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5 historic Vuelta wins

Ever since its inception in 1935 the Vuelta a España has been enthralling bike racing fans. The unique landscape and culture of Spain, together with the prestige of a three-week Grand Tour, has given us many memories. The youngest of the three Grand Tours, the Vuelta has also arguably been the most innovative, constantly trying new ideas to make the racing lively. And since the 1990s Shimano has helped a multitude of riders to notch up overall and stage wins. Here is a brief selection of some of our favourites.

Toni Rominger. Stage 5, 1994.

Swiss rider Toni Rominger might have won the Tour de France, were it not for the peak of his career coinciding with the peak of Miguel Indurain’s career. Nevertheless Rominger won the 1995 Giro d’Italia and three editions of the Vuelta between 1993 and 1995.

In style Rominger was similar to Indurain; he had a huge engine that could be put to use in time-trials and on mountains. In 1994 the Swiss broke the hour record on the Bordeaux velodrome.

The 1994 edition of the Vuelta started in late April in Vallodolid. Rominger, riding for the legendary Mapei team, lined up as defending champion and outright favourite, and proved his status by winning the prologue in commanding fashion. On the 5th stage to Sierra Nevada Rominger extended his lead to almost two minutes when he rode away from fellow Swiss Alex Zulle, Spaniard Pedro Delgado and all the other contenders.

Wearing his yellow leader’s jersey and a simple peaked blue cap, with his team manager banging the side of the team car alongside, Rominger churned out a steady rhythm aboard his Colnago equipped with Dura-Ace components.

Over the remainder of the race Rominger won two time-trials and another two road stages. Naturally he held the yellow jersey all the way from Vallodolid to the finish in Madrid.

Abraham Olano. Stage 7, 1995.

In 1995 the UCI reshuffled the professional road calendar, switching the Vuelta from April to its current late August slot. One consequence was that the World Championships were bumped from August to late September, making the Vuelta an ideal preparation race for those who wished to win a rainbow jersey.

And in that very first year Spaniard Abraham Olano proved the point. In Duitama, Colombia, on one of the toughest World Championships courses ever known, Olano soloed to victory, ahead of Miguel Indurain and Marco Pantani. Even a flat back tyre for the final kilometre couldn’t stop him. In the time-trial earlier in the week Indurain had won gold and Olano silver.

Those who’d watched the Vuelta were probably not surprised. Olano, another Mapei rider on their now-famous blue Colnago bikes, finished second overall and won both time-trial stages and the prologue.

After his prologue victory in Zaragoza, Olano lost the overall lead to Laurent Jalabert but with the first week mainly comprising sprinter’s stages, time differences remained small.  Stage 6 was the longest of the race, at 230km, but the distance was the least of the peloton’s worries. The night before some 45 riders had developed food poisoning – believed to have come from either a Bolognese sauce or ice cream – and during the race dozens of riders were still suffering from sickness and diarrhea. That day there were many mass stops for natural relief.

For Olano, the following day’s 41km time-trial looked to be equally ill-fated when he crashed. But he remounted and took the win from Laurent Jalabert and Alex Zulle. Olano’s love affair with the Vuelta continued when he won the 1998 edition. After retirement he joined the race organization, devising some of the fiendishly hard routes we’ve seen in recent years.

Roberto Heras. 2000.

By the turn of the century, at 26 years of age and with three top ten results in the Vuelta already to his credit, Roberto Heras was ready to graduate to the top step of the podium.

The leader’s jersey, however, did not come easily. It took until Stage 14 for Heras to edge into lead over Angel Casero, then two days later on the climb to Angliru, the diminutive Spaniard riding for Kelme, extended his lead by many minutes. Overall victory looked assured but Heras was to put on one more display of exuberant riding.

Stage 20 was a short but stinging final mountain stage from Avila to Alto de Abantos, a 13km climb just outside Madrid. Racing with the confidence of a rider who is about to fulfil his destiny and win his home Grand Tour, Heras followed the early attacks of Euskatel’s Roberto Laiseka and Lampre’s Gilberto Simoni. Laiseka attacked repeatedly, and Simoni brought him back every time. In the final kilometre the trio came almost to a standstill, looking at each other, with Simoni gesticulating at the others. Laiseka attacked again, and when Heras burst free he misjudged the final corner, taking the wrong line and losing the lead. Such was his strength though that he still outsprinted his rivals.

Heras went on to win the Vuelta three more times, whilst also playing Lance Armstrong’s climbing lieutenant in the Tour de France. He rode for U.S. Postal for three seasons before switching to Liberty Seguros, where his career concluded.

Chris Horner. Stage 10, 2013.

At almost 42 years of age, Chris Horner came to the 2013 Vuelta with 20 years experience as a professional bike racer. He had won the Tour of the Basque Country and the Tour of California, but a big result in a Grand Tour had eluded him. It seemed unlikely to come at this late stage of his career.

Riding for Radioshack-Leopard, 2013 had started badly for Horner as an injury forced him off the bike. Yet by August he was flying. The race started in Galicia and Horner showed his intent by winning Stage 3 to Mirador de Lobeira. He took the leader’s red jersey, becoming the oldest rider in history to wear it, only to lose it the next day to Vincenzo Nibali.

After a week of both flat and hilly stages, Horner’s big opportunity came on Stage 10, 187km from Torredelcampo to Alto de Hazallana. It was the first proper mountain stage of the race and the weather was blisteringly hot. A ten man break escaped early, while Fabian Cancellara set a scorching pace on the front of the peloton to slim down the group for team-mate Horner.

The climb to Alto de Hazallana in the Sierra Nevada mountains is steep, forever curving up the mountain. As the remnants of the break were reeled in, Nibali and Daniel Moreno made the pace on the front of the group of favourites. With less than 5 km to race, Horner swung to one side, assessed the state of his rivals then eased off the front of the group. Dancing on the pedals, he gradually pulled away. Nibali later gave chase but could do nothing to bring the American back. Horner won by 48 seconds from the Italian, with Alejandro Valverde over a minute back.

Now he held the record for the oldest man to win a stage of a Grand Tour. And ten days later he was to become the oldest man to ever win a Grand Tour. In the final three brutal mountain stages, including the feared Angliru, Horner took enough time out of Nibali to earn him the final overall victory in Madrid.

Tom Dumoulin. Stage 9, 2015.

In the summer of 2015 Tom Dumoulin was known primarily as a time-triallist. He had won a bronze medal in the World Championship in the discipline in Ponferrada in 2014, behind Bradley Wiggins and Tony Martin, and was reigning Dutch champion.

The spring of 2015 had started in promising fashion, with a victory in the time-trial stage of the Tour of the Basque Country, and both the prologue and time-trial of the Tour de Suisse. But his Tour de France had been disappointing; after failing to win the opening time-trial in Utrecht, Dumoulin crashed on the third stage and withdrew.

In the 2015 Vuelta, Dumoulin began to show the qualities that would soon develop into the Grand Tour big-hitter we know today.

The 9th stage to Alto de Puig Llorença wasn’t expected to shake up the general classification, partly because the final climb was only 4 km long. Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana started the attacking at the start of the climb, but soon paid for their efforts. Dumoulin was next to go and distanced most of the group. With one kilometer to go he was out front with only Chris Froome and Joaquim Rodriguez for company. The Team Sky rider attacked and seemed to drop the other two, but then Dumoulin squeezed out his last reserves of energy to come back to the surprised Brit. The Dutch man took the stage and announced himself to the cycling world as more than just a time-triallist.

A week later in the Stage 17 time-trial around Burgos, Dumoulin demolished the competition. He took almost two minutes out of Fabio Aru and became the new overall leader. Ultimately the final high mountains were just too much for Dumoulin. He lost over four minutes on Stage 20 to a rampaging Aru, and with it he lost the Vuelta. But he won the hearts of cycling fans across the world, and it all started with that surprise attack to Alto de Puig Llorença.