Samuel Johnson once famously declared that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel. So should British cycling fans be supporting Team Sky, a team of nine riders of which only three are British, none of whom born in Britain? And should Irish fans be cheering on Roche, Martin and Brammeier whenever they throw their leg over a saddle, despite the fact that none were born in Ireland?
Of course they should.
The simple reasoning is that this is what we always do. When the Irish football team qualify for a major tournament the country comes to a standstill because everybody is either at home or in the pub cheering them on. We may not enjoy watching the team on a sporting aesthetic level (especially not in recent years) and we may not even like some of the players. But this doesn’t matter because they are Irish. To a slightly lesser extent, the same goes for the Irish rugby team when the World Cup rolls around.
The major question is here is what exactly do we mean when we say ‘Irish’? Is somebody who was born in Kerry, has a Dad from Galway and a mother from London any less Irish than someone who themselves, their parents and their four grandparents were all born in Offaly? What about a Polish guy who becomes a naturalised citizen and gains an Irish passport? Is he any less Irish than Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh?
Well, when it comes to representing Ireland on a sporting level, they are all as Irish as each other. When Jack Charlton was in charge of the Irish football team in the eighties and early nineties, he made use of the ‘Granny rule’ which saw many players claim Irishness in order to play for Big Jack. This was the best thing that ever happened to the Irish football team. Any athlete that declares to play for Ireland, no matter what their heritage or background, should be absolutely celebrated for their Irishness and their willingness to participate in international sporting events for this country.
So we should support Irish athletes whether they’re Irish or not, right?
Yes, and here’s why.
Supporting quasi-Irishness simply because this is what we always do, is the simple reasoning but it’s certainly not the important reasoning. Although sharing a nationality with someone doesn’t even necessarily mean you were born in the same country, the world is organised into countries. Some people scoff at the idea of national pride, especially amongst cycling fans, but what the division of countries means most importantly, is that television coverage and sports development funding is also organised on a country by country basis.
There has never been more cycling coverage in Great Britain than there is right now. ITV have added live coverage to their usual daily evening highlights package. They also covered the Vuelta for the first time ever last year. British cycing writer William Fotheringham said this on his Twitter page last week:
The back five pages in the Guardian all cycling. Not something I’ve seen in 18 years covering it for them. Says something about where my sport is…
Our Irish cyclists are taking part in some of the biggest bike races in the world and it doesn’t get a mention in the evening news, it doesn’t get a mention in the national newspapers and if it wasn’t for Shane Stokes’s presence at the forefront of cycling news, the sport may not even get the scant coverage it currently does get. Supporting our Irish cyclists can change this scenario for the better so that the cycling stories we read about in the paper are no longer just the doping stories.
Furthermore, British cyclists harbour some of their best hopes for medals at the forthcoming Olympics. Chris Hoy, Wiggins, Cavendish, Victoria Pendleton and Geraint Thomas are all expected to get on the medal table. Britain’s cyclists benefit from massive amounts of funding and the success they have seen on the track and are now seeing on the road is phenomenal.
Clean the office first. That’s a beautiful office but it’s badly maintained. The first thing you see when you go into Cycling Ireland’s headquarters is the state of the office. You don’t have to ask yourself any questions about the state of the federation when you see that.
I have the Roche-Kelly House, or the Kelly-Roche House or whatever you call it, in my heart. It was a major helping hand to the federation, to any federation, and I think it’s not been respected as it should be. If any young kids are looking for a licence and they go into Kelly-Roche House and they look at the state of the place, and the state of the equipment which people don’t maintain, they won’t be encouraged to stay.
Cycling Ireland needs funding and cycling in Ireland in general is in constant need of sponsorship. The more success that our Irish cyclists Roche, Martin and Brammeier achieve on the big stage, the more young kids are going to want to get up on their bikes and the more people will realise that investing in this sport in Ireland can reap rewards.
So no matter how Irish the Irish are, cheering them on and getting behind them is good for the sport, in terms of media coverage, sponsorship and growing the sport. In the long term it will benefit our children and our children’s children, one of whom may be the next Sean Kelly or Stephen Roche, whether they are born in Gort, Geelong or Gdansk.
So the 2011 cycling season is over and inevitably, the countdown has begun to the 2012 Tour Down Under in January.
Well, actually the 2011 season isn’t quite done yet. There’s a race called the Tour of Hainan currently taking place in China, where Ireland’s David McCann finished in 12th place on yesterday’s opening stage riding for the Giant Kenda cycling team. McCann actually finished second overall in this nine-stage race back in 2008.
There’s also the Japan Cup which takes place this coming Sunday. This is a hilly one-day race which has been won in the past by prominent riders such as Claudio Chiappucci, Gilberto Simoni and Damiano Cunego.
Last year’s winner was Daniel Martin who unfortunately won’t be on the startline to defend his crown. However, there are some big names due to participate on Sunday. Ivan Basso, Roman Kreuziger and Richie Porte should all be
there, as will Cunego who will be aiming to win the race for a record-equalling third time.
But admittedly, these are minor races and all the big races are done and dusted for the year. But if, like me, you’re a cycling nerd and you just can’t get enough of it, the off-season is a great time to spend watching old races and cycling DVDs.
In the past I have spent a lot of time and a lot of money hunting down old DVDs on eBay. But last year, and I may be a bit late to the party here, I discovered the most amazing website – cyclingtorrents.
The videos that are available mostly consist of races which have never even been released on DVD. Cycling enthusiasts use their spare time to capture races from live internet streams and convert their old recorded-off-the-telly VHS tapes into digital formats.
Most races are also available in a variety of languages. There’s road racing, track racing, cyclo-cross, women’s racing and documentaries – you name it, it’s up there.
If it sounds like I’m affiliated with this website and I’m plugging it, I can assure you I have no connection with cyclingtorrents. I just think it’s an incredible resource, and the more people that get on board and download and share the videos the better the website becomes. As far as I know, nobody makes any money from it anyway. It’s simply fans sharing with other fans.
So if you find yourself yearning for the spring classics over the coming winter, why not go to cyclingtorrents and download the 1995 Tour of Flanders or the 1992 Milan San Remo.
If Grand Tours are more your cup of tea, why not download highlights of this year’s Tour? You can download just particular stages or you can grab the whole lot. There’s one file up there which contains full highlights of every Giro d’Italia from 1993-2000.
Fancy a documentary? There’s 236 of them available, and that’s just in English.
By winning the World Championship road race in Denmark, Mark Cavendish became only the second British rider to wear the rainbow jersey after Tom Simpson in 1965. But this coming weekend the world’s best sprinter has a chance to achieve what no rider, Brit or otherwise, has ever achieved – win Paris-Tours as World Champion.
Unlike most other one-day races, the World Championships road race takes place on a different route every year. Often it is won by riders who could be classed as ‘sprinters’. To illustrate, recent winners of the rainbow jersey include Mario Cipollini, Oscar Freire, Tom Boonen, Thor Hushovd and now Mark Cavendish.
So it seems surprising then that no rider has ever won the Worlds and gone on to win the sprinters’ classic directly afterward. Conversely, on a number of occasions, a rider has won the Worlds and gone on to win the other Autumn classic directly afterward, the Tour of Lombardy.
There are seven riders who have won the Tour of Lombardy in the rainbow jersey. These seven riders are Alfredo Binda (1927), Tom Simpson (1965), Eddy Merckx (1971), Felice Gimondi (1973), Giuseppe Saronni (1982), Oscar Camenzind (1998) and Paolo Bettini (2006).
The Tour of Lombardy is a far hillier race than Paris-Tours and this may be the reason for the lack of Worlds/Paris-Tours doubles. When a classics rider capable of winning hilly races has form, he has plenty of opportunity to use it. If he’s feeling good at a tough part in the race, he can attack. There is no one point in the race where he must make his form count. There will always be a number of opportunities to create the race-winning move.
However, a sprinter has only one place to show his form, the final 300 metres. This part of the race can be chaotic, unorganised and perilous. If a sprinter and his team don’t get it right here, he has no chance of winning. It doesn’t matter if he’s the strongest in the race.
Whereas if a punchy classics rider misses a move, of course he may lose the race, but there’s always a chance it comes back together and he can have another chance to go for glory.
Thus, if the Worlds road race is on a hilly course and is won by a hilly classics rider, there’s more chance of that rider using his form to win the Tour of Lombardy than if the Worlds was won by a sprinter on a flat course and he goes on to try and win Paris-Tours.
Comprenez? Just a theory.
Although it still seems likely that Cavendish will end up riding for Team Sky next year, rumours abound that he may end up at OmegaPharma-QuickStep instead. If this is the case, then this Belgian team would have Cavendish, Tony Martin and Zdenek Stybar in their ranks; the current road, time trial and cyclo-cross World champions. Stybar is already part of the team and Martin has signed for next year.
This would be the first time ever that the World Champions of these three disciplines were all team-mates. Of course, Cavendish and Martin are already team-mates at HTC-High Road for what’s left of the season. So it begs the question, have the World champions of the road and of the time trial ever been team-mates before this?
In 2005, Quick Step-Innergetic team-mates Tom Boonen and Michael Rogers won both world titles between them in Madrid before Rogers moved to T-Mobile in the off-season. It sort of happened in 2004, when both World champions from the previous Autumn, Igor Astarloa and David Millar rode for Cofidis. However, both riders were subsequently banned for doping and Millar was stripped of his World title.
So officially Millar wasn’t World time trial champion when he rode with Astarloa at Cofidis. And funnily enough, Boonen and Rogers never road a race together as team-mates in the autumn of 2005. Therefore, the world champions of road and time trial have, as yet, never ridden a race together.
It also looks likely given their respective race programs for the remainder of the year, that Martin and Cavendish won’t ride together again as team-mates at HTC-High Road either. Perhaps they will next year…
On the first day for two years that an Irish rider wins a stage of a Grand Tour…I decided to skip the cycling and go to the pub to watch the football. Murphy’s law!
In fairness, there are worse games I could have chosen to watch instead of sitting in and watching the cycling. Arsenal’s humiliation was fantastic enough but then I heard the news that Dan Martin had won the mountain stage of the Vuelta and taken the king of the mountains jersey. And as a born and bred Dub, if I was inclined to get excited about the Gaelic Football, then it was just about the most perfect day of sport imaginable.
In the wake of Martin’s victory, I’ve been getting a few questions via email, facebook and twitter; questions mostly starting with ‘Is Dan Martin the first Irish rider to….’.
So the following is an attempt to wrap up all the stats queries after yesterday’s stage:
Is Dan Martin the first Irish rider to win a stage of the Vuelta?
No. Three other Irishmen have won a stage in the Vuelta a Espana.
Seamus Elliott, the first Irish rider to achieve success on the continent, won two stages of the Vuelta in his career, in 1962 and 1963. He is also the only Irish rider to have won a stage in each of the three Grand Tours.
Sean Kelly wrote his name all over the history of the Vuelta throughout the Eighties. He won 16 stages in total, the fifth most of all time. He also won the points classification four times, a record he shares with Laurent Jalabert. And of course, he won the race overall in 1988.
Philip Deignan won a stage in the 2009 edition of the race, Ireland’s last victory in a Grand Tour before Dan Martin. He beat Roman Kreuziger in a two-man sprint to take the win and the time he gained that day also contributed to his ninth place finish overall.
Is Dan Martin the first Irish rider to win a mountain stage of a Grand Tour?
No. Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and Martin Earley have all won a mountain stage of Grand Tours in the past.
Stephen Roche won a mountain stage of the 1985 Tour de France. Kelly won a mountain stage in both the 1986 and 1988 Vueltas and Earley won a mountain stage of the 1986 Giro d’Italia.
I’m not 100% sure what category of stage each of Seamus Elliott’s Grand Tour victories were, so if anybody knows feel free to leave comments.
Is Dan Martin the first Irish rider to win a Grand Tour stage while wearing a leader’s jersey?
Martin was actually ranked fourth in the combination classification when he won the Vuelta stage behind Sylvain Chavanel, Joaquin Rodriguez and Daniel Moreno. But Rodriguez was leading the points classification, Moreno was in the king of the mountains jersey and Chavanel chose to wear his French national champions jersey instead of shouldering the combination jersey. As such, Martin got to wear the white jersey of leader of the combination classification for the day.
But he is not the first Irish rider to win a Grand Tour stage while wearing a leader’s jersey.
Sean Kelly won a whopping 14 stages of the Vuelta over the years while wearing the points leader’s jersey. Stephen Roche also won the final stage time trial in the 1987 Giro d’Italia while wearing the Maglia Rosa.
Is Dan Martin the first Irish rider to wear two different leader’s jerseys in a Grand Tour?
Stephen Roche wore the green and yellow jerseys in the 1987 Tour de France. Sean Kelly actually wore three jerseys at various stages in the 1983 Tour de France, green, yellow and the combined jersey. And Kelly won both the G.C. and the points classifications in the 1988 Vuelta, wearing both jerseys along the way.
Is Dan Martin the first Irish rider to wear the king of the mountains jersey in a Grand Tour?
At least, I think so. Kelly and Roche have certainly never worn the king of the mountains jersey in either the Giro or the Tour, and Roche has certainly never worn it in the Vuelta.
Kelly in the Vuelta is the only possibility. But I’m finding definitive data on the Vuelta mountains competition in the eighties hard to come by.
Can anybody help? Did Sean Kelly wear the Vuelta’s king of the mountains jersey in 1987 or 1988?