What makes a great cyclist? Is it the number of Tour de France victories they have under their belt? Or is it something else altogether?
In this article, we take a look at some of the best to have ever graced the sport and try to answer the question once and for all: who is the greatest cyclist of all time?
Read on to find out.
The 7 Best Cyclists of All Time
Our list of the best cyclists ever focuses on their personal achievements and certain feats that helped them earn legendary status.
Eddy Merckx, nicknamed ‘The Cannibal’ for his insatiable hunger to win every race, is widely regarded as the greatest cyclist of all time.
During his career, he won an astounding 11 Grand Tours, more than any other rider in history, and holds the record for most Tour de France stage wins with 34.
In addition to his five Tour de France, five Giro d’Italia, and one Vuelta a España wins, he has won all five Monuments (the classic and most prestigious one-day events), three World Championships, and a myriad of other races.
Jacques Anquetil was the first racer to win all five Monuments (in a record-breaking four years) and five Tour de France trophies consecutively from 1961–1964.
All in all, Jacques won eight Grand Tours during his esteemed career—a record number when he retired.
Anquetil was known for his exceptional ability to ’’beat the clock’’ and calm and composed demeanour, earning him the nickname ‘Monsieur Chrono’.
Moreover, he was a time-trial specialist, and his greatest strength was his ability to maintain a high average speed over long distances.
Our list of history’s famous cyclists must also include Bernard Hinault, another French rider who was a tenacious competitor known for his aggressive riding style.
He won the Tour de France five times—a joint record at the time he retired—and is one of only seven riders to have won all three Grand Tours.
In addition to his five Tour de France titles, he also won the Giro d’Italia twice and the Vuelta a España once.
Hinault was nicknamed ‘The Badger’ due to his tenaciousness and fighting spirit, which saw him through some of the toughest races to impressive 147 victories.
If we’re talking about the greatest cyclists of all time, then we cannot forget about Mario Cipollini—the Italian ‘Lion King’ with an impressive tally of 192 professional wins.
‘Super Mario’ is one of the best cyclists of all time thanks to his explosive speed and power, which saw him win 42 Giro d’Italia stages—a record that still stands today.
In addition to being considered the best sprinter of his generation, Cipollini also won the Road World Championships and the Milan–San Remo classic in 2002.
Although Jan Ullrich is considered one of the best cyclists ever, the German was in the headlines with one of the biggest sports doping scandals at that time.
He won the Tour de France in 1997—becoming the first German rider to do so—and also achieved second-place finishes in 1998, 2000, and 2003.
His other achievements include a Vuelta a España win in 1999, a gold and a silver medal at the 2000 Olympic Games, and various one-day race and classic wins.
Ullrich’s greatest strength was his all-round ability to excel in climbing and time-trialling.
This Italian rider is considered one of the greatest cyclists of all time thanks to his remarkable ability to excel at every aspect of riding: climbing, sprinting and time-trialling.
Coppi was known as ‘Il Campionissimo’—Champion of Champions—and is still revered in his native Italy as he is one of the rare Italian riders to have won almost everything there is.
His most notable successes include five Giro d’Italia wins, two Tour de France trophies, and a World Championship in 1953.
In addition to his Grand Tour successes, he also won the Giro di Lombardia five times, the Milan–San Remo three times, and set the 1942 hour record at almost 46 km.
Miguel ‘Big Mig’ Indurain is a former Spanish rider who excelled in time trials thanks to his physique (1.86 m), power, and aerodynamic riding style.
He holds the record for the most consecutive Tour de France trophies with five, and he shares that record with Eddy Merckx, Jacques Anquetil, and Bernard Hinault.
In addition to his five Tour de France titles, he also won the Giro d’Italia twice, placed second at the Vuelta a España, and won a gold medal at the 1996 Olympic Games.
While many riders contributed to the world of cycling over the years and made it what it is today, Eddy Merckx is definitely the greatest cyclist of all time. But, the rest are not that far off, and every name on our list is a legendary rider new and aspiring athletes are striving to become.
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