Cycling Weekly

21ST CENTURY GRAND TOURS RANKED

If the Grand Tour hadn’t existed in 2000, would someone have invented it? The cost, the complexity of running it, the sheer size of the event all for what are often fleeting moments of high drama would make it likely they would not have. The Grand Tour format is in many ways a throwback to another time when a day’s worth of racing would only serve to be packaged down into several pages of newsprint, not shown live all day long. “Do the kids of today have the attention span for a three-week race?” the sport’s commissioners would have asked.

As a fan you have to invest in a Grand Tour. While there are always intriguing and entertaining plot lines in the opening days, the main event frequently doesn’t crackle into life until the end of the first week at best – despite race organisers’ attempts to force the issue higher up the peloton’s agenda. In that respect though it parallels a more recent phenomenon – the DVD series boxset. A good Grand Tour is binge-worthy sport delivered on a daily release schedule. The best ones are The Wire; should Contador have waited for Schleck when he dropped his chain is a question up there with whether McNulty would have ever caught Stringer Bell.

The worst, well we simply don’t think about them, they’re dull and procedural and all the characters do exactly what you expect them to. But we tune in next time because we know that it’s good when riders are going toe-to-toe, and when they’re doing things we couldn’t possibly imagine it’s transcendent. Something like that would always be worth inventing.

60 2003 VUELTA A ESPANA

ONCE’s Isidro Nozal led for most of the race but gradually wilted under the pressure applied by US Postal’s Roberto Heras, who won the mountain time trial on the Alto de Abantos on the penultimate day and took the lead.

1 Roberto Heras (Spa) US Postal 69-31-52

2 Isidro Nozal (Spa) ONCE-Eroski at 28 sec

3 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Kelme-Costa Blanca at 2-25

59 2005 TOUR DE FRANCE

Lance Armstrong only won a stage but was still untroubled as he notched a seventh win and promptly retired. The top 10 was dominated by riders involved in doping scandals, the race summed up by Classics specialist George Hincapie’s summit victory at Pla d’Adet.

1 Lance Armstrong (USA) US Postal DQ-ed

2 Ivan Basso (Ita) CSC at 4-40

3 Jan Ullrich (Ger) T-Mobile DQ-ed

58 2002 TOUR DE FRANCE

Not a race that will be long remembered, at least for what happened on the road. Armstrong won four stages on the way to his fourth successive victory, but was subsequently stripped of them all. Lithuania’s Raimondas Rumsas finished third, his performance completely overshadowed by the arrest of his wife at the French border in a car full of drugs. Rumsas insisted the performance-enhancing products were for his mother-in-law and let his wife languish in jail for several months.

1 Lance Armstrong (USA) US Postal DQ-ed

2 Joseba Beloki (Spa) ONCE-Eroski at 7-17

3 Raimondas Rumsas (Lit) Lampre-Daikin at 8-17

57 2011 GIRO D’ITALIA

The race was hit by tragedy in the opening week when Belgian rider Wouter Weylandt crashed on a descent and died at the scene. Alberto Contador went on to win but had his title stripped the following year, giving the late Michele Scarponi his only Grand Tour title.

1 Michele Scarponi (Ita) Lampre-ISD 84-11-24

2 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale at 46 sec

3 John Gadret (Fra) Ag2r La Mondiale at 3-54

56 2007 VUELTA A ESPANA

The race was completely dominated by Denis Menchov, who finished three and a half minutes ahead of Carlos Sastre. Menchov took the lead from Stijn Devolder at Cerler, then confirmed his superiority with victory at Arcalis the next day.

1 Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank 80-59-07

2 Carlos Sastre (Spa) CSC at 3-31

3 Samuel Sánchez (Spa) Euskaltel at 3-36

55 2000 VUELTA A ESPANA

Tied at the top of the leader board with Angel Casero, Roberto Heras took control when he gained almost four minutes on the Angliru. The race was dominated by the home nation with no fewer than seven Spanish riders finishing in the top 10 of the final GC standings.

1 Roberto Heras (Spa) Kelme-Costa Blanca 70-26-14

(Spa) Festina at 2-33

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