Just eight cyclists have won two Grand Tours in a year, and only seven have won a single Grand Tour as well as The World Championships in the same year. Yet only two cyclists have won The Giro d’Italia, Le Tour de France, and The World Championships – The Triple Crown of Cycling. Those legends are The Cannibal Eddie Merckx, and an unassuming Irishman called Stephen Roche.
Stephen Roche turned 21 in 1980 and was placing well in the Classics of the pro-racing circuit. In 1986 Roche crashed at speed causing a chronic injury to his right knee. Roche opted to continue his pro-cycling career and raced his 1987 season like it was his last.
Riding Like an Amateur
The start of the 1987 season should have been a dream for Roche – he confounded expectations by winning the Volta a la Communitat Valenciana and saw himself placing top 3 in several of the Classics. Despite this, Roche told journalists he was “riding like an amateur”.
Roche then went on to take 3 stages in the Giro d’Italia before becoming the first Irishman to win the race. The cycling world was captivated – if this is what an amateur Stephen Roche could do, imagine what a pro-Stephen Roche could achieve.
The light at the end of the tunnel
Roche described his 1986 Tour de France as a “dark tunnel of pain” and no one would have blamed him for bowing out of pro-cycling. But Roche had somehow learned to push past the limits of pain and fatigue, and in Stage 21 Roche lit the touch paper.
Mind over matter
By Stage 20 of the 1987 Tour de France, Roche was trailing his rival Delgado. Roche knew Delgado loved to climb, and believed Delgado would pace himself until he attacked up La Plagne so he decided to stage a surprise attack early in the stage, with a solitary 2,000m climb up the Col de la Madeleine.
Delgado made up the time and attacked on La Plagne as Roche predicted. Letting Delgado take a one-minute advantage, Roche hoped Delgado would relax enough so he couldn’t extend his lead. Once Delgado had that lead, to the astonishment of the commentators, Roche skipped up to the big plate and powered through the remainder of the climb.
A legend is born
Roche’s effort was so monumental that he lost consciousness and collapsed at the end of the stage. Pulled onto an ambulance and given oxygen, Roche eventually came round and was asked if he was ok – his response? “Yes… but I am not ready for a woman just yet”.
Roche’s decision to avoid temptation was judicious – he went on to win the 1987 Tour de France, just 40 seconds ahead of Delgado. Later that year, Roche went on to win the World Road Race Championship in Villach, Austria, making 1987 the 2nd and only other time a cyclist has won the Triple Crown of Cycling.
Cyclists who achieve greatness can assess what is truly important in life. Roche once said, “I never want to abandon my bike. I see my grandfather, now in his seventies and riding around everywhere. To me that is beautiful. And the bike must always remain a part of my life.” Spoken like a true cyclist. Watch our newest video starring Stephen Roche below.