It’s one of those clichés about Spanish cycling that up until the arrival of Oscar Freire little mattered outside stage racing. But if that’s true then Miguel Poblet, who died on Saturday aged 86, was very much the exception to the rule.
Between when he turned pro in the mid-1940s to his retirement in 1962, Poblet racked up over 180 wins. That would be exceptional enough, considering the total included 20 stage victories at the Giro d'Italia, three at the Tour de France and at the Vuelta, as well as two Milan-San Remo victories and a record number of stage wins in the Volta a Catalunya.
He was also Spain’s first ever leader of the Tour de France, and the first of just three riders in cycling’s history to win stages in all three Grand Tours in the same year. Poblet’s versatility was such that he also won three Spanish National Mountain Championships and was the first rider to cross the Tourmalet in the 1955 Tour de France (in his first Tour). He was on the point of finishing second overall in the 1958 Giro d'Italia when a puncture in the final three kilometres of a stage in the Dolomites saw him lose any chance of the podium.
Two top three finishes in Paris-Roubaix and a third place in Lombardy was yet more proof that Poblet was far more than just a sprinter. Rather he was Spain’s first real all-rounder. As contemporary Federico Bahamontes said when news of Poblet’s death broke, Poblet was a rider more in the line of Alejandro Valverde than Oscar Freire, who is generally considered to be his successor - although Valverde has never shone in the cobbled Classics.
Poblet’s talents, in any case, were barely recognised in stage-racing-obsessed Spain and he raced for the most important period of his career in foreign squads, first in France and then for longer in Italy, with the Ignis team. As such, Poblet was the country’s first top name rider to race for a non-Spanish squad, paving the way for other riders like Bahamontes to cross the Pyrenees a few years later and helping give a much-needed international slant to cycling in Spain.
After retiring and setting up an electrical goods store in his native Moncada near Barcelona, Poblet had to wait for another 40 years before Oscar Freire renewed Spain’s interest in the Classics. But his status as the pioneer for one-day racing in Spain will never be overshadowed.
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