LONDON • As Chris Froome celebrates winning La Vuelta straight after the Tour de France, Bernard Hinault has raised the bar by claiming that three grand tours in one year is possible.
Hinault, the last cyclist until Sunday to win the Vuelta and the Tour in the same year, in 1978, believes that Froome can continue setting new standards for the sport.
Six men have claimed all three grand tour crowns - La Vuelta, Tour de France and Giro d'Italia - during their careers - Jacques Anquetil, Alberto Contador, Felice Gimondi, Hinault, Eddy Merckx and Vincenzo Nibali - but nobody has managed to win them all in the same year.
"The three weeks' rest between the Tour and the Vuelta give a rider the chance to win both. I even think it's possible to win the three grand tours," Hinault, 62, said. "In '78, people talked a lot about the double but for me it was normal and nothing exceptional because others had done it before."
Anquetil, in 1963, also won the Vuelta and the Tour when the tour of Spain was in the spring, and other riders have done doubles including the Giro d'Italia. Given the huge demands in trying to win all three grand tours in one year, Froome is unlikely to try .
But Hinault feels that the Team Sky rider deserves full credit for his achievement and the way he races, even though he is not known for the panache that characterised his own career. "For me, the greatest is still Merckx. He is top. He won everything," Hinault said. "Froome is definitely the champion of his generation."
However, former Tour and Giro winner Stephen Roche believes it would be "humanly impossible" for Froome to win all three grand tour races in one year.
I think it's actually humanly impossible, especially in today's day and age because the Tour de France now is so important, the top guys all hit form for the Tour de France.''
STEPHEN ROCHE, former Tour and Giro winner, on the difficulty of winning two Grand Tours in a year, let alone all three.
The 57-year-old told BBC Radio 5 Live: "I think it's actually humanly impossible, especially in today's day and age because the Tour de France now is so important, the top guys all hit form for the Tour de France.
"To go out and win the Giro is very hard because of the conditions back in May, going to the Tour de France on the back of winning the Giro is always very complicated and I'm sure after winning a Giro and the Tour and going on to the Vuelta I think it's humanly impossible (to win all three)."
Roche paid tribute to Froome, the Team Sky rider, who was able to refocus on winning the Vuelta after his fourth Tour victory, joining the Frenchmen Anquetil (1963) and Hinault (1978) in doubling up in the same year.
"Chris was very well prepared for the Tour and the Vuelta this year," the Irishman said. "It's a very difficult feat, that's why he's only the third guy in the history of cycling to have done the double of Tour de France and Vuelta.
"You always need luck but nevertheless when you have 195 guys out there who want to beat you, you always need a lot of stamina and a lot of hard work, dedication, a good team and excellent form."
Froome, who beat Nibali of Italy and Ilnur Zakarin, the Russian rider, in La Vuelta, is now focused on the team time trial at the Road Race World Championships in Norway later this month.
CYCLING GRAND TOURS DOUBLE WINNERS
TOUR + VUELTA
• Jacques Anquetil (Fra): 1963
• Bernard Hinault (Fra): 1978
• Chris Froome (Gbr): 2017
GIRO + TOUR
• Fausto Coppi (Ita): 1949, 1952
• Jacques Anquetil (Fra): 1964
• Eddy Merckx (Bel): 1970, 1972
• Bernard Hinault (Fra): 1982, 1985
• Miguel Indurain (Esp) 1992, 1993
• Marco Pantani (Ita) 1998
GIRO + VUELTA
• Eddy Merckx (Bel): 1973
• Giovanni Battaglin (Ita): 1981
• Alberto Contador (Esp): 2008
Dave Brailsford, the Team Sky principal, said that Froome was a "world-class athlete".
"They get all the little things right, they have got the right mentality, brilliant leadership skills, they're mature, they're confident and they just kind of win, they know how to win and that's what we have got in Chris Froome," he told the BBC.
THE TIMES, LONDON