The greatest?

July 3, 2017 § 15 Comments

Is Daniel Holloway a greater bike racer than Davis Phinney?

I know that some of you are going to roll your eyes, some will furrow your brows, and others will say “Davis who?”

At first glance, the two riders aren’t comparable. Phinney has an unmatched career, with three stage wins in the Tour de France, 2nd in the points classification in the 1988 Tour, a GC win in the Coors Classic, and the most ever wins by an American at 328. Holloway has never ridden, let alone won a stage in the Tour, and his biggest wins are domestic, including back-to-back national road titles and four national crit championships, all as an amateur.

So on paper it’s easy to say that Phinney’s career handily eclipses Holloway’s.

But in reality the comparison has a lot more substance than it does in the statistics. First of all, Phinney rode as the star for two teams that comprised the greatest assemblage of bike talent in U.S. history. Team 7-11 boasted riders like Andy Hampsten, Alexi Grewal, Tom Schuler, Ron Kiefel, Doug Shapiro, Alex Stieda, and Jeff Pierce. In every single domestic race Phinney could count on two things: The other teams would have to chase the entire race, and if the race came back together at the end, Phinney would have the best and most experienced riders in the peloton working for him.

Contrast that with Holloway, who has scored every single victory either riding solo at the end or having the limited help of only one or two teammates. Moreover, those teammates have changed virtually every season. Whereas Phinney could count on loyal lieutenants with whom he had hundreds of races to learn their every idiosyncrasy and to perfect his team tactics, Holloway has had to retrain and learn to work with new teammates virtually every year.

Moreover, the tactic of “riding against Davis” never worked. If you targeted Phinney, then Kiefel, Hampsten, Grewal, or Pierce would ride up the road. Riding against Holloway is pretty much all that many US pro/am riders do nowadays, and despite that he still beats them. In addition to having to make his own luck, Holloway can never count on two or three teammates who will go up the road and pose a credible threat every single race, let alone a finishing leadout train. That Holloway has been able to beat so many riders in so many races with such incredible consistency over a period of years when everyone knows how he races and what to expect is as remarkable a feat as I’ve seen in U.S. racing.

The only rider with that level of individual skill, the ability to beat an entire field again and again while basically freestyling, is Australian Robbie McEwen. Holloway’s back-to-back national crit and road championships were jaw-dropping; his second road victory this year proves that the guy who is “just a sprinter” is anything but.

Another factor that adds to the impressiveness of Holloway’s accomplishments is that he’s not really a sprinter, at least not in the sense that Phinney was. Phinney was simply faster than anyone else in the last 200 meters. He had a finishing sprint that proved itself to be world class time after time on a global stage against the fastest sprinters in the world.

Holloway’s sprint is something that he has had to groom. In any given race there are at least a couple of riders who are as fast, and one or two who may even be faster. But Holloway’s racing intellect is so superior to his competition that what he lacks in kick — and his kick is vicious — he makes up for with smarts. You may be able to outsprint him, but you will never be able to outsmart him, and the victory never goes to the strongest rider, it goes to the strongest smart rider.

Like Phinney, Holloway has proven himself versatile as a road racer and a crit racer. Like Phinney, he has nerves of steel. And like Phinney, he is a closer. Is Phinney still the greatest?


But Holloway’s Me-Against-The-World style of racing is way more fun to watch, and his wins, without exception, are torn from the jaws of the beast every single time.



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§ 15 Responses to The greatest?

  • Fausto says:

    Saw Phinny ride before 7-11 and he was just as tough. Was a one man team riding with Connie’s girls so they could be together. Battled against Baur (Canadian National Team), Nitz (Mengoni and others), Keifel, the Stetina Bros., Whitehead, McCormic etc. Could beat the track specialists like Gibby, etc. The 7-11 team tactics did make it incredibly difficult to beat them but some did. Look at Sagan, no lead out, rare that he has a team mate to help in those last 2-3 k’s whether flat or uphill finish. God bless the rider who know how to surf the front and win.

  • shano92107 says:

    I’ve heard him Speak on a couple of podcasts and a YouTube vid – such a fresh and different perspective from such an interesting mind. Sounds like a really nice guy off the bike but all bizness when the gun goes off. Nice write up Seth of a great fighter

  • Gerry Pease says:

    “Davis was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at the age of 40, and established the Davis Phinney Foundation in 2004, a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. The Boulder, Colorado-based foundation is dedicated to improving the lives of people with Parkinson’s disease – today and in the future.”

    The work of this foundation will be his most important legacy.

  • Waldo says:

    Seth, come on, apples and oranges.

  • channel_zero says:

    it’s apples and oranges type comparison, but, no question the guy is good. All he needs now is plenty of money to buy his way onto an international squad!

  • Greg Kogut says:

    Curious why the Crit King always seems to fly solo or near solo? I’d imagine that the likes of UHC or Rally would love someone like him. I don’t mean that as a pejorative, just curious if it’s Holloway’s own choice to be his own team? Clearly he’s very comfortable surfing solo unencumbered by team restraints.

  • senna65 says:

    Good stuff wanker. I’ve heard of this guy but now will check him out and follow him. Guessing he’s one of these guys who refused to compromise his integrity for the chance to race in Europe. There’s a local continental pro around here that rode the Giro d’Italia and other big races for BMC in his early twenties and now rides continental. Always wonder if he is one of those rare guys with the self-belief to stay his own course. On another note, f-ing horrible move by the TDF today DQ’ing Sagan. Really no reason to even watch the race now other than the picturesque landscape. Does anybody really want to watch grinchy Froome staring at his power meter and the other assorted stick figures going for the GC every day? UCI mountain biking on Redbulltv much better.

    • fsethd says:

      Holloway is a clean racer and that has hurt him, unquestionably. And yeah, TdF sucks.

  • Eric R says:

    I met Daniel at Devil’s Punchbowl a few years back. I saw him with all these Rainbow stripes and decided to say hello. He was super nice and told me about the National crit wins. I ask why he pulled out of the race and he said that he wasn’t quite where he wanted to be yet – it was early in the season. He explained that he could hang with the climbers on shorter climbs like punchbowl. I was pretty much saying to myself – ok – not knowing what to think.

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