Just eight men have won a grand tour and a road race world title in the same year.
The last to do it? Greg LeMond in 1989, when he won the Tour de France and then went on to take the rainbow jersey in Chambéry.
Others to lay claim to this rare achievement are Alfredo Binda, Georges Speicher, Fausto Coppi, Louison Bobet, Ercole Baldini, Eddy Merckx, and Bernard Hinault.
While Giro d’Italia winner Egan Bernal is not slated to race in Flanders over this next week, Tour de France champion Tadej Pogačar and Vuelta a España victor Primož Roglič will be among the red-hot favorites for the road race rainbow.
“I’ve never put a big focus on a one-day time trial before, and I want to get better at this and I will race the road race at the worlds,” Pogačar said of his worlds hopes during a media call in August.
“It will be an honor to race with the national Slovenian team at the world championships.”
Winning a grand tour and winning a world championships road race requires two different skillsets and being a top-drawer GC rider doesn’t always convert into being able to deliver in a one-day race, especially when it comes to the unpredictability of the world championships.
Over the 32 years since LeMond did his grand tour-worlds double, very few riders have even threatened to gain entry to the exclusive club.
In 1990, Gianni Bugno won the Giro d’Italia and went on to claim a bronze medal at the worlds. The Italian would win the rainbow jersey the following two years while finishing on the Tour de France podium, but he’d never win another grand tour.
Miguel Indurain enjoyed a run of podium places at the world championships during the early 90s when he was in his pomp as a grand tour rider. The closest he ever got to laying claim to the rainbow bands came in 1991, when he came to the line in a four-man group — along with Bugno — and took the bronze medal.
Indurain also took two silver medals, but he was never physically as close as he had been in 1991.
The grand tour-time trial worlds double had a good run in the 1990s with Indurain doing it in 1995. Vuelta champions Alex Zülle, Abraham Olano and Jan Ullrich did it in 1996, 1998, and 1999 respectively. Meanwhile, Tom Dumoulin achieved the double in 2017 after taking the Giro d’Italia title before winning in the time trial.
Meanwhile, the road race double has remained steadfastly in the 1980s, however. Since then, there have been some riders who have won grand tours and world championships — such as Damiano Cunego and Alejandro Valverde — but none has threatened to end that three-decade-long drought.
Could Pogačar or Roglič end the drought and book their entry into this illustrious club next week?
What are the chances?
Aside from the unique challenges posed by a one-day race such as the world championships, the differing annual parcours can make it difficult for grand tour form and the ideal worlds route to line up for a rider.
This year’s worlds route through the heart of Flanders is the right side of hilly to appeal to the climbers. The parcours has been described as a cross between the Tour of Flanders and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the latter of which both Slovenians have won.
With their aggressive and punchy styles, both Pogačar and Roglič are very well suited to the Flanders route. It’s almost a shame that we aren’t able to see them in separate teams to watch them spar against each other but the pairing makes the Slovenian squad one of the most formidable.
With Matej Mohorič and a host of other strong riders filling out the nine-man squad, Slovenia’s team is more than just the Pogačar and Roglič show. However, they shine the brightest within it and they have the mettle to take the race to the likes of Wout van Aert and Julian Alaphilippe.
Pogačar and Roglič come into the event with very different build-ups.
Pogačar, after winning the Tour and finishing third at the Olympic Games, resumed racing less than a month ago.
“I’m excited to race again,” Pogačar said shortly before his return at the Bretagne Classic. “I did celebrate my Tour de France victory a bit, so I’m not really sure about my condition. I stayed off the bike for a week. Then I calmly resumed training. I did a bit of cycling, enjoying the summer, the beach, and the little things in life.”
Pogačar’s form has been quiet but steadily improving following a DNF in Brittany. He took 12th in the time trial at the European championships and went on to claim fifth in the road race. The 22-year-old will contest the worlds TT, after Olympic champion Roglič opted not to do it, but he’s unlikely to snap up a rainbow jersey there with some major power players due to line up Sunday.
Roglič has been enjoying some downtime since taking the Olympic time trial title and then blasting to a third straight Vuelta a España win. Skipping the time trial in Flanders gives him an extra week to away from the hum of racing, though how much of his form he’s carried from the Vuelta is an unknown.
If both have timed their build-up to the worlds right, they — along with Mohorič — could play off one another to break down the other nations.
With the two GC titans teaming up together, this could be the strongest chance in years that a reigning grand tour champion can claim the world road race title.