The 72nd edition of the 21 stage Vuelta a España starts this Sunday morning AEST. It is the youngest of the three Grand Tours, having started in 1935 and only running on consecutive years since 1955.
Much of the focus of Australian cycling fans in the Vuelta lead up has been on the popular Queenslander Adam Hansen (Lotto Soudal). This Saturday, he cements his place with the most number of Vuelta starts of any Australian. Hansen’s ninth Vuelta also takes his record run of riding consecutive Grand Tours to a truly remarkable high of 19.
But the Australian Vuelta story runs much wider than Adam Hansen. We’ve been riding it since the mid-1970’s, and have made a definite mark on this great race.
SBS will broadcast and live stream all stages of the Vuelta a España live from 19 August to 10 September.
The first Australian to ride the Vuelta a España was Don Allan – the 1972 Munich Olympian from the Blackburn Cycling Club in Melbourne. In 1975, Allan won Stage 17 from Durango to Bilbao by beating the Italian superstar Marino Basso on the line (Basso was 1972 World Champion and won six stages in the Vuelta that year).
Don Allan was one of Australia’s early trailblazers to go and test their legs in European racing, and his is a story of scant money, one-way tickets, and huge belief and ambition that would influence many of the riders that would follow. Allan’s achievements in the 1970s in Europe are regarded by some in the sport as one of the turning points for Australian cycling.
After travelling to Europe in 1973, Allan’s string of impressive results in the Peace Race, Tour of Austria, Tour of Scotland, and other races through Holland and Belgium eventually earned him a contract with the Dutch team Frisol in support of the 1972 Olympic road race champion Hennie Kuiper.
Allan’s 1975 Vuelta came after some other impressive starts including the 1974 and 1975 Tour de France (finishing 104th and 85th respectively), and the 1975 World Championships in Yvoir, Belgium (finishing 22nd). He backed up those outings in the 1976 Worlds in Ostuni, Italy with a 9th behind the likes of Maertens, Moser, Conti, Zoetemelk, Merckx, Hinault, Gimondi, and Raas.
The European stars certainly noticed this Australian all the way from Box Hill in Melbourne. The story goes that Merckx himself once said of his friend Allan: “This man hurt me!”
Indeed, Don Allan hurt them on the road and the track – from an accomplished road career, Allan went on to form the fifth most successful six-day racing partnership ever (with Danny Clark), including 15 wins, 15 seconds, 11 thirds and 12 fourths out of 71 starts.
Since Don Allan’s pioneering Vuelta ride in 1975, a further 53 Australians have made the start lists of this Grand Tour. Australian riders have managed 112 Vuelta starts over the years (if you count this year), with 67 race completions to 2016.
For the serious cycling geeks and armchair stats watchers, a full list of Australian Vuelta riders can be seen at the end of this article. What follows below is some interesting facts and figures from Australia’s efforts in the Vuelta a España down the years.
By the numbers
Australian riders have had a big impact on the Vuelta since 1975, with multiple stage wins (14), a classification win, and leader jersey time. Gary Clively certainly deserves a special mention, with an amazing 7th overall in the 1977 Vuelta a España – his first and only Vuelta start, and Australia’s first top-10 GC finish.
Cadel Evans, Brad McGee, Simon Clarke, and Michael Matthews have arguably been our ‘best’ Vuelta riders to date, with the following impressive results.
- One leader jersey 2009
- 3rd on GC 2009, 4th GC 2007
- Top 10 stage finishes in 2014, 2009, 2007, 2004 (including podiums = 3rd 2009, 2nd 2007)
- 3 leader jerseys in 2014
- 3 stage wins (2014: Stage 3 Cádiz to Arcos de la Frontera; 2013: Stage 21 Leganés to Madrid, Stage 5 Sober to Lago de Sanabria)
- 4 stage podiums (x2 2nds 2014), x2 3rds 2014, 2013)
- 4 leader jerseys in 2005
- One stage win (Stage 1 Granada to Córdoba 2005)
- Won Mountains Classification jersey in 2012
- One stage win (Stage 4 Barakaldo to Estación De Valdezcaray 2012)
In addition to Matthews, Clarke, McGee, Evans, and Allan, nine other Australians have won Vuelta stages including:
- Michael Wilson (1983) Stage 19 - Palazuelos de Eresma (Destilerías Dyc) to Madrid
- Heinrich Haussler (2005) Stage 18 - San Martin de Valdeiglesias to Alcobendas
- Simon Gerrans (2009) Stage 9 - Alicante to Murcia
- Matt Goss (2010) Stage 1 TTT Sevilla to Sevilla
- Chris Sutton (2011) Stage 1 - La Nucía to Playas De Orihuela
- Simon Clarke (2012) Stage 4 - Barakaldo to Estación De Valdezcaray
- Adam Hansen (2014) Stage 19 - Salvaterra de Miño to Cangas de Morrazo
- Caleb Ewan (2015) Stage 5 - Rota to Alcalá de Guadaíra
And there have been a host of other stage podium places (33 to be exact) from Allan Davis (x2 2nds, x4 3rds), Stuart O’Grady (x3 2nds, x3 3rds), Robbie McEwen (x2 2nds, x4 3rds), Richie Porte (2nd), Cameron Meyer (2nd), and Rohan Dennis (3rd).
Most starts (including 2017)
9 = Adam Hansen
5 = Cadel Evans, Simon Clarke,
4 = Matt White, Mitch Docker, Heinrich Haussler, Allan Davis, Robbie McEwen
3 = Mat Hayman, Wes Sulzberger, Cameron Meyer
Most finishes (to 2016)
8 = Adam Hansen
4 = Cadel Evans
3 = Matt White, Mitch Docker, Simon Clarke, Heinrich Haussler
Of the 49 Australians who have started at least once in the Vuelta to 2016, 10 individuals have failed to complete the race in any of their starts (Cameron Meyer, Brad McGee, Michael Wilson, Baden Cooke, Caleb Ewen, Scott Sunderland, Graeme Brown, Don Allan, Henk Vogels, and Brett Lancaster).
While Australian cycling has had a long and successful connection to the Vuelta a España, it may come as a surprise to some to learn that the likes of stars such as Phil Anderson, Michael Rogers, and Luke Durbridge have never ridden this Grand Tour.
Australian cycling fans will see nine of their countrymen starting in the 2017 Vuelta. Joining the experienced Grand Tour specialist and fan favourite Adam Hansen (Lotto Soudal), will be the dependable Simon Clarke (Cannondale-Drapac) in his fifth, and five Vuelta first-timers:
- Brendan Canty (Cannondale-Drapac)
- Will Clarke (Cannondale-Drapac)
- Lachlan Morton (Dimension Data)
- Chris Hamilton (Team Sunweb)
- Nick Schultz (Caja Rural - Seguros RGA)
Finally, by no means, the least of the starting nine Aussies are Jack Haig (Orica-Scott) and Rohan Dennis (BMC), who both line up this weekend for their second Vuelta.
There’s also a strong contingent of ‘honorary Australians’ (aka New Zealanders) in this year’s Vuelta, including the cult figure George Bennett (Lotto Jumbo); and others like Sam Bewley (Orica-Scott), Aaron Gate (Aqua Blue Sport), and Tom Scully (Cannondale-Drapac).
The stage is set for the 72nd edition of La Vuelta, and there has already been a number of talking points emerge before the first pedal stroke. Is this still the climber's race of yesteryear? Will Froome take the first Tour de France/Vuelta double since Hinault (1978) and Anquetil (1963)? Will Contador animate the race in his last professional outing before retiring? What’s going on with Samuel Sánchez and BMC?
Regardless of your thoughts on those big questions, if you’re a fan of Australian cycling there’s plenty to keep you interested in the 2017 Vuelta – nine Aussie riders and ‘two’ teams now (with Cannondale-Drapac almost more Australian than Orica-Scott these days)
Craig Fry is a freelance cycling writer based in Melbourne.
Australian riders in the Vuelta (start year)
- Don Allan (1975)
- Garry Clively (1977)
- Michael Wilson (1983)
- Pat Jonker (1997)
- Neil Stephens (1997)
- Henk Vogels (1998)
- Robbie McEwen (1998, 1999, 2001, 2006)
- Nathan O’Neill (2001)
- Matthew White (2001-04)
- Mathew Hayman (2003, 2005, 2015)
- Cadel Evans (2003, 2004, 2007, 2009, 2014)
- Scott Sunderland (2004)
- Stuart O'Grady (2004, 2006, 2009, 2010, 2011)
- Nick Gates (2005)
- Brad McGee (2005, 2007)
- Heinrich Haussler (2005, 2006, 2008, 2011)
- William Walker (2006)
- Aaron Kemps (2006)
- Mark Renshaw (2006, 2007)
- Scott Davis (2006, 2007)
- Allan Davis (2007, 2009, 2010, 2012)
- Adam Hansen (2007, 2009, 2011-17)
- Matthew Lloyd (2008, 2009)
- Wes Sulzberger (2009, 2012, 2013)
- Simon Gerrans (2009, 2010, 2013, 2015, 2016)
- Johnnie Walker (2010)
- Matthew Wilson (2010)
- Matthew Goss (2010, 2011)
- Chris Sutton (2011)
- Leigh Howard (2011, 2013)
- Travis Meyer (2012)
- Richie Porte (2012)
- Cameron Meyer (2012, 2014, 2015)
- Simon Clarke (2012, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017)
- Mitchell Docker (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015)
- Baden Cooke (2013)
- Cameron Wurf (2013)
- Graeme Brown (2013)
- Zakk Dempster (2013)
- David Tanner (2013, 2015)
- Michael Matthews (2013, 2014)
- Rohan Dennis (2014, 2017)
- Brett Lancaster (2014)
- Nathan Haas (2014, 2016)
- Jay McCarthy (2015)
- Caleb Ewan (2015)
- Damian Howson (2015, 2016)
- Rory Sutherland (2015, 2016)
- Jack Haig (2016, 2017)
- Brendan Canty (2017)
- Lachlan Morton (2017)
- Chris Hamilton (2017)
- Nick Schultz (2017)
- Will Clarke (2017)