Remember the good old days when Miguel Indurain won five Tours de France in a row? Or when it seemed that Alberto Contador was destined to break Andy Schleck‘s heart year after year? Or those years in between when you knew it was July because your TV was full of you-know-who crushing Jan Ullrich‘s hopes yet again?
Those were the years when the grand tour podiums seemed to feature the same faces every year, with the same elite club wearing pink, yellow and red in May, July and September. It wasn’t that long ago that Contador was sweeping all before him, Denis Menchov was quietly winning three grand tours in five years and Ivan Basso was adding a couple of his own.
In a seven-race stretch between the 2007 and 2009 Tours de France, Contador won all four grand tours that he entered and Menchov two of the other three. (The odd man out was Carlos Sastre at the 2008 Tour, a race from which Contador’s Astana team was banned. Instead he did the Giro/Vuelta double that year.)
We don’t see that level of dominance these days. Something funny has happened in the grand tours, as the table below showing the winners of the grand tours over the last six years demonstrates.
The last 18 grand tours have seen 14 different winners from nine countries, including a whole raft of first-time winners, ranging from 41-year-old Chris Horner to 24-year-old Nairo Quintana, the first Tour de France winner from the southern hemisphere (Cadel Evans), the first two British Tour champions (Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome) and the first Canadian grand tour winner (Ryder Hesjedal). Indeed the last five have each been won by different riders.
Attribute the cause to whatever you like: the lack of a truly dominant rider, greater strength in depth at the top of the sport, tougher parcours forcing top riders to do fewer grand tours, global warming maybe. Whichever way you cut it, the spoils are being shared out more widely than has been the case for many years.
Sadly we were denied the hotly anticipated three-way smack-down between Contador, Froome and Vincenzo Nibali at the Tour last year. But take those three, throw in Quintana and fellow Colombian Rigoberto Uran, add in the recent resurgence in French GC contenders and also exciting young prospects such as Fabio Aru and Rafal Majka, and there’s every indication we could be in the middle of a golden era of competitive racing that can only be a good thing for the sport and its fans alike. Let’s hope so anyway.