Apropos of nothing I thought I would compose a list of my favourite professional cyclists in the modern era, which I loosely define as that coming after the Armstrong doping years.
Probably one of the things I love most about cycling is that it is relatively non-tribal. People don’t really love teams in the same way a football fan does and with these blinkers removed you are free to love, like or disdain individual riders based on nothing but personal preference.
This list is not based purely on results and is more often than not based purely on something much more ethereal that cannot really be defined. Upon reflection it is also very Anglo-centric and this is really no surprise; my love of cycling as a sport really blossomed since Britain turned its attention to the sport and started to win things, first on the track and then on the road. In no particular order:
No doubt the recent trial by public opinion has dented his reputation among many cycling fans but he was cleared of any wrongdoing by people who spend their lives trying to catch dopers in all sports so I prefer to defer to their judgement than the arm chair doctors on the internet.
Chris Froome, the greatest GC rider of our generation?
But let’s stick with the Salbutamol case for just a split second. Even with that being leaked and hanging over his head he managed to come third in the world championship time trial and then famously win the Giro, the most grueling and unpredictable of the three Grand Tours. Mere mortals would have crumbled with all the additional stress and the fact that he continued to race at this high level demonstrated to me that he knew he had done nothing wrong and that his name would eventually be cleared.
For various well known but misunderstood reasons, he has never been taken to the hearts of the fickle British public, with his lack of a Sports Personality award indicative of this fact. For sure he doesn’t have the wit of Bradley Wiggins, the darling of the British for a while at least, but what he does have is total commitment to the cause of winning. This ruthlessness is often hidden by the fact that he is unfailingly a total gentleman in interviews and by all accounts with other riders in the peloton also.
He takes his role seriously as an ambassador of the peloton.
His Grand Tour palmarès speak for themselves but there is no doubt that he has lit up racing in the last few years despite being lumbered as boring and mechanical at the beginning. He may not win the hearts of the casual fan but for me he is simply the best Grand Tour rider of his generation.
The ride on Stage 19 of the 2018 Giro will go down in the history books. Even hours after he crossed the line having all but sealed the victory my jaw was still on the floor. It invited adjectives like “unbelievable” from the cynics but I have faith and believe that I witnessed one of sports great moments and not just in terms of cycling. An accusation of being boring and mechanical was swatted aside with this ride. See also his attack with Sagan and Thomas in the Tour de France a number of years ago on his way to winning overall. Probably still my favourite finish to a stage for its sheer audacity. On another level it was also comical watching him try to out sprint Sagan.
A freak crash during a reconnaissance of a TT course scuppered his Tour de France plans this year but no one is betting against him coming back strong and winning that fifth title.
In an interesting quirk of history he was also recently awarded the Vuelta win in 2011 having come second to a now confirmed doper. Queue a lot of navel gazing about how the course of history could have been very different for British cycling.
Perhaps the greatest of all time but certainly the greatest in our lifetime.
He is the classics rider who can sprint. He is a sprinter who can climb on his day. He is the classics rider that can win stage races. Short of winning a Grand Tour there is seemingly no prize out of his grasp.
His wins only tell part of the story though. Look at all his second places and his extraordinary bike handling. Look at the fact he decided to go back to mountain biking for the Olympics.
He just comes across as someone who loves being on his bike and the fans love him in equal measures. I really can’t say anything new about him that has not already been said. Superlatives were made for people like Sagan.
Sagan - winner and entertainer.
The mere fact that the Slovak won three world championships in a row on a variety of courses should be enough to cement his place in any list but he is also so much more than these wins.
“You all laugh at me because I am different. I laugh at you because you are all the same” – Peter Sagan (but really Jonathan Davies or even potentially Kurt Cobain).
The shark is a hard guy to like but I sort of love him. He just has the look of a classic bike rider and is ready and willing to animate any bike race. If he is in the race, then at the very least you know you will see some attacks.
When the "Shark" wins, he wins in style.
His victory in Milan-San Remo cemented his place on this list. It was swashbuckling and ambitious and risky. Qualities we all love in our sports stars.
He further cemented his place with his audacious win on the last mountain stage of this years Tour de France. Coming into the race off the back of a very hard fought Giro, he clearly didn’t have the legs for GC but the guy never gives up and knows that the fans want to see exciting racing in the mountains.
Since he is a man of few words, so too is this.
As a British cycling (small c) fan it would be too easy to cheer against Kittel as the young pretender to Cavendish but I can see past all that and see a proper champion even if the results have not really been going his way in the last couple of seasons.
My love of him was born from watching a fascinating documentary on Netflix called “Clean Spirit” that follows the development of the Shimano Argos team and with it a fledgling Kittel (among other Dutch and German pros).
It shone a light on Kittel’s personality and does much to dispel any lazy stereotypes of humourless Germans. He has a boyish energy and hunger for success throughout and comes across as a real team player who the rest of the team look up to and respect. There was also something charmingly innocent about the fact that whilst winning stages of the Tour was great, having his mum and dad along for the ride was more important for him.
Sprinting away from the peloton he has not left behind. Wishing him well in the next phase of his life.
Anything I have seen of him has just reinforced this opinion.
I would say that his acting could do with some improvement but his star turn in the Alpecin shampoo commercials is by no means the worst sports/ acting crossover I have ever seen.
He has recently announced his retirement from the pro peleton, citing that he felt exhausted. I for one wish him all the best and I really hope one day we will see him back in the bunch. The fledgling rivalry between Cav and Kittel could have been one for the ages.
There is a good argument to be made that Vos should be at the top of the list of great cyclists and not just female cyclists. No list of cycling greats can omit this world champion road racer, mountain biker, track rider and cyclocross rider. A true trailblazer for women’s cycling, her talent and palmarès is undeniable.
Vos, a contender for the greatest of all time on any list.
For me she is the most stylish pro on the bike and exudes warmth off the bike. This warmness hides an unshakable will to win and a will to drag women’s cycling to the same level as the men. The women's peloton has a worthy ambassador in Vos.
It is also great to see that she is still showing the women's peloton how it is done having rediscovered her form after a difficult couple of years of injury.
Wiggo was a very late addition to this list, his reputation somewhat taking a battering in the press when he stopped cycling. A lot of the scrutiny was deserved after the Fancy Bears medical records hack and there are without doubt still some questions hanging over him in this regard. According to him, there is a lot more to come from this story when he has his day but for legal reasons he is refraining from saying too much.
Personally he went from hero to zero. When he was crowned, quite literally, the winner of the Olympic time trial it book-ended a quite remarkable golden summer. The whole nation seemed to come together to watch a sport that nobody really understood but knew that we were suddenly not hopeless at anymore.
Wiggo - cycling legend.
His palmeres across a range of disciplines on the track and on the road make him stand out from the crowd but what really sets him apart is his clear love of the sport and the characters that make it.
He recently stole the show on the vastly improved Eurosport coverage of the Tour de France where he could be seen giving unfiltered opinions from the back of a moto alongside the peleton. He has a unique perspective on the sport and I would imagine that this new role will have won him many more fans. I read recently that he now wants to become a social worker! How could you not love the guy.
Laura Kenny (nee Trott)
London Olympics 2012. Probably the last time the entire country came together and there was a real sense of optimism about the future. There was a sense that “Britishness” could be redefined into something outward looking, positive and progressive. That long summer is etched in my memory and Laura Kenny looms large in that memory.
(Of course I was completely wrong to believe in the optimism surrounding the games. History will show that instead of being a catalyst for something much greater, it was in fact that death throes of a once proud country. Brexit would come into view and there would be no turning the clock back. Hang on, isn’t this meant to be a general blog about cycling and not politics).
She became a cyclist by total accident, supporting her mother to lose weight but it was no accident that she has dominated the Team Pursuit and the baffling, brutal and brilliant Omnium for the best part of two Olympic cycles.
Off the bike she exudes excited energy but on the bike this is all completely channeled into winning. It is also plainly obvious that she is the kind of person that gets the best out of her teammates and enjoys winning as a team. The team members sometimes change but on the track they don’t just win, they destroy the competition and the records tumble.
She is a bit of an enigma in the sense that you don’t know what drives her but I would give anything to have one percent of that drive. The things I could achieve…
Laura Kenny, a reminder of a simpler time before Brexit?