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Each of the three Grand Tour races – the Tour de France, Vuelta a Espana and Giro d’Italia – is unique in its own way, and they tend to suit different cyclists based upon their ability on the climb and also in downhill sprinting.
Home to the finest cyclists ever to climb onto the saddle, the Grand Tours have produced some of the best performance in cycling history – here’s five of the most unforgettable.
Gino Bartali (Tour de France, 1948)
Known as a lover of smoking cigarettes, Gino Bartali nonetheless possessed incredible stamina, and that would lead him to a phenomenal career as a climb-specialist.
Returning to cycling after the Second World War, the Italian did not know any of his competitors at the Tour de France in 1948 – he simply had to decide his movements, and when to push hard or sit in, based upon his own instinct.
Bartali’s performance was staggeringly good. He won three consecutive mountain stages – the only man in Tour history to achieve the feat, and would win seven stages in all as he romped to the yellow jersey….ten years after his first Tour de France victory.
Eddie Merckx (Tour de France, 1969)
Most in cycling consider Eddie Merckx to be the greatest ever, and with eleven Grand Tour victories – five in France and Italy and one in Spain – it is certainly difficult to argue with that assertion.
Perhaps the Belgian’s finest moment in the saddle came at the Tour de France in 1969, when he became the first to win all three of the classifications – general, points and mountains – in the same race.
Ironically, Merckx’s 1969 campaign did not get off to the best possible start. He was leading at the Giro d’Italia, but on the morning of the sixteenth stage his hotel room was crashed by event officials, who informed him that he had failed a drugs test. Merckx was disqualified from the race, although a subsequent appeal overturned the decision on the ‘benefit of doubt’.
Unfortunately, the incident tarnished the Belgian’s reputation for a while, and it would take some time for him to rebuild his status as one of the finest cyclists in living memory. But happily for Merckx, that chance would come at the Tour de France – he was determined not to let it pass.
And so he set about delivering a masterclass of all-round cycling, dominating both the mountains and road sections of the race to win all three classifications – he wouldn’t have known which colour jersey to wear first!
That was the second Grand Tour win of Merckyx’s career to that point, and his first in France. It was a performance that has barely been equalled since.
Bernard Hinault (Tour de France, 1985)
To win any of the Grand Tour events is an effort of some physical magnitude, but to dust yourself off after a crash that breaks your nose and still win? That’s another matter altogether.
But that’s exactly what Bernard Hinault achieved at the Tour de France in 1985. The Frenchman led the race coming out of the Alps stages, but that heavy collision saw him badly hurt – he was already suffering from the symptoms of bronchitis.
From stage 17 onwards, Hinault was struggling to compete with those not injured, but he hung on and in a show of great determination, took the yellow jersey despite losing more than three minutes to the field after his sickening injury.
It was Hinault’s fifth Tour win, and undoubtedly his best.
Evgeni Berzin (Giro d’Italia, 1994)
In the early 1990s, Miguel Indurain was the undoubted king of cycling. He won five consecutive editions of the Tour de France from 1991 to 1995, and also prevailed in back-to-back Giro d’Italia races in 1992 and 1993. Who on earth could stop the Spaniard?
Step forward Evgeni Berzin, the unheralded Russian who had barely competed in a Grand Tour event prior to the Giro d’Italia in 1994.
But something clicked for Berzim there, and he came flying out of the blocks in Italy – gaining an incredible three minutes on Indurain across the first eight stages.
Indurain and Marco Pantani were gaining on Berzim as the Tour entered its final stages, but the Russian showed incredible tenacity to cling on to the yellow jersey and complete his only Grand Tour triumph.
Chris Froome (Vuelta a Espana, 2017)
By the end of his cycling career, Chris Froome had completed the Grand Tour triple crown – winning four Tour de France editions, two Vuelta a Espana and a single Giro d’Italia.
Two of those came in 2017, when the Brit followed a gruelling victory in France with success in Spain just a matter of weeks later.
Wrestling dominance from the field from the third stage onwards, Froome won the general classification by more than two minutes and even clinched the green jersey for points scoring to complete one of the best years on the Grand Tour from an individual cyclist.