by Neil Browne
Champions who may never become world champions
This week the 2013 UCI Road World Championships are dominating the cycling news. To be crowned the world champion, in anything, is a huge accomplishment. The one exception to that rule is American football – it drives me mental that announcers proclaim that team XYZ of city ABC are the world champions because they won the Super Bowl. Only American teams play in the Super Bowl! Call it the American football championships! Anyway, that's a rant for another day. Let's return to road cycling.
Road cycling world championships have a rich history dating back to 1921 for amateurs and the first professional road race championships were held in 1927 in Germany and Italian Alfredo Binda became World Champion. If you're over 40 and raced as a junior that name is probably familiar as he's the guy who set the gold standard with his brand of toe straps. Show of hands - how many among us used his leather straps during our junior racing days? Oh, and he won the Giro d'Italia five times, Milan - San Remo twice, the Giro di Lombardia four times, and the world championships three times.
Depending on your knowledge of cycling history the winners of the world championships are a who's who of cycling's greats: Rik Van Steenbergen (Belgium), Ferdi Kübler (Switzerland), Fausto Coppi (Italy), and Louison Bobet (France). Getting into the modern era you have, of course Eddy Merckx (Belgium), Felice Gimondi (Italy), Hennie Kuiper (The Netherlands), Freddy Maertens (Belgium), and basically anyone who won World Championships in the 1970s. All of those guys are legends.
Moving into the 1980s and beyond there's Stephen Roche (Ireland), Greg LeMond (USA), Bernard Hinault (France), Gianni Bugno (Italy), Óscar Freire (Spain), and Mario Cipollini (Italy) to name a few. Each of them is a giant within the cycling world.
The Worlds victories by sprinters Cipolloni and Mark Cavendish (England) were expected and produced the gold medal for their respective home countries. But we've had a few surprise winners too.
Lance Armstrong's victory in 1993 was a huge surprise and he became one of the youngest to win a road world championship. I know there's the whole doping thing in his history, but regardless I'm confident the rest of the field was just as juiced, and it was still a surprise win. Tainted - yes, but still a shocker.
There are other examples of surprise winners: Claude Criquielion (Belgium), Oscar Camenzind (Switerland), Romans Vainsteins (Latvia), and Norway’s Thor Hushovd.
There are plenty of riders who are great champions that never had the honor of wearing the rainbow jersey. Miguel Induráin, a five time in a row winner of the Tour de France, never won the World Championships road race. The closest he came was a second place finish behind Armstrong in 1993 and a 2nd place finish 35 seconds behind his compatriot Abraham Olano in the 1995 world championships road race.
However, Indurain did make up for that loss by winning the 1995 time trial worlds – a discipline he dominated. Like fans have expected Cav and Cipo to win the World Championship road races where they were favorites, Indurain was expected to win the race against the clock that year. After all it was in the Tour de France time trials were the Spaniard carved out huge time gaps on his competition. So it was an easy bet that Big Mig would win the worlds in the time trial. But let's dig a little deeper to see who have never become World Champions, but really deserve to.
Canada is not exactly a country that springs to mind when discussing cycling. Sure they've had strong riders in the past like Steve Bauer, a third place finisher in the world championships and a silver medal winner in the Los Angeles Olympics. Ryder Hesjedal became the first Canadian to win the Giro d'Italia. However, there is one rider from the Great White North who deserves a world championship stripe: Svein Tuft.
For those who may not be familiar with the name, Tuft is cycling's equivalent of Chuck Norris. He's just a bad ass. I'm not sure if he does this anymore, but during the off-season the guy drops off the grid and goes into the backcountry to survive off of God knows what. He's ridden his bike across Canada to Alaska for crying out loud. I can't confirm this, but it's rumored that for 1,000 of the 4,000 miles of his trip to Alaska he actually rode on the back of a grizzly bear. It was at this point the bear died and Tuft skinned the hide of the animal to make a chamois as well as using the carcass to make jerky, his sole source of food for the remaining 3,000 freezing miles. At least that's what someone told me...
Regardless, take a look at his resume and don't tell me he doesn't deserve to win a world champion medal. He's a multiple winner of national championships and has delivered strong finishes in several WorldTour events. Tuft was part of the GreenEdge team time trial squad that finished in second place by .8 of a second to Omega Pharma-Quickstep on Sunday. Tuft was scheduled to also compete in the individual time trial later today, but citing exhaustion he has decided to not compete. Regardless, the guy rides like a Trojan and should receive a jersey emblazoned with a honey badger chewing on a cobra as a symbol of his bad-assness.
Another rider with huge cojones is Frenchman Sylvain Chavanel. You need a breakaway run down you reach for the race radio and call up Chavanel. If you're a professional rider there's one rider's butt you know well and that Chavanels' because more than likely you've been behind it or chasing it. If you see the baby blue of the Omega Pharma-Quickstep kit at the front of the peloton or in the break, chances are Chavanel is the one wearing it. Will he ever win a world champion rainbow jersey? Probably not. The French Worlds team will use him to chase everything down or get in the early break. That's not to say he can't become World Champion - he just needs that one bit of luck to make it happen.
Another guy who deserves to win a world championship on the road is Team BMC Racing's Taylor Phinney. Sure he's got the natural attributes that have rewarded him with world championship victories (track - individual pursuit 2009, 2010), but he deserves a road rainbow jersey because he's got personality - something pro cycling is severally lacking, unfortunately.
Just a quick glance at Phinney's social media sites (check out his Vine account) and you'll see what I'm talking about. On my podcast, TourChats, his BMC Racing teammate Brent Bookwalter was a guest and he confirmed what I already knew - what you see on Facebook, Twitter, and Vine is the real Phinney. I appreciate this unfiltered approach and cycling can only benefit from riders like Phinney instead of the ones that flip you off, drop an f-bomb, or generally can't answer a simple yes or no question.
There are plenty more riders in both the past and the present that have deserved a special jersey. Unfortunately, this week’s Road World Championships are only focusing on one day efforts. Who knows, maybe sooner than later Tuft, Chavanel, or Phinney will win the coveted world championship rainbow jersey. We still have the time trial and road race coming up and 2013 Worlds mascot Pinocchio is standing by in Florence, Italy, ready to congratulate the winners.
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