Stat Attack: The careers ruined by Marianne Vos

The Dutchwoman has a staggering victory tally, which begs the question, who would have a richer palmarès if Vos never existed?

Clock11:40, Wednesday 6th March 2024
Marianne Vos has consigned many riders to silver medals over the years

© Getty Images

Marianne Vos has consigned many riders to silver medals over the years

A question that often gets asked is ‘how would Eddy Merckx fare in the current peloton?’ And while it can be a fun concept to ponder over, of course the answer is unknowable. So much has changed since Merckx’s heyday in the 1970s — nutrition, bicycles, aerodynamics, tactics, training — it would be like comparing two different sports.

But on the women’s side of the sport, we have an answer. The greatest of all time is still going, she’s still here, still racing and, amazingly, still winning.

Marianne Vos has lived through all those same changes to the sport since she won her first world title almost 20 years ago. How would Vos fare in the current peloton? Well, first place in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad ahead of the current world champion is pretty good.

I won’t try to list all of Vos’s achievements here — there is a very long Wikipedia page which does that if you’re interested. Safe to say she has won pretty much everything and not just on the road. She has been utterly dominant in cyclo-cross, she’s won an Olympic medal and World Championships on the track, and she’s been a national champion at mountain biking and gravel.

More Stat Attack: Does pro cycling really need saving?

The only obvious gaps on her palmarès are in races that were created too late in her career for her to have been given a fair crack at them. Paris-Roubaix is one, although she very nearly did it at the first time of asking, finishing best of the rest behind a rampant Lizzie Deignan in the inaugural edition in 2021.

The other is the Tour de France. Maybe 10 years ago she might have been capable of winning one. It seems an impossibility now. But that didn’t stop her winning two stages and spending most of the first (relaunched) edition wearing the yellow jersey, which seems just about perfect.

Another ponderable that often crops up in relation to Merckx is that, yes, of course he had an incredible career but often the more interesting and human elements of the Merckx story (because much of what he did was not really fathomable by other humans) are the number of careers that he ruined. The wins for riders that might have been but just weren’t because of Merckx. The likes of Raymond Poulidor, Felice Gimondi, Herman van Springel, Roger de Vlaeminck, Joop Zoetemelk and Frans Verbeeck were all just born in the wrong era — sorry lads!

The damage

So what damage has Vos done? Which careers has she ruined the most? Whose palmarès would be all the more richer if Vos never existed?

In joint second place on Vos’s list of victims are Giorgia Bronzini and Kirsten Wild, who both lost out on victories to Vos, finishing in second place behind her on 17 occasions. Not all wins are created equally, so although Bronzini and Wild have been equally victimised by Vos when it comes to pure volume, it is probably Bronzini who can feel more aggrieved.

The races Wild missed out on fattening up her own palmarès were mostly within the second tier of races. The most traumatic were probably two editions of the Ronde van Drenthe lost in sprint finishes, a race that Wild never managed to win.

For Bronzini, the wounds look like they might cut a bit deeper. Among her list of might-have-beens are the European Championship road race in 2017, which would have been her last big win, and four stages of the Giro d’Italia, all lost in bunch sprints.

But way out in front in having the career most blighted by Marianne Vos, with a whopping 22 second places behind her, is the Swedish rider Emma Johansson.

If those second places were converted to wins and that ended up being the sum total of Johansson’s career, we’d be looking at one of the most accomplished list of victories in recent history: the GP Plouay, Trofeo Alfredo Binda, two editions of Flèche Wallonne, two Giro stages, a stage and the overall of the Women’s Tour, and, last and very much most, the World Championship Road Race in 2013.

More Stat Attack: Paris-Nice, Tirreno-Adriatico, and the Tour de France – we’ve been tricked

For the likes of Bronzini, Wild and Johansson, if they managed to finish behind Vos that many times throughout their careers, then by definition they are among the best cyclists in the world and their own palmarès, although stunted by Vos, are still really good. Vos still left plenty of scraps on the table over the years.

But it’s the volume of those years that’s so impressive — the amount of time that Vos has been doing this to people. Bronzini started her career in 2002 and had to contend with peak Vos.

The latest victim at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Lotte Kopecky, didn’t start her career at the top level until 2017 and she’s still having to watch Vos sail over the finish line in front of her.

What is perhaps most scary for the rest, and really quite exciting for the rest of us, is that Vos, despite the fact she’s been winning at the top level for nearly 20 years already, is still four years younger than Annemiek van Vleuten was when she retired.

This story is part of our series celebrating International Women’s Day on 8 March, and exploring how the theme of ‘Inspire Inclusion’ can fit into women’s cycling, racing, tech and more.

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