September 13, 2013 by Irish Peloton
The Most Versatile Classics Rider in Cycling
So which rider is the most versatile classics rider in the current peloton? Who has what it takes across all five of cycling’s hardest one day races, the monument classics?
If we are to judge simply on the number of wins in these five races, it has been a ding dong battle for supremacy for the last few years between Fabian Cancellara and Tom Boonen. Boonen has four Paris-Roubaixs and three Tours of Flanders, both records. While Cancellara’s total of six victories are spread between those two same races along with a single win in Milan San Remo.
But this is not about total victories. Boonen and Cancellara have been the two dominant Spring classics riders of their generation, but neither have ever even started either Liege-Bastogne-Liege or the Tour of Lombardy.
Perhaps Phillipe Gilbert would be a better bet. The incumbent world champion has won both of the hilly classics in Liege and Lombardy and has finished on the podium of Milan San Remo and the Tour of Flanders. But in Paris-Roubaix, a race much less suited to Gilbert’s physique, he has only ever finished a modest 52nd.
Although, he has yet to win a monument classic, in more recent years Peter Sagan has shown us a talent the likes of which has the potential to nab him wins in any of the five. But similarly to Boonen and Cancellara, he has yet to attempt either of the two hillier classics. Although still only 23 years old, he is sure to rectify this scenario before his career is out.
So just who is the most versatile monument classics rider in the current peloton?
One way to determine this is to consider all riders who have actually ridden all five races, add up their best finishing positions in each and the rider with the lowest score wins.
Using this system, Gilbert sits in third place, only let down by that 52nd place in Paris-Roubaix, to yield a score of 60.
The rider who would be in second place on this list is a team-mate of Gilbert’s, another of the world champion brigade on the BMC team, Alessandro Ballan. The Italian has finished fourth, first and third respectively in Milan San Remo, Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. A more modest showing in the hilly classics with 19th in Liége and 14th in the Tour of Lombardy is still good enough to give him a score of 41.
The rider at the top of this list is yet another rider from BMC. Cadel Evans? Thor Hushovd?
The most versatile monument classics rider in the current peloton is Greg van Avermaet.
He has never won any of them or even finished on the podium but his lowest scores, in the order in which the five races appear on the calendar, are ninth, fourth, fourth, seventh and 12th, giving him the lowest score of any current rider of 36.
Van Avermaet is a curious type of rider who has all the attributes of a top classics contender. He’s strong over short climbs, he has an enviable sprint and he seems to have a keen eye for reading a race. He has won Paris-Tours, a stage of the Vuelta and numerous stages of minor stage races. But for a number of reasons a big win has always eluded him.
One of the main apparent reasons is the team that he has chosen to be a part of. When Van Avermaet joined BMC in 2011 he was leaving an Omega-Pharma-Lotto team which was to be built around Gilbert for the coming season. This meant that Van Avermaet’s chances of going for personal glory would be greatly reduced by the presence of Gilbert who ended up winning all three Ardennes classics in 2011. So Van Avermaet decided to leave.
The BMC team that Van Avermaet was joining contained a more balanced classics squad which included George Hincapie, Taylor Phinney, Karsten Kroon, Marcus Burghardt and Alessandro Ballan. Plenty of talent but plenty of races to go around. Indeed, this was the year that Van Avermaet won Paris-Tours along with the GP de Wallonie. But that winter, team owner Andy Rihs got out the cheque book once more and signed both Gilbert and Hushovd, which reduced Van Avermaet’s opportunities for sole leadership of the team on race day. He was reduced to feeding off scraps in the big races and often acted as the tactical decoy for his more illustrious team-mates.
There are actually surprisingly few active riders who have ridden all five monument classics. And of those that have, they tend to be of the second tier of riders likely to win one of them. One would be inclined to think that times have changed since the days of the old World Cup competition where there was a season-long incentive to take part in all of these races and in its absence, that incentive is no longer there.
But even riders who took the World Cup seriously, indeed former winners of the World Cup like Paolo Bettini and Erik Zabel did not ride all five in their careers. Bettini never rode Roubaix and Zabel never rode in Lombardy. For the really big names when it comes to classics riders, there always seems to be at least one of the five races which they shy away from.
Here is the top 10 list of current riders with the lowest total finishing positions in the five monument classics*: