Raced over a three-week period, Grand Tours are usually won or lost by minutes — a margin that can agonisingly close, while still separating riders by an unbridgeable gap on the final stages.
At the 1984 Vuelta a España, though, the margin of victory was remarkable even amongst close margins. After 19 stages, a prologue and a 3593km loop around Spain, just six seconds separated first and second place — beating the legendary Lemond-Fignon margin by 2 seconds to claim the title of the closest Grand Tour.
Eventual race winner Éric Caritoux and runner-up Alberto Fernández entered the race under very different conditions. The 29-year-old Fernández had finished third in ‘83, and started as one of the race favourites after preparing at the Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco, (now the Itzulia Basque Country Tour). Conversely, Caritoux hadn't expected to even start the race.
Earlier in the 1984 season, Skil - Reydel team manager Jean de Gribaldy, had promised La Vuelta organisers that his team would be on the start line — a promise he had since forgotten about. After threats of hefty fines and with team leader Sean Kelly busy racing (and winning) the likes of Liège - Bastogne - Liège, a lineup was scrambled together at the eleventh hour. The team was full of Grand Tour newbies, and 23-year-old Vuelta debutant Éric Caritoux would lead the squad.
Prior to the final time trial, which would decide the winner of the race, Fernández trailed Caritoux by 37 seconds. As they were beside each other in the GC standings, the two riders would usually start one after the other. However, organisers decided to place a few riders between them.
Fernández crossed the line in fifth, 54 seconds down on stage winner Julián Gorospe, who had also won the stage 14 time trial. It was a respectable performance, and although Caritoux had finished second in the earlier time trial, many expected it to be enough for Fernández.
However, Caritoux finished in ninth place, 1 minute and 25 seconds behind. It was enough for Caritoux, who held on to the yellow jersey, (which then signified the race lead at La Vuelta), by just six seconds. Against the odds, the little-known French climber had denied the Spanish fans a home victory.
For Fernández, he would never get the chance to ride the Vuelta a España again. On 14th December 1984, tragedy struck when Fernández and his wife were killed in a car accident.
Despite his incredible display at such a premature stage in his career, Caritoux never returned to the podium of a Grand Tour. He raced the Vuelta in 1985, 1988 and 1989, finishing sixth in '85 as defending champion.
Closest Finishes at the Vuelta a España
Primož Roglič won the 2020 Vuelta a España by just 24 seconds (Image credit: Luis Angel Gomez / ASO)
- Éric Caritoux - 6 seconds, 1984
- José Manuel Fuente - 11 seconds, 1974
- Angelo Conterno - 13 seconds, 1956
- Augustín Tamames - 14 seconds, 1975
- Marino Lejarreta - 18 seconds, 1982
- Primož Roglič - 24 seconds, 2020
- Roberto Heras - 28 seconds, 2003
- Tony Rominger - 29 seconds, 1993
- Raymond Poulidor - 33 seconds, 1964
- Pedro Delgado - 35 seconds, 1989
Ten years earlier, José Manuel Fuente won his second Vuelta a España title by a margin of just 11 seconds ahead of Joaquim Agostinho. Angelo Conterno, Augustin Tamames and Marino Lejarreta are the other three riders to have won La Vuelta by less than 20 seconds.
The margin between first and second has been under a minute 19 times at the Vuelta a España. This has only occurred 10 times at the Tour de France, but on 23 occasions at the Giro d’Italia.
Cover image: José Manuel Fuente (Image credit: RDB/ullstein bild via Getty Images)