Bicycle racing is one of popular sports in today’s world. Predominantly most popular in Western Europe, bicycle racing also has significant popularity throughout the Europe, United States and some other parts of the world. The 20th stage of the 2009 event of the Tour de France (Tour of France), which is the most prestigious and popular event in the road bicycle racing, attracted a whopping 44 million total global television audience, and thus, becoming the 12th most watched sporting event that year.
Bicycle racing was graced by many great players over the years. So, choosing ten cycling legends out of many great cyclists is a bit hard and it is less likely to make a perfect list of top ten greatest cyclists of all time. Still, I tried to make as perfect a list as possible, though some great players were left from my list. So, I mentioned their names at the end of the list. You can share your thoughts about the list and your choices in the comment section.
Eddy Merckx is almost undoubtedly the greatest cyclist in the history of cycling. The Belgian is apparently the most decorated of all cyclists in terms of winning tournaments and titles. With five Tour de France titles to his credit, he is currently just one of only five cyclists in the history who have won five or more titles in this Grand Tour. Merckx, nicknamed ‘The Cannibal,’ also won five Giro d'Italia (Tour of Italy) titles, a feat that only two other cyclists have achieved so far. So, he is now the only cyclist in the world who has won five titles in each of these two Grand Tours. In addition, he also won the other Grand Tour, Vuelta a España (Tour of Spain), once.
Besides, Merckx also has an enviable record in the monument classics, the five oldest and most prestigious one-day races of cycling. To add to his glorious career, he is just one of the three cyclists who have won all the five monuments of cycling and is the only cyclist who has done it twice. Overall, he holds a record 19 victories in monuments with compatriot Roger De Vlaeminck being closest to him with 11 titles. “The most accomplished rider that cycling has ever known” is what French magazine Velo said about Eddy Merckx.
Like Merckx, French cyclist Bernard Hinault also has five Tour de France titles and won the other two Grand Tours too. Hinault, however, is not only ahead of Merckx, but all other cycling greats in the sense that he is the only cyclist who has own all three Grand Tours at least twice during his career.
In Tour de France, he has won 28 stages in total, just behind Merckx’s record 34. The Frenchman, who is also known as Le Blaireau (the Badger), has 3 Giro d'Italia and 2 Vuelta a España titles to his name. His five titles in monuments may not match that of Merckx, but still Hinault is undoubtedly one of the best cyclists of all time, and his excellent personality only helps this cause.
Another legendary entertainer of cycling, Jacques Anquetil is the first cyclist to win the Tour de France five times and the first rider to complete victories in all three Grand Tours including two Giro d'Italia and a Vuelta a España titles.
Well-known for his outstanding ability to maintain almost same speed throughout the stages of stage race competitions, Anquetil became the first French cyclist to wear the yellow jersey from day one to the last in his 1961 victorious campaign in Tour de France. He won the tournament in the following three years too, and thus, becoming the first cyclist to win the most prestigious stage race in four successive years. In 1960, he became the first Frenchman to win Giro d'Italia title. Anquetil’s exceptional stamina and strength helped him to race against the clock in the individual time trial races.
Known as ‘Il Campionissimo’ (champion of champions), Fausto Coppi’s rise in world cycling (in 1940’s) is often marked as the beginning of the golden years of world bicycle racing. The two-time Tour de France winner’s dominance in world cycling started before the break out of World War II and continued after the war as well. The Italian is just one of the three cyclists who have five Giro d'Italia titles to their credit.
Image Source: Wikipedia
Fausto Coppi’s competition with compatriot Gino Bartali is one of the greatest rivalries in world cycling. He also won World Championship title in 1953 and his victories in nine monuments include five Giro di Lombardia titles, a record that still stands. His hour record achieved in 1942 stood 14 years before Anquetil broke it in 1956.
Armstrong is the latest legend of world cycle racing. The American cyclist graced the world cycling with a record seven successive victories in Tour de France (from 1999 to 2005), the most prestigious of three Grand Tours. Armstrong’s greatness as a cycle racer would only be increased by putting in the fact that he had to survive a testicular cancer, diagnosed in 1996, and undergo brain and testicular surgeries and take chemotherapy, before accomplishing his Tour de France successes.
Image Source: Wikipedia
Lance Armstrong, also known as ‘The Boss,’ has received many awards during his illustrious career including Sportsman of the Year award by Sports Illustrated magazine in 2002, BBC Sports Personality of the Year Overseas Personality award in 2003, ESPY Award for Best Male Athlete by ESPN four times (from 2003 to 2006), and many more.
The most dominating figure of world cycling in 1990’s, Indurain became the first cyclist in the history to win the Tour de France title in five successive years from 1991 to 1995. His two Giro d'Italia titles came in 1992 and 1993, and thus, he became one of only seven cyclists to win Tour-Giro double in the same season. In 1994, he set up an hour record of 53.040 kilometres.
Image Source: Wikipedia
Known as ‘Miguelón’ or ‘Big Mig’, referring to his 6 ft 2 in height and 176 lbs weight, Indurain exploited his strong physical advantage to the fullest during his career. He wore the yellow jersey for total 60 days in Tour de France. He also clinched the gold medal in Men's Individual Time Trial in 1996 Summer Olympics, just a year after winning the World Time-Trial Championship title.
The first star cyclist from Italy, Bartali shot to fame in the preceding years of World War II. He won Giro d'Italia in 1936 and 1937, before winning the first of his two Tour de France titles in 1938. After the war, he won his last Giro title in 1946, defeating biggest rival Coppi. His second and last Tour de France title came in 1948 with which he registered a record for the largest gap between victories in this tournament. Bartali also has seven victories in monuments to his credit.
Image Source: cyclingtime.com
In those days, the rivalry between Bartali and Coppi used to divide whole Italy in two parts with the rural south supporting Bartali and the industrial north favoring Coppi. Their rivalry only made cycle racing more popular in Italy and many consider it the first and the biggest rivalry ever seen in the cycle racing history.
Another great cyclist from Italy, Gimondi won all three Grand Tours during his successful career which is decorated with one Tour de France, one Vuelta a España and three Giro d'Italia titles, all but 1976 Giro winning in 1960’s.
Image Source: cyclinghalloffame.com (courtesy of www.theracingbicycle.com)
Felice Gimondi took little time to prove his talent as he clinched his only Tour de France title in 1965, the year he turned professional. With the victory in Vuelta a España in 1968, he became the first cyclist after Anquetil to have won all three Grand Tours, a feat accomplished by only five cyclists so far. Gimondi, also known as The Phoenix, also won four monuments during his career.
Unlike other greats placed in this article, Sean Kelly is well-known for his successes in the classic events, rather than Grand Tour successes. He accomplished nine victories in monuments and his achievements in classic cycle races made him one of the all time greats of classics. He won all the monument classics at least twice, barring the Tour de Flanders, the only monument he could never win.
Image Source: Wikipedia
Kelly’s only Grand Tour success came in 1988 Vuelta a España. Though he could never win general classification title in Tour de France, he won green jersey as the leader of the points classification four times in this tournament. The Irishman also won Paris-Nice for seven successive years. He was the first no. 1 cyclist in the FICP rankings, introduced in 1984, and remained no. 1 cyclist for six years, a record that he still holds. Overall, Sean Kelly won 193 professional races in his career.
The French cyclist was a prominent figure of cycle racing in the 1980’s. Laurent Fignon won the first of his two Tour de France titles in 1983, just a year after turning professional. He continued his success in the Tour the following year as well.Image Source: Wikipedia
His only Giro d'Italia success came in 1989. He accomplished two monument classics, both in Milan – San Remo, in 1988 and 1989. Fignon died from cancer in 2010.
Some notable omissions: Jan Ulrich, Louis Bobet, Greg LeMond, Tony Rominger, Mario Cipollini, Alberto Contador, Roger De Vlaeminick, Erik Zabel, Laurent Jalabert, Charly Gaul, Marco Pantani, Francesco Moser, Fiorenzo Magni, Alessandro Petacchi, and Jan Jansen.