In my last post I revealed the final rankings for the Top 25 Cyclists of the Modern Era. For those that missed it, or to save you from navigating away from this article, here it is again (the numbers are in reference to the points scored through the TVM scoring system, which is detailed here: Scoring, Part 1, and Scoring, Part 2):
Official TVM Top 25 of the Modern Era
- Eddy Merckx, 410.5
- Bernard Hinault, 232.5
- Fausto Coppi, 219.5
- Gino Bartali, 213
- Jacques Anquetil, 184
- Rik Van Looy, 152
- Sean Kelly, 146.5
- Roger De Vlaeminck, 139.5
- Francesco Moser, 131.5
- Felice Gimondi, 114 (higher raw score)
- Lance Armstrong, 114*
- Louison Bobet, 109.5
- Miguel Indurain, 98
- Freddy Maertens, 97.5
- Ferdi Kubler, 96
- Joop Zoetemelk, 91.5
- Tony Rominger, 89.5
- Laurent Jalabert, 88.5
- Fiorenzo Magni, 87
- Giuseppe Saronni, 83
- Erik Zabel, 81
- Rik Van Steenbergen, 73.5
- Raymond Poulidor, 69
- Jan Janssen, 65 (higher raw score)
- Greg LeMond, 65
It has been about a month since the initial results were released, and there has been a fair amount of dialogue in the cycling forums, and I’ve received quite a few emails, as well. So, let me address some of the common questions, and misunderstandings, about this list.
First, understand that I am not necessarily saying that Rider X was “better than” Rider Y. It is amazing how rankled some folks got because they felt I had somehow slighted or unjustly ranked their favorite cyclist of all time. What I am saying is that Rider X (i.e. Sean Kelly) scored more points than Rider Y (i.e. Miguel Indurain). These points were issued based on wins in significant races (podium points were awarded for only the World Championship Road Race and all three Grand Tours). The operative word here is WINS, otherwise known as VICTORIES. This was not a popularity contest. I can’t tell you how many times someone vented about (fill in the blank), but didn’t bother to first understand how the points were earned. I went through great pains to outline exactly the way all of this was done, so please take the time to read Scoring Parts 1 and 2, before you send a nasty email asking me how I could have possibly overlooked Jan Ullrich, Richard Virenque, or Marco Pantani (the most often mentioned “jilted” cyclists).
Anyway, here are the cyclists (with their point totals) who didn’t make the Top 25, but did finish in the Top 50:
26. Mario Cipollini, 63.5
27. Luis Ocana, 59.5
28. Laurent Fignon, 58.5
29. Franco Bitossi, 56
30. Federico Bahamontes, 55.5
31. Paolo Bettini, 55
32. Charly Gaul, 53.5
33. Johan Museeuw, 53
34. Jan Ullrich, 52
35. Jan Raas, 51
36. Lucien Van Impe, 50
37. Moreno Argentin, 48.5
38. Stephen Roche, 48.5
39. Hugo Koblet, 48
40. Claudio Chiapucci, 48
41. Gianni Bugno, 47.5
42. Alberic Schotte, 46.5
43. Alex Zulle, 46
44. Michele Bartoli, 44
45. Walter Godefroot, 42.5
46. Herman Van Springel, 41.5
47. Charly Mottet, 41
48. Alberto Contador, 39.5*
49. Tom Boonen, 37*
50. Alfred De Bruyne, 37
Just finishing outside of the Top 50 were Vittorio Adorni (36.5), Hennie Kuiper (31.5), Marco Pantani (31), Alejandro Valverde*, Rudi Altig, and Gilberto Simoni* (all with 30 points).
Next, I don’t need to be reminded that anyone was a doper, or alleged doper. No, I don’t condone the use of drugs in this sport, but I am not going to revise history and strike from the record books anyone who admitted to doping, was rumored to have doped, or failed a drug test (in which case the results from a positive in any particular event have already been revised). Yes, drugs are, were, and will probably forever be a black stain on pro cycling, but I refuse to let the issue dominate every single discussion or conversation when reviewing its history. Really, who among this Top 50 list was “clean” throughout their career? I’ll nominate Gino Bartali and Greg Lemond. As for the rest…
Moving along, some have objected to the way I have handled the scoring system. Fair enough. I’m the first to agree that this is not perfect. I had almost awarded points for each day a cyclist was in the leader’s jersey during each of the three Grand Tours. In the end, I felt it skewed the results too far in favor of the GT champions to the detriment of the legendary single-day warriors, such as Rik Van Looy and Roger De Vlaeminck; this was probably my biggest disagreement with some of the other ranking systems. I think awarding just a half point for stage wins was a compromise that rewarded all the GT players – those competing for general classification, sprinters, mountain climbers, and those hunting for classification jerseys.
I also struggled over other pieces of the scoring puzzle, such as the awarding of points for Significant Lifetime Milestones, and particularly, the Missing Years Adjustment Formula (again, see Scoring, Part 2). I’ll have to admit that some of my favorite cyclists (Fiorenzo Magni, Greg LeMond, Luis Ocana, Federico Bahamontes, Charly Gaul, and Lucien Van Impe) did not rank out as high as I’d hoped. Of course, that only goes to illustrate I really did let chips fall where they may, and did not try to let personal biases enter into the equation. After spending nearly a year working out all the kinks, I hope the final Top 50 list will at least serve to bring some attention to some of the lesser known stars of the sport, or to those who are sometimes overlooked when discussing “the best ever.”
Also, as promised, I am publishing a Top 25 list that does not include any of the special adjustments. So, for the purists who may think I’m taking too many liberties with my “revisionist history,” here are the results sans adjustments (the scores included are the raw scores achieved through just the first part of the scoring system, which only included the results from the races in Scoring, Part 1):
- Eddie Merckx, 290.5
- Bernard Hinault, 165.5
- Jacques Anquetil, 157
- Fausto Coppi, 144.5
- Gino Bartali, 144.5
- Sean Kelly, 126.5
- Francesco Moser, 111.5
- Rik Van Looy, 107
- Roger De Vlaeminck, 100.5
- Miguel Indurain, 98
- Lance Armstrong, 93.5
- Felice Gimondi, 92
- Freddy Maertens, 87.5
- Louison Bobet, 87.5
- Tony Rominger, 85.5
- Giuseppe Saronni, 83
- Joop Zoetemelk, 81.5
- Laurent Jalabert, 78.5
- Raymond Poulidor, 69
- Ferdi Kubler, 68
- Fiorenzo Magni, 63
- Rik Van Steenbergen, 62.5
- Erik Zabel, 61
- Luis Ocana, 59.5
- Laurent Fignon, 58.5
Tiebreakers were settled by the rider with the greater number of overall career victories. You’ll notice that the list is quite similar to the “official” rankings (with all the included adjustments); it’s just that the order was shuffled around a bit. The most significant difference is that both Jan Janssen and Greg LeMond are missing, replaced by Ocana and Fignon. It is also worth noting that all the Top 25 cyclists who received a Missing Years Adjustment, with the exception of Greg Lemond, remained on the list. So there you have it, make of it what you will. As far as I’m concerned, both LeMond and Janssen deserve to make the cut, Coppi and Bartali should be ahead of Anquetil, both Gimondi and Bobet belong in front of Indurain, and Kubler should be above Rominger, Jalabert, and Zoetemelk. These are all reasons that the Official TVM Top 25 list will be used in all future articles referencing a cyclist’s rank. So, upon further review, I guess I am saying that certain champions were better than others. After all, isn’t that the purpose of these ultimately futile exercises?
As always, thanks for reading.
All artwork compliments of Dave Brinton. The illustrations of Fausto Coppi, Sean Kelly, Greg Lemond, Luis Ocana, Gino Bartali, and Miguel Indurain are available as prints, signed and numbered in limited editions of 100. Image size is approximately 10” x 10”, printed with archival inks on 100% rag paper. Price is $65 each, plus shipping. To order prints email the artist at email@example.com. You can also visit his website, where you can view the complete collection -www.brintoni.com.
Drum role, please... Here it is, the list of the Top 25 Cyclists of the Modern Era. If you are new to this site, or for those who haven't read the last couple of posts, you might be wondering how I arrived at the "total points" used in this ranking. Click here for Scoring, Part 1 (The Races), and click here for Scoring, Part 2 (Milestones and adjustments). I'll be providing some commentary and analysis in the next article, but I'd love to hear your intitial take on this list in the meantime.
1. Eddy Merckx, Begium (1966-1978)
Total points: 410.50
2. Bernard Hinault, France (1975-1986)
Total points: 232.50
3. Fausto Coppi, Italy (1939-1959)
Total points: 219.5
4. Gino Bartali, Italy (1935-1954)
"Il Pio";"Il Vecchio" - The Pious; The man of Iron
Total points: 213
5. Jacques Anquetil, France (1954-1969)
"Maître Jacques"; "Monsieur Chrono" - Gentleman Jacques; Mr. Chrono
Total points: 184
6. Rik Van Looy, Belgium (1953-1969)
"The Emperor of Herentals";"Rik II"
Total points: 152
7. Sean Kelly, Ireland (1977-1994)
Total points: 146.5
8. Roger De Vlaeminck, Belgium (1969-1984)
"The Gypsy";"Mr. Paris-Roubaix"
Total points: 139.5
9. Francesco Moser, Italy (1973-1988)
Total points: 131.5
10. Lance Armstrong, United States (1992-2005;2009-2010)
Total points: 116.5
11. Felice Gimondi, Italy (1965-1979)
12. Louison Bobet, France (1947-1961)
"The Baker of St Méen"
Total points: 109.5
13. Miguel Indurain, Spain (1984-1996)
Total points: 98
14. Freddy Maertens, Belgium (1972-1985)
Total points: 97.5
15. Ferdi Kubler, Switzerland (1940-1957)
Total points: 96
16. Joop Zoetemelk, The Netherlands (1970-1987)
Total points: 91.5
17. Tony Rominger, Switzerland (1986-1997)
"El Martillo" - The Hammer
Total points: 89.5
18. Laurent Jalabert, France (1989-2002)
Total points: 88.5
19. Fiorenzo Magni, Italy (1941-1956)
"The Colossus of Monza"
Total points: 87
20.Giuseppe Saronni, Italy (1977-1989)
Total points: 83
21. Erik Zabel, Germany (1992-2008)
Total points: 81
22. Rik Van Steenbergen, Belgium (1943-1966)
Total points: 73.5
23. Raymond Poulidor, France (1960-1977)
"Pou-pou";"The Eternal Second"
Total points: 69
24. Jan Janssen, Netherlands (1962-1972)
Total points: 65 (Tied with LeMond, but has a greater raw score)
25. Greg LeMond, USA, (1981-1984)
"Le Monster/LeMondster", "Le American"
Total Points: 65
This article will complete the scoring system that has been developed to rank Top 100 Cyclists of the Modern Era. I outlined all the races that were part of the basic system in Scoring, Part 1; the assigned, or earned points, through that framework are what I will refer to as the “raw scores.”
As a refresher, points were earned by victories in the following ten categories:
The World Championship Road Race*
Classics/Olympics/Time Trial Championships
Grand Tour Classification Competitions (Mountains and Points)
Grand Tour Stages
Season Long Competitions
Bonus: The UCI World Hour Record
*Points also awarded for podium spots.
After I had completed the basic scoring sheets** for all the top cyclists of the Modern Era, it was a lot easier to compare all the greats; I now had a nice snapshot of an entire career, as all their major victories had been grouped into these neat little categories (along with the points earned in each). Virtually every other historical source I’d consulted provided career wins (palmares) in a year-by-year format. When I began evaluating victories grouped by type of race, this new perspective started to reveal some rather significant lifetime achievements, which had been somewhat hidden by the standard yearly results format. Some of these career milestones are quite well known, and often discussed, while others may come as a complete surprise to even the most diehard of fans.
**(I’ll be publishing all the riders scoring sheets, which will include a biography, my commentary, points earned in each race and category, and all adjustments as outlined below. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to release these all at once.)
It was these hidden major accomplishments that convinced me there was far more to a cyclist’s career than simply the sum total of their victories. This may be stating the obvious when it comes to legends like Fausto Coppi, Eddy Merckx, or Bernard Hinault, but I was really surprised by some of the significant achievements of the less well-known champions of the Modern Era, such as Jan Janssen (photo, left). In the final analysis, I felt that these special lifetime accomplishments actually warranted additional points in addition to the raw scores achieved through victories in the most significant races. I know you’re not all going to agree with this approach, but I believe this solution provides a more accurate representation of a cyclist’s true standing in the pecking order of all-time greats.
I created three separate categories of Significant Lifetime Milestone Adjustments. So that no particular type of cyclist was given a leg up over another, there is one category for single day races, one for Grand Tours, and finally a combined category. Further, each category includes three Milestones. The general rule of thumb was that if there were more than ten cyclists who had achieved a particular Milestone up for consideration, I decided it was no longer unique, thus no longer “significant,” and it was eliminated from inclusion. Conversely, I didn’t want to choose Milestones that were so inclusive that only one cyclist made the cut (there were any number of special achievements that could have been created just for Eddy Merckx). The points awarded for each “bonus” were based on the number of cyclists who qualified for each Milestone. I spent months pouring over statistics and race results before finally choosing the nine listed below; this part of the scoring system was without a doubt the most difficult piece of this project.
I’ve also opted to award some extra points for record holders of the 12 most important races (after all, these are lifetime achievements, as well); these include the five Monuments, the World Championship Road Race, and all three Grand Tours. The extra points given were the same as those awarded for a single victory in each respective race (see Part 1).
Finally, I’ve decided to create a Missing Years Adjustment Formula, which is my way of compensating those cyclists who lost at least two years of their careers due to war, an injury, or an illness. The logic behind this decision has already been examined in great detail through an earlier series of articles titled The Missing Years – War, Injury and Illness, Parts 1-3. The math behind the additional points that were awarded can be found below.
So, on with the final phase of scoring...
Significant Lifetime Milestone Adjustments, 10 - 15 points
1. Single-day races
a) Won all five Monuments, 15 points
Rik Van Looy, Eddy Merckx, Roger De Vlaeminck
b) 25 combined wins in all major single-day race categories (Monuments, WC, Classics, and Semi-Classics), 10 points
Gino Bartali, Fausto Coppi, Van Looy, Merckx, De Vlaeminck, Francesco Moser
c) Won 30 Grand Tour Stages, 10 points
Delio Rodriguez, Coppi, Van Looy, Merckx, Freddy Maertens, Bernard Hinault, Mario Cipollini, Alessandro Petacchi, Mark Cavendish
2. Grand Tours (Giro d’Italia, Tour de France, Vuelta a Espagna)
a) Won 8 GTs, 15 points
Jacques Anquetil, Merckx, Hinault
b) Won all three GTs, 12 points
Anquetil, Felice Gimondi, Merckx, Hinault, Alberto Contador
c) Won 8 Classification Jerseys (Points or Mountain, any combination), 10 points
Bartali, Federico Bahamontes, Merckx, Lucien Van Impe, Sean Kelly, Laurent Jalabert, Erik Zabel
3. Combined Category (single-day races + Grand Tours)
a) Achieved at least one victory in every major road category (Monuments, WC RR, Classics, Semi-Classics, Minor Tours, Grand Tours, GT Classification Competitions, GT Stages, and Season Long Competitions), 12 points
Louison Bobet, Ferdi Kubler, Jan Janssen, Merckx, Hinault
b) Won 3 of any 5 Monuments and any GT, 10 points
Coppi, Bobet, Merckx, Gimondi, Hinault, Moser, Kelly
c) 200 or more career road victories, 10 points
Van Looy, Merckx, De Vlaeminck, Joop Zoetemelk, Hinault, Zabel, Robbie McEwen
Significant Race Records, various points
1. Milan San-Remo, Merckx (7x), 3 points
2. Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders), Achiel Buysse*, Fiorenzo Magni, Eric Leman, Johan Museeuw, and Tom Boonen (3x), 3 points
3. Paris-Roubaix, De Vlaeminck and Tom Boonen (4x), 4 points
4. Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Merckx (5x), 3 points
5. World Road Race Championship, Alfredo Binda*, Rik Van Steenbergen, Merckx, and Oscar Freire (3x), 4 points
6. Giro di Lombardia (Tour of Lombardy)(5x), Coppi, 3 points
7. Giro d’Italia (Tour of Italy), shared by Binda*, Coppi, and Merckx (5x), 6 points
8. Tour de France, Lance Armstrong (7x), 8 points
9. Vuelta a Espagna (Tour of Spain), shared by Tony Rominger and Roberto Heras (3x), 4 points
*These cyclists are part of the Heroic Era (pre 1938), and are not included as part of The Top 100 Cyclists of the Modern Era
“Missing Years” Adjustment, various points
1. Gino Bartali, 49 points
2. Fausto Coppi, 36 points
3. Ferdi Kubler, 16 points
4. Fiorenzo Magni, 21 points
5. Rik Van Steenbergen, 7 points
6. Greg LeMond, 13 points
7. Lance Armstrong, 15 points
Missing Years Formula
Do not continue reading this section unless you are an analytic, numbers crunching geek. There, you’ve been warned, so for those who would like to know how I arrived at the above added points, read on. First off, my objective with this adjustment was to answer a huge “what if…” What if all the above cyclists had been healthy and racing during their years lost to war, injury, or illness? Just how many additional points would they have scored, extrapolated from their points earned during their productive years. Productive years – that is the key to this equation. Many cyclists hung on well past their ability to win races. The best example is Rik Van Steenbergen. He turned pro in 1943, won his last race (of those available in this scoring system) in 1958, yet he did not retire until 1966. In other words, for eight of Steenbergen’s 24 years as a pro, he didn’t win a marquee event. I don’t think it would make a lot of sense to include those final eight years if we are trying to determine what he might have won during his productive “missing years” lost to WWII from 1943 to 1945. So, when I’m calculating average points scored during a career, “career” is defined as follows: the year turned professional through the last year points were earned in a qualifying race. So here is the formula:
1. Length of career (defined above)
2. Subtract from #1 the number of “missing years”
3. Average number points scored in a cyclist’s scoring career (rider’s raw score divided by the total from step 2)
4. Number from step 3 multiplied by the number of missing years (this will equal the number of points a cyclist could have score during his missing years)
5. Subtract from number 4 any points actually scored during the missing years (i.e. Van Steenbergen won the Belgian Nats in ’43, and Flanders in ’44; it was one of the rare big-time races that took place during the war years)
6. If the missing years took place during the cyclist first five years as a professional, then they received 75% of the figure from step 5. If the missed years took place during a cyclist’s prime, five years after turning professional, then they received 100% of the total from step 5.
7. Finally, the number from step 6 is rounded to the nearest whole number.
Yes, I know this is a bit like filling out an income tax return, but here is an example:
Rik Van Steenbergen (professional from 1943-1966)
1. Scoring Career, 1943-1958, 16 years (last point scored was in ’58 Criterium de As)
Missing Years, 3 years (1943-1945)
2. Actual number of scoring years, 13 (16-3)
Raw Score, 62.5 points (all points earned over entire scoring career)
3. Average number of points scored during scoring career, 4.8 (62.5/13)
4. Hypothetical points scored during Missing Years, 14.4 (4.80 x 3)
Actual points scored during Missing Years, 5 (Belgium National Champ, ’43,’45 and Flanders, ’44)
5. Adjustment for points scored during Missing Years, 9.4 points (14.4 - 5)
6. Adjustment, as missed years were during cyclist’s first five years, 7.05 points (.75 x 9.4)
7. Rounded to nearest whole number, 7 points
There, see how easy that was? I’ll release each cyclist’s adjustment formula when I publish each biography, so until then you’ll just have to take my word for each of the final numbers I’ve used in the formula.
Up next, the unveiling of The Virtual Musette’s Top 25 Cyclists of Modern Era.
The time has finally arrived to reveal the scoring system I’ve developed to rank The Top 25 100 Cyclists of the Modern Era (1938 - present). This is a long post, so you'd better go grab an espresso, glass of wine, or a frothy mug o' brew, because this one is going to take a while. First off, this project would have never been possible without the amazing work and efforts of other cycling historians, and their websites (these can also be found in my Links section, under the sub-heading of History). Thank you to all the following:
Bill and Carol McGann, Bike Race Info
Sam Barrows, Cycling Hall of Fame
Barry Boyce and Graham Jones, Cycling Revealed
Andy Roose, Jasper Van Hoof, and the rest of the gang at Cycling Quotient
The team at Velopalmares (French)
The team at Memoire du cyclisme (French)
The Virtual Musette’s ranking system involves two major components, the first of which I’ll cover in this post - the actual races used in the scoring, and the points applied to these events. In the second installment I’ll cover the special adjustments to the basic scores, which will include Significant Lifetime Achievements and the Missing Years Adjustment Formula (to which I’ve alluded in a previous series of background articles).
I think you’ll find that the point values are somewhat in line with those assigned under the old FICP-ranking (now Cycling Quotient). The major difference is that I have only awarded points for outright victories (with two major exceptions - all the Grand Tours and the World Championship Road Race). Overall, I think this approach not only emphasizes all the important career highlights of the legends of the sport, but also serves as a fairly simple and straightforward method by which to rank riders. It also also helps address the major question at hand - who were the best-of-the best, and who came out victorious more frequently in the races that mattered most?
My goal was to create a somewhat balanced approach that recognized major accomplishments across a broad range of categories: single-day races, time trial events, stage races, the Grand Tours, season-long competitions, and the UCI Hour Record. Most other ranking systems I’ve encountered placed too much of an emphasis on either the Grand Tours, or conversely on results in the single-day races. The general idea here was to create a greater awareness of, and appreciation for, those cyclists who have left their mark in a variety of different road events. Specialists, such as the pure sprinters or mountain goats, did not typically fair well in the final results.
Of course, one of the major difficulties encountered when trying to compare and contrast careers from different eras is that races have had varying degrees of importance on the cycling calendar through the years. Some races are now defunct, while others have only recently gained importance or prestige. I’ve tried to mitigate this situation by including not only a broad range of both single-day races and stage races from all the historically significant cycling regions, but by also choosing events that have/had been around for approximately 40 years (next to each race is its inception date). In the final analysis, I was satisfied that the scoring was fairly balanced across all Modern Era time periods (i.e. the addition of the more recent Clasica de San Sebastian offsets the inclusion Bordeaux-Paris, which is now defunct).
Perhaps the most contentious part of this system is that I have chosen to award bonus points for various Significant Lifetime Achievements, race records, and a Missing Years Adjustment Formula (applied to compensate those cyclists who lost at least two years of their careers due to war, injury or illness). For the purists, I’ll release the results of the points scored both with, and without, these special adjustments. That said, The Virtual Musette’s “official” list of the Top 25 Cyclists of the Modern Era, and all future references to a rider’s ranking are going to reflect all components of the scoring system.
Finally, if you want to see the list of victors for any particular event, go to either VeloArchive or BikeRaceInfo. Eventually, all this data will be available here, but it’s a project for another day.
Caricature credits: Eddy Merckx, Johan Museuuw, Jacques Anquetil, and Lance Armstrong, all compliments of Magixl.com
Okay, so here we go. The following are all the included events and their assigned points:
1. The Monuments
These are the monsters of the single-day races. They have held tremendous importance, and prestige for their victors, throughout the Modern Era and before. With only a handful of exceptions, the great champions usually found a way to win at least one of these storied events. I've opted to give a higher value to Paris-Roubaix, after all it is the Queen of the Classics. There was a time when the best in the peloton viewed their careers incomplete without a victory in this race. Hinault despised the cobbles and mud, yet knew his place in the hierarchy of legends would have been diminished had he not been the first across the Roubaix velodrome finish line at least once in his career - a feat he accomplished in 1981. The case can certainly be made that PR may not be the most difficult of the Monuments (I believe that honor would go to Flanders, the only one of this group without a four-time winner), but it is without a doubt the most prestigious of the Classics.
Milan San-Remo (1907), 3 points
Tour of Flanders (Ronde van Vlaanderen) (1913), 3 points
Paris-Roubaix (1896), 4 points
Liege-Bastogne-Liege (1892), 3 points
Tour of Lombardy (Giro di Lombardia) (1905), 3 points
2. World Championship Road Race (1927)
1st, 4 points; 2nd, 2 points; 3rd, 1 point
Not only have I opted to give the WC RR four points, but have also chosen to recognize podium places. I think in recent years this race has lost some of its luster, but the extensive list of legendary gold medallists is certainly evidence of the importance of this event. The fact that the race takes place on a different course each year, and is contested by national, rather than trade teams, certainly lends to its distinct character. These are also differences that make this a difficult race to capture. Like Flanders, no one has won the event more than three times, but more significantly, only a handful of cyclists have ever made the podium four times, and no one has won three times in a row (one of the few things Merckx was not able to accomplish). Further, two of the greatest Monument champions of all time, Sean Kelly and Roger De Vlaeminck, were winless in the event, a testament to the special difficulties encountered when seeking success in this unique once-a-year battle of the national teams.
3. Classics/Olympics/TT Championships, 2 points
One can argue that the Olympic RR is just as difficult to win as the WC RR, but the race has only been open to professionals since 1996, so I’m including it with the other two- point races. Paris-Brussels was once a very prestigious Spring Classic, but after 1966 it lost its shine (thanks to Amstel Gold), and was moved from spring to late summer, so only the earlier editions warrant inclusion in this category.
Olympic Road Race Gold (1996)
Fleche Wallone (1936)
Amstel Gold (1966)
Championship of Zurich (Zuri-Metzgete) (now closed for pros, 1917-2006)
Paris-Brussels (1893)(Only Pre 1967 events included in this category)
Clasica San Sebastian (1981)
Bordeaux-Paris (defunct, 1891-1988)
Grand Prix de Nations (defunct TT Championship, 1932-2004)
World TT Championships (1994)
Olympic TT Gold (1996)
4. Semi-Classics/Nationals, 1 point
This was a tough category, as I had a difficult time trying to figure out which races to include, or exclude. Again, the general rule of thumb was to include an event that had been in existence for at least 40 years; these are the true semi-classics, and although they do tend to have somewhat regional biases (i.e. Italians tend to win in Italy and the Belgians in Belgium), they are all fairly prestigious races. There really is a dearth of well established Spanish one-day races that have been around for a long time, but this is somewhat offset by the higher point totals assigned to Spain’s week long stage races. Also, the Criterium International was known as the Criterium National prior to 1978, and only open to French riders. Once it became an international event, I moved it into the stage race category, and assigned it two points. Although relatively unknown now, both the Criterium des As and the Trofeo Angelo Baracchi were prominent year-end events, and since both were by invitation only, just the top cyclists of the season were present; thus the list of victors is quite illustrious. Lastly, I've included the Vattenfall Cyclassics in this category; it's a young race ('96), but it's list of winners is impressive, and if it can manage to stick around for another few decades it may move to true "classic" status.
National Championships (various inception dates)
Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (formerly Het Volk) (1945)
Dwars door Vlaanderen (1945)
Brabantse Pijl (1960)
GP de l’Escaut (Grote Scheldeprijs, Scheldeprijs Vlaanderen) (1907)
GP E3 (E3 Prijs Vlaanderen) (1958)
GP Ouest France (Grand Prix de Plouay) (1931)
Grand Prix Fourmies (1928)
Paris-Brussels (1893, only post 1966 included in this category)
Criterium National (1932-1979)
Criterium des As (defunct invitational derny based event, 1921-1990)
Trofeo Angelo Baracchi (defunct invitational two man TTT, 1946-1990)
Roma Maxima (2013) Formerly Giro del Lazio from 1933-2008
Giro dell’Emilia (1909)
Giro del Piemonte (1906)
Giro della Toscana (1923)
Giro della Romagna (1910)
Coppa Placci (1923)
Tre Valle Varesine (1919)
Giro del Veneto (1909)
Eschborn-Frankfurt City Loop aka Frankfurt GP (formerly Rund um Henninger-Turn) (1962)
Grosser Preis des Kantons Aargau (GP Gippengen) (1964)
Vattenfall Cyclassics (formerly HEW Cyclassics (1996)
5. Minor Tours and stage races, 2 or 3 points
Three points were given to the more prestigious weeklong stage races. It may seem odd that the Volta (not to be confused with the Vuelta) was included in this grouping, but it’s list of winners, and extensive history, convinced me to include it with the other well-known races. It’s actually the third oldest stage race behind the Tour and the Giro, making its first appearance in 1911.
3 point races:
Tour of Switzerland (Tour de Suisse)(1933)
Tour of Romandy (1947)
Dauphine Libere (1947)
Tour of Catalonia (Volta a Catalunya) (1911)
Tour of the Basque Country (Vuelta al Pais Vasco)(1924)*
*(’31-‘34 & ’36-‘51, no race)
2 point races:
Criterium International (1978- present)
Settimana Internazionale Coppi e Bartali (Formerly Giro di Sardegna) (1958)
Four Days of Dunkirk (1955)
Tour of Luxembourg (1935)
Ronde van Nederland/Tour of Holland/Eneco Tour (1948)
Tour of Belgium (1908)
Catalan Week (Setmana Catalunya) (defunct,1963-2005)
GP Midi Libre (defunct, 1949-2002)
6. Grand Tours, various points
I’m sure some of you may think the Vuelta has been short changed, but the race has really waxed and waned in popularity through the years. It wasn’t even always a three-week race, didn’t become a fixture on the calendar until 1955, and was also moved from April to September in 1995. Surely, any number of great riders from the late 40s and early 50s, most notably Coppi and Bartali, would have added Spain’s Grand Tour to their palmares, had the race been held on a regular basis*. As with the World Champ RR, points have been awarded for the podium spots due to the importance of these events.
Tour of Italy (Giro d’Italia)(1909)
1st, 6 points; 2nd, 3 points; 3rd,1 point
Tour de France(1903)
1st, 8 points; 2nd, 4 points; 3rd, 2 points
Tour of Spain (Vuelta a Espana)(1935)*
1st, 4 points; 2nd, 2 points; 3rd 1 point
*(Race not held from ’37-’40, ’43-’44, ’49, and ’51-’54)
7. GT Classification Jerseys, 2 points (Mountains, Points)
I’ve opted to award 2 points to both the Mountains and Points classification jerseys for each of the three Grand Tours. There is no doubt that the Points competition in the Tour is more prestigious than those of the other Grand Tours, but it must also be mentioned that the Giro did not institute their version of this competition until 1966. I also opted to exclude the Best Young Rider classification from the mix, as it is a fairly recent competition, only added to the Tour in 1981. It is also worth considering that each Grand Tour uses a different scoring formula used for these classifications; it is quite possible that a uniform method in each competition would have produced different winners in certain years. In the end, awarding the same number of points for the two major Grand Tour Classification Competitions seemed to make the most sense.
Giro, Mountains Classification (1933)
Giro, Points Classification (1966)
Tour, Mountains Classification (1933)
Tour, Points Classification (1953)
Vuelta, Mountains Classification (1935)
Vuelta, Points Classification (1945)
8. GT Stage wins, ½ point
This is another category that was a bit tricky to settle on a proper point value. I was originally going to go with 1 point for each stage win, but doing so really altered the final standings; it created an imbalance in the overall scoring, placing too much of an emphasis on results in Grand Tours. It is also worth considering that there is a completely different dynamic involved when going for victory in a stage of Grand Tour. Oftentimes the fight for the General Classification will dictate whether or not a member of the team is allowed to fight for victory, which is never an issue when it comes to one-day races outside of Grand Tours. There were certainly situations when the strongest rider on any given day was not allowed to compete for victory. Also, I realize not all Grand Tour stages were created equal, and without doubt, certain stages carry far greater prestige for the victor, usually famed mountaintop finishes. Once again, I opted for simplicity here, and just awarded the same points across the board. I do think it all balances out in the end; the great sprinters rack up their points and get a bonus for Points Competitions, and the famed mountain men usually get a high place on GC and/or the Mountains prize.
9. Season Long Competitions, 2 points
Ever since the UCI started awarding this honor back in 1989 the value of the competition has declined somewhat. I suppose it goes hand-in-hand with their globalization effort, and along with it, including events that aren’t really marquee races. The past few years have really been a bit of a mess, with the UCI and the Grand Tour organizers in a spat. I don’t see how you can possibly have a season long competition without including the biggest and best races on the calendar, most prominently the Tour. In any event, at least prior to the 90’s, the winners of these various competitions were more often than not the same names that appear on final Top 25 list.
Unofficial Season Long Competition (’36-’39, ’46-’47)
Desgrange-Colombo Trophy (’48-’58)
Super Prestige Pernod Trophy (’59-’88)
UCI Road World Cup (’89-’04)
UCI ProTour Competition (’05 - '08)
UCI World Rankings ('09 - present)
10. Hour Record, 3 points
Yes, technically this is a track event, but a roadie has almost always held the record, so I’ve opted to include it. Only those who have set the UCI record (riders are restricted to using roughly the same equipment that Merckx used in his record breaking 1972 attempt) have been awarded points. It’s really the only valid way to make comparisons between the various attempts. Once aerodynamic bikes, helmets, handlebars, and wheels entered the equation, the record became somewhat irrelevant, as technology (and blood doping, as confirmed by at least Moser) played too large of a role in the final outcomes.
UCI Record (“Merckx Record”), 3 points
So there you have it. That wraps up the basic framework for scoring The Top 25 Cyclists of the Modern Era. Scoring, Part 2 will review the bonus points earned for Significant Lifetime Achievements and the Missing Years Adjustment Formula.
I was somewhat disheartened after reading a recent interview with Remy Di Gregorio (photo, right), a young up and coming climber on the French Francaise des Jeux squad. When asked about legendary climbers of the past, such as Bahamontes, Ocana, and Van Impe (photo below), he had this to say: “That’s not my generation. I’m not really a student of the sport, or a historian. I’ll watch old clips if they’re on TV, but beyond that…” Hmm, so if it weren’t for stumbling across footage on TV, Di Gregorio, a pro, would know almost nothing about the champions of bygone eras. Well, at least he has the luxury of catching some cycling history on the tube. We here in the States should be so lucky, and it is one of the primary reasons I launched this site – I wanted to provide another window on the past for fans of pro cycling.
I recently asked a fellow blogger (to remain anonymous) to provide a link to The Virtual Musette on their site, as I had provided a link to his/her’s here. The response went something like this: “I might, but your site just has too much of a focus on cycling history." Uh, okay. I guess I’ll take that as a “no” to providing the requested link, as I plan to continue marching to my own beat, thank you very much.
Of course, not all my articles are related to cycling history, as evidenced by the recent post featuring Linus Gerdemann. To date, the most popular article on this site was the one written about Astana’s exclusion from the ’08 Tour. I’ll agree, nothing sells like current news, especially when controversy is involved. That said, there are already a ton of English language websites, blogs, and forums focused on the current race scene. My day wouldn’t be complete without my regular fix of cycling news, but I wanted to do something a little different with The Virtual Musette.
I started following pro cycling right around the time Greg LeMond was recuperating from his hunting accident in the spring of 1987 (the 1986 Tour winner took a shotgun blast to the chest when his brother-in-law heard some rustling in the bushes, thought Greg was a wild turkey, and pumped him full of lead). Those were back in the days when the only real sources of news on the Euro scene in the US were VeloNews and Winning. I would practically camp out at my local bike shop in eager anticipation of the arrival of each new issue of these publications, as I was too broke to afford an actual subscription. VeloNews was certainly a godsend for fairly timely news, but Winning brought it all to life. Andy Hampsten’s epic journey through the snow and sleet of the Gavia pass in the ’88 Giro, and Greg LeMond's triumph in the pouring rain at the '89 World Championships (photo, above right) were the stories and images that sparked my passion for the sport. Of course, it was literally months after these races had been completed before the magazine ever made its way into my hands, but I devoured the stories and photos as if I hadn't known of the outcomes well in advance. God, I miss Winning, and to this day I wonder what happened to the magazine; it just seemed to disappear sometime during the late 90s.
Those were also the days before OLN (Outdoor Life Network, or the Only Lance Network, as it was sometimes affectionately called). Daily coverage of Le Tour on TV didn't exist; back then The Greatest Show on Earth was televised on CBS Sports. An entire week’s worth of racing in France was boiled down into one broadcast on the weekend, which was at best an hour-and-a-half in duration. The most infuriating part of this coverage was that you were never quite sure when it was going start, and how much of the broadcast was going to get dropped. On the West Coast, Tour coverage usually followed a live broadcast of some kind. I cursed the programmers for CBS for the many times my beloved race was preempted for the benefit of some damn car race or golf tournament. Erratic TV schedule aside, I have fond memories of those early Stone Age Tour broadcasts, along with their cheesy John Tesh (photo, left) music and cheesy John Tesh narration.
Anyway, up until the Lance years, cycling coverage was not exactly abundant. Then Big Tex (photo, right) started his domination of the Tour, and along with it came the explosion of the internet. Today we even have live coverage of most of the Classics (at least when Cycling.tv is actually working). Yet, despite all the increased access to cycling information over the past decade, I found that I still knew very little about the sport’s history. Over the past several years I’ve undertaken a concerted effort to familiarize myself with earlier decades and time periods, particularly that of the late ‘40s through the mid ‘80s. I’ve obviously been a diehard fan for quite some time, but my newfound appreciation for sport’s rich cast of characters before the LeMond years has taken my obsession to new heights.
This blog was the inevitable outgrowth of my infatuation with pro cycling. I felt compelled to share my enthusiasm with a new generation of cyclists and fans, and with those who might want to learn more about the legends, races, and lore of our sport. One day, maybe I can look back and smile, knowing that The Virtual Musette, in some small way, played a part in making sure that the giants of road, and the tales of their epic deeds, were not forgotten. Ultimately, if I can help to deepen someone's appreciation for the sport, then this site will have accomplished its mission.
As reviewed in the first two installments of this series, WWII robbed four of the greatest cyclists of the post war era (Gino Bartali, Fausto Coppi, Ferdi Kubler, and Fiorenzo Magni) of a good portion of their careers. Since I’m going to factor in these missing years when ranking these cyclists against others from the Modern Era, then some consideration should also be given to the other marquee riders who had to contend with injuries, which may have affected their most productive years.
In a horrendous motor paced track accident in 1969 Eddy Merckx (photo right) suffered a concussion and a cracked vertebra, worse, his pacer driving the derny was killed instantly. Although it’s hard to believe given “The Cannibal’s” absolute domination of the sport for the six years following the accident, Eddy claimed he was never the same and suffered for years with back pain, especially while climbing. It’s intriguing to think that the most prolific winner of all time could have possibly won even more, or perhaps could have extended his career.
Louison Bobet (Photo left) was tormented by severe saddle sores throughout his career, a condition which ultimately required surgery after he suffered through his win in the 1955 Tour de France. These were no mere boils, as 150 stitches were required to close gaping wound. Ouch. Yet, despite this ongoing affliction, Bobet still managed to win three consecutive Tours (’53-’55), a World Championship (‘54), and every Monument save Liege. Did his recurring problem cause him to lose out on more victories?
Both Bernard Hinault and Laurent Fignon (photo right) were sidelined by knee injuries. Hinault’s injury caused him to abandon the 1980 Tour, although he did go on to win the World Championship later that year. “The Badger” went on to win the Tour in both ’81 and ’82, but the injury flared up again, and he was forced to miss the event in ‘83. Hinault returned for the ’84 Tour, but was soundly defeated by the young Fignon, who had also won the previous year in his first attempt at La Grand Boucle in Bernard’s absence. The tables turned in 1985 and it was Fignon who would sit on the sidelines with his own knee problems. Unable to defend his crown, “The Professor” would helplessly watch Hinault go on to capture his fifth, and final, Tour de France.
It’s fair to say that Fignon never really regained the form from his early career, even though he did go on to claim the ’89 Giro. Unfortunately, Laurent will probably always best be remembered not for his victories, but for his crushing final time trial defeat at the hands of Greg LeMond in the last stage of the 1989 Tour. Fignon had narrowly missed his third win in the most famous of races by a mere eight seconds; his highest placing afterwards would be a sixth in 1991, ironically just one spot ahead of LeMond.
None of the great champions mentioned above suffered what could be considered a career ending injury. The case can certainly be made that Merckx, Bobet, Hinault, and Fignon all could have won more had it not been for their setbacks, but none of them had large chunks of their cycling careers “lost,” as did Bartali, Coppi, Kubler, and Magni during WWII. It should also be noted that Coppi struggled throughout his career with both illness and injury, and it’s absolutely amazing that he was able to accomplish so much given all his bad luck.
Of course, this discussion would not be complete without mentioning the down time of America’s two great Tour champions, Greg LeMond (photo left) and Lance Armstrong. Their stories have been well documented elsewhere, and are quite familiar to even casual fans. Suffice to say, LeMond was shot in a hunting accident in 1987, and Lance Armtrong was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1996. Both returned to the top level of the sport, but both also effectively lost two full years of their cycling careers due to their setbacks.
In the end, I have chosen to use a Missing Years Adjustment Formula to compensate all of the following for their time off the saddle: Gino Bartali, Fausto Coppi, Ferdinand Kubler, Fiorenzo Magni, Rik Van Steenbergen, Greg LeMond, and Lance Armstrong. Certainly, this approach is not without its faults, but I think it paints a more accurate picture of the true potential of cycling’s greatest riders.
Remember, this series of articles is part of a greater work, The Top 25 Cyclists of the Modern Era. As the next step in this process, I’ll explain the entire point scoring system, including the Adjustment Formula mentioned above, and all the races I’ve chosen to include. The various pieces of this puzzle will eventually fall into place, and all of this background material will make a lot more sense once the whole project is completed. All of these related articles can be accessed in a special area of this website. First locate the “Navigation” section in the shaded area to the left, and from there, click on the “Top 25 100 Cyclists…”
As always, thanks for reading.
In doing some research for another article, I came across a very surprising statistic – only two cyclists have won both the Tour de France and the Tour of Flanders. Ever. The Tour’s inaugural edition was in 1903 and the Tour of Flander’s (Ronde van Vlaanderen) was in 1913. That’s a long time, and it’s hard to believe, but to date only two riders have managed to capture both of these races.
So, who were the two cyclists to pull off this extremely rare feat? If you’ve think you’ve got it figured out, then click on the names from the list below. If you’re correct, you’ll be taken to the rider’s biography compliments of Cycling Hall of Fame. If you’re wrong, you’ll be treated to a classic photo (for all the wrong reasons). Remember, your looking for both of the correct names, not just Merckx (duh). Also, next to the names are the dates of their Tour wins.
Philippe Thys (’13, ’14, ’20)
Adre Leducq (’30, ’32)
Gino Bartali (’38, ’48, and still the record for the longest span between victories)
Fausto Coppi (’49, ’52)
Louison Bobet (’53-’55)
Jacques Anquetil (’57, ’61-’64)
Felice Gimondi (’65)
Jan Janssen (’68)
Eddy Merckx (’69-’72, ’74)
Bernard Hinault (’78, ’79, ’81, ’82, ’85)
Greg Lemond (’86, ’89, ’90)
Laurent Fignon (’83, ’84)
It is also worth mentioning that there have been only three other Grand Tour winners to have also won Flanders: Rudi Altig (’62 Vuelta), Fiorenzo Magni (a three-time Giro winner who won a stunning three consecutive Flanders from ’49-’51), and finally Gianni Bugno (winner of the ’90 Giro, photo left). Bugno’s Flanders win came in 1994, becoming the last Grand Tour winner to accomplish the feat.
As a comparison, 12 cyclists have achieved victory in both the Tour de France and Paris-Roubaix. Since only two have been able to accomplish the even more rare Tour/Flanders combination, the conclusion would seem obvious – the Tour of Flanders must be the most difficult single-day race on the calendar. Agree or disagree? I’d love to hear your opinions.
Photocredits: (Above right) The legendary Roger de Vlaeminck grunting his way up trecherous Koppenberg. I am not sure of the year of this photograph, but Roger did win Flanders in '77, along with capturing his record-setting 4th Paris-Roubaix that same Spring Classics season. Compliments of Wikipedia/Mick Knapton. Gianni Bugno, Bike Race Info.