November 2007

By Graham Jones
CyclingRevealed Historian










The World's: Back to Back

Also Read: The World Road Cycling Championships: A History Lesson

A very special niche in World Road Race Championship history is occupied by the champions who came back the next year to defend their title. This year we were treated to this unique accomplishment when Paolo Bettini claimed his back-to-back World's championship in Stuttgart, Germany. History tells us that the first to achieve this difficult double was Belgium 's Georges Ronsse in 1928 and 1929. Belgium again triumphed in 1956 and 1957 with the great Rik Van Steenbergen. Fellow Belgian Rik Van Looy was next in 1960 and 1961. Italy came back in 1991 and 1992 with Gianni Bugno and then Paolo Bettini brings us up to today.

In the world of elite professional cycling the biggest prizes are the Grand Tours, the World Road Race Championship and the ‘five monuments'. The Olympic Road Race Championship and the Pro Tour's White Jersey are no match for the ‘big ones'.

Back to Back Champions

George Ronsse Rik 1 Van Steenbergen Rik 2 Van Looy Gianni Bugno Paolo Bettini

Horses for Courses
Theoretically the Grand Tours call for a different type rider to those that specialize in one day classics. A Grand Tour is planned out like a military campaign with potential winners being protected by their teams until strategic points in the race are employed to gain significant General Classification advantages. Anyone looking to win a Grand Tour needs to excel in the mountains, on the flat and against the watch and it is necessary to maintain peak form for the three weeks of the race.

The World's Road Race Championship demand absolute peak form on the day of the race. Team work is necessary and will deliver the big stars to the critical point in the race but from there the stars must accomplish the victory on their own. The terrain and weather play a major role in these one day races. From the flat lands of Flanders, to the hills of the Ardennes to the rolling roads of Lombardy different types of riders will excel. The routes of the five monuments are almost the same each year and the experienced riders know them intimately. The World Road Race however stands unique in that each year the peloton is faced with a new and largely unknown route.

Iron Men of Cycling History
Looking at the results of these great races one quickly sees that the theoretical difference between the stage racers and one day racers is in fact largely theory. This fact is proven by the truly great champions who seem to have no boundaries. Prior to winning the very first Tour de France in 1903, Maurice Garin had created an impressive list of one-day race results including two wins at the Paris-Roubaix. In modern times Coppi, Bartali, Merckx and Hinault won grand Tours , one-day classics as well as the World Road Race Championship (often multiple times).

The Glass Ceiling
All of the major races have had multiple winners. Until Lance Armstrong came along it seemed that five wins was the ‘glass ceiling' for the Tour. The World's RR is often criticized as being a lottery, but there are plenty of riders who have proven otherwise. Eleven riders have won two or more rainbow jerseys, but three wins seem to be the glass ceiling. There is a very short list of riders having achieved that: Alfredo Binda, Rik Van Steenbergen, Eddy Merckx and Oscar Friere.

Belgium and Italy have dominated the World Road Race Championships since its inception. Since 1927 Belgium can claim the most wins with 25 against Italy 's 18. Next is France with 8 wins and then the Netherlands with 7 wins. The remaining 16 Rainbow Jersey's are spread amongst Spain (5), Switzerland (3), USA (3), Germany (2), U.K. (1), Ireland (1) and Latvia (1). It is no surprise that the unique ‘back-to-back' World's winners club is exclusive to Belgian and Italian riders.

Hallmark of Champions
The familiar rainbow bands of the World Champions Road Race jersey was introduced in 1927 when the first formal World's Championship race was won by the great Italian rider Alfredo Binda. There had in fact been ‘World Championships' since 1894 when Welshman Arthur Linton was declared “Champion Cyclist of the World”. But those formative years of cycle racing were loosely regulated and comprised competitions that in no way resembled what could be called a bunch race. However by 1927 the concept of the peloton was well established as race winner Binda ushered in the modern era of racing. As the first World RR Champion, Binda displayed the unmistakable hallmark of all great champions with both classics and Grand Tour wins to his credit (he won the Giro d'Italia five times and the Tour of Lombardy four times!).


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