As Alberto Contador saddles up in his attempt to try and become the first man to win the Giro-Tour double in 17 years, it’s worth having a look back at his last go, in 2011. Generally regarded as one of, if not the hardest, cycling feats it is possible to target, the combo has been managed 12 times by seven different riders, with Fausto Coppi the first to achieve it in 1949, before pulling off the feat again in 1952.
All the other names to have completed the double are legends, with Jacques Anquetil managing it once in 1964, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain both doing it twice in 1982/85 and 1992-1993 (Indurain being the only man to defend his double), and of course, Eddy Merckx did it thrice (1970, 1972, 1974) just to prove he was best. Stephen Roche also completed the double as part of his Triple Crown in 1987, but it is amongst the five time winners of the Tour that Contador will hope his name will be framed against if he triumphs in July.
I’ll then briefly list some of the other attempts, not all were entirely serious, and they vary by both the level of commitment and the point at which they declared it was a target. Contador, for instance, had declared his intent to target the double in 2015 in the October of 2014, whilst Ryder Hesjedal only went for it after winning the Giro. Others, like Carlos Sastre, never really made it explicit, and Bradley Wiggins just never knew when to shut up and contradicted himself every time he spoke.
So, without any further ado…
Giro – DSQ (1st, 2 stage wins)
Tour – DSQ (5th)
Already under a shadow from his clenbuterol positive and the unusable evidence of plasticiers in his blood, which would have been an indicator of blood doping, Contador had moved to Saxo Bank, where Bjarne Riis had some seemingly pie in the sky ideas for his new charge.
“I am convinced that we have not seen [Contador’s] full potential yet. It’s obvious that we must go after the Tour de France but Alberto could win all three major races in a year, and I want be a part of that,” said Riis, which obviously set off a storm of reaction. Andy Schleck was shocked that people would even think of attempting such a feat, whilst Contador’s own agent went with “I think this must have been a translation mistake” before claiming that the aim for 2011 was the Tour de France.
Riis himself eventually tried to clarify his comments – “The first time Alberto told me that it was a dream for him to win the three big Tours I thought it was fantastic. But, as I have said, it’s a dream and sometimes there’s a long way between a dream and reality. And right now the gap is really big. I don’t think it’s something which happens next year, but it may happen one day.”
Contador was also calmer, stating that he “[would] do two Grand Tours next year” although “I don’t know which ones yet.” The problem with this is that in the April of 2010, before any of the Clenbuterol malarky or Chaingate, Contador had already agreed to ride the Giro in 2011, as then race organiser Angelo Zomegnan had confirmed at the time. Contador had said “With the right build-up and training, I think you can ride two Grand Tours and try and win both of them. I’m going to try. Either the Giro and the Tour, or the Tour and the Vuelta,” as well, which, whilst leaving the door open and oddly contradicting the notion he was down to ride the Giro, showed he was definitely up for two Tours.
Whilst the “Triple Crown Challenge” and the idea of winning two Grand Tours as he had done in 2008 took a back seat after the doping allegations and extraordinarily drawn out legal case emerged, Contador eventually turned up at the Giro to face off as the current Tour champion (for the time being) against the current Vuelta champion in Vincenzo Nibali.
“I chose the Giro because I had such good memories of 2008 and because of that I wanted to come back,” Contador said. “I was also thinking of doing the Tour and possibly even the Vuelta too, but for now I’ve decided to come to the Giro without thinking of the Tour or any other problems.” He later added “It is something beautiful and different to try for both [The Giro and the Tour]. At each race I will try to fight for victory, but it will be tough. I know the Giro is not the best preparation for the Tour, especially this year with the difficult route, but you have to find new motivation. I want to go for both races in one year because it’s going to give me a lot of extra motivation,” the Saxo Bank rider said. “It will be difficult, but I want to try.”
Unfortunately for him, the race descended into a series of controversies, starting with the awful death of Wouter Weylandt on stage three in a downhill crash on the Passo del Bocco. With safety on descents very much in the mind, the mood swung to the Monte Crostis that was due to be climbed, with a descent so narrow and steep that the organisation had installed literal safety nets to catch riders that fell off the edge. Coupled with perhaps the most mountainous Grand Tour route ever devised, with eight high mountain finishes and summit finishes on the appallingly steep Monte Zoncolan, Grossglockner, Etna, Gardeccia and Sestriere, the talk was more about whether it was fair to ask riders to take on such a brute of a route, rather than the actual race.
This was mainly because the actual race was painstakingly dull, predominately because Contador was simply on another level, even finding the time to gift stages to rivals (Jose Rujano) and former team mates (Paolo Tiralongo) as he extended his lead out to 6 minutes 10. Contador rarely looked even out of breath and waltzed into Milan to take what was then his second Giro Title, having won at Etna and the uphill time trial to ensure he didn’t not win a stage a la his 2008 effort at the race.
He subsequently spent the majority of the all important rest period between the Giro and the Tour training and getting angry about the possibility of being stripped of his titles, describing the idea as “ridiculous” and claiming “The idea victory could be taken away if I win, I just find ridiculous.” He was more coy on his recovery for the upcoming Tour de France however, stating “As time goes by, I feel more and more rested [after the Giro] but I’m still a bit in the dark because all I did was rest. I don’t know how I will respond. Undoubtedly, I lack physical but also mental freshness. I’m very conscious of the fact there has been more pressure on me off the bike, but all I can try and do is fully concentrate on the race.I have to try not to lose focus and get on with what needs to be done to win.”
If he was counting on roadside support from fans keen to witness a historic cycling feat cheering him on, that was quickly obliterated at the team presentation in the Puy de Fou Arena when the French public roundly booed him as he was presented to them. Things got worse pretty quickly when Contador was caught behind a crash on stage one, where, after a panicked calculation by the officials who had to sort multiple riders into their correct crashes, leading to a farcial situation where Contador crossed the line four places ahead of Andy Schleck yet conceded 74 seconds to him because Schleck’s crash had been inside the 3km markers. Still, could be worse. The crash could mean your team was first off in the TTT the next day, Ah.
Contador and SaxoBank subsequently lost a further 24 seconds to BMC and Leopard Trek, so that Contador was nearly two minutes down after two stages. As if the embarrasment wasn’t enough, the Spaniard then subsequently celebrated winning stage four when Cadel Evans had in fact beaten him, and it wasn’t that close either.
Still, Contador kept the fevered attacks up and set about defining a race that many people thought he shouldn’t even have started. He pulled away with Samuel Sanchez and Cadel Evans on descent a couple of times to greatly aggravate the Schlecks, but he had already been dropped at Luz Ardiden, losing a further 13 seconds to Andy Schleck and coming in only 7 seconds ahead of Thomas Voeckler’s attempt to gurn his way to the yellow jersey. By the time of the endgame, with summit finishes to the Galibier and Alpe d’Huez followed by a time trial to come, Contador was still 3’15 down on the leader Thomas Voeckler, and 1’57 down on Cadel Evans. He had his playground, the mountains, to come however, so it looked good even though Contador had yet to really come alive on the uphills.
And so it proved, as on a day that really should have suited him. Whilst Andy Schleck was off defining his career with his 60km attack on the Izoard, Contador was sitting in the headwind alongside Voeckler and Cadel Evans, who began opening the throttle to lessen the damage that Schleck was causing up the fearsome slopes of the Galibier. Contador did briefly move up to help the Australian, but when the punchy Evans began to kick harder and harder in his pursuit of the rangy Luxembourger, Contador collapsed with just a few kilometres to go, dropping off the Voeckler/Evans group and ceding 95 seconds to Evans and a huge 3’50 to Schleck.
“Victory is impossible now. I had a bad day,” the Spaniard admitted “My legs did not respond and I suffered an incredible collapse. It was a very hard day from the start.”
Not that Contador was going to give up. Instead, he arguably decided the Tour the next day by attacking on the Telegraphe on the short 110km stage to Alpe d’Huez. Andy Schleck, still sore from his exploits the day before, went with him, obviously still concerned about his rival, whilst Evans got stuck in no mans land with Voeckler and engaged in a comical semi-farce as he kept getting on and off his bike to check its real wheel. A concerted chase and some bottle throwing antics from Voeckler aside, it all regrouped for Contador to have another dig at Alpe d’Huez, where incredibly, the man on a 6 grand Tour winning streak was no longer deemed a threat and allowed to go searching for a famous victory.
Even that did not transpire however, with Pierre Rolland bettering Contador, and his Tour campaign ended up yielding 5th place, no stage wins, no days in yellow, nothing. By Contador’s very high standards, it was terrible. Not as terrible as being disqualified from the race entirely, as he was on February 6th 2012, but still…
Contador, ever keen on coming up for excuses when he doesn’t achieve what he wants, eventually claimed that he had never intended to take on the Tour in 2011 anyway, saying “In 2011, I only found out that I was riding the Tour ten days before the start of the race. Originally only the Giro was on the cards but then the Tour organisers told me that I needed to go” – an odd statement given the number of times, as illustrated above, that he’d talked about doing both. Still, what will Contador have learnt from his efforts in 2011?
Don’t go too deep in the Giro – Er, oops. Contador, despite not winning any stages, spent quite alot of time attacking on stage she really didn’t have to, perhaps causing, rather than buffering his late race cracking on Sestriere. Still, he should have a better understanding of what he can do now, so supposedly he won’t have made himself hurt as much despite the notion that Astana were deliberately riding hard to tire him out for the Tour.
Make sure you have a team to keep you out of trouble – Half of Contador’s problem in the 2011 Tour was his positioning. It’s why he got caught behind the crash on the first stage, and why he crashed later in the race in a much debated barging match with Denis Menchov, hurting his knee, which of course he played up a bit. The first week of this year’s Tour is basically a balancing match between getting yourself through safely and getting your team high up enough to guarentee a decent starting position in the stage 9 TTT. if Contador gets a decent Tinkoff team to get him through to stage 10 without major time loss, then half the battle will have been won.
Don’t waste your energy on 50/50 attacks – this was perhaps born out of losing time in the first week, but Contador ended up taking risks and spending a lot of energy attacking on downhills, rather than his probably preferred uphill roads. One of these attacks worked out – he gained 66 seconds on Andy Schleck on the descent into Gap – but when he tried the same thing the next day on the road into Pinerolo, on a descent that saw various crashes and Thomas Voeckler take a stop off in somebodies house, he was caught in sight of the line by the Luxembourgian and so ended up having wasted his energy. If he wants to win the Tour, Contador will need to avoid being as spontaneous and instead plan where he will take his time in order to avoid cracking in the last week.
Identify your rivals – like in 2011, this could be a tricky proposition. Andy Schleck and Contador spent most of the race watching each other and responding in kind to the others attacks, whilst Cadel Evans quietly bludgeoned his way into the winning position. This year, with a whole host of contenders to watch, Contador’s job is even harder. He almost has to hope that he, Quintana, Froome and Nibali are far enough ahead of the others to be able to ignore them – at least that way, he doesn’t have to worry quite so much about the likes of an Evans sneaking up on him.
Here’s a brief list of the other efforts up to and including Pantani’s successful attempt in 1998.
Pantani had a harder job at the Tour than the Giro, where he won with a reasonable ease. At the Tour, he made 9 minutes up on Jan Ullrich in a single stage to Les Deux Alpes, which gave him a six minute buffer that even the Kaiser could not overcome. As an example of how to win the double, its probably not that great an example in sporting terms (in the “fairness” meaning of the word) given the rampant EPO use of the time, but fair play to Pantani, he was the best man in that playing field.
After romping to his second Giro success by seven minutes, (his first being 2001) including a win on the newly discovered Monte Zoncalon, Gilberto Simoni was extremely confident that he would end the Armstrong hegemony at the Tour de France and would halt the American’s bid for a record equaling fifth title. “I’d like to try and hammer away at Armstrong in the mountains, perhaps I can even demolish him,” purred the triumphant Italian, “He has never had to deal with a real climber before. The guys he has beaten have been time-triallists. If he’s caught out, perhaps he will panic.”
Armstrong had of course beaten men like Pantani and Joseba Beloki at the Tour before, and as Simoni predicted, he did get caught out…just not by Simoni. Simoni crashed on stage one, was 3’09 behind after the TTT, and then hemorrhaged 10’21 on the first mountain stage. He at least accepted his defeat, saying “The team time trial really destroyed me physically. Today I realized right away that I had bad legs, that it was a going to be a bad day for me. I did what I could to save myself. The lesson I’ve learned in this Tour is that if you have one bad day, you’re dead. Now I’m worried about how I’ll do on L’Alpe d’Huez.” His teammates commented that he was probably still tired from the Giro.
After losing another 12’42 the next day at Alpe d’Huez, Simoni turned his attention to stage wins, and won the stage into Loudenvielle to give some success to his Tour. “Yes, before the Tour, I had different objectives, but I had to change them,” Simoni said, “To win a stage at the Tour isn’t easy and it took luck too… yesterday I tried to get in a break and it wasn’t the good one. It’s been so hard at the Tour this year, but the win today wipes out the fatigue of the last two weeks.”
Never one to back down, Simoni subsequently challenged Armstrong to a showdown at both the Giro and the Tour in 2004. “If Armstrong rode both the Giro d’Italia and then the Tour de France, we’d see how good he really is, for better or worse,” Simoni said. “He has said he wants to ride the Giro at least once during his career, and this could be the right moment to do it. Next year the Giro finishes at the end of May, and the hardest stages of the Tour de France are in late July, so he’d have enough time to recover.” Needless to say, Armstrong didn’t bite.
Riding for CSC, Basso dearly wanted to win the Giro, but never really made any noises about doing the double. things began to slip on the Pontives however, as Basso, suffering with a gastric infection, lost a between 30 and 60 seconds to various rivals and fell out of the maglia rosa he had taken two days before. The next day, the house of cards collapsed as Basso fell to pieces on the Stelvio, as, unable to take on board sustenance, he lost 42 minutes and all hope of Giro success. He did, however, storm back to take two stages, including the final time trial, to ensure everyone knew his class.
He then came second at the Tour to Armstrong without ever really troubling the American (he lost by 4’40), which, given the American’s upcoming first retirement, gave him the crown of the heir apparent for 2006 and the post-Armstrong era. Basso had grander ideas than just being “Armstrong’s succesor” however…
Ivan Basso – 2006
Seemingly now the premier stage racer in the world, Basso decided to go big in December 2005. “It’s a risk going for two major races in the same season but I really want to try and win both the Giro and the Tour,” he said, “It doesn’t mean I will win but it’s a risk I’m prepared to take. The Tour de France is the most important race in cycling but I’m Italian and so the Giro is special for me. I couldn’t miss it.”
His anticipated showdown with Jan Ullrich at the Tour thus took on an extra dimension, especially when the German declared he too would ride the Giro, albeit just as training rather than with any intent to win. Basso subsequently turned up and tore the Giro to shreds, winning by a near unprecedented 9’19 (in the modern era) and winning three stages including the final time trial (Ullrich won the mid race TT before going home). Basso looked impregnable, following the Armstrong template of winning grand tours expertly. Perhaps too well. Still, the Ullrich/Basso showdown was ready to kick off in Strasbourg.
In the end, as you know, Basso and Ullrich never even made the start. Rumours of “Operacion Puerto” and the pairs involvement in the blood bag scandal had been swirling for some time, and it all broke on the eve of the Tour in spectacular fashion. First, Ullrich was off home, then at 13.58 on Friday 30th June, Bjarne Riis announced that Basso would not start as “he couldn’t concentrate on the race.” Basso would later admit to “intending to dope” at the Tour, having banked blood as the not very good code Birillo (given journalists knew it was the name of his dog) but apparently having not used them in his Giro romp. Basso was only 27 however, and so was able to comeback and take another Giro in 2010 after his ban had expired.
Carlos Sastre – 2009
This was an odd one really. Sastre, the defending Tour champion, was 34, and had arguably reached his zenith with that Tour win built on a triumph at Alpe d’Huez. He had however changed teams to the new Cervelo Test Team, either because he was unhappy with Bjarne Riis, who he apparently thought didn’t think as highly of him as his other charges, or according to Riis, because Sastre misinterpreted his comments as encouragement to dope. Whatever the reason, Sastre and Cervelo were not guaranteed a Tour entry, but the wildcards would be announced before the Giro began.
Sastre had in the October of 2008 declared he would ride the Giro and foresake the Vuelta in order to prepare for the Tour, ironically, an idea that Bjarne Riis had proposed in 2008 that he hadn’t followed. Cervelo were given a wildcard on March 18th 2009, and happily proclaimed that they ” are looking forward to defending the title of Carlos Sastre.”
The Giro was a success for Cervelo, who won four stages, two of them with Sastre, who followed his usual pattern of peaking in the final week to win on Mount Vesuvius and Monte Petrano. He could “only” manage 4th however, although given everyone ahead of him has since been disqualified in some manner for doping, it doesn’t look so bad.
The Tour defence, however, was less succesful. Sastre always looked to be one of the first to be dropped, and it wasn’t hard to spot him with the number 1 on his back and yellow cranks to celebrate his triumph of a year earlier. He was unable to be his usual electric self in the mountains and ultimately had to settle for 16th, the worst placing by a defending champion since Jean Robic in 1948, who was also 16th. Cervelo did however win two stages and the overall, so all was not lost.
Ryder Hesjedal – 2012
Hesjedal has made a bit of a habit of doubling up at the Giro and the Tour, although 2012 remains his only real show of success. A ding dong battle with Joaquim Rodriguez, helped by the fact the main contenders underestimated the rangy Canadian, contributed to him snatching the lead on the final day time trial to take his and Garmin’s first (and only) Grand Tour.
Garmin then decided that Hesjedal would be jolly good at the Tour based on this, and sent him there to wreck havoc on the established idea that Bradley Wiggins was going to win. Unfortunately for Garmin, their entire team, with the exception of David Zabriske, were caught up in the infamous “Metz Massacre” of a crash, which sent 4 riders home immediately, including Garmin’s Tom Danielson, and ended up knocking Hesjedal and Robert Hunter out overnight. Hesjedal has kept trying the Giro/Tour idea recently to be fair, although this year looks to have been his best attempt, coming 5th after a strong final week after losing time in the first few days.
Bradley Wiggins – 2013
Where to begin with this? It’s almost easier to tell the tale through Wiggins’ quotes on the matter, and whether or not he wa actually targeting the Tour de France.
17th July 2012 “He [Chris Froome] will win this race one day and I will be there to support him do that.”
24th October 2012 “It was always about winning one Tour and then deal with what comes next. It’s more than likely I’ll ride in a supporting role for Chris. I just want to be in a successful team and if that’s Chris (who is going to be the leader) then so be it. He’ll have to grow some sideburns though.”
14th December 2012 ” I’m probably going to try and win a second Tour de France, so I don’t know, maybe we’ll have two leaders. My goal is to win the Tour next year. Whether that is realised or not, I don’t know really.”
17th December 2012 “I’ve always wanted to win a second Tour. I’m the defending champion. I want to try and win the Giro d’Italia and win the Tour de France behind it. People say it can’t be done, winning two Tours. So let’s have a go at it,”
22nd January 2013 “For now I’ve got the Giro on my mind. Who knows what my form will be like afterwards? If things go to plan, Chris Froome will have priority for the Tour. I hope to have another great Tour after the Giro: that’s the new challenge, perhaps another podium. It’s also better to have two cards to play rather than just one. There won’t be any problems between me and Chris, no doubts about loyalties. He was ready to win if something had happened to me in 2012 and that could happen the other way in 2013.”
15th February 2013 “”I think Chris has earned the right to defend the Tour this year and I’d love to go back and play a part in that and not just sulk off and give up because I’m not the leader.”
29th April 2013 “‘I believe more than ever that I can win the Giro and the Tour this year. The thing with the Tour is that there may be someone who is in a better position to win, in which case I have to play second fiddle, which is fine.”
21st June 2013 “For me it was always about winning the Tour, that was a huge thing for me, a huge journey; I’ve been doing that four years. I don’t know if I’d want to go through all that again to be honest. I’ve always had other goals and there are other things I’d like to try and do.”
Wiggins, of course, scuttled out of the Giro after a series of crashes and poor performances that saw him usurped by another teammate, Rigoberto Uran, in the mountains, and he quietly abandoned after his much hyped showdown with Vincenzo Nibali, who he had irked at the 2012 Tour, never came to fruition. He then discovered that all his talk had essentially removed him from the Tour team, as Chris Froome wasn’t overly keen on having such an unpredictable personality on the “team.” I’m pretty sure that Wiggins said he would target the Giro, Tour and Vuelta at one summit of his egotism as well, but I’m still searching for that quote. Regardless, it was left for Wiggins to try and reshape his legend. He got the magazine that rather panders to him, Cycling Weekly, to claim he was “undefeated” as Tour champion on the basis he never entered again, which is stretching it a tad…
Alberto Contador – 2015
Giro – 1st
Tour – ?
The first part of the job is done, albeit without any stage wins, so Pistolero still officially has none. What will July bring?