All statistics accurate as of 28/1/2017
It is fairly well established that a day in the leader’s jersey at one of the three Grand Tours – the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a Espana – can be as valuable for a rider’s career as if they had won a stage of the same race. It’s certainly a more exclusive club. There have been 1,597 individual stage winners at the three events (plus 48 teams thanks to team time trials), but only 648 wearers of a leader’s jersey. Predictably, there is much crossover – 88.4% of riders who have worn a leader’s jersey have also won a stage, leaving 75 men who form a club of having worn a jersey but never having won a stage.
Analysing the wearers is actually a deceptive task, however. Traditionally, the number of days a rider has been in a leader’s jersey has been the popular metric, but the use of “days” is misleading. In the second half of the 20th century, a propensity for “split stages”, where two or three stages were shoehorned into a single day, usually in the form of a team time trial and a short road stage, meant that the lead could change on the same day.
As a result, I have instead used “stages” on the basis that this is more accurate, given that the lead changes by stage, not by day. This means some commonly accepted stats have changed, usually being increased, as the move to stages increases the number of changes available. Still, this feels like a more sensible and accurate reflection of the dynamics of bicycle racing.
How many riders have led all three races?
Following logically that the oldest races have had the most leaders, the Tour de France has had 292 riders wearing its malliot jaune, whilst the Giro d’Italia has had 257, with the Vuelta a Espana bringing up the rear on 214.
However, just twenty riders have managed to collect all three during their careers. Obviously, these include Merckx, Anquetil, Contador, Nibali, Gimondi and Hinault – the only men to have won all three Grand Tours, but there are a further seven grand tour winners, then another seven who have never won, or indeed have never had a hope of winning one.
Given their grand tour winning prowess, it’s no surprise that these riders have a total of 1,019 stages in the leader’s jersey between them – thats 18% of the total. They are as follows:
|Eddy Merckx||1968-70, 1972-73||1969-72, 1974-75||1973||70||111||11|
|Bernard Hinault||1980, 1982, 1985||1978-82, 1984-86||1978, 1983||31||79||16|
|Jacques Anquetil||1959-61, 1964, 1967||1957, 1961-64||1963||42||52||17|
|Alberto Contador||2008, 2011, 2015||2007, 2009-10||2008, 2012, 2014||36||17||26|
|Francesco Moser||1976-77, 1979-82, 1984-85||1975||1984||57||7||7|
|Alex Zulle||1998||1992, 1996||1993, 1996-97, 2000||12||4||48|
|Vincenzo Nibali||2010, 2013, 2016||2014||2010, 2013||19||19||20|
|Felice Gimondi||1967, 1969, 1976||1965||1968||23||19||4|
|Laurent Jalabert||1999||1995, 2000||1995-1998||8||4||24|
|Rik Van Looy||1959||1965||1958-59, 1964-65||1||2||14|
|Cadel Evans||2002, 2010, 2014||2008, 2010-11||2009||6||8||1|
|Rik Van Steenbergen||1951, 1957||1952||1956||8||2||1|
|Thiery Marie||1992||1986, 1990-91||1986||2||7||1|
|Mark Cavendish||2009, 2011, 2013||2016||2010||4||1||2|
Greatest number of days in the lead
It is fairly unsurprising that the riders with the greatest number of Grand Tour victories have spent the highest number of days in the lead. The top ten for all three Grand Tours is as follows:
|1||Eddy Merckx [BEL]||1968-75||70||111||11||192|
|2||Bernard Hinault [FRA]||1978-86||31||79||16||126|
|3||Jacques Anquetil [FRA]||1957, 1959-64, 1957||42||52||17||111|
|4||Miguel Indurain [ESP]||1985, 1991-1995||29||60||4||93|
|5||Lance Armstrong [USA]||1999-2005||83||83|
|6||Alberto Contador [ESP]||2007-12, 2014-15||36||17||26||79|
|7||Gino Bartali [ITA]||1936-39, 1946-49||50||23||73|
|8||Franceso Moser [ITA]||1975-77, 1979-82, 1984-85||57||7||7||71|
|9||Alex Zulle [SUI]||1992-93, 1996-98, 2000||12||4||48||64|
|10||Alfredo Binda [ITA]||1925, 1927-29, 1931, 1933||59||59|
Alberto Contador is the only current rider to make the top ten overall list, although Vincenzo Nibali sits in eleventh, and needs just two stages in a jersey to bump Alfredo Binda out. He sits second on the current rankings, which look set to be dominated by Chris Froome and Nairo Quintana in the future.
|1||Alberto Contador [ESP]||2007-12, 2014-15||36||17||26||79|
|2||Vincenzo Nibali [ITA]||2010, 2013-14, 2016||19||19||20||58|
|3||Chris Froome [GBR]||2011, 2013, 2015-16||44||1||45|
|4||Alejandro Valverde [ESP]||2006, 2008-09, 2012, 2014||2||27||29|
|5=||Thomas Voeckler [FRA]||2004, 2011||20||20|
|5=||Nario Quintana [COL]||2014, 2016||6||14||20|
|7||Tom Dumoulin [NED]||2015-16||6||6||12|
|8=||Damiano Cunego [ITA]||2004||11||11|
|8=||Michael Matthews [AUS]||2014-15||8||3||11|
|10=||Giovanni Visconti [ITA]||2008||8||8|
|10=||Rinaldo Nocentini [ITA]||2009||8||8|
|10=||Fabio Aru [ITA]||2015||1||7||8|
Tour de France
Despite winning seven Tours (quiet at the back), Lance Armstrong is “only” second on the all-time list (of course, in the official record, he has been completely excised.) Mr Merckx has benefited quite nicely from my “stages not days” rule, which gives him 15 extra stages in the lead.
As an aside, if we look at what percentage of the race they wore yellow for (just for the Tours in which they did so), the Merckx still comes out top by some margin.
Merckx 111/157 = 70.7%
Armstrong 84/147 = 57.1%
This is especially borne out if you include all the Tour stages they ever rode in their careers.
Merckx 111/185 = 60%
Armstrong 84/260* = 32.3%
*Armstrong didn’t finish the ’93 or ’94 Tours.
But anyway, it’s the five and seven time winners club at the top, with other multiple winners piling in. Chris Froome is the only man in the current field to make it in.
|1||Eddy Merckx [BEL]||1969-72, 1974-75||111|
|2||Lance Armstrong [USA]||1999-2005||83|
|3||Bernard Hinault [USA]||1978-82, 1984-86||79|
|4||Miguel Indurain [ESP]||1991-1995||60|
|5||Jacques Anquetil [FRA]||1957, 1961-1964||52|
|6||Chris Froome [GBR]||2013, 2015-16||44|
|7||Sylvere Maes [BEL]||1936-37, 1939||41|
|8||Antonin Magne [FRA]||1931, 1934||39|
|9||Philippe Thys [BEL]||1913-14, 1920||37|
|10||Nicolas Frantz [LUX]||1927-29||37|
Special mention, as always, goes to Fabian Cancellara, as the man with the most stages in yellow (29) without having actually won the race overall.
Following the retirement of Cancellara, Thomas Voeckler has ascended to the lofty heights of being the rider with the most days in the jersey not to have actually won it. He is also the man who has the oldest yellow tunic in his cupboard, with his 2004 yellow jersey the oldest of the 22 men still active who have taken it.
|1||Chris Froome [GBR]||2013, 2015-16||44|
|2||Thomas Voeckler [FRA]||2004, 2011||20|
|3||Vincenzo Nibali [ITA]||2014||19|
|4||Alberto Contador [ESP]||2007, 2009-10||17|
|5||Rinaldo Nocentini [ITA]||2009||8|
|6||Tom Boonen [BEL]||2006||4|
|7=||Tony Martin [GER]||2015||3|
|7=||Peter Sagan [SVK]||2016||3|
|7=||Greg Van Avermaet [BEL]||2016||3|
|10=||Alejandro Valverde [ESP]||2008||2|
|10=||Sylvain Chavanel [FRA]||2010||2|
|10=||Stefan Schumacher [GER]||2008||2|
|10=||Marcel Kittel [GER]||2013-14||2|
|10=||Jan Bakelandts [BEL]||2013||2|
|10=||Simon Gerrans [AUS]||2013||2|
|10=||Daryl Impey [RSA]||2013||2|
Current riders who have had a day in the jersey are: Mark Cavendish, Philippe Gilbert, Romain Feillu, Tony Gallopin and Rohan Dennis.
Again, it’s the multiple winners club for the Giro, with Merckx and Binda topping the list, although Coppi is quite far back, mainly due to poaching the jersey quite late in the races. An interesting quirk is that he and Gino Bartali only wore the jersey in the same year once, in 1947.
Francesco Moser benefits from a few years of prologue winning to boost his standing, before the Italians decided to edit the course for him in 1984, much to Laurent Fignon’s chagrin.
And Alberto Contador is the current man in the top ten, although given this analysis doesn’t take into account disqualifications (such as his 2011 race), he is benefitting from 13 days that are officially shared between Kanstantsin Sivstov, Vincenzo Nibali and eventual winner Michele Scarponi.
|1||Eddy Merckx [BEL]||1968-70, 1972-73||70|
|2||Alfredo Binda [ITA]||1925, 1927-29, 1931, 1933||59|
|3||Francesco Moser [ITA]||1976-77, 1979-82, 1984-85||57|
|4||Gino Bartali [ITA]||1936-37, 1939, 1946-47||50|
|5||Giuseppe Saronni [ITA]||1979, 1984, 1983, 1985-86||49|
|6||Jacques Anquetil [FRA]||1959-61, 1964, 1967||42|
|7||Alberto Contador [ESP]||2008, 2011, 2015||36|
|8=||Bernard Hinault [FRA]||1980, 1982, 1985||31|
|8=||Fausto Coppi [ITA]||1940, 1947, 1949, 1952-54||31|
|10||Miguel Indurain [ESP]||1992-93||29|
There are 31, 30 or 29 current riders who have worn the maglia rosa, depending on whether Matteo Tossato or Luca Paolini get late contracts. This is substantially more than the Tour’s 22, perhaps reflecting the greater lock down teams have on the jersey in France, whilst the Giro has always lent itself to a more flowing race leadership.
Three of the four men still riding who have won the race, with the exceptions of Michele Scarponi, a man in the unique position of being an official winner but never having won the jersey, head up the current rider standings, and Nairo Quintana.
Contador, as above, leads overall thanks to the inclusion of 2011, although the 2015 Giro is the only race where he has ever lost the lead of a Grand Tour, albeit only for a day, when Fabio Aru relieved him of it before the time trial.
|1||Alberto Contador [ESP]||2008, 2011, 2015||36|
|2||Vincenzo Nibali [ITA]||2010, 2013, 2016||19|
|3||Damiano Cunego [ITA]||2004||11|
|4=||Giovanni Visconti [ITA]||2008||8|
|4=||Michael Matthews [AUS]||2014-15||8|
|6=||Davide Rebellin [ITA]||1996||6|
|6=||Nairo Quintana [COL]||2014||6|
|6=||Tom Dumoulin [NED]||2016||6|
|9=||David Arroyo [ESP]||2010||5|
|9=||Steven Kruijswijk [NED]||2016||5|
Other current maglia rosa wearers are: Mark Cavendish, Pieter Weening, Luca Paolini, Rigoberto Uran, Matteo Tossato, Richie Porte, Taylor Phinney, Bob Jungels, Stefan Schumacher, Ramunas Navadauskas, Gianlucca Brambilla, Marcel Kittel, Simon Gerrans, Fabio Aru, Esteban Chaves, Adriano Malori, Salvatore Puccio, Benat Intxausti, Svein Tuft, Simon Clarke and Andrey Amador.
Vuelta a Espana
A younger race, having held 71 editions, the Vuelta top ten is dominated by those who were around in its earliest concoctions, as well as by its multiple winners. Of course, it’s still a bit up in the air whether Roberto Heras has won three or four times, but he still sits behind Zulle, who only won twice, but spent great chunks of 1993 and 2000 in the lead thanks to his time trialling skills.
You wouldn’t bet against a current rider making their way into the top half of the table, especially and Contador and Valverde are a week in red off of the podium. If Chris Froome ever wins the race, and performs his usual two-week lockout, he could quite easily ascend into the top ten as well.
|1||Alex Zulle [SUI]||1993, 1996-97, 2000||48|
|2||Roberto Heras [ESP]||2000, 2002-05||36|
|3=||Tony Rominger [SUI]||1992-94||32|
|3=||Gustaaf Deloor [ESP]||1935-36||32|
|3=||Delio Rodriguez [ESP]||1941, 1945-47||32|
|6||Julian Berrendero [ESP]||1941-42, 1945, 1948||30|
|7||Domingo Perurena [ESP]||1967, 1970-72, 1974-75||29|
|8||Alejandro Valverde [ESP]||2006, 2008-09, 2012, 2014||27|
|9||Alberto Contador [ESP]||2008, 2012, 2014||26|
|10||Laurent Jalabert [FRA]||1995-98||24|
With Chris Horner still telling anyone who will listen that he will win the biggest races in the world as he tries to get a team, it’s unsure whether there are 30 or 31 current riders left who have held the red, or indeed gold, as it was, jersey, at the Vuelta. Alejandro Valverde and Alberto Contador are the only men left to have won a golden fleece, with everyone after Nibali picking up the new red jersey.
Alejandro Valverde’s longevity means that he pips the three-time champion Contador to the summit, mainly because Contador failed to wear the jersey in 2016 – the only time he has entered the Vuelta and failed to win, let alone win a stage.
|1||Alejandro Valverde [ESP]||2006, 2008-09, 2012, 2014||27|
|2||Alberto Contador [ESP]||2008, 2012, 2014||26|
|3||Vincenzo Nibali [ITA]||2010, 2013||20|
|4||Nairo Quintana [COL]||2014, 2016||14|
|5||Fabio Aru [ITA]||2015||7|
|6||Tom Dumoulin [NED]||2015||6|
|7=||Sylvain Chavanel [FRA]||2008, 2011||5|
|7=||Philippe Gilbert [BEL]||2010||5|
|7=||Igor Anton [ESP]||2010||5|
|9=||Daniele Bennati [ITA]||2007-08, 2011||4|
|9=||Darwin Atapuma [COL]||2016||4|
Other riders who have worn red (and indeed gold) are: Michael Matthews, Esteban Chaves, Janez Brajkovic, Jonathan Castroviejo, Mark Cavendish, Andre Greipel, Chris Froome, Stijn Devolder, Filippo Pozzato, Alessandro Ballan, Jakob Fuglsang, Bauke Mollema, Nicholas Roche, Daniel Moreno, Peter Velits, Peter Kennaugh, Michal Kwiatkowski, Ruben Fernandez and David de la Cruz.