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Why the Giro d’Italia-Tour de France double is so hard to pull off

Roundtable: Giro d'Italia boss Mauro Vegni challenges the Slovenian superstar to take on one of cycling's most elusive challenges, but is it worth it?

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Tadej Pogačar is cycling’s newest king of the peloton. Everyone admits that, and knows that.

In just three seasons in the WorldTour, the 22-year-old already rattled off some impressive milestones, including back-to-back yellow jerseys at the Tour de France, a podium with third in his grand tour debut at the Vuelta a España in 2019, and two of five of cycling’s monuments among his 30 pro wins.

So what’s left?

Giro d’Italia boss Mauro Vegni says only one thing — try winning the Giro and Tour in the same season.

Last week, Vegni made headlines by throwing down the challenge to Pogačar: what good is a fourth or fifth yellow jersey if you haven’t won the Giro? And better still, why not go for the double, arguably one of cycling’s most elusive challenges.

No one’s done it since Marco Pantani in 1998, and a few big names, including Alberto Contador, Vincenzo Nibali, Tom Dumoulin, and Chris Froome, all fell short in their respective attempts.

Only seven riders have won the Giro and Tour in the same year (can you name them all?), so if Pogačar really wants to make his mark — at least according to Vegni — he needs to target and pull off the double.

The question begs: Why is the Giro-Tour double so elusive in the modern era? And who, if anyone, seems capable of doing it?

Our VeloNews European editorial team dives in.

Sadhbh O’Shea: ‘I’d love to see Egan Bernal have a go’

Egan Bernal won the 2021 Giro d'Italia by over a minute
Could Egan Bernal have the depth to take on the double? ( Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

The Giro d’Italia-Tour de France double has always been a hard prospect, with only seven riders ever achieving it, but the feat seems even further from reach these days than it ever was.

Few riders even contemplate it now and it’s over 20 years since Marco Pantani became the last rider to do it. With so much pressure on teams by their sponsors to perform at the Tour, going in for a Giro-Tour double is a big risk and it’s likely why many steer clear of it completely.

There was a time when it looked like Chris Froome might do it when he won the Giro d’Italia in 2018 but he ultimately had to settle for third at the Tour de France. With the strength and depth of the peloton in the modern era, a rider cannot go into either race at anything less than 100 percent and that is a tough ask for anyone – but it’s not impossible.

With another year or so in his legs to put any doubts surrounding his back behind him, I think that Egan Bernal could take on the challenge. He’s young enough to have the resilience to ride two consecutive grand tours and he has the talents to beat almost anyone in the pack. I’d love to see him have a go.

Jim Cotton: ‘Primož Roglič has the skills, savvy to pull double’

SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 05: Primoz Roglic of Slovenia and Team Jumbo - Visma red leader jersey sprints during the 76th Tour of Spain 2021, Stage 21 a 33,8 km Individual Time Trial stage from Padrón to Santiago de Compostela / @lavuelta / #LaVuelta21 / ITT / on September 05, 2021 in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. (Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images)
Primož Roglič packs all the skills required for a run at the double. (Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

Primož Roglič has all the skills required for a run at the double.

The modern calendar typically leaves just four or five weeks between the Giro and the Tour. That allows precious little time for a Giro winner to hang up their pink jersey and get down on the sofa before climbing back into the saddle to rebuild and peak all over again.

It’s seen as almost impossible for post-EPO-era riders to pull off the double given the toll that racing three weeks can have on both the body and the mind.

The fact that it was last achieved by Marco Pantani in 1998 speaks volumes.

The big problem for any rider wanting to race – and win – both the Giro and the Tour is the risk of peaking too soon. To win the Giro before flaming out in France would be seen as a misstep given the financial and reputational reward of the Tour’s yellow jersey.

Any rider with a serious design on the Tour de France title doesn’t want to throw a wrench in the works by risking injuring themselves and DNF’ing at the Giro or amassing summer-ending fatigue in winning the thing.

If anyone is going to pull off a Giro-Tour double in the next few years, my money would be on Primož Roglič.

Sure, Roglič may not be as dominant as Tadej Pogačar, but he’s got the experience of racing more than one grand tour during a single season after completing two three-week races in both 2019 and 2020. Pogačar is yet to double up in his still-young career.

Perhaps more importantly, Roglič is crushingly consistent. He has finished in the top four of six of the last seven grand tours he started (with his DNF at this year’s Tour being the one outlier) and his relentless resilience has marked him out as one of the world’s best in the past few seasons.

Roglič can win on a time trial-heavy parcours or when the race is riddled with mountains, whereas riders like Egan Bernal and Richard Carapaz are less rounded.

Rogo has got both the skills and the savvy for the Giro-Tour double.

Andrew Hood: ‘Tadej Pogačar could, but will he?’

Tour de France stage 12
Tadej Pogačar seems unstoppable, but is the Giro-Tour double too much for even him? (James Startt/VeloNews)

The Giro-Tour double is so hard that anyone who’s tried it in the last 20 years almost always regrets it.

Ask Chris Froome, who chose to race the Giro in 2018, a decision that could mean he will be stuck one yellow jersey short of the “five-win” club at the Tour. Publicly, Froome said he does not regret racing the Giro in 2018, and often calls his dramatic, come-from-behind victory that year one of his career highlights. He certainly believed he would have more chances to win a fifth Tour crown.

There’s simply not enough recovery time between the end of the Giro, which arguably is the most physically demanding grand tour, and the start of the Tour to come into the “grande boucle” with enough freshness and depth to hold on until Paris.

Racing and winning the Giro only serves to give a rider’s Tour-focused rivals a leg up. Anyone training specifically for the Tour will have more punch and reserves than a rogue rider who dared to take on the Giro.

Even Froome at the top of his game in 2018 said the hard effort to win the Giro — much harder than he had expected — cost him during that year’s Tour.

The challenge goes back to what is considered more important, the Giro or the Tour?

By almost any metric, except perhaps an emotional one, the Tour is the singular most important prestigious stage race on the calendar. From sponsors to team owners, to the media and fans, the Tour — right or wrong — is the top.

Froome is among an elite group of riders who’ve won all three grand tours, but he could also become the only rider to win four yellow jerseys to not go on to win a fifth.

Giro organizers could devise a course that might suit a rider who was making noises about the double, perhaps throwing in longer time trials to give the confirmed grand tour specialists an advantage in the Giro, but would that risk the race losing its appeal as the “toughest race in the most beautiful place.”

Would a decaffeinated Giro help attract someone to race it along with the Tour? Perhaps, but at what cost?

Of the current generation of riders, Pogačar is the obvious choice to achieve the double. His recovery powers and overall consistency would mean that the Giro-Tour could be realistic.

Again, the nagging question: would his team, sponsors, or coaches allow it?

Let’s hope so. Just like most fans, I’d love to see Pogačar or anyone else make a run for the double.