An échappée (“escape” or “breakaway”) is the hardest yet most rewarding victory to pull off. It requires equal amounts of skill and luck to go solo against the peloton. Many great riders throughout history have made their name with a winning break in a Grand Tour.
We’ve 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 unsuccessful breakaway attempts that are heartbreaking, but in this case our selection criteria was simple. The breakaway had to be a winning move and it had to be memorable. One of these moments has an asterisk beside it, and there might be a few more that deserve one as well…who knows.
Our list (in chronological order):
1. Fausto Coppi’s win on stage 17 of the 1949 Giro d’Italia
Put simply, this stage was an absolute brute, including no less than five categorised climbs; Maddalena, Vars, Izoard, Montgenevre, and Sestriere. 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. Eddy Merckx’s ride on stage 12 of the 1968 Giro d’Italia (Tre Cime), en route to overall victory
Rated by Merckx as his best day in the mountains. This truly will go down as one of the greatest rides of all time, taking Merckx to his first Grand Tour GC win.
With snow and sleet descending, Merckx caught and dropped the break and headed to the summit of Tre Cime di Lavaredo alone to take the stage by 40 seconds over Giancarlo Polidori, the only survivor of the initial break. His rivals for the GC were left straggling over 4 minutes behind. 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 win the race overall.
First over the mountain for the day was actually Johan Van der Velde, but he stepped off his bike and refused to ride down the mountain. Eventually he rode down the mountain after his team car gave him some warmer clothes, but he ended up losing a whopping 47 minutes on the day as he walked the dangerous sections of the descent.
4. Eros Poli’s breakaway on Mt Ventoux on stage 15 of the 1994 Tour de France
The Italian giant took on ‘The Giant of Provence’ in a battle everyone was expecting the rider to lose. With a 25-minute lead over his pursuers at the start of the climb, Poli dragged his huge, tired limbs up and over the Ventoux, and was still able to celebrate his stage win in Carpentras with a buffer of over three minutes on the chasers, having risked everything on the descent.
5. Lance Armstrong’s win to Sestrières on stage 9 of the 1999 Tour de France
Yes, controversial we know, but it is what it is. We all now know that Lance was geared up to the eyeballs, but don’t pretend that you watched this and didn’t jump out of your chair at the time.
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 appeared at the time ‘superhuman’ … and we now know it 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 attacked solo, and quickly opened up a gap of over 4 minutes. He went on to take the stage at the top of the Galibier but the deficit was limited by an amazing chase from Evans.
Evans did all the work up the Izoard and then up the Galibier to limit Andy Schleck’s advantage, putting Evans in reach of overall victory ahead of the famous stage 20 ITT in Grenoble. The ride of the day really went to Evans.
7. Tom Boonen’s 2012 Paris-Roubaix victory
This was Boonen’s fourth Paris-Roubaix victory. After setting up a breakaway with teammate Niki Terpstra with 56km to go it became apparent very quickly that Boonen had the better legs. He broke Terpstra and continued on alone for the last 53km, taking the race by a minute and a half.
8. Alberto Contador’s stage 17 to win the 2012 Vuelta
The 2012 Vuelta a Espana was Contador’s first Grand Tour back after a doping suspension; clearly his desire to win had not decreased in his time off. On stage 17, Contador broke away with a group of 19 riders 60km before the finish, before putting them all to the sword and heading to the summit alone.
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.
We’d like to hear your thoughts below! Have we missed any? Who would make your list?