Top 20 Cyclists of all time

Going through some old magazines and came across a Cycle Sport edition from late 1997 in which they did a list(male only) of who they considered the Top 50 cyclists of all time. The top 20 was:

  1. Merckx
  2. Hinault
  3. Indurain
  4. Coppi
  5. Anquteil
  6. Van Steenbergen
  7. Van Looy
  8. LeMond
  9. Rominger
  10. Poulidor
  11. Bobet
  12. Simpson
  13. Gimondi
  14. Zootomelk
  15. Maertens
  16. Thevenet
  17. De Vlaeminck
  18. Kuiper
  19. Moser
  20. Kelly
Now straight away, there are major issues, Cycle Sport was a British magazine, but to have Tom Simpson at 12 is a joke, might have been a Top 50 candidate at best. Indurain is too high at 3, Anquetil and Coppi should be above him and possibly others. De Vlaeminck, Kelly, Moser should be far closer to the Top 10 above the likes of Thevenet, Kuiper, Maertens, Zootomelk, Simpson. All up for debate.

But, who should be added to the list based on a purely sporting achievement list. I am well aware 1998 was Festina with everything that came after that. Hard to ignore, but this is not the Clinic.
My contenders.
As much as I detest him and ignoring the obvious, Armstrong would probably be Top 5/10. Other possibilities imo, Contador, Froome, Boonen, Cancellara, Gilbert, Nibali, Museeuw, Sagan, Jalabert, Valverde
Maybe Pantani, Ullrich, Evans.

It is difficult as cycling is so much more specific nowadays, and a lot of the older riders won across all types of races. Who would people have in their Top 20 of all time?
 
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Okay, so first of all I'm unsure on how good the original list is and generally as I'm fairly young it's difficult for me to compare the achievements of todays riders with guys from decades ago where neither really know their palmares nor how prestigious those wins actually were back in the day. But here are a few I guess have a shot at this.

Now first of all this depends largely on whether you count official wins or not. If you consider Armstrong a 7 time tdf winner he is without a doubt up there. If you consider Contador to be a 9 time gt and 3 time tdf winner he is as well (he might actually still be even with his 7 gt wins). Froome with 6 or 7 gt wins probably gets into the top anyway because 4 tours just really stand out.

Now it's starting to get really close.
From recent history Nibali is the rider I rate next highest, mostly due to his relatively even split between gt and monument wins. Especially because being succesful in both has become so rare recently. I also hope that Nibali isn't finished with big wins yet. I can definitely see him winning another big race.
Same counts for valverde.
The likes of Boonen, Cancellara, Bettini or Sagan (again, he might still win a lot more) are greats of their era but I'm inclined to argue all of them are outside the top 20. They just struggle in comparison with Valverde and especially Nibali as they have a similar number of big wins but nowhere near the versatility in their palmares. I don't know whether there will be any rider winning both at least three gt's and three monuments in the next generation of riders but I'm pretty sure there will again be someone winning 7 or 8 big one day races.
 
  1. Eddy Merckx
  2. Bernard Hinault
  3. Fausto Coppi
  4. Gino Bartali
  5. Sean Kelly
  6. Roger De Vlaeminck
  7. Jacques Anquetil
  8. Miguel Indurain
  9. Alberto Contador
  10. Fabian Cancellara
  11. Francesco Moser
  12. Joop Zoetemelk
  13. Felice Gimondi
  14. Vincenzo Nibali
  15. Alfredo Binda
  16. Rik Van Looy
  17. Johan Museeuw
  18. Chris Froome
  19. Greg Lemond
  20. Tom Boonen
Honorable mentions: Van Steenbergen, Maertens, Boonen, Poulidor, Bobet, Jalabert, Ullrich, Kübler, Rominger, Girardengo, Saronni, Pantani.

This is my personal list, based on an old ranking system with some adjustments.
 
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I've been following cycling for 20+ years only, so for older champion, I rely mostly on their palmares to rank them (footages aren't easy to find, and difficult to watch..)

  1. Eddy Merckx
  2. Bernard Hinault
  3. Sean Kelly
  4. Jacques Anquetil
  5. Armstrong ....
  6. Francesco Moser
  7. Gino Bartali
  8. Fausto Coppi
  9. Francesco Moser
  10. Roger De Vlaeminck
  11. Alberto Contador
  12. Miguel Indurain
  13. Alejandro Valverde
  14. Joop Zoetemelk
  15. Felice Gimondi
  16. Vincenzo Nibali
  17. Alfredo Binda
  18. Rik Van Looy
  19. Sagan Peter
  20. Fabian Cancellara
 
Okay, so first of all I'm unsure on how good the original list is and generally as I'm fairly young it's difficult for me to compare the achievements of todays riders with guys from decades ago where neither really know their palmares nor how prestigious those wins actually were back in the day. But here are a few I guess have a shot at this.

Now first of all this depends largely on whether you count official wins or not. If you consider Armstrong a 7 time tdf winner he is without a doubt up there. If you consider Contador to be a 9 time gt and 3 time tdf winner he is as well (he might actually still be even with his 7 gt wins). Froome with 6 or 7 gt wins probably gets into the top anyway because 4 tours just really stand out.

Now it's starting to get really close.
From recent history Nibali is the rider I rate next highest, mostly due to his relatively even split between gt and monument wins. Especially because being succesful in both has become so rare recently. I also hope that Nibali isn't finished with big wins yet. I can definitely see him winning another big race.
Same counts for valverde.
The likes of Boonen, Cancellara, Bettini or Sagan (again, he might still win a lot more) are greats of their era but I'm inclined to argue all of them are outside the top 20. They just struggle in comparison with Valverde and especially Nibali as they have a similar number of big wins but nowhere near the versatility in their palmares. I don't know whether there will be any rider winning both at least three gt's and three monuments in the next generation of riders but I'm pretty sure there will again be someone winning 7 or 8 big one day races.
But Boonen and Cancellara didn’t just win big one day races. They won monuments that the likes of Nibali and Valverde never will. Does this mean the best classic riders of the modern era (going forward) will never be counted among the absolute greatest because they’ll never do well in mountainous terrain?
 
But Boonen and Cancellara didn’t just win big one day races. They won monuments that the likes of Nibali and Valverde never will. Does this mean the best classic riders of the modern era (going forward) will never be counted among the absolute greatest because they’ll never do well in mountainous terrain?
As much as I loved those two riders, they aren't top 15 for me. The main issue is that they co-existed on the same objectives. The second point is that maybe I rank GC victories higher than monument victories, but that's purely my POV.
Those ranking are very biaised, even if we try to take facts, the scale we use remain personnal.

The most interesting thing (to me) is reading constructives debates around the subject :)
 
I'm a bit reluctant to talk about some of the dudes that are still active.

What I do see in that list is what looks like the opposite of recency bias. I'll say that cycling might just be the hardest sport to compare era's. That being said, when I see guys from era's in which everyone rode everywhere, i.e. it was possible to get a really diverse palmares, and I see them win less than some guys in the era of specialisation, then I find it very hard to put them ahead of much more recent riders.

I for one would not include any Dutch riders in the top 20.
 
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But Boonen and Cancellara didn’t just win big one day races. They won monuments that the likes of Nibali and Valverde never will. Does this mean the best classic riders of the modern era (going forward) will never be counted among the absolute greatest because they’ll never do well in mountainous terrain?
Not when they don't even show great versatility within one day races or when they simply achieve fewer big victories than GT riders.

Nibali won MSR, which Boonen didn't even manage despite being a sprinter for example.

Now I think you can argue about how to rate ITT WCs or OGs, and that's a tough one for me.
 
1.Merckx
2.Coppi
3.Hinault
4.Anquetil
5.Bartali
6.Indurain
7.Kelly
8.Binda
9.Van Looy
10.De Vlaeminck
11.Girardengo
12.Bobet
13.Contador
14.Gimondi
15.Valverde
16.Van Steenbergen
17.Moser
18.Cancellara
19.Boonen
20.Lemond

Just outside this top 20 are: Zoetemelk, Nibali, Froome, Kubler, Poulidor, Fignon and Bettini.
 
Biggest problem I've got with that top20 is the omission of Gino Bartali.

3 Giro
2 Tour
4 Sanremo
3 Lombardia
80 more races won. All of this without 5 peak years because of the II World War.

I mean seriously...
They had Bartali ranked 23rd which I agree was too low.


21-30 was

  1. Roche
  2. Argentin
  3. Bartali
  4. Fignon
  5. Gaul
  6. Ocana
  7. Pelisser
  8. Saronni
  9. Van Impe
  10. Petit-Breton
Alfred Binda was not even in the Top 50. Pantani was at 48 despite the fact he had not even won a GTat that point. A reminder of how much Pantani was liked, even in English speaking media.
 
1 MERCKX Eddy
2 MOSER Francesco
3 KELLY Sean
4 HINAULT Bernard
5 DE VLAEMINCK Roger
6 ANQUETIL Jacques
7 VALVERDE Alejandro
8 VAN LOOY Rik
9 JALABERT Laurent
10 SARONNI Giuseppe
11 BARTALI Gino
12 COPPI Fausto
13 GIMONDI Felice
14 MAERTENS Freddy
15 ZOETEMELK Joop
16 ROMINGER Tony
17 INDURAIN Miguel
18 BINDA Alfredo
19 POULIDOR Raymond
20 ZABEL Erik


That's procyclingstats take on it. Based solely on quantitative data (race results).

Methodology: "Summation of points in level 1 races and higher. Only the points of the top-10 are considered, in stages the top-3. The points are computed according to the following formula: (PCS Points) / result / 10 . If a rider received 100 points for 2nd place, it contributes 100/2/10 = 5 points to his all time total. A rider winning the final GC in the Tour de France contributes 500/1/10 = 50 points to this total. A rider needs at least 50 points to make it to the ranking. "
 
  1. Evenepoel
  2. Ocana
  3. Merckx
  4. Hinault
  5. Lemond
  6. DeVlaeminck
  7. Coppi
  8. Bartali
  9. Zoetemelk
  10. Gimondi
  11. Anquetil
  12. Poulidor
  13. Fignon
  14. Kelly
  15. Froome
  16. Van Looy
  17. Maertens
  18. Thevenet
  19. Boonen
  20. Nibali
Of course this is subjective, but I figured I would play anyway... ;-)

Disclaimers:

A. I am GT-biased (particularly the TDF)

B. I am partial to riders of the 70s (when I started following cycling). But there is also a reason for that. They all had to compete against Merckx who won everything... and yet DeVlaeminck won all five of the monuments (including 4 P-R) and a Tour de Suisse (in front of Merckx in 1975); Gimondi, Van Impe, Zoetemelk and Thevenet all won TDFs despite Merckx eliminating many possibilities throughout their careers...

C. Evenepoel -- because that is where he will end up. ;-)

D. Ocana -- because he was better than Merckx (in his prime) when he was healthy. No one else dropped Merckx (in his prime) by eight minutes. Ocana did. And Merckx was not on a bad day. And I watched the 1973 TDF in its entirety. People often forget that Ocana absolutely CRUSHED that Tour (and would have done so even had Merckx been there). He dominated the ITTs and destroyed even the best climbers of the era (Van Impe, Fuente and Thevenet) by many minutes on several mountain stages. People often cite Merckx's win in 1969 by 19+ mins over Pigeon as the last time those types of differences were made. Ocana beat Thevenet by 17+ minutes four years later...

E. Not much from 1991-2010, because hierarchy was not possible to measure under the circumstances. My nods to the last decade so are limited to Froome (seems pretty obvious), Boonen (4 P-R, 1 Worlds -- arguably the two top single day races -- and then he started out much as a sprinter winning the green jersey). I even added Nibali (who I do not like at all): He has won all three GTs and some monuments, so...

F. For those who did not put Lemond (to include Erik Zabel!?)...seriously!? Three TDFs and two Worlds -- that alone should put you there. Then there is the fact that he lost his two best years in 1987 and 1988. And that his career was shortened by illness/epo takeover in the peloton. And, probably most importantly, he has been an outspoken voice for a clean sport for decades...

g. I don't really rate Hinault as high as I did. I figured I may be triggering too much hate as it is... ;-) The guy won four of his TDFs against an already past his prime Zoetemelk and Van Impe. In two of those TDFs (40 year old?) Agostinho reached the podium -- something he never did in Merckx's years (when he was arguably stronger and younger). Hinault's competition was pathetic (particularly when you compare with Merckx who beat many, many other Tour winners). When Hinault was finally challenged by other greats in Fignon and Lemond he was beaten, or should have been (1985). Hinault's competition was really, really weak, the years he was winning.

There you have it. Obviously (I hope), some of my placings are based on having some fun, but also wanting to bring attention to a couple of extraordinary individuals.
 
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