One of the most popular and most loved sports: cycling has always been a reference for entire nations since the early twentieth century, having an extremely important social significance and writing pages of history that have joined those of many countries, especially in the period between the two wars and the subsequent European reconstruction.
Giro d’Italia, Tour de France, Vuelta di Spagna: these are the three Grand Tours, the races that every cyclist would like to win when he starts pedaling. The Monumento Classiche, the five one-day races that open and close the season, are the most sought after laurels. But every year dozens of races take place all over the world, which make cycling an international discipline, rather than strictly European as it was a couple of decades ago.
The champions who have made this sport famous are many, and imagining an absolute ranking would be very complicated. In addition, each runner has his own specificity: climbers, sprinters, walkers, finisseurs , specialists against the clock. Undoubtedly, those who dominate the highest and most fascinating peaks, those that have made the history of cycling, have always occupied the front pages of the newspapers and passionate, more than others, people in love with two wheels: the winners of the three great tours, but especially Giro and Tour, are the ones that have given indelible emotions.
1. Gino Bartali
The Florentine champion was probably the first modern cyclist, together with his eternal rival Fausto Coppi. Ginettaccio (as he was also nicknamed because of his character) was a professional between 1934 and 1954, establishing himself already before the Second World War, winning the Giro in 1936 and 1937, the Tour de France (1938), twice the Milan -Sanremo (1939-1940) and three times the Giro di Lombardia (1938-1940).
The interruption of activities, which came precisely in his period of maximum form, did not prevent him from continuing to win even after the conflict, taking back the Giro in 1946, the Tour in 1948 and in two other circumstances the Spring Classicissima.. Above all, the victory at the ’48 Tour was a fundamental moment for Bartali, both for his career and for the social stability of the country, which has recently become a Republic and not yet fully cohesive. The attack on Palmiro Togliatti, secretary of the Communist Party, which took place on July 14, caused a very strong political tension throughout Italy: Bartali’s exploits on the French roads, in the same days, served to restore calm, being followed like a event of historical significance.
But the human greatness of Gino Bartali was extraordinary even during the war, as he spent himself, at the risk of his own life, to save many Jews who were trying to escape Nazi-fascist capture, in particular by stealing fundamental documents for many of them. For this reason, Bartali is today a Righteous among the Nations.
2. Fausto Coppi
Simply the Champion: Fausto Coppi was probably the most loved cyclist ever. His every victory was a page of great sport, thanks to his unique style and extraordinary stamina. Together with Bartali, the reference of post-war Italian sport, as much as the Grande Torino tragically perished in Superga. A long career, which began in 1939, which saw him triumph five times at the Giro d’Italia (1940, 1947, 1949, 1952, 1953), two at the Tour de France (1949, 1952), on three occasions at the Milan-Sanremo , once in Paris-Roubaix (1950) and five times in Lombardia. He was world champion in line in 1953 in Lugano and has also achieved success on the track. He famous the photograph, made by Carlo Martini, which portrayed Coppi and Bartali at the 1952 Tour while climbing the Col du Galibier, while passing a bottle to quench their thirst. The shot was actually agreed, but by no means detract from the epic significance of an image that tells how often the two Italian champions and rivals were one, especially in comparison with French opponents.
Fausto Coppi died of malaria on January 2, 1960, returning from a trip to Africa, leaving an unbridgeable void in our country’s cycling. The Campionissimo became so myth, after having already been a legend during his life.
3. Louison Bobet
The challenge between Italy and France characterized the period before and after the Second World War. Among the transalpine protagonists certainly Louison Bobet stood out: a professional from 1946 until 1962, he was a complete runner on any terrain. He was beaten by Bartali in the Tour de France ’48 (which he finished in fourth position), but it was the 1950s when he collected his great triumphs: three Tours (from 1953 to 1955), one Milan-Sanremo (1951), a Tour of Flanders (1955), a Paris-Roubaix (1956) and a Lombardia (1951). In 1954, he also won the online world championship in Solingen, Germany.
4. Rick Van Looy
The Belgian Hendrik Van Looy, known as Rik, was the absolute protagonist of all the classics for over a decade, between the fifties and sixties. In his career, Van Looy won 164 races, including 8 of the Monumento races: one Milan-Sanremo (1958), two Flanders, his home competition (1959 and 1962), three Paris-Roubaix (1961, 1962 and 1965). ), one Liège-Bastogne-Liège (1961) and one Lombardia (1959). To these successes must be added the two world titles of 1960 and 1961.
5. Jacques Anquetil
Professional from 1953 to 1969, Jacques Anquetil was one of the most talented and strongest cyclists ever. A winner by nature, a true pedal ace, able to compete on any terrain like no other. The completeness of him was his great advantage over his opponents, as well as a strategic ability superior to anyone. He won the Grand Prix des Nations nine times (a very long time trial race that has not been held for several years) and twenty-six stages in the grand tours, his favorite races. In his career, in fact, Anquetil established himself five times at the Grande Boucle, raising the trophy in Paris in 1957 and continuously from 1961 to 1964; he triumphed in the Giro d’Italia in ’60 and in ’64 and in the Vuelta di Spagna in ’63. He also made him the Liege in 1966. He missed only one success in the World Cup, taking a silver in Germany in 1966.
6. Felice Gimondi
Another of the seven riders able to win the three great laps was Felice Gimondi. The Bergamo champion was a professional from 1965 to 1979, years in which he won 139 races and established himself as the reference of Italian cycling at that time and as the true, great opponent of Merckx.
He participated fourteen times in the Corsa Rosa, achieving the ultimate success in 1967, 1969 and 1976; he won the Tour in 1965, on his debut on the roads of the French race; he also triumphed at the Vuelta in 1968, in his only participation. His relationship with the Classic Monumento was more difficult, which he won on four occasions: the Milan-Sanremo in 1974, the Roubaix in 1966, and Lombardy again in ’66 and 1973, the same season in which he obtained the expected title. world championship, in a very tough edition at Montjuic, in Barcelona, where he preceded the Belgian Freddy Maertens and the Spaniard Luis Ocaña on the podium. Gimondi left us in 2019.
7. Roger De Vlaeminck
The third most successful Belgian in history, like Van Looy and behind only Merckx: Roger De Vlaeminck achieved 164 career successes and, like his compatriots, managed to impose himself in all the Monument Classics. Relentless finisseur and specialist in attacks on nervous routes and with short and steep climbs, De Vlaeminck was a professional from 1969 to 1984, and was also a pistard and cyclocrossist. The eleven affirmations in the most important one-day online races were equally divided: three Milan-Sanremo (1973, 1978, 1979), one Fiandre (1977), four bombastic Paris-Roubaix (1972, 1974, 1975, 1977) and two Lombardy (1974, 1976).
8. Eddy Merckx
The Cannibal , the ruler, the one who left nothing to his opponents: Eddie Merckx is the most successful cyclist in history, according to many also the strongest, although on this second point the opinions are not entirely unanimous. Probably because others had a greater elegance and signed companies that have left their mark most (above all, of course, Fausto Coppi), without being dispersed, paradoxically, in the absolutely unrivaled number of triumphs obtained by the Belgian.
445 races won as a professional, of which 277 on the road, 168 on circuits, to which adding those in minor and amateur races brings the count to 525 in about 1,800 races held between 1965 and 1978. In the Grand Tours, eleven affirmations : five at the Tour (1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1974), five at the Giro (1968, 1970, 1972, 1973, 1974) and one at the Vuelta (1973). In the Classic Monuments, even nineteen: seven Milan-Sanremo, two Flanders, three Roubaix, five Liège and two Lombardy. Finally, three World titles: Heerlen 1967, Mendrisio 1971, Montreal 1974. Phenomenon.
9. Bernard Hinault
At the end of the Merckx era, that of another champion would begin, this time French: Bernard Hinault. Complete runner on all terrains, the Breton (nicknamed Le Blaireau , or Il Tasso) revived the glories of Bobet and Anquetil and established himself as the ruler of the great tours between the late seventies and the first half of the eighties. Professional from 1975 to 1986, Hinault won 216 career races and ten times the most prestigious stage races: five Tour de France (1978, 1979, 1981, 1982, 1985), three Giri d’Italia (1980, 1982, 1985) and two Vuelta (1978, 1983). To these successes must be added the Roubaix of ’81, the Liège of ’78 and ’80 and the Lombardy of ’79 and ’84. He won the World title in 1980, in Sallanches, preceding the Italian Baronchelli and the Spaniard Fernández Martín on the podium.
10. Francesco Moser
The most successful Italian cyclist: in his professional career between 1973 and 1988, Francesco Moser won 273 races between road and circuits and established himself as one of the most complete riders of his time, as well as placing third overall in this particular ranking, behind only Merckx and Van Looy.
He had a very special relationship with the Grand Tours: he took part in the Tour and Vuelta on only one occasion, but took part in the Corsa Rosa on thirteen occasions, winning it in 1984 with a peremptory race conduct. In the same year, Moser achieved a very significant record: the one on the hour, covering 51.151 km and improving twice in a few days in Mexico City. This result was also possible thanks to an avant-garde technology for that period, the so-called “lenticular wheels”, that is solid wheels that did not include spokes and allowed to express greater speed and better aerodynamic performance.
A few years later, the International Cycling Union would have downgraded the result of Moser and those of all those who had obtained the record on the hour with the lenticulars, compared to those who had established records with a bicycle with traditional wheels. Francesco Moser was obviously among the most important protagonists of the one-day online races: world champion in San Cristóbal in 1977, he won the Milan-Sanremo in 1984, three Paris-Roubaix in a row between ’78 and 1980 and Lombardy in ’75 and ’78.
11. Miguel Indurain
Professional from 1984 to 1996, Miguel Indurain represented the prototype of the long-distance climber.
Phenomenal in time trials, in stage races he managed the advantage he managed to accumulate in the time trial, defending himself against pure climbers in long and steep climbs and in stages with great differences in height. In reality, in the nineties it was customary for the organizers to design routes with long time trials (no less than three out of the total of the stages) and Indurain, a charismatic and always exemplary rider, made use of them in an evident way, although this did not detract from his skills or to his own, numerous victories.
In his career, Miguelòn (as he was nicknamed) won two Tours of Italy (in 1992 and 1993, to which the third place in ’94 must be added) and five Tour de France, consecutively from 1991 to 1995. He did not have the same luck at the Vuelta, where the best placement was second place in 1991. The 111 races won as a professional also include the world champion in the time trial at the 1995 Duitama World Championships and the gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics in the same specialty. Indurain retired at the beginning of the following season, after separating from the Banesto team, his reference for years.
12. Marco Pantani
Writing about Marco Pantani is never easy. You risk being betrayed by emotion. Marco was the champion able to awaken in the Italian fans the same ardor that Bartali and Coppi aroused in the era of heroic cycling. But Pantani’s talent had to collide with an adverse fate, a spiral of lies, errors and falls that took Marco away too soon, first from racing and then from life, with his dramatic death on 14 February 2004 in Rimini, victim of depression and acute intoxication from psychotropic drugs and cocaine. The debate on this tragic event is still open, and the truth, from a procedural point of view, has perhaps not been completely revealed. Professional since 1993, Pantani immediately blossomed, and was already a protagonist in 1994 in the great tours, the races where Marco was able to express himself at his best. Two stages won in the Giro (in Merano and on Aprica) and second final place behind the Russian Berzin; great performances also in the Tour, at the end of which he finished third, preceded by Indurain and Ugrumov.
A serious accident compromised the first half of the 1995 season: he returned in the summer, imposing himself in a stage of the Tour de Suisse and above all in two stages of the Tour de France, which ended in thirteenth place but proving to be back in full condition. But the atrocious insult came at the end of the competitions, when at the Milan-Turin in October a car broke into the race, investing Pantani and other riders: Marco fractured his tibia and fibula, and only an iron determination allowed him to get back on the saddle. He managed to return to racing towards the end of 1996, when he moved from Carrera Jeans to Mercatone Uno, the team that would accompany him until the end of his career.
In 1997 he participated in the Giro, retiring to the ninth stage; but his best satisfactions came again on the Tour, with the victory of two stages (on the legendary Alpe d’Huez and in Morzine) and a new third place finish. 1998 was the season of consecration: a double Giro and Tour, an increasingly difficult undertaking in modern cycling. Marco succeeded, seizing those triumphs long pursued and never achieved due to an incredible misfortune. Two stops at the Corsa Rosa (Piancavallo and Montecampione) and a party in Milan, where he preceded Tonkov and Guerini on the podium; two more stops at the Grande Boucle (Plateau de Beille and Les Deux Alpes) and a catwalk in Paris in front of tough Ullrich and Julich, where he was awarded by Gimondi, the last Italian before Marco to win on French soil.
Now recognized as the strongest, the 1999 season should have been just as important. The Pirate(due to the bandana that often distinguished him in racing, in a period in which it was not yet mandatory to wear a protective helmet) he already began to win in the spring and reached the Giro with the underdogs, fully confirming them: four stage wins (Gran Sasso d’Italia, Oropa, Alpe di Pampeago, Madonna di Campiglio) and an arrival in Milan now written with the pink jersey on the back. Before the start of the penultimate stage, however, the cold shower: the shadow of doping, with some values outside the parameters allowed to the riders. A thesis never confirmed, the same exams were probably not valid, but this was enough to oust Pantani from the Giro and suddenly interrupt his career. Marco entered a tunnel of suspicion and doubt, from which he would never leave, and only a few people around him really helped him. Despite the accidents and falls, Pantani had always got up: but this time it would not have happened.
Marco returned to racing in 2000: he did not do well in the Giro, but at the Tour he returned to give flashes of class, winning on the legendary Mont Ventoux (beating in the final Lance Armstrong, the Texan who will subsequently be disqualified from racing and will see all his victories canceled ) and in Courchevel, only to retire in the last week. They will be the last of Pantani’s forty-six claims as a professional. Despite numerous attempts to return to his level, Marco will slowly move towards retirement in 2003, before his death, leaving an unbridgeable void in Italian cycling.
13. Alberto Contador
One of the strongest contemporary cyclists. The Spaniard Alberto Contador, nicknamed El Pistolero , was a passer-climber who preferred burning shots in the more regular sections of the big climbs, on which he was able to express great speed, to then defend himself on the steepest peaks and make the difference in the races against the time, particularly within the Grand Tours.
Contador is also part of the exclusive elite of riders capable of winning all the major stage races: he triumphed at the Giro d’Italia in 2008 and 2015, at the Tour in 2007 and 2009, and at the Vuelta in 2008, 2012 and 2014. In reality, the successes would be two more since the 2010 Tour and the 2011 Giro were revoked following a two-year retroactive disqualification for doping, in a story whose contours were never fully clarified and which did not show the actual Contador’s guilt, if not a lightness of the cyclist and above all of his entourage.
Moreover, this does not in the least affect Contador’s history as an absolute champion, who can count dozens of successes in his career in many races that have established him as one of the most complete racers on the circuit, despite several falls that have caused him many physical problems along the way. the years of activity. After retiring, he founded the Eolo-Kometa team together with Ivan Basso, now a ProTeam team with the ambition of being able to enter the World Tour.
14. Vincenzo Nibali
Just like Contador, there is another cyclist, still active in the strong Astana Qazaqstan Team, who has won all the Grand Tours and is, without a doubt, the most important Italian rider of the last twenty years: Vincenzo Nibali.
Born in Messina and Tuscan by adoption for cycling training, the Squalo dello Stretto (as it is nicknamed) is a competitive walker-climber on any terrain. He prefers long and regular climbs, and then defends himself well in the time trials. His specialty, however, is the descent: he is the strongest of the circuit in this fundamental, often being impregnable when he attacks as soon as the road goes down (especially in the first years of his career).
Professional since 2005, Nibali has been competitive from the very beginning even against more established riders, and would have been able to win the 2010 Giro, had he not had to work for teammate Ivan Basso (then in Liquigas), who then actually triumphed preceding the Iberian Arroyo and the Sicilian on the podium. But Vincenzo did not have to wait long, as he won the Vuelta of the same season. From there, the growth was constant and unstoppable: he touched the Corsa Rosa also in 2011, finishing third behind Contador and the late Michele Scarponi (following the disqualification of the Spaniard, however, the Marchesman became the winner and Nibali was declared second); he finished third on the 2012 Tour, behind the Team Sky duo of Wiggins and Froome; he finally triumphed at the Giro in 2013,
After also winning the Italian championships online in 2014, he showed up at the Tour with the tricolor on his shirt. Protagonist already in the first week, he took the yellow jersey at the second stage with the success in Sheffield (the Tour started from Great Britain) and defended it even after an extraordinary test in the stage on the cobblestones with arrival at Arenberg Porte du Hainaut (or the roads of the Paris-Roubaix). Many of his opponents, on the other hand, were sensationally rejected by the pitfalls of the course. After temporarily leaving the leadership in the ninth stage following an escape from the group, with the victory at the Plance des Belle Filles(tenth fraction) Nibali regained the lead and steadily increased his lead in the standings, obtaining two more stages (Chamrousse and Hautacam) and arriving in triumph on the Champs-Élysées, sixteen years after Pantani’s victory.
Italian champion also in 2015, Nibali finished fourth in the Tour and ended his run-up to the Vuelta prematurely, but won the Giro di Lombardia. In 2016 he won his second Giro d’Italia, subsequently touching success in the line race at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, falling about ten kilometers from the finish while he was leading. 2017 was stingy with victories, taking third place in the Giro d’Italia behind Dumoulin and Quintana. 2018, on the other hand, seemed to be the season of redemption: after having collected an extraordinary victory at the Milan-Sanremo with a champion action in the decisive moment of the race, he presents himself to the Tour with the best wishes. The run-up to the podium, however, will stop abruptly in the 13th stage of Alpe d’Huez: in an agitated situation badly managed by the organizers,
This time Nibali struggles to regain his condition, but he is determined to do his best also at the Giro 2019: so it will be, because he fights like a lion, finishing in second place behind the Colombian Carapaz and ahead of the Slovenian Roglic. At the Tour he reaches far in the standings, but wins the Val Thorens stage. After a complicated 2020 due to the international crisis and many placings, in 2021 Nibali takes part in the Giro, Tour and Olympics, but his best victory will be the final classification of the Giro di Sicilia, the home race recently returned to the international calendar. From 2022, at the age of 37, Vincenzo is still waiting for great satisfaction.
15. Christopher Froome
The seventh runner of the aforementioned eliteof the grand tour triumphs is Christopher Froome, aka Chris. Born in Kenya to a British couple, after moving to South Africa at the age of fifteen, Froome started his career in cycling, turning pro in 2007. After his first successes, the move to Team Sky will be decisive for his path. Froome begins to show off his extraordinary qualities as a climber and chronoman: in the long climbs his accelerations are simply irresistible, managing to detach his opponents while remaining planted on the saddle but with a very high number of rides on the steepest sections; while he is awkward on a bicycle, his style is exceptionally effective. In racing against time, he combines speed and strength like few others.
Thus, Froome turns out to be the prototype of the dominator in stage races. In 2011 he finished second in the Vuelta behind the Spanish Cobo and ahead of his teammate Bradley Wiggins, Olympic and world champion on the track, in the meantime also concentrating on the road by virtue of routes suited to his characteristics, especially the Tour de France (which for some time he abandoned the big climbs). In 2012 Froome reluctantly has to act as a wingman for Wiggins on the transalpine roads, finishing second behind his compatriot and ahead of Nibali, but will soon become captain. In 2013 he won the Tour of Romandie and Criterium del Dauphiné, approaching races to the especially the Tour de France (which for some time abandoned the big climbs).
In 2012 Froome reluctantly has to act as a wingman for Wiggins on the transalpine roads, finishing second behind his compatriot and ahead of Nibali, but will soon become captain. In 2013 he won the Tour of Romandie and Criterium del Dauphiné, approaching races to the especially the Tour de France (which for some time abandoned the big climbs). In 2012 Froome reluctantly has to act as a wingman for Wiggins on the transalpine roads, finishing second behind his compatriot and ahead of Nibali, but will soon become captain. In 2013 he won the Tour of Romandie and Criterium del Dauphiné, approaching races to theGrande Boucle , and dominates the Tour, conquering three stages and closing in Paris with an abysmal advantage over his rivals.
The accusation that was often made against Froome was that of not dedicating himself to other races during the year than the Tour and the short stage races in late spring and early summer, all aimed at the unmissable July event.
The British, however, in his best seasons did not give much weight to such speculations, rarely participating in the Monument Classics and other races that were not in France, also to please the sponsors. At the Tour he will fail sensationally in 2014 after the disaster on the cobblestones of the fifth stage, but he will make up for it by winning in 2015, 2016 and 2017, a season in which he will also obtain the triumph at the Vuelta di Spagna.
So, in 2018, Froome will finally aim for the Giro d’Italia too: after a rather troubled first part of the race, in the nineteenth stage, the Venaria Reale-Bardonecchia, the Briton will be the protagonist of a champion action, starting on the run at 80 km from the finish line and ahead of the opponents with consistent gaps at the finish line, also taking advantage of the crisis of the Simon Yates pink jersey to conquer the top of the standings, which he will keep until the final arrival in Rome. At the Tour, however, he will have to surrender his weapons to his teammate Geraint Thomas, finishing third in Paris behind the Dutchman Dumoulin.
A serious accident at the 2019 Giro del Dauphiné will oust Froome from racing for a long time: the only joy will be that of the awarding of the 2011 Vuelta after the disqualification for doping of the Spanish Cobo, but he will have to wait until autumn 2020 to return to racing , however, demonstrating a fairly precarious condition and abandoning Team Ineos (or the new Team Sky). 2021 will also be difficult, despite the transition to Team Israel Start-Up Nation, which will have it among its ranks also in the 2022 season. We hope to find again some brilliant champion action, which Froome has always proved to be.