We all love a shock result sometimes, those moments when we are left scratching our heads thinking “How did that happen” or “Who on earth is that."
Cycling like most sports has had its share of shock results, it mostly occurs when a little known, less talented cyclist beats the top guys to win an important race. Very often, a large amount of luck is involved, other times it is linked to the darker side of the sport and occasionally its the first spark of a successful career.
However shocks are not just the preserve of the little known or upcoming cyclist, surprises also occur when a rider shows a talent in a discipline that was never previously obvious, for example a super mountain climber suddenly turning into a star sprinter.
In chronological order, I have highlighted what I consider to be the biggest shock results of the last twenty years of cycling. People might not agree with my choices but that is all part of the fun, enjoy.
Marco Giovanetti, 1990 Vuelta A Espana
Before 1995, the Vuelta A Espana was run in Springtime and even then the weakest of the three major Tours. Despite its lower status, the Vuelta was always fiercely contested, especially by the insular Spanish teams.
In 1990, Italian Marco Giovanetti got into a soft break on stage six and quietly slipped into the leaders jersey halfway through the race. Giovanetti did have some pedigree having finished in the Giro top ten for four years running. However, like most Italians at the time, rarely performed outside the boot of Italy.
The Italian hung on through the mountains of northern Italy as the big names struggled to land the killer blow. Spanish teams ONCE and Banesto were big rivals at the time, both had riders in a position to win the race but their tactics were aimed at nullifying each other, allowing Giovanetti to hang on to take a hugely surprising victory.
The Italian never finished in the top three on a single stage which perhaps best illustrates the negativity of the race.
Melchor Mauri, 1991 Vuelta A Espana
In 1991, an even lesser known Spanish rider took another hugely surprising victory. Melchor Mauri's win was based on three factors, excellent time-trialling, having the strongest team in the race, ONCE, and a huge slice of luck.
Mauri was part of the ONCE trio who won the opening prologue and then took a convincing win in the team time trial. He then took an excellent victory in the first individual time trial giving him a comfortable lead heading into the mountains.
It was at this stage that luck intervened. Mauri was expected to struggle on the climbs, but the weather in Spain turned very nasty and the first big day in the mountains was cancelled. The following day, Mauri bravely finished within a minute of the big names.
Form then on, the strong and experienced ONCE team got right behind their man and supported him through the rest of the mountain stages until the final time trial which Mauri won with another convincing performance to seal the overall victory. This was the Spaniards biggest ever victory as he only sporadically showed the same form again.
Jacky Durand, 1992 Tour of Flanders
The Tour of Flanders has always been a true hard-man's race, run over the small cobbled climbs of the bike crazy Flanders region of Belgium, the race has rarely had a surprise winner.
However in 1992, an unknown French rider by the name of Jacky Durand, emerged from a breakaway that had been out in front for over 200 km to become the only Frenchman to win Flanders in the last fifty years. The main bunch had let the break gain over twenty minutes before starting their chase too late.
Out front, Durand attacked his last remaining breakaway companion, Thomas Wegmuller on the final cobbled climb, the Bosberg to take a solo victory. The first member of the chasing pack to arrive was defending champions Edwig Van Hooydonck who finished almost two minutes down.
Durand was as surprised as anyone at his victory, noting he was usually a B-team member. The Frenchman would become legendary for his suicidal breakaways which were mostly unsuccessful but occasionally netted him the odd decent victory.
Miguel Indurain, Stage 9 Time-trial Tour de France 1992
The stage nine 65 km time trial in Luxembourg was the first major rendezvous for all the Tour contenders in 1992. Miguel Indurain, defending Tour champion was the favourite for the time trial but what nobody expected was the way he would totally demolish the entire field. His nearest challenger was French team-mate Armand de las Cuevas at three minutes. Everybody else was over 4 minutes or further back.
Everybody, especially the riders were stunned and the reactions of some were comical. Former Tour winner Laurent Fignon who had started six minutes in front of the Spaniard but was still overtaken, remarked afterwards, “It was like being passed by a rocket, it was frightening!!, its not possible to go that fast, maybe he(Indurain) is an extra-terrestrial.”
Without doubt, the single most amazing time-trial performance of any Tour
Gewiss Team, Fleche Wallone 1994
The 1994 Fleche Wallone raised eyebrows, not for the winner, Italian Moreno Argentin, 'king of the Ardennes' Classics but for the actual manner in which the race unfolded. Argentin and two of his Gewiss team-mates, Evgeni Berzin & Giorgio Furlan simply rode away from the rest of the peloton with 50 km remaining to finish 1-2-3 at the finish on the Mur du Huy.
It was unprecedented for a team to dominate one of the toughest and hilliest 'classic' races on the calendar in such a manner.
The Gewiss team were looked after by Dr. Michael Ferrari and it was after this race that he made his famous comment about EPO being no more dangerous than orange juice. The Gewiss team would dominate the 1994 season and with the benefit of hindsight, this race was perhaps the defining moment of the EPO generation.
Eros Poli, Stage 15, 1994 Tour de France
Standing at 6'5", (1m 94) and weighing 85 kilos, Poli was an Italian rider who was best known as being a lead-out man for super sprinter Mario Cipollini during the nineties. In the 1994 Tour de France, he caused a huge upset when he won a stage that included the notorious Mont Ventoux climb, considered one of the toughest in cycling.
Poli was annoyed at a fellow competitor and attacked after 60 KM, by the start of the Ventoux, he had a huge lead of 25 minutes and lost a minute per kilometers as he hauled his huge frame up the unforgiving climb. Fortunately, he still had five minutes to spare by the top and just had to make it down the descent to the finish in Carpentras. His final winning margin was under four minutes.
Mauro Gianetti, Liege-Bastogne-Liege & Amstel Gold Race 1995
The mid nineties was a strange time in cycling as formerly average riders suddenly rose to take unexpected victories only to return to the ranks of average riders just as quickly.
Mauro Gianetti was perhaps the best example of this phenomenon, an average pro for ten seasons, the Swiss rider had a golden period in Spring 1995, winning two of the toughest classics, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the Amstel Gold race in quick succession.
The victories were not lucky either as he defeated big guns Gianni Bugno, Laurent Jalabert and Michele Bartoli to win in Liege and then out sprinted Davide Cassani in the Amstel race after towing him to the finish.
Gianetti never scored a major victory again, and a horrific crash almost ended his life. These days, Gianetti is better known as the Manager of the infamous Saunier Duval team, now known as Fuji-Servetto team.
Lance Armstrong Tour de France 1999
Everyone knows the Lance Armstrong fairytale in the 1999 Tour de France. Returning from cancer to lead the race as it entered the mountains. It was a great story but it was his performances in the mountains which truly shocked.
Beforehand, there was massive doubts about his abilities to stay with the top guys on the big climbs, Armstrong had never been able to deal with the mountains in the previous Tours he had participated in pre-cancer. The question was could he limit his losses to stay in touch with the big climbers and retain his lead.
Lance didn't just stay with the climbers, he attacked on the final climb to Sestriere and left his rivals for dead, passing noted climbers, Ivan Gotti and Fernando Escartin like they were standing still. By the time Lance took the victory in Sestriere he led the Tour by six minutes.
“Out of this world” was the term used by French newspaper L'Equipe to describe Armstrong's performance at the time. He would subsequently dominate in the mountains in all seven Tour victories.
Depending on your viewpoint, Lance was/is the greatest Tour de France rider of all time or alternatively the biggest fraud of all time.
Gregorz Gwiazdowski, 1999 Championship of Zurich Classic
Remember Gregorz Gwiazdowski?? No!! Well, he was the guy who won the 1999 Championship of Zurich and...well that was it. No longer run, the Zurich race was not the most prestigious race on the cycling calendar but it was an integral part of the former World Cup and had an impressive list of winners.
Gregorz was an unknown Polish rider who got away in a suicide break after just fifty kilometres, the break lasted another 150 with the Pole contributing sporadically. Just as they were being captured on the last climb of the day, he launched an all or nothing attack to gain a small lead which he managed to hold until the finish line.
Gwiazdowski suffered incredibly, and once he finished, had to be helped onto the winners podium and was barely able to speak in the press conference that followed. The Poles career lasted a few more seasons but his star never shone again. A classic tale of a one hit wonder.
Oscar Freire, World Championships 1999
Following the 1999 World Championship Road Race in Verona, there was only one question on the minds of many cyclists, managers, journalists and fans alike. Who the hell was Oscar Freire?
The then unknown Spaniard, was a second year pro with just one victory to his name in a minor Spanish stage race, he had raced only 11 times in 1999 due to injury and he entered the world championships without a contract for the following season. Indeed, Freire was only in the Spanish team as many of the top Spanish stars had already finished their seasons.
Freire was involved in all the important moves of the day, but his anonymity allowed him to keep a low profile until he attacked with 500metres remaining, hanging on to win the biggest one day race in the world, from a break containing most of the favourites including Jan Ullrich, and Frank Vandenbrouke. Everybody knows who Freire is these days, having had a successful career, including two more world titles.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!