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La Vuelta 1984, the closest Grand Tour in history

news03.08.2017Pre-race

© Jean-François Quénet

Cycling fans have really enjoyed this year's Giro d'Italia, and that is because four riders, Nairo Quintana, Vincenzo Nibali, Thibaut Pinot and Tom Dumoulin, had less a minute's difference between them just before starting the final stage. Also, in the Tour de France, the three best riders, Chris Froome, Romain Bardet and Rigoberto Uran, had a mere thirty seconds between them before starting the time trial in Marseille, the second-last stage. 

With that in mind, looking back we see that the closest Grand Tour in the entire history of cycling was actually La Vuelta a España 1984. We have had an exclusive interview with that year's winner, French rider Éric Caritoux, wine-grower on the slopes of Mont Ventoux, just an hour and a half away from the location of La Vuelta 2017's Grand Departure in Nîmes.

 

“La Vuelta 1984 was not part of my plan for the season. Sean Kelly, our leader, was going to take part in all three Grand Tours that year, but after winning Paris-Nice, the Critérium International, the Vuelta al País Vasco, the Paris-Roubaix and the Liège-Bastogne-Liège, he quit (La Vuelta was going to be from the 17th of April to the 6th of May). Our team, Skil, ended up participating anyway and four days before the start, while I was working in the vineyard, my grandmother told me that the sports manager, Christian Rumeau, was on the phone. I had to catch the train to join the team in Geneva, and then a plane to get to Málaga (the departure was a prologue in Jerez de la Frontera, won by Francesco Moser).

Team Reynolds already competed like Movistar does now. They were at the head of the race from the beginning right until the end of the stage, ever since Pedro Delgado took the leader jersey at the end of the 7th stage, in the first high-altitude finish-line, that I won (in Rasos de Peguera). Everything changed when I took the first position in the general classification at Lagos de Covadonga (12th stage) because we did not have a team capable of controlling the situation. We did not have a race strategy. It was an adventure for us. I was chasing the top classified riders. If they attacked, I was on their tail. It actually worked for me that Alberto Fernández (nicknamed “Galleta” because he lived in Aguilar del Campo, a place that is renowned for its biscuit factories), second in the general classification, had such a good team, ZOR, managed by Javier Mínguez. They knew how to respond in tough situations.

Before the final time trial (in Torrejón de Ardoz, just before the finale in Madrid), I was 36 seconds ahead of Fernández. I was very young, I was 23 years old. For me, finishing second in La Vuelta a España when I had just become a professional was already a huge victory. I wasn't worried, I wasn't under the same pressure as riders are today. I lost 30 seconds in the time trial but it took me a while to know that I had won. They didn't have the same timekeeping methods that they do today. Half an hour after the arrival, I found out that I had won La Vuelta by just six seconds over Fernández, two less than Greg LeMond had over Laurent Fignon in the 1989 Tour. I also had not had intermediate times. It was raining at the end of the stage and, had I known I had such little margin, I would have taken more risks and I could have fallen. Luck was on my side.

I participated in twelve Tours de France (my 12th was in 1989), but La Vuelta is the best memory of my career, as I didn't win it with a surprise escape, but in the mountain. I finished 6th the following year and helped Kelly win in 1988. In 1984, there was talk of the Columbians (Edgar Corredor, 5th and Patrocinio Jiménez, 7th) in the Teka team, but no one paid much attention. Four years later, everyone took them seriously in the flat stages, they were starting to be very good.

 

The winter after my victory, in the departure of a Cyclo-cross event in Beaujolais, a journalist told me that Alberto Fernández* had been in a car accident and had passed away, along with his wife (on the 14th of December, 1984). That deeply affected me. I never had any problems with him. He was a loyal rival and even congratulated me at the finish-line. I had more problems with the spectators who preferred for a Spanish rider to win, and the journalists fanned that fire when Bernard Hinault had an incident with the other riders the year before.”

 

* Since 1985, the organisation of La Vuelta decided to dedicate the highest part of the route to Alberto Fernández (this year, that will be the finish-line of the 15th stage in Alto Hoya de la Mora/Monachil, in Sierra Nevada), like the Giro does with the Coppi Summit and the Tour de France with the Souvenir Henri-Desgrange at the very top of the route.

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© Jean-François Quénet

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