When compiling a list of the 10 greatest road cyclists of all time, it is imperative that we consider the modalities used to arrive at our conclusion. With a ton of GC contenders in the cling world, sprinters, climbers, domestiques and those who concentrate on the Classics, you can easily see why this becomes difficult: With a broad range of skill sets it’s difficult to compare.
To bring some sanity to our ranking, our emphasis bothers on how riders performed in the general classification at Grand Tours, while paying less attention to other stage races and Classics. This, of course, cannot go without a heartfelt apology to Mark Cavendish and Mario Cipollini, who we consider astounding in their areas of expertise but however, are lacking in the overall prowess to compete in road races with even the slightest elevation gain.
Honestly speaking, some cyclists are better at pedaling than others. Below our list of the greatest road cyclists to have ever pedaled up and down Europe’s toughest ascents, made their way to the finish despite fiery pain in their thighs, and seized victory in races deemed impossible.
Top 10 Greatest Road Cyclists of All Time
10. Alberto Contador
Contador is known as the fifth of six men to have seized the GC victories at all three Grand Tours, He caught our imagination in the post-Lance cycling world, where he stripped the reins from Levi Leipheimer on the defunct Discovery Channel Team, He was at certain period, the defending champion of all three Grand Tours. Just like some of our contenders, Contador has endured an incursion of doping related allegations, which took a toll on his career and eventually had the World Cycling Federation strip him of two Grand Tour wins— but cycling fans will not forget in a hurry, Contador’s graceful side-to-side “dance” up some of the Europe’s toughest climbs in.
9. Sean Kelly
Kelly performed handsomely, but not enough to earn any Grand Tour victories. His greatest success stories are from the Classics. Kelly has claimed 10 Classics victories, came out victorious seven times in the illustrious Paris-Nice—a record yet to be toppled—and went on to win the cycling’s first World Cup. Regardless of a yellow or pink jerseys, He still won the general classification in the Vuelta and won the Tour de France’s points classification four times. Kelly is arguably the greatest all-around cyclist of all time, as anyone who had an encounter with him in the 1980s wouldn’t argue otherwise.
8. Gino Bartali
Barteli is a three-time winner of the Giro and two-time winner of the Tour, we can only imagine how many more victories he would have seized if not for his rival and fellow countryman, Fausto Coppi, or the forced intermission brought about by World War II. Regardless, he succeeded despite such misfortune. Adding to his Grand Tour success, Bartali went on to win 24 Classics and four additional stage races, with his two Tour de France victories coming 10 years apart and, as one of the greatest climbers of all time,Bartali went on to win six consecutive mountains classifications at the Giro.
7. Lance Armstrong
With a track record of doping and cheating, you might not find him worthy of our list. Armstrong would easily fit the top five, otherwise, but seven feels like a good spot for a man with seven straight Tour de France GC victories. You might be of the opinion that he scuffled in the other Grand Tour events, but that would easily discredit the fact that he never participated in the other events. The man was obsessed with the yellow jersey, which he donned more than any other man in history. And he did, in fact, he also returned from a near death experience to achieve ALL OF THIS. Armstrong’s battles with the great Jan Ullrich, the stare up Alpe d’Huez, and his return after his handlebar got caught in a knapsack are some of the memorable events of the greatest cycling moments of all time.
6. Alfredo Binda
In most of your typical “Greatest of” lists, this five-time winner of the Giro d’Italia and three-time road world champion gets routinely overlooked.But his greatness cannot be overemphasized. Binda lost public support or recognition despite his dominance when he refused to take political sides in the time of Italy’s fascist regime, two of our contenders, coming up shortly, and eventually matched Binda’s five Giro GC triumphs. However, He rode during a time, the late 1920s, a time when the French and Italians would rarely cross country lines to participate in one another’s races, and the Vuelta was literally nonexistent. And the lone time Binda did compete in the Tour? He tallied two stage wins.
5. Miguel Indurain
Still on a long trail of doping allegations, Indurain struggled throughout his career, he joined cycling at a time when performance enhancing drugs were a thing among cyclists. Still, He managed to claim five Tour de France GC titles and two Giro GC titles. Though he never had a Vuelta title to his name, he went on to become the youngest rider to lead the mammoth race in Spain at a young age of 20. Indurain’s accolades also include the Olympic Time Trial Gold Medal in Atlanta and a victory at the World Time Trial Championship the previous year. Regardless, Indurain dominated the sport of cycling for five years. We refer to that, in the wide world of sports, a dynasty.
4. Jacque Anquetil
Anquetil added a feather to his hat, when he became the first to reach five GC victories at the Tour de France. His confidence—some might consider him egotistical—was a fine mix of Ali and Michael Jordan on the bike. This man once predicted before the 1961 Tour de France that he would be the one to lead the 23-stage race from start to finish. And, like the famous Nostradamus, Anquetil came true on his prediction. Alongside his Grand Tour success, Anquetil went on to win Paris-Nice five times and Bordeaux-Paris. Oh, and he also struggled with doping allegations throughout his entire career (shrug). But at the time, only a handful of cyclists could say they were clean with a straight face.
3. Fausto Coppi
Another what-if type career. Think about it for a moment, what if World War II didn’t force a seven-year break from cycling (when Coppi became a prisoner of war in North Africa)? Think again, what if Coppi had competed just once in the Vuelta? If so, many are of the opinion that he would skyrocket to number one on this list. But sadly, things turned out differently. And wishes aren’t enough to put you over the top. Notwithstanding, Coppi, who continued to be threat to cycling great Bartali, he took home two Tour de France GC titles—despite participating in the event three times—and five Giro GC wins. Coppi also recorded great success in the Classics, with a total of 28 one-day road race victories. If you add up the seven years lost, it’s clear to see that Coppi would have earned substantially more Grand Tour victories. On a conclusive note, we can view Coppi’s career as follows: “Merckx was undoubtedly the greatest, but Coppi was the strongest.”
2. Bernard Hinault
The Badger. He is known stateside as Greg LeMond’s chief rival and target of LeMond’s persistent complaining. Hinault is considered the absolute wrecking ball on—and sometimes off—the bike. No one in their right senses would dare insult or mess with a man whose very apt nickname made him one of the most vicious and feared figures in all of cycling. With a short temper and bossy nature, these attributes led him to five Tour de France GC wins, three Giro titles and two Vuelta victories.
1. Eddy Merckx
Not to spite Hinault, this was a pretty easy decision. Merckx, dubbed the Cannibal for the way he destroyed his rivals, was the closest to perfection in cycling. To his name he is owner of five Tour de France GC victories, five Giro triumphs and two Vuelta triumphs, Merckx’s 11 Grand Tour wins puts him one ahead of Hinault for most all time. In the 1969 edition of the Tour, Merckx went hard, where he won by more than 18 minutes while capturing the yellow, green and polka dot jerseys. In addition to that, he’d be the first to remind you how excruciating this feat was to accomplish. Merckx put in his best, day in and day out, stretching his abilities to the point where he routinely required oxygen at the end of stages. With all his successes, he never entered a Grand Tour (17 in all) where he didn’t finish in the top 10.