Top 20 Cyclists of all time

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From the top of my head, a more or less chronological list of all time greats without too much data to back it:
François Faber
Philippe Thys
Henri Pélissier
Alfredo Binda
Gino Bartali
Briek Schotte
Fausto Coppi
Rik Van Steenbergen
Louison Bobet
Rik Van Looy
Fred De Bruyne
Ferdi Kübler
Jacques Anquetil
Charly Gaul
Raymond Poulidor
Felice Gimondi
Eddy Merckx
Roger De Vlaeminck
Freddy Maertens
Luis Ocaña
Bernard Hinault
Sean Kelly
Laurent Fignon
Greg LeMond
Francesco Moser
Giuseppe Saronni
Miguel Indurain
Tony Rominger
Johan Museeuw
Laurent Jalabert
Lance Armstrong (yeah, I know)
Paolo Bettini
Tom Boonen
Alejandro Valverde
Fabian Cancellara
Alberto Contador
Chris Froome
Philippe Gilbert
Vicenzo Nibali
Peter Sagan

That are, if i counted well, 40 names.

From those 40, following should certainly feature in the top 20:
Alfredo Binda
Gino Bartali
Fausto Coppi
Louison Bobet
Rik Van Looy
Jacques Anquetil
Eddy Merckx
Roger De Vlaeminck
Bernard Hinault
Sean Kelly
Miguel Indurain
Alberto Contador
Chris Froome

If you scrutinize that list, you'll notice that there are no 1-day riders from the 1990-2020 era. That's because I find it too difficult to make a distinction between Boonen, Cancellara and Museeuw. Somehow I rate Philippe Gilbert higher than Boonen and Cancellara, just because of the versatility of his palmares (all types of 1-day races, ranging from paris-roubaix to Lombardia, and that in an era of specialization) and the only reason I don't say I rate him higher than Museeuw is because I was too much a Museeuw-fan in my youth. Bettini has less monument wins than Museeuw, Boonen or Cancellara, but has an olympic gold and at least 1 extra wc title.
Valverde built too much of his palmares on his hilltop sprint abilities, in an era where too much races were concluded in hilltop sprints.
There's also no-one included from cyclings prehistoric times, allthough I think at least one of the first three names I mentioned should be, just for the sake of completeness.
 
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From the top of my head, a more or less chronological list of all time greats without too much data to back it:
François Faber
Philippe Thys
Henri Pélissier
Alfredo Binda
Gino Bartali
Briek Schotte
Fausto Coppi
Rik Van Steenbergen
Louison Bobet
Rik Van Looy
Fred De Bruyne
Ferdi Kübler
Jacques Anquetil
Charly Gaul
Raymond Poulidor
Felice Gimondi
Eddy Merckx
Roger De Vlaeminck
Freddy Maertens
Luis Ocaña
Bernard Hinault
Sean Kelly
Laurent Fignon
Greg LeMond
Francesco Moser
Giuseppe Saronni
Miguel Indurain
Tony Rominger
Johan Museeuw
Laurent Jalabert
Lance Armstrong (yeah, I know)
Paolo Bettini
Tom Boonen
Alejandro Valverde
Fabian Cancellara
Alberto Contador
Chris Froome
Philippe Gilbert
Vicenzo Nibali
Peter Sagan

That are, if i counted well, 40 names.

From those 40, following should certainly feature in the top 20:
Alfredo Binda
Gino Bartali
Fausto Coppi
Louison Bobet
Rik Van Looy
Jacques Anquetil
Eddy Merckx
Roger De Vlaeminck
Bernard Hinault
Sean Kelly
Miguel Indurain
Alberto Contador
Chris Froome

If you scrutinize that list, you'll notice that there are no 1-day riders from the 1990-2020 era. That's because I find it too difficult to make a distinction between Boonen, Cancellara and Museeuw. Somehow I rate Philippe Gilbert higher than Boonen and Cancellara, just because of the versatility of his palmares (all types of 1-day races, ranging from paris-roubaix to Lombardia, and that in an era of specialization) and the only reason I don't say I rate him higher than Museeuw is because I was too much a Museeuw-fan in my youth. Bettini has less monument wins than Museeuw, Boonen or Cancellara, but has an olympic gold and at least 1 extra wc title.
Valverde built too much of his palmares on his hilltop sprint abilities, in an era where too much races were concluded in hilltop sprints.
There's also no-one included from cyclings prehistoric times, allthough I think at least one of the first three names I mentioned should be, just for the sake of completeness.
I'm sorry, but Museeuw wasn't even close to the level of Boonen or Cancellara.
 
For an objective list. Here is procyclingstats point based ranking


Now, of course, Lance has been taken out due to nonsense. But I'd put him back in. Knock out Zabel and Binda, and give Lance and Contador their due.

Sagan is 21 on the list and will be top ten by the time he retires probably.
 
I would put him a slight touch below those 2.

2 other names that are hard to place: Cavendish, Freire
Sprinters are really hard to judge but I think Cavs palmares isn´t more impressive than Petacchis or Cipollinis.


Cipollini 166 Wins, 55 GT stage wins, MSR , Worlds
Petacchi 149Wins, 48 GT stage wins, MSR
Cav 146 Wins, 48 GT stage wins, MSR, Worlds

Cavs big advantage are Tour stage wins but considering the lack of competition he faced at his peak I don´t think the numbers are as impressive. A 36 year old Petacchi was able to win two stages and the green jersey vs prime Cav.

I don´t think any of them would make my top 30. I also have more versatile sprinters/classic riders ahead of them. For example:

Freire with 3 Worlds and 3 MSR wins. 11 GT stages and one green jersey.
Zabel with 4 MSR wins. 20 GT stages. 6 green jerseys and an all time best 9 GT point classifications.
 
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Sprinters are really hard to judge but I think Cavs palmares isn´t more impressive than Petacchis or Cipollinis.


Cipollini 166 Wins, 55 GT stage wins, MSR , Worlds
Petacchi 149Wins, 48 GT stage wins, MSR
Cav 146 Wins, 48 GT stage wins, MSR, Worlds

Cavs big advantage are Tour stage wins but considering the lack of competition he faced at his peak I don´t think the numbers are as impressive. A 36 year old Petacchi was able to win two stages and the green jersey vs prime Cav.

I don´t think any of them would make my top 30. I also have more versatile sprinters/classic riders ahead of them. For example:

Freire with 3 Worlds and 3 MSR wins. 11 GT stages and one green jersey.
Zabel with 4 MSR wins. 20 GT stages. 6 green jerseys and an all time best 9 GT point classifications.
I wouldnt put any sprinters in my Top 50. Grossly over-rated the lot of them, especially Cavendish. Totally agree that the opposition during Cavs peak was the worst I have seen in my 30+ years of following cycling.
 
It is so often said that these historical comparisons are made more difficult "as cycling is so much more specific nowadays" (the way PMcG put it in the OP).

So what if there were someone born in c1985 with exactly the skillset of Merckx, or Kelly, Hinault, Anquetil, De Vlaeminck or Bartali: what palmares might they have now, as they enter the final years of their careers? Which of their successes would they not be able to maintain? Which races would they have had to drop from their ambitions to be competitive in others in the modern era?
 
Sprinters are really hard to judge but I think Cavs palmares isn´t more impressive than Petacchis or Cipollinis.


Cipollini 166 Wins, 55 GT stage wins, MSR , Worlds
Petacchi 149Wins, 48 GT stage wins, MSR
Cav 146 Wins, 48 GT stage wins, MSR, Worlds
Cavendish never had the benefit of the Giro laying on an all-you eat sprinter's buffet as they often did with Cipollini and Petaachi
 
I wouldnt put any sprinters in my Top 50. Grossly over-rated the lot of them, especially Cavendish. Totally agree that the opposition during Cavs peak was the worst I have seen in my 30+ years of following cycling.
aside Maertens.

greatest all-time sprinter. and yet he also dominated ITTs and won some classics. and won a Vuelta and 14 of its stages. and finished 8th in his first TDF.
 
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aside Maertens.

greatest all-time sprinter. and yet he also dominated ITTs and won some classics. and won a Vuelta and 14 of its stages. and finished 8th in his first TDF.
Maertens was a sprinter of old, a different beast totally. More of an all-rounder, like Poblet, Darrigade and Van Steenbergen were before him. Definitely in another league compared to Cav and co.
 
It is so often said that these historical comparisons are made more difficult "as cycling is so much more specific nowadays" (the way PMcG put it in the OP).

So what if there were someone born in c1985 with exactly the skillset of Merckx, or Kelly, Hinault, Anquetil, De Vlaeminck or Bartali: what palmares might they have now, as they enter the final years of their careers? Which of their successes would they not be able to maintain? Which races would they have had to drop from their ambitions to be competitive in others in the modern era?
De Vlaeminck is kind of an outlier on that list (no GC / not able to be consistent in mountains). You can find riders sort of like him. Gilbert is probably the closest approximation. Maybe Van der Poel but I'm not convinced he can do well in Lombardia or other races with longer climbs.

IMHO it's not the specialization but the fact that there are many more top level riders compared to even 25 years ago (which forces specialization). Going back a little further, LeMond and Fignon both had Top 5 in Paris-Roubaix. I don't think similar riders could do that now because there are too many riders normally considered domestiques that finish would outperform them.

Kelly is similar to Sagan now but was better on mountains. Maybe Sagan could do OK on GC in some of those 80's Vuelta courses.
Bartali's palmares isn't much different than Nibali, just more win volume.
Anquetil isn't much different than any other GC rider today.
I don't think an Hinault could win Paris-Roubaix today, which really leaves Merckx as the one who a top rider in all terrain. But he was too heavy too be competitive in the mountains today so would concentrate on classics.

Edit to add... I don't understand why Contador is on so many of these lists. A GC-only rider that only won the Tour twice? Even if you give credit for 2010, then you have to deduct the gift win in 2007. Among modern (post-2000) cyclists, Valverde, Froome (and Armstrong) clearly rank above him and the only ones who should definitely be in the Top 20.
Nibali, Boonen, Cancellara and maybe Sagan and Gibert around the same level. Of those, I think Boonen and Cancellara are the only ones to consider for a top 20 list.
 
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Boonen and Canc also just won the same damn races every time.

I rate a guy who won 7 (or 8 or 9) GTs higher than a guy who won 7 cobbled monuments.

Many top 20 lists will see dudes like Zoetemelk on them ffs.
 
Boonen and Canc also just won the same damn races every time.

I rate a guy who won 7 (or 8 or 9) GTs higher than a guy who won 7 cobbled monuments.

Many top 20 lists will see dudes like Zoetemelk on them ffs.
Maybe I was too hard on Contador because he was only at the very top level of a 3 to 4 year period and then was overshadowed by Froome. Post-ban, he wasn't any better than Quintana or Nibali.
Boonen has the best record all-time in the pave classics. So, the more I think about it, I've agreed with myself that he should be closer to top 10 than borderline top 20.
Cancellara is a little lower but he did win San Remo and multiple ITT WCs.
 
Maybe I was too hard on Contador because he was only at the very top level of a 3 to 4 year period and then was overshadowed by Froome. Post-ban, he wasn't any better than Quintana or Nibali.
Boonen has the best record all-time in the pave classics. So, the more I think about it, I've agreed with myself that he should be closer to top 10 than borderline top 20.
Cancellara is a little lower but he did win San Remo and multiple ITT WCs.
And Cancellara won gold twice in the Olympics.
 
Windows are incredibly arbitrary. I think dismissing Giro's and Vuelta's in this day and age isn't that fair either, especially in like 2008 when Contador couldn't even ride the Tour and Sastre of all people won it.
 
Early 2000s Giro was very much a home playground for the Italians as they duked out the GC between themselves and rarely showed up in any shape to face off with Armstrong and Ullrich (Pantani excepted) and the amount of flat stages for Petacchi and Cipollini to rack up the wins was worse than any Tour de France.

For that reason between the sprinters I would put Cavendish highest but not close to the top 50 all time.

Sagan has to be top twenty for the almost inconceivable achievement of winning the Worlds 3 years on the spin.

Cancellara over Boonen for me as he had inferior team support in the classics and I rate his TT successes above Boonens sprinting results.
 
The impossible top 20 lol. I think more meaningful to just rank by points like cyclingranking do, but over top 50 and 10 years best. You then get a much better picture of riders truly standing out generationally and within their contemporaries context I think.


1.
Eddy MERCKX
1964 - 19785327583001
2.
Sean KELLY
1977 - 19943777457052
3.
Francesco MOSER
1971 - 19883257384385
4.
Gino BARTALI
1934 - 19543245456833
5.
Bernard HINAULT
1975 - 198631983309110
6.
Alejandro VALVERDE BELMONTE
2000 - 20203071414674
7.
Felice GIMONDI
1963 - 19792947352519
8.
Roger DE VLAEMINCK
1967 - 19882906352698
9.
Jacques ANQUETIL
1952 - 196928063277313
10.
Laurent JALABERT
1988 - 200227583179414
11.
Fausto COPPI
1938 - 195927383290712
12.
Rik VAN LOOY
1953 - 197027153292111
13.
Joop ZOETEMELK
1969 - 19872650374466
14.
Costante GIRARDENGO
1912 - 193626463122315
15.
Alberto CONTADOR VELASCO
2002 - 201726312970518
16.
Fiorenzo MAGNI
1938 - 195626242791021
17.
Lance ARMSTRONG
1990 - 201126143040516
18.
Miguel INDURÁIN
1984 - 199625632674224
19.
Alfredo BINDA
1921 - 194224852601425
20.
Raymond POULIDOR
1960 - 19772456354417
21.
Louison BOBET
1946 - 196224232834120
22.
Jan JANSSEN
1960 - 197323962435531
23.
Vincenzo NIBALI
2004 - 202023092739722
24.
Franco BITOSSI
1961 - 197823082729523
25.
Tony ROMINGER
1985 - 199723082394333
26.
Christopher FROOME
2006 - 202023052334536
27.
Giuseppe SARONNI
1977 - 199022882420732
28.
Peter SAGAN
2009 - 202022552267839
29.
Cadel EVANS
1998 - 201522312468428
30.
Ferdi KÜBLER
1940 - 195722262387534
31.
Jan ULLRICH
1993 - 200622042271938
32.
Erik ZABEL
1990 - 200822032836519
33.
Joaquim RODRÍGUEZ OLIVER
2000 - 201621722453029
34.
Hennie KUIPER
1971 - 198821102528526
35.
Claudio CHIAPPUCCI
1985 - 199920902247940
36.
Herman VAN SPRINGEL
1964 - 198120722450830
37.
Stan OCKERS
1941 - 195620602168941
38.
Freddy MAERTENS
1971 - 198720272033855
39.
Phil ANDERSON
1980 - 199419962324437
40.
Alex ZÜLLE
1990 - 200419912123746
41.
Nicolas FRANTZ
1922 - 193419792015158
42.
Davide REBELLIN
1991 - 202019683012917
43.
Fabian CANCELLARA
2000 - 201619562335235
44.
Stephen ROCHE
1978 - 199319482086051
45.
Paolo BETTINI
1996 - 200819372054152
46.
Greg LEMOND
1981 - 199419331989761
47.
Greg VAN AVERMAET
2005 - 202019232126845
48.
Philippe GILBERT
2001 - 202019182475127
49.
Gianni BUGNO
1985 - 199818892027256
50.
Marino LEJARRETA
1978 - 199218802139743
 
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Boonen and Cancellara not even a remote chance IMHO.
These are the type of riders for the die hard fans but we have to be more objective and look at things for farther away.
Agree that neither is among the top 20 alltime. I think the already mentioned Zabel for example might not be as popular but comparing his palmares to Boonens he has a legit case depending on the value of monuments vs GT stages/jerseys.
Cancellara is a different story. Time trial specialist and dominant classic rider. Including worlds and the olympics he has 47 world tour level wins. 32 of them were TTs. He only won one non TT GT stage. I don´t really know how to judge the value of TTs at the worlds and olympics. They clearly aren´t as valuable as a road race win but how do we rank them? 2:1, 3:1?
 

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