With the final Grand Tour of the season approaching, short-sighted cycloscribe Felix Lowe gets double vision
Eurosport’s blogger on the challenge facing Chris Froome as he attempts to complete the Tour/vuelta double
The thing about doubles, Nairo, is that you have to win the first one, otherwise it’s just a single. And if you don’t win the second either, well, then it’s just a plain zero – or, to put it less brutally, a mere taking part.
Lots of riders inconsequentially take part in a Grand Tour double. Many, such as Lotto Soudal’s Adam Hansen, voluntarily put themselves up for numerous Groundhog Years of triples (albeit with no serious expectations besides an escape from having to train). The majority of even the very best riders never win more than a zero when attempting multiple Grand Tours in a single year. Only nine have done the double.
Of those, seven have done the Giro-tour double (the one that flummoxed a pre-tour Quintana at the first hurdle when he was caught short by Tom Dumoulin in the Giro – if you excuse the inverse double entendre).
Three have done the two-fingers-toFrance hipster double of the Giro and Vuelta (the one that this year Dumoulin has decided to show his middle finger to).
But what of the Tour-vuelta double, which Chris Froome came within an Alberto Contador ambush of claiming last September? Only a pair of irascible Frenchmen – Jacques ‘To prepare for a race there is nothing better than a good pheasant, some champagne and a woman’ Anquetil (1963) and Bernard ‘When I see pot-bellied cyclists wearing the yellow jersey, it appals me’ Hinault (1978) – have achieved a feat not repeated since the Vuelta shifted from late April to its current late August slot in 1995.
Why? Well, the Vuelta was once viewed as an elaborate training race. It wasn’t exactly bidons of sangria, tortilla musettes and saddle siestas – but it was a far cry from the double-digit climbing circus of today. In the past, the big-name riders presumably preferred to train a few weeks later at the Giro, which had both pasta and prestige. Hence the higher rate of Giro-tour doubles over time, I suppose.
Once the Spanish race shifted to its preWorlds slot, Tour-vuelta attempts became largely improvised – you didn’t target the latter unless you crashed out of the former. Or you were Spanish and had nothing to lose, such as Carlos Sastre in 2008.
Can you blame Sastre? For years a GC journeyman and domestique deluxe for Ivan Basso and the Schleck brothers, then the stars align, he has one good day on Alpe d’huez, and he’s a Tour winner. Which Spaniard wouldn’t milk this glory on a three-week jolly around his homeland? To be fair, Sastre did make the podium.
Bookending your season with the Giro and Vuelta requires twin peaks, while recent history suggests riding the Giro before the Tour compromises your chances in both (just ask Quintana and Contador). But carrying momentum from Tour to Vuelta is different. Besides, any decent result in the Spanish sequel is seen as a bonus.
It was 2015 when Froome had a first proper tilt at the Franco-spanish double. Had he not ridden into a wooden barrier in Andorra, he could well have succeeded. He was thwarted again last year when Contador and Quintana had the temerity to ride at the double while he was chewing the fat with Sky teammates at the back of the bunch.
With Froome having seen off the triple threat of Rigoberto Uran, Romain Bardet and Fabio Aru that loomed ominously in his rear-view mirror for the majority of this year’s Tour, he’ll never have a better chance at joining Anquetil and Hinault in the record books. And as we said: to do the double, you first need the single, even if it was a somewhat drab, unconvincing and Mikel Landa-assisted single.
There was a moment, when Froome briefly conceded yellow to Aru, when it looked like the season’s only viable double impresario would be Dumoulin – following in the tyre tracks of Eddy Merckx (1973), Giovanni Battaglin (1981) and Contador (2008) in successfully peaking for pizza and paella in the same season.
But the Giro winner’s decision to forgo the Vuelta means there’ll be no double Dutch – even despite Dumoulin’s penchant for a good number two. So, instead it’s all eyes on Froome to go fourth-time lucky in the Vuelta and double down following his Four de France. Who knows – he may even win a stage in doing so. When it comes to punditry, Felix Lowe admits to double standards