Although Gino Bartali and Fausto Coppi were the two most prominent examples of those who had careers interrupted by WWII, two other great cyclists from their era also suffered similar fates - Switzerland’s Ferdi Kubler (photo, right) and the “third” great Italian, Fiorenzo Magni. Kubler, who was the Tour winner in 1950 and World Champion of 1951, had turned professional in 1940. Magni, who turned pro in 1941, was a three-time Giro champion (’48,’51 and ’55) and is still the only three-time consecutive Flanders winner (’49-’51).
Those four great champions all lost roughly five years from their careers, yet still managed to amass an incredible number of victories in the most prestigious races. By the late 40’s they not only had to compete amongst themselves for wins, but by then both Switzerland’s Hugo Koblet (the first after Bartali and Coppi to win both the Giro and Tour), and France’s Louison Bobet (the first three-time consecutive Tour de France winner, ’53-‘55) had also entered the scene; it was truly the Golden Age of Cycling. Once again we have to wonder just how many more significant wins could have been gained by Bartali, Coppi, Magni and Kubler from ’41-’45 when there were two fewer legends of the sport vying for those same victories.
To help add some context to all those lost war years, imagine if we were to erase five years of results from two of cycling’s more recent legends, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain. Further, how would the palmares of both “The Badger” and “Big Mig” now look if we removed those years when they were at the height of their powers, about six years after they had turned professional, similar to Bartali’s situation. Hinault, who turned pro in 1975, would lose the years ’81-’85. For Indurain, who turned pro in 1984, we would erase the years ’90-‘94.
Bernard Hinault won an amazing 10 Grand Tours during his career, second only to Eddy Merckx who bagged 11 victories. Hinault stands alone as the only cyclist to have won every Grand Tour more than once – five Tours de France, three Giro, and two Vueltas. He also had nine Classic victories, which included three of the five Monuments (Paris-Roubaix, Liege, and Lombardia). Hinault was also World Champion in 1980. If we were to remove the results of ’81-’85, his list of major accomplishments would have been as follows:
Tour de France, 1978 and 1979
Giro d’Italia, 1980
World Championship, 1980
Eight of Hinault’s 12 Grand Tour podiums would have been erased, along with six of his ten outright victories (three Tours, two Giro, and one Vuelta). Gone too would be his sole Paris-Roubaix victory of 1981. All told, still a very illustrious career, but based on my scoring system, “The Badger” would drop from one of the highest ranked riders down to around 15th place.
Miguel Indurain was the first five-time consecutive Tour de France winner (’91-’95). In the midst of this phenomenal string of victories he also won the Giro twice, and in back-to-back years for good measure (‘92-’93). If we were to remove five of his peak years (’90-’91), the results would obviously be devastating. In the end, Indurain would have wound up with only one Tour victory in 1995, and would not have amassed even enough points to make the list of the Top 50 greatest cyclists. If “Big Mig” had suffered a five year career interruption in his sixth year as a pro, like Bartali, his true potential would have never been revealed. Indurain’s results prior to 1991 were certainly no indication of the dominance that was to follow, as his highest Tour placing up to that point was a 10th in 1990.
I am in no way trying to diminish the accomplishments of either Hinault or Indurain in the above examples, but rather illustrate what was potentially lost by all the great champions during the war years. I don’t see how any type of ranking system, which is based on points scored in races, can properly address this issue unless some type of adjustment is made to compensate for these missing years. I’ll lay out my solution to this problem in the conclusion of this series.
As always, thanks for reading.