Cobbled Classics – Doubles, Trebles and one Quadruple

For the purposes of this exercise the ‘cobbled classics’ are one of the following races: Het Volk (yes it’s still ‘Volk’, always will be), Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, Dwars Door Vlaanderen, E3 Prijs, Ghent-Wevelgem, Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. We can argue about what constitutes a classic until the cows come home. Call Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne or Dwars Door Vlaanderen a semi-classic if you like, but this is the seven I’ve chosen to go with.

Greg van Avermaet is on course for one of the most successful seasons ever in the cobbled classics. He has already won three of these races and will certainly be aiming to add a fourth at the Tour of Flanders. Only one rider in cycling history has ever won four of these races in a single year before. And he’ll be one of Van Avermaet’s rivals for victory on Sunday – Tom Boonen. That was in 2012, a Spring of near perfection for Boonen, when he won the final four of these races.

In winning three cobbled classics in one year, Van Avermaet has emulated what only six others have done previously. Boonen is obviously one of them, but he bagged a treble on two further occasions other than his miracle year of 2012. Fabian Cancellara twice completed a hat-trick of his own. The other three riders who have managed this are Jan Raas (who won the same three races as Van Avermaet), Eddy Merckx, Walter Godefroot and Rik Van Looy. The full details of each treble are as follows:

YearRiderRaces
2017Greg Van AvermaetHet Volk, E3 Prijs, Ghent-Wevelgem
2013Fabian CancellaraE3 Prijs, Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix
2012Tom BoonenE3 Prijs, Ghent-Wevelgem, Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix
2010Fabian CancellaraE3 Prijs, Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix
2007Tom BoonenKuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, E3 Prijs, Ghent-Wevelgem
2005Tom BoonenE3 Prijs, Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix
1981Jan RaasHet Volk, E3 Prijs, Ghent-Wevelgem
1973Eddy MerckxHet Volk, Ghent-Wevelgem, Paris-Roubaix
1968Walter GodefrootDwars Door Vlaanderen, Ghent-Wevelgem, Tour of Flanders
1962Rik Van LooyGhent-Wevelgem, Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix

What is striking from the table is that between them, Boonen and Cancellara have made this type of achievement seem normal. In the space of nine years, they managed it five times between them. The same as all other riders combined. This is an indication of what we knew already, that two once-in-a-generation riders just happened to come along in the same generation.

There’s also plenty of scope for argument over the quality of the various hat-tricks. To me it seems clear that the most desirable one was the first one ever to be achieved. Rik Van Looy’s Ghent-Wevelgem, Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix strings together the three most prestigious cobbled classics. A feat only ever repeated by Boonen as part of his quadruple in 2012.

Van Avermaet has joined a list of cobbled classics royalty. But bubbling under this seven-man list of elites are plenty of riders who have achieved a double of some kind. If we include all combinations of these seven races, a cobbled double has been achieved on 75 occasions, all detailed below (click to enlarge):

 

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Considering the doubles themselves, rather than the identity of the riders, there are some that have yet to be achieved. Seven races gives a possible of 21 different race parings, of which only three have never been won by the same rider in a single year. There is Het Volk and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, which is perhaps understandable given that they fall on consecutive days. Although Peter Sagan was a whisker away from winning both this year. Also, try telling Ferdi Kubler, Stan Ockers and Eddy Merckx that winning classics on consecutive days is impossible. Those three guys all won the Ardennes double of Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege back when they were held on the same weekend.

The most famous example of a double yet to be achieved is Het Volk and the Tour of Flanders. The knowledge tells us that, in a similar way to the Malédiction de la Marseillaise, if your form is good enough to win Het Volk so early in the season, you’ll probably have dropped off a bit by the time the Ronde comes round in April. But again, there are examples which make a nonsense of this. For instance, look at the Het Volk & Paris-Roubaix box. Johan Museeuw, Franco Ballerini and Merckx have all managed to couple wins at Het Volk with a race which is held a week later than the Tour of Flanders. Perhaps the Het Volk/Flanders double has become more of a psychological blocker for riders now as it is now something that is regularly discussed.

The final blank box in the list of doubles is Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and Ghent-Wevelgem. This simply looks like an anomaly that it has never been done.

Another notable feature of this table, for someone with an unashamed Irish bent such as myself, is the absence of Sean Kelly’s name. For a man synonymous with winning all year and as a cobbled classics specialist, he won surprisingly few of these races. He ‘only’ had three wins – one Ghent-Wevelgem and two editions of Paris-Roubaix.

The most prestigious double is of course the two monuments – the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. In spite of this, or perhaps because of it, it is the one which has been achieved the most. Who really cares about a double of, say, Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and the E3 Prijs. It’s not ‘a thing’. Nobody will speak about the possiblity of doing this double for any rider who might be entering E3 Prijs having already won in Kuurne earlier in the year. But a Flanders/Roubaix double, now that’s a thing. A chance to elevate oneself to the level of cycling immortality. It has been done 11 times by nine different riders. Again, Boonen and Cancellara showing just how dominant they were as they’re the only two to have done it twice.

Of all the riders in this table, plenty of the greatest cyclists of all time, only one of them has won all seven of these races in their career. And for once with stats like these, it is not Eddy Merckx – he never won Dwars Door Vlaanderen or the E3 Prijs. It’s not Boonen either. He has never won Het Volk, and now he never will. Nor is it Johan Museeuw, surprisingly there’s a Ghent-Wevelgem shaped hole missing on his palmares.

The only rider who has won all seven of these races in their career is Jan Raas.

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