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Echelons during Tour de France 2019

The Best Cyclists of All Time

Ranking the best cyclists of all time is an endless debate. It's impossible to compare cycling eras and there's always a personal preference involved. However, the question of who's the greatest cyclist of all time is easy to answer and cannot be debated. Based on the points schema of the King of the Echelon cycling ranking, these 10 legends make up the all-time cycling hall of fame.


Andy Williams The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

If you're curious about the details of the points schema, I wrote about it in this blog post: Pointless rider rankings are useful.



10. Felice GIMONDI (ITA) - 6393pts



Can you imagine: Felice Gimondi is the 10th best rider ever, while Eddy Merckx was his main opponent. It really makes you wonder what his palmares would have looked like without Merckx. But it's not like his Italian gentleman had to complain about what he díd win during this 13-year career as a professional cyclist.


Together with Eddy Merckx and Bernard Hinault, Gimondi is the only rider who won the 3 Grand Tours (Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a España) and the World Championship. Additionally, Felice Gimondi displayed his versatility by winning the 3 most diverse Monuments: Milano-Sanremo, Paris-Roubaix and Il Lombardia




9. Alejandro VALVERDE (ESP) - 6671pts



Anno 2022, 42-year-old Alejandro Valverde is the only active rider to figure in the top-10 of greatest cyclists ever. "El Imbatido" achieved this thanks to his dominance in some of the most important races, versatility, and consistency throughout his 20-year career.


Despite winning the Tour of Spain and some of the top-tier one-week stage races, the Tour and Giro were out of his reach. Something Alejandro Valverde compensated by a large number of victories in the biggest one-day races on the calendar.


Some stellar numbers:

  • 7 podiums at the Vuelta & España (of which 1 victory),

  • 7 podiums at the World Championship (of which 1 victory),

  • 7 podiums at Liège-Bastogne-Liège (of which 4! victories),

  • 6 podiums at Clasica San Sebastian (of which 2 victories),

  • 9 podiums at Flèche Wallonne (holds the record with 5! victories).



8. Francesco MOSER (ITA) - 6916pts



The Italian powerhouse was one of the most feared riders of his generation. Giro d'Italia winner, classics king, world champion, 23-times Giro stage winner, 273 professional victories: Francesco Moser in a nutshell.


Tripple Paris-Roubaix (7 podiums!) winner Moser was the main competitor of Monsieur Paris-Roubaix Roger De Vlaeminck, beating him on 2 occasions (1978 & 1979). Despite being more limited in the high mountains, the Italian still won his homeland Grand Tour thanks to his exquisite time trialing skills.


That talent allowed Francesco Moser to break the 12-year-old World Hour Record of Eddy Merckx by 1.4 kilometer, becoming the first rider to cross the 50km mark (50.808km)




7. Sean KELLY (IRL) - 7021pts



Sean "King" Kelly is very much the Alejandro Valverde of the 1980's. Winning the Vuelta a España, multiple top-tier stage races (7 times Paris-Nice winner!) and numerous Monuments and classics made the Irishman one of the last riders that mastered almost all types of races.


Blessed with a sharp sprint, above-average climbing skills, and excellent endurance, Sean Kelly basically owned the Tour de France points jersey during the 80's. Those very same skills allowed him to be successful in 4 out of the 5 Monuments (totaling 9 victories).


Kelly is definitely a rider that should have been on the list of riders that won all Monuments (Eddy Merckx, Roger De Vlaeminck, and Rik Van Looy; if it hadn't been for Adrie van der Poel. The dutchman caused a huge upset by outsprinting Sean Kelly for victory at the 1986 Ronde van Vlaanderen.




6. Roger DE VLAEMINCK (BEL) - 7054pts



Roger De Vlaeminck, a.k.a. "The Gipsy", was the 3rd rider in history (and the last one so far) to win all 5 classics Monuments (after Rik Van Looy and Eddy Merckx). Without Merckx, the Belgian would have been the rider with the most Monument wins (11; followed by Costante Girardengo, Fausto Coppi, and Sean Kelly with 9).


Roger De Vlaeminck is known because of his extreme willpower to be the best. His conviction was that the best riders should never be on the same team but instead should always compete with each other. De Vlaeminck is very outspoken about what was driving him as a rider: beating Eddy Merckx; a victory against Merckx was a lot more valuable.


Roger De Vlaeminck won Paris-Roubaix 4 times (a record he shares with Tom Boonen) and podium 9(!) times which earned him the nickname "Monsieur Paris-Roubaix". Being a former cyclocross world champion has definitely played a role in these extraordinary achievements in the "Hell of the North".


Apart from his Roubaix record, he also won Tirreno-Adriatico 6 consecutive times.




5. Fausto COPPI (ITA) - 7147pts



Eddy Merckx is considered the best cyclist ever, but Fausto Coppi is often referred to as the greatest myth in cycling. A rider that transcended the sport in Italy because of the rivalry with Gino Bartali and his personal life. The duels with Bartali divided post-WW2 Italy into 2 camps and Coppi achieved a god-like status among his fans.


Nobody knows what the palmares of "Il Campionissimo" would have looked like without the interruption by the war, but nevertheless, his achievements are huge: world champion, double Tour de France winner, 5-times Giro d'Italia champion (a tie with Merckx and Alfredo Binda), and a record of 5 victories at the Tour of Lombardy.


During WW2, Fausto Coppi also broke the world hour record (45,871 km/h).




4. Gino BARTALI (ITA) - 7470pts



Like Fausto Coppi, Gino Bartali suffered from the WW2 interruption. Not sure if that had anything to do with it, but the Italian retired from cycling at the sacred age of 40 after a career of 19 years!


A short summary of his achievements: double Tour de France winner, triple Giro d'Italia winner, 4 times Milano-Sanremo, 3 times il Lombardia (9! podiums) and 29 stages wins in Tour and Giro combined.




3. Jacques ANQUETIL (FRA) - 7814pts



Jacques Anquetil is undoubtedly one of the most stylish cyclists ever, and I mean this on and off the bike. Blessed with an enormous time trial engine, the Frenchman easily put minutes into the best climbers of that era which allowed him to consolidate his lead in the mountains (he also was an above-average climber of course).


Jacques Anquetil was the first rider to win the Tour de France 5 times (Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, and Miguel Indurain followed his example) and the first rider to win all 3 Grand Tours.


An illustration of why Anquetil is perhaps THE best time trialist of all time: he won the GP des Nations (the unofficial world championship time trial in those days) a staggering 9 times! Although not very original, he was rightfully rewarded with the nickname "Monsieur Chrono"




2. Bernard HINAULT (FRA) - 8992pts



Bernard Hinault: the last "Patron" of the peloton, a man of honor and principles, relentless and ruthless. The winner he was, the Frenchman was not a man of compromises (ask Greg LeMond). "The Badger" is the rider we can consider the closest to Eddy Merckx in terms of achievements, but still lightyears away.


Winner of 5 Tours, 3 Giro's, 1 Vuelta, and the Worldchampionship. Add numerous classics and stage races and you'll understand why Bernard Hinault finished as runner-up in the all-time cycling hall of fame.


One race that defines the hardman Hinault is the 1980 Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Snow and freezing temperatures made half of the peloton abandon before halfway. Eventually, 21 riders made it to the finish. Bernard Hinault took the win putting over 9(!) minutes into runner-up Hennie Kuiper.




1. Eddy MERCKX (BEL) - 15440pts



"The Cannibal". That says it all. Eddy Merckx dominated cycling like nobody else had in the past and nobody will in the future. The sheer amount of victories and the way he won races is unparalleled. Eddy Merckx IS the best cyclist ever.


Some staggering figures:

  • 445 professional victories (almost 30% of the races he entered)

  • 5 times winner of the Tour de France (a record, including 34 stages; a record)

  • 5 times winner of the Giro d'Italia (a record, including 24 stages)

  • winner of 11 Grand Tours (a record)

  • 3 times World Champion (a record; +1 title in the amateur category)

  • 7 times winner of Milano-Sanremo (a record)

  • 5 times winner of Liège-Bastogne-Liège (a record)

  • winner of all 5 monuments

  • winner of 19 monuments in total (a record)

  • 7 top-tier 1-week stage races

Additionally:

  • 7 times winner of the Super Prestige Pernod

  • former World Hour Record holder

  • winner of 17 six-days (track racing)

All of this could have been wiped out because of the crash he made on the track of Blois (France) in 1969 during a derny crit which nearly cost him his career. Eddy Merckx often stated he never had the same climbing feeling as before because of permanent back issues resulting from the incident.


It makes you wonder how Merckx still managed to pull all of this off and what else he would have been capable of had he not been a victim of that crash.




Who do you think, are the best cyclists ever? What does your top-10 of all time look like? Please leave a comment below!


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