An échappée, also known as a breakout or escape, is the most difficult but also the most satisfying win to achieve. To compete successfully against the peloton while riding alone demands an equal measure of talent and chance. In the course of cycling’s long and illustrious history, several great riders have earned their names for themselves by winning a Grand Tour with a breakaway.
We teamed up with local Australian brand, MAAP, to bring you the Échappée Jersey and Knicks, recognising some of the greatest breakaways of all time. Click here to see the kit, inspired by the route profiles of the races from those thrilling victories.
Of course, there are hundreds of failed efforts at breaking away from the group that are really upsetting, but in this instance, our criterion for selection was rather straightforward. The separation had to be a successful move, and it had to stand out in people’s minds. There is an asterisk next to one of these instances, and there may be a couple more that also merit one, but nobody really knows for sure.
Our list (in chronological order):
1. Fausto Coppi’s victory on stage 17 of the 1949 Giro d’Italia, which he won by a comfortable margin. This stage was an incredible beast, with no fewer than five classified climbs: Maddalena, Vars, Izoard, Montgenevre, and Sestriere. To put it another way, this stage was an utter beast. With 192km left, Coppi attacked on the first one, winning the stage by nearly 12 minutes, moving into the overall lead and going on to win the race overall.
2. The performance of Eddy Merckx on stage 12 of the 1968 Giro d’Italia (Tre Cime), which helped him win the overall competition. According to Merckx, this was the finest day he had while racing in the Alps. Merckx’s first victory in the Grand Tour general classification came about as a result of this incredible ride, which will go down in history as one of the greatest of all time. Merckx caught and dropped the break as snow and sleet began to fall. He then proceeded to the top of Tre Cime di Lavaredo alone to win the stage by a margin of 40 seconds over Giancarlo Polidori, who was the sole survivor of the original break. His competitors for the GC were left more over four minutes in the rearview mirror. Merckx took the pink jersey and kept it for the rest of the race.
3. Andy Hampsten’s ride on stage 14 of the 1988 Giro d’Italia (Gavia), en route to overall victory The pivotal stage of the 1988 Giro which put Hampsten in the pink jersey. A mountain stage finishing up and over the Gavia Pass made famous by the weather. A snow storm rolled in the night before and despite dreadful conditions the stage went ahead as planned with the snow cleared for the riders to pass. Hampsten attacked at the bottom of the climb and whilst he was passed for the stage win by Erik Breukink with 7km to go on the descent, Hampsten makes our list because it was here that he took the overall lead in the Giro, becoming the first American to wear the pink jersey. He went on to finish first in the overall competition. Johan Van der Velde was the first rider of the day to make it over the peak, but he got off his bike and refused to go down the mountain when he reached the summit. In the end, he was able to ride down the mountain when the vehicle that belonged to his team offered him some warmer garments; nonetheless, he ended up missing a staggering 47 minutes for the day due to the fact that he had to walk through the hazardous parts of the descent.
4. The solo effort made by Eros Poli atop Mt. Ventoux during stage 15 of the Tour de France in 1994 The fight between the Italian giant and “The Giant of Provence” was one that everyone thought the rider would end up losing. Poli dragged his enormous, fatigued limbs up and over the Ventoux, and was still able to celebrate his stage victory in Carpentras with a cushion of almost three minutes on the chasers, despite having risked everything on the descent. Poli had a 25-minute advantage over his pursuers at the start of the climb.
5. The victory achieved by Lance Armstrong at Sestrières on stage 9 of the 1999 Tour de France We are aware that this topic is sensitive; yet, the situation is what it is. Although we all know now that Lance was geared up to the eyeballs, don’t try to act like you watched this and didn’t be startled when it happened. Taking the overall lead after the stage by over 6 minutes, the ferociousness of the attack from Armstrong demoralised his opponents. It was an effort that seemed “superhuman” at the time, and looking back, we can see that it really was.
6. Andy Schleck’s stage win on Stage 18 of the 2011 Tour de France Whilst Schleck took the stage, this was one of the key moments in Cadel Evans’ 2011 Tour de France win. Andy Schleck went on an offensive by himself and swiftly established a lead of more than four minutes. He went on to win the stage at the summit of the Galibier, but Evans’ incredible pursuit reduced the gap to a manageable level. Evans performed all of the effort to reduce Andy Schleck’s lead by climbing the Izoard and then the Galibier. As a result, Evans is now within striking distance of winning the overall competition before the legendary stage 20 individual time trial in Grenoble. Evans ended up winning the day’s most exciting ride.
7. Tom Boonen’s 2012 Paris-Roubaix victory This was Boonen’s fourth Paris-Roubaix victory. After establishing an escape with his colleague Niki Terpstra with 56 kilometers remaining in the race, it became quite clear very soon that Boonen had stronger legs. He overtook Terpstra by a minute and a half after defeating him and continuing on alone for the last 53 kilometers of the race.
8. The victory in stage 17 of the 2012 Vuelta a Espaa by Alberto Contador It was evident that Contador’s drive to win had not diminished during his time off from competing in Grand Tours, since the 2012 Vuelta a Espana was his first Grand Tour after serving a doping penalty. On stage 17, Contador was part of a group of 19 riders who got away from the pack 60 kilometers from the finish. He then put the other riders to the sword and continued on to the top by himself. The way Contador attacked was simply brutal; he went on to ride the last 13km solo and took the overall race lead over Valverde. Contador would go on to keep the lead for the rest of the race.