Former stage racing great Alberto Contador believes that if the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia are both conquered by Tadej Pogačar this year, the Slovenian will go for an unprecedented ‘triple’ and try to win the Vuelta a España as well.
With the Giro and Vuelta often overlapping in the calendar until 1995, no rider has ever tried to win all three of cycling’s top stage races in the same year. However, Contador has previously said that with a stronger team and before he retired in 2017, he could have at least had a go himself at taking the ‘triple Grand Tour Crown’.
Chris Froome (Israel-Premier Tech), like Contador a Giro, Vuelta and Tour champion but also in different years, said in 2017 that taking all three ‘would take some doing but is not impossible.’ The last Giro-Tour double was captured by Marco Pantani back in 1998, and last year Jumbo-Visma became the first team to win all three Grand Tours in a single season, but with different riders.
As Contador, who retired in 2017 and now co-manages the Polti-Kometa team, recently told Gazzetta dello Sport, “You know what? If Tadej Pogačar wins the Giro and the Tour, he’ll also go for the Vuelta and try for an unheard-of triple victory! I’m sure of it.”
For many years in cycling, trying to go for three Tours in one season was literally impossible, given the Vuelta was only relatively recently created – in 1936, over two decades after the Giro and Tour began – and then only took place sporadically until the early 1950s.
The Vuelta’s comparatively low prestige until the 1970s was yet another factor, while with dates frequently overlapping back when the Vuelta was raced in April or May, opting for three Grand Tours in modern-day cycling was even more daunting a challenge. That was even before the physical and psychological demands of doing ‘the triple’ in the space of four months at most, from April through to July, are considered.
Marco Pantani, the only rider to take the Giro and Tour double since the Vuelta’s change in dates in 1995, rapidly ruled out riding the Vuelta that September, and Eddy Merckx, who won both Vuelta and Giro in 1973, did not ride the Tour that year. Merckx (1972-73), Bernard Hinault (1982-83) and Chris Froome (2017-2018) have all been reigning champions in all three Grand Tours, but across two separate seasons.
As for winning the Giro and Tour in a single year in 2024, Contador argued that the key factor for Pogačar to succeed would be “having a really strong team around him in the Giro and a really strong team in the Tour. Do UAE have the capability to do that? Yes.”
Contador then recalled how when winning the Giro in 2015 – the year in which he tried for the double – he was forced on the defensive by a powerful Astana team captained by Fabio Aru and Mikel Landa. But because of his lack of a strong team, “It ended up with me riding solo with 50 kilometres to go, I finished the Giro feeling really tired, and then in the Tour that year I paid a high price for it, finishing fifth.”
“Then there’s another factor. I was 32 when I tried for the double, Tadej is just 25. That changes things,” Contador said.
“But the main challenge for the Slovenian rider will not be the race itself. It’ll be Jonas Vingegaard (Visma-Lease A Bike), who’s so amazingly consistent. He [Vingegaard] plans everything down to the last detail.”
Pogačar himself has said that after doing the 2024 Tour, he will be concentrating on the Olympic Games and World Championships. He has not mentioned the idea of doing the Vuelta, which he last raced in 2019, finishing third overall.
Contador argued that although Pogačar will be the leading favourite in the Giro, it was by no means certain he would win easily.
“That’s impossible,” he insisted, “even if the runner-up is seven minutes down.”
“The Giro is always tiring, even if he has everything going for him to win. Apart from his strength, he’s got race instinct.”
Other points in Italy’s Grand Tour in favour of a rider like Pogačar with a liking for open, unpredictable racing, Contador told Gazzetta dell Sport were that “More than any other, the Giro has the kind of terrain that allows you to do things when they are least expected.”
The Giro’s often very difficult weather conditions could help as well, Contador said, pointing out that “Pogačar works well when it’s really cold. He’s got it all.”
“In modern-day cycling, doing the double is possible. And there are two riders who could do it: Tadej and Vingegaard.”