The 2015 season was the year of the grand tour double attempt. Suddenly, one of cycling’s most challenging achievements was back in fashion.
Nearly all the major GC riders of today’s peloton, from Chris Froome and Alberto Contador to Nairo Quintana and Vincenzo Nibali, raced two grand tours in 2015 to win. It was a marked departure from the recent conventional wisdom that long held winning two grand tours in a row — and in one season — was cycling’s unreachable peak.
The results in the sudden spike in double fever, however, seemed to confirm that the grand tour double remains elusive. Contador came close, winning the Giro d’Italia but falling short with a fifth at the Tour de France. Froome won the Tour, but crashed out of the Vuelta a España. Astana’s Fabio Aru came closest, riding to second at the Giro and winning the Vuelta, though they were not back-to-back on the racing calendar.
VeloNews recently caught up with BMC sport manager Allan Peiper to talk about the recent uptick in interest among the major GC stars in riding two grand tours in a row. Here’s what he had to say:
VeloNews: It suddenly seems like a lot of the major riders are racing two grand tours each season. Is that coincidental, or do the riders today believe they can be competitive in more than one grand tour a season?
Allan Peiper: I think part of that change is sport science, and how that’s playing out with the training and racing programs. They realize it’s another year to the next Tour, and filling in that gap with race-like intensity takes a lot of work, so maybe bridging part of that gap by doing the Vuelta is a really good way of doing that. You go into the winter on a really good level, so that means you come out of the winter already at a good level. It also could be due to sponsorship, or even WorldTour points. There could be some other factors there.
VN: Is it credible to be able to win back-to-back grand tours in today’s peloton?
AP: I think it becomes more evident as we pass from grand tour to grand tour, as riders go from the Giro to the Tour, or the Tour to the Vuelta, that it’s hard to back up two [grand tours]. Riders are getting ever more specific. Teams are understanding how specific they can be in their buildup and planning for a race, and how they can excel and win. Because of those reasons, backing up two grand tours, it’s getting even more difficult.
VN: Back in your day, it seemed like there were only three or four riders who could win any grand tour, but it appears in today’s peloton there are more legitimate candidates for victory.
AP: I still think there are still those top-tier guys, but I think there are guys who are just under them, who are preparing well, who are organizing and planning for specific events, and they step up to the front line. That’s a big different. Twenty or 30 years ago, we all rode the same races, we all had the same program, and we just raced the whole year. Eddy Merckx rode 150 races a year. My guys are racing 75 days a year. Everyone has major goals for every race they go to now. There are no more training races. When the flag drops, there’s a breakaway forming right away. The toughness of the sport is getting eve more demanding. The speeds they are riding, and the veracity of the finals are harder, and those are the big changing factors. That means that you have to be even more specific in everything you’re doing, so winning is even harder.
VN: How hard is it mentally to stay at a high level for back-to-back grand tours?
AP: If you go into the first one with already the second one in your mind, it’s really difficult. But to go out of the first one, and then to immediately start thinking about another, that’s also a challenge. It’s a different era. The competition is just so intense now. Look at the Vuelta these days; it’s one of most intense of the season, and that was not the case 20 years ago.
VN: Contador couldn’t do it, but a Giro win and a fifth at the Tour stacks up pretty good. Do you believe someone can do it?
AP: It’s becoming evident that not many riders can back up two grand tours in one year, no matter how good they are. It’s hard to say. Maybe someone can win two in a row, but a few things have to stack up in their favor to have things go their way. Luck also plays a role.
How the major GC double attempts fared in 2015
Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo): 1st Giro, 5th Tour
Chris Froome (Sky): 1st Tour, DNF Vuelta
Nairo Quintana (Movistar): 2nd Tour, 4th Vuelta
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar): 3rd Tour, 7th Vuelta
Vincenzo Nibali (Astana): 4th Tour, Vuelta DSQ
Fabio Aru (Astana): 2nd Giro, 1st Vuelta
Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha): 29th Tour, 2nd Vuelta
Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo: 28th Vuelta, 3rd Vuelta