Winning a stage race generally relies on consistency, versatility, personal strength, team strength, tactical intelligence, mental fortitude, bunch craft, timing, a little luck and myriad other smaller factors.
It’s not easy to do, but most big names grab several wins in multi-stage events, ranging from hallowed Grand Tours to the circuit’s small fry.
However, there are some star stage racers who have never won anything more substantial than a stage or one-day race in their professional careers.
Strange, but true: the French darling of the Nineties was a perennial GC nearly man. He was third in the 1995 Tour and second two years later, one of five runner-up stage race finishes in his 14-year career.
Certainly, sharing his prime with Miguel Indurain and German wunderkind Jan Ullrich made it difficult.
Seven Tour de France stage wins and King of the Mountains victories rather redressed this multi-day failing – and middle France didn’t seem to care about a reputation as spotted as that maillot à pois after the Festina Affair and his long refusal to admit culpability for doping.
While Uran’s second place at this year’s Tour de France was one of the race’s big surprises, his narrow failure to make it onto the top step of the podium was nothing new.
It’s anther runner-up placing to go with the 2013 and 2014 Giro d’Italia ones – and then there was the mistimed look back that saw Alexandre Vinokourov pip him to Olympic road race gold.
In a pro career that goes back to 2006, the 30-year-old has collected over a dozen WorldTour stage race top tens, but is still waiting to break his duck.
A classy Spanish racer with a nickname to die for, uphill escapades made “the Watchmaker of Avila” tick. As well as bagging three successive King of the Mountains titles in Tours of the mid-Sixties, he finished second at the 1967 race to Roger Pingeon.
Shining brightest in the spell between Anquetil’s dominance and the Merckx monopoly, he was often hampered by losing minutes on the flat or against the clock.
Jimenez also spent ten days in the lead of the 1966 Giro d’Italia on the way to fourth overall. The Spaniard reckoned there was a plot to kidnap him in Napoli, but was ultimately undone by a poor mid-race time-trial and partisan fans pushing the Italian favourites in the mountains.
Jurgen Van den Broeck
With top-10 finishes in all three Grand Tours, Van den Broeck can lay claim to being the best Belgian stage racer since the Seventies. The pick of his results are fifth at the 2010 Tour and fourth two years later.
That said, as a gritty, unspectacular racer who never won a Grand Tour stage, the soon-to-be-retired Van den Broeck doesn’t quite match up to countrymen Merckx and Van Impe.
Herman Van Springel
Another Van nearly man: on the final day of the 1968 Tour de France, a 55-kilometre time-trial between Melun and Paris stood between race leader Herman (above) and victory. However, rival Jan Janssen got the better of him, overturning his 16-second deficit at the last gasp.
Nevertheless, Van Springel enjoyed an enviable Classics record, winning the Tour of Lombardy, Ghent-Wevelgem, Paris-Tours and a record seven editions of Bordeaux-Paris in his long career.
This featherweight climber had the Dutch dreaming, finishing fifth, fourth and third in Tours between 1981 and 1983. He also soared to a trio of stage wins, most memorably on Alpe d’Huez. (Theo Koomen’s breathless radio commentary has since gone down in cycling folklore.)
Though Winnen had two second places at the Tour de Suisse, that was as good as it got.
Fons De Wolf
Breaking through at the turn of the Eighties, it was happy days for Fons (above) at one-day races. He won Milan-Sanremo, the Tour of Lombardy and a brace of Het Volks by the age of 26, all the while looking a million bucks on a bike. The graceful puncheur was quickly anointed “the new Eddy Merckx” by his home media. No pressure then.
Though blessed with a quick finish, he had a tougher time stringing together a winning ride over a few days. The closest he got was second at the 1980 Tirreno-Adriatico to Francesco Moser and third in the following year’s Paris-Nice.
“Wawa” stole plenty of hearts this summer with his two swashbuckling Tour stage wins. However, it’s notable that, nearly five years into his pro career, the 25-year-old is yet to take a professional stage race victory.
Still, time is on his side and this season’s displays of power and panache suggest it’s a matter of when, not if.
Good things that emerged in 1990: Mariah Carey, the Fresh Prince and Gilles Delion. The man from the Massif Central won the white jersey of best young rider at the Tour de France and the Tour of Lombardy. Had L’Hexagone found their new hero?
Nope. Delion never eclipsed that, and the era had much to do with it. While many rivals resorted to EPO to keep up, the Frenchman vowed to race clean and quit the sport, disillusioned, in 1996 at the tender age of 29.
Only in recent years has Delion started to get some retrospective credit for his noble attitude.
Oscar Pereiro and Andy Schleck
Two more men who technically make the list: yes, they are listed as the 2006 and 2010 Tours de France champions respectively after doping debacles, but both were won ex post facto. They have never stood on the podium as winners of a professional stage race.
Pereiro’s record is unsurprising, whereas Schleck was blessed with innate talent and seen as a surefire Grand Tour winner.
However, following his come-from-nowhere second place at the 2007 Giro, he spent most of his career gambling on a Tour triumph that only arrived via a technicality: Alberto Contador’s disqualification after a clenbuterol positive.
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