Top 20 Cyclists of all time

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Ok I'll give it a shot.
I'll rank riders based on big wins (GTs, Monuments, WC/Olympic RR).

Disclaimer 1: I'm reluctant to include WC/Olympic TT titles in this ranking because they're relatively young races, hence the greats of the past didn't have a chance to win them. Could be used as tie-breakers.

Disclaimer 2: races' prestige has changed over the years. Winning Fleche Wallonne or Paris-Tours was obviously rated higher 50 years ago than it is today, and that's why I decided to include only GTs/Monuments/WCs in this ranking. It's arbitrary, I know.

Disclaimer 3: I'm the biggest sucker for podiums you'll ever meet but I do believe podiums don't matter much if we're discussing the absolute best of the sport.

So let's start:

GTsMonumentsWC/O RRTotalNotes
Eddy Merckx1119333
Fausto Coppi79117
Bernard Hinault105116

This is the elite of the sport, with Eddy being clearly a few steps above anyone else.

GTsMonumentsWC/O RRTotalNotes
Alfredo Binda55313
Gino Bartali57012
Costante Girardengo29011
Roger De Vlaeminck011011
Sean Kelly19010
Rik Van Looy08210
Felice Gimondi54110
Jacques Anquetil8109

This is the tier of riders I consider a lock for the top20. You can move Anquetil up a few spots if GTs are your thing, or Kelly/Van Looy in case you like Classics more. I personally believe Gimondi is probably the most underrated rider in the history of cycling, winning as much as he did while riding in the era of Merckx.
11 of the top20 spots are filled. 9 to go.

Now things get tricky as we move down the rankning. There are 5 riders with 8 big wins and 8 more riders with 7 big wins.
Here's the list. I put a few notes for tie-breaking purposes.

GTsMonumentsWC/O RRTotalNotes
Francesco Moser1618152 wins, 2 TA
Rik Van Steenbergen05382 FW, 25 GT stages
Paolo Bettini05381 TA
Louison Bobet34181 Dauphine, 1 PN
Tom Boonen0718121 wins, 3 GW
Fabian Cancellara07076 WC/O TT, 1 TA, 1 Suisse
Moreno Argentin06173 FW, 15 Gt stages
Henri Pélissier16071 Paris-Tours
Johan Museeuw06171 Amstel, 1Paris-Tours
Miguel Indurain70072 WC/O TT

GTsMonumentsWC/O RRTotalNotes
Alberto Contador70074 PV, 2 PN, 1 TA
Chris Froome70073 Dauphine, 2 Romandie
Vincenzo Nibali43072 TA

Moser and Bobet are in for me, winning all 3 types of big races. Froome and Indurain are in too, because TdF.
Then there's a large group of Classic specialists I'd rank this way.
IN: Boonen (best cobble rider ever, number of overall wins), Cancellara (TT titles).
OUT: Van Steerbergen, Bettini, Argentin, Museeuw, Pélissier (not strictly a classic specialist, I know).

Still 3 spots to fill.
Contador and Nibali against a number of riders winning 5/6 big races. I'll name a few: Valverde, Rominger, Gilbert, Freire, Magni, Sagan, Lemond, Fignon, Bugno, Saronni...
Almost impossible to choose, so I'll take the easy way out and select the three riders with the biggest lobbies on this forum: Contador, Nibali, Valverde. Don't wanna argue forever.


Final list:
Eddy Merckx
Fausto Coppi
Bernard Hinault
Alfredo Binda
Gino Bartali
Costante Girardengo
Roger De Vlaeminck
Sean Kelly
Rik Van Looy
Felice Gimondi
Jacques Anquetil
Francesco Moser
Tom Boonen
Louison Bobet
Fabian Cancellara
Miguel Indurain
Alberto Contador
Chris Froome
Vincenzo Nibali
Alejandro Valverde
This is an excellent list and close to what I would have as well. However, there is one big omission and I cannot believe I am even going there, but really Armstrong has to be there if you are including Valverde, Froome, Contador, Merckx etc. I absolutely despise the guy, but I feel there has to be some consistency as quite a few posters have completely whitewashed him from existence. I just don't see how we can include some guys who have busted, but not others.
 
The factors should not be 'absolute' in terms of amount either, because that means that riders who burnt very brightly but over a short period of time will be underrepresented. Granted, these often include people like Pantani and Fuente, whose styles made them inherently unreliable and only suited to set types of races anyway, but it also includes people like Jan Janssen. A rating which is absolute in terms of awarding points for results will always over-represent those riders whose careers lasted a long time, and under-represent those who didn't. Sure, people like Zoetemelk belong in the discussion of any self-respecting list of the best, but there are some greats who will be massively under-valued by such a rating method too. I don't know how you'd factor that in though, maybe # points per year active would be a good metric, but then if you are consistently good for a decade that should come with its own weighting too. You'd then be introducing a complicated points system with multiplication and division factors, for something which is by nature very subjective because you'd then need to weight multiple races which fluctuate in importance.

Another factor is the rapid changing of the style of racing with increased globalisation and even more so professionalism. The difference between the best and the worst rider in any given pro race is far, far smaller today than it was 40-50 years ago, and so it then becomes hard to rank people who, if they came along today, would have a completely different palmarès. Take Julio Jiménez, for example. Best climber in the world at times in his heyday, even won the famous Anquetil-Poulidor showdown stage on Puy-de-Dôme, never had any success in one-day racing, and only had one podium and four top 10s in Grand Tours. But he had six total GPM victories in an era where, for a Spaniard, it was better to come 30th and win the GPM than come 2nd, because the GPM was the most important thing after the overall victory.

There is also a real difficulty in rating some races. The Vuelta, for example, didn't really become a race of great prestige outside of the Iberian peninsula until quite late on. It raised in prominence and attracted better fields starting in the early 60s and by the late 60s was a race of some prestige, but it was still tailoring its courses deliberately to attract overseas stars to try to up its winners' list, and it was only with the arrival of a new crop of homegrown climbing talent and the development of the skiing industry in the 70s that it grew to become the GT that we know and love, and even then there was a bit of a mis-step due to terrorism in the late 70s before the early 80s saw it rise up to definitively become the third long-form stage race of choice ahead of other pretenders to the throne such as the Volta a Portugal, the Vuelta a Colombia and the Coors Classic.

Simultaneously you have things like Paris-Bruxelles. By the time it was euthanized, it was a far cry from what it once was. Once a gruelling Classic, it had become a sprinters' race with some decidedly iffy fields, and nowadays its successor, a one-day race around Brussels which is completely flat, isn't even a race that attracts a thread on these boards, and barely even a mention in the 'lesser known race results' thread. The Chrono des Nations is a pretty mediocre race nowadays, but back in the day it was the de facto World Championships ITT in the day when such a thing did not exist.
 
This is an excellent list and close to what I would have as well. However, there is one big omission and I cannot believe I am even going there, but really Armstrong has to be there if you are including Valverde, Froome, Contador, Merckx etc. I absolutely despise the guy, but I feel there has to be some consistency as quite a few posters have completely whitewashed him from existence. I just don't see how we can include some guys who have busted, but not others.

It's pretty simple. You just go by what results there are on the records books. Everyone you mention was punished appropriately according to the rules of the day and what they had done (or hadn't done). A Worlds and Fleche Wallonne doesn't get you into the top 20
 
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Oh Ewan was clearly the consistantly better sprinter. It's just not about sprinting that much. It's the fact that Sagan gets over climbs relatively well that gives him the chance to win points in breakaways all the time.

Frankly, Sagan has a very unique skillset that right now makes him almost unbeatable in a competition that fits this skillset to the toe. Riders who climb better but sprint worse are solely going for breakaway stage wins and guys who sprint better but climb worse are solely going for wins in bunch sprints. The thing is, if the green jersey was that important people from both those sides of the spectrum would suddenly center their season, training and race around the points competition. But they don't, because they don't see why they should go from what they are already good at to something that isn't even regarded higher than their current goals.
Last year, P. Sagan, E. Viviani, M. Matthews and S. Colbrelli all did race around the points competitions.

At Giro, P. Ackerman and A. Demare were fighting for the yersey till the last moment, too.

Fiinally, C. Froome definitely wanted this yersey at 2017's Vuelta.
 
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Last year, P. Sagan, E. Viviani, M. Matthews and S. Colbrelli all did race around the points competitions.

At Giro, P. Ackerman and A. Demare were fighting for the yersey till the last moment, too.

Fiinally, C. Froome definitely wanted this yersey at 2017's Vuelta.
Yeah people do like winning it over not winning it. The same would go for a looot of thigns.
 
You'd have to take out Contador, Nibali or Valverde.
Do it at your own peril.
actually Cancellera, Boonen and Indurain before that. No idea what Cancellera is doing even in a top 50 list, honestly.

and no prob taking out contador, nibali and valverde as well, yes, thank you, that would be real easy to do.

FWIW, the French voted on best cyclists of the 20th century a while back and LeMond was second only to Merckx. Over Hinault, Anquetil, etc... They loved him!
 
It's pretty simple. You just go by what results there are on the records books. Everyone you mention was punished appropriately according to the rules of the day and what they had done (or hadn't done). A Worlds and Fleche Wallonne doesn't get you into the top 20
Should we not go by what happened on the road instead of what happened in the courtroom? The punishments for similar infringements can be inconsistent, but on the road the rules are the same for anyone: if you win, you win.
 
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I think your list is solid. It is hard to digest not having Greg Lemond in there. But he was one of the first ones specializing in the Tour de France. Some people say that he raced all year round which might be truth, but did not win much in the process other than the WC.
Fair. Though the specializing only in the TDF is a bit of a myth. It is true that he was aware that the TDF and the WC were the only races Americans might pay attention to at the time. However, he rode all season long with 2nds at Milan-San Remo and Lombardy, and a fourth at P-R (and two other podiums at WCs). He suffered from allergies always at the Giro, where he finished 3rd and fourth, I believe. However, the "targeting only TDF and WC" really came after his accident, when he literally was only able to regain his full form for about four total months (happened to coincide with TDFs 1989 and 90 and WC 1989). He would complain of exhaustion otherwise (due to lead pellets/competing against EPO-riddled peloton). He was truly not the same rider. So his career was really 1981-1986 (when he was very young) and then four months in 1989-90. Not a bad palmares when that is considered.
 
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It's pretty simple. You just go by what results there are on the records books. Everyone you mention was punished appropriately according to the rules of the day and what they had done (or hadn't done). A Worlds and Fleche Wallonne doesn't get you into the top 20
This makes little sense. The record books would like us to believe the 2011 Giro was a tight race for the win between Scarponi (RIP) and Nibali. We all know what really went down.
Yes we have to consider eventual doping penalties as well and weigh them in our judgement but you can't compare Armstrong's impact on and status in the history of cycling with a hypothetical rider that has won just a Worlds and Fleche Wallonne. Many factors to consider. I was going to say that rider A who has won 3 GTs 'fair and square' (as far as we are aware) is more impressive than rider B who has won 3 on the road but 2 on paper but even that depends on the circumstances. It's not always black and white.
 
Well, yes, but there's also much has been made about the differences in the level of boost in the post-EPO generation than beforehand when doping was on a more primitive level. As a result we should perhaps be judging riders purely in regards to what they could achieve against their contemporaries rather than on a historic scale, which again makes it hard to make a definitive call. The sport has just changed too much over time. How much would Chris Froome have won in the 1920s? How much would Costante Girardengo have won today? Who can possibly say, the sport is just too different. It's like comparing Messi to Puskas, or Hamilton to Fangio. Puskas was playing in an age of far more basic equipment on far worse surfaces with a heavy ball and with defenders allowed to chop you from behind at all turns. Simultaneously, though, Messi is playing in an era of far greater depth of talent, but he's afforded far more protection than the stars of the 50s and 60s were, as defenders are discouraged from doing anything to slow down the stars. Fangio was driving in an era of much longer and more challenging courses in an era where death was a constant spectre. At the same time, Hamilton isn't allowed to commandeer a teammate's car if his breaks down and is competing in a much more specialised and professional series, where every driver is a top level pro without gentleman drivers and privateers.
 
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Firstly, I need some more time to consider this, and secondly, I am biased towards GT's.

Still, I cannot fathom how anyone can put something like Matt Haymen winning Paris Roubaix on the same level as a rider winning the TDF. Sure, it was a magical moment in that riders career, and a great story. But you can't really luck out and win a GT by not being watched closely (maybe Oscar aside), whereas in monuments you can sometimes.

Rating all big 7 one day races as 1 point, and the same with the GT's; I don't agree. Surely the TDF would have to be worth at least 2 points on this scale? It's the biggest race of the season, and it's 21 days of consistency and performance (well, maybe a week's worth of 'important' performance) as opposed to just 1 day. The Giro 1.5, and the Vuelta just 1 probably. And before the 90's the Vuelta could be worth even less. And the World's is surely worth more than Lombardia.
 
Many people on this forum have attempted to compare different wins by assigning points to races. Problematically I've come to realize that not a single of these rankings wasn't created with the goal of highlighting just how great that person's favorite rider is.

That said, this of course doesn't apply to me and I don't understand how everybody fails to see that you should get most points by winning Il Lombardia especially if you do it twice in three years.
 
This makes little sense. The record books would like us to believe the 2011 Giro was a tight race for the win between Scarponi (RIP) and Nibali. We all know what really went down.
Yes we have to consider eventual doping penalties as well and weigh them in our judgement but you can't compare Armstrong's impact on and status in the history of cycling with a hypothetical rider that has won just a Worlds and Fleche Wallonne. Many factors to consider. I was going to say that rider A who has won 3 GTs 'fair and square' (as far as we are aware) is more impressive than rider B who has won 3 on the road but 2 on paper but even that depends on the circumstances. It's not always black and white.
Yes, but then recency bias factors into it.

A hypothetical fan in the future could look through the history books and see that Óscar Pereiro won the Tour in 2006, that Andy Schleck won the Tour in 2010, that Michele Scarponi won the Giro in 2011 and Chris Froome won the Vuelta in 2011 and just accept that. Especially in respect of Froome since obviously he then goes on to win the Tour four times, the Giro once and the Vuelta once more across the next seven years, so his appearing as a Vuelta winner in 2011 will raise no need to investigate further. How many people who look through the history books of GT winners do you think look at the 1982 Vuelta and investigate further to discover that actually Ángel Arroyo won the race and Marino Lejarreta acquired it afterwards? After all, Lejarreta is a bigger name than Arroyo in cycling history and this would go on to be his only GT win, how many people do you think will look at his name and automatically think... "wait a minute, he doesn't seem like he belongs!"?

It's only the very hardcore of fans who weren't already fans in 1982 who will automatically know that Arroyo was the first to lose a GT title for doping. It's not part of 'pro cycling 101' like Moser's helicopter or Ocaña crashing out. I envisage a situation in 30 years time when it's only the truly dedicated fan that looks back at the records to discover that Contador in fact was the original winner of the 2010 Tour and 2011 Giro, but there will be some, simply because he was so successful elsewhere in his career. In the same way, it's only the people who are particularly interested in Chris Froome that might discover that Juan José Cobo was the original winner of the 2011 Vuelta, because elsewise Cobo doesn't really have the palmarés that will merit being taken to heart 30 years down the line.
 
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I Both Love and Hate this Thread. The arguing can be off putting but there are some good points made by each side (by side I mean an octagonal dimensions, meaning several view points) but hearing about riders I am not as familiar with is part of what I love about this thread and trying to weave into this the clinic part and whether there was a Level or Not dimension to even that part of the discussion.
 
Rating all big 7 one day races as 1 point, and the same with the GT's; I don't agree. Surely the TDF would have to be worth at least 2 points on this scale? It's the biggest race of the season, and it's 21 days of consistency and performance (well, maybe a week's worth of 'important' performance) as opposed to just 1 day. The Giro 1.5, and the Vuelta just 1 probably. And before the 90's the Vuelta could be worth even less. And the World's is surely worth more than Lombardia.
I'm a big fan of one-day races, but I must say that not single one shouldn't be valued more than any Grand Tour (well except maybe Vuelta pre-1980's).
 
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actually Cancellera, Boonen and Indurain before that. No idea what Cancellera is doing even in a top 50 list, honestly.

and no prob taking out contador, nibali and valverde as well, yes, thank you, that would be real easy to do.

FWIW, the French voted on best cyclists of the 20th century a while back and LeMond was second only to Merckx. Over Hinault, Anquetil, etc... They loved him!
Look, there are around 30 riders with 5-8 big wins in their career.
You can make a case for each of them belonging in the top20 list, and it most cases I wouldn't have much to argue against (except perhaps for guys like Bartoli or De Bruyne).

I normally prefer to rank athletes by tier and I do believe what separates this big group of riders from one antoher is mainly due to personal preferences. If one believes any race pales in comparison to the Tour de France then Lemond is a lock for top20 (but even more so Indurain). If one likes a varied palmares then Nibali is very hard to exclude. Number of overall wins are your thing? Make room for Sagan and Saronni.
It is really nuanced for me and I'm way too ignorant on cycling before the 90s to choose a side over the other.

There's one argument I've seen mentioned a few times that I truly don't agree with: dismissing one day wins because luck plays too big of a role. Well, it is probably true you can win a classic by "chance" (a la Hayman). But there's no way you can win the same Monument for 3 or 4 times because of luck, otherwise a lot of riders would pull it off during their careers.
 
So as long as you cross the finishline before you get banned or disqualified, it's all good.
Look at Jan and Lance - both were punished for the same offence in the same era. Officially, one is a Tour de France champion, the other is not. Regardless of what they did before and after they crossed the line, I think the man without a Tour win should be ranked maybe a little higher.
 
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Many people on this forum have attempted to compare different wins by assigning points to races. Problematically I've come to realize that not a single of these rankings wasn't created with the goal of highlighting just how great that person's favorite rider is.

That said, this of course doesn't apply to me and I don't understand how everybody fails to see that you should get most points by winning Itzulia, especially if you do it twice in eleven years.
This would be mine :laughing:
 
Many people on this forum have attempted to compare different wins by assigning points to races. Problematically I've come to realize that not a single of these rankings wasn't created with the goal of highlighting just how great that person's favorite rider is.

That said, this of course doesn't apply to me and I don't understand how everybody fails to see that you should get most points by winning Il Lombardia especially if you do it twice in three years.
I could conjure up some point system myself I'd consider relatively fair, but then I don't have the database ready to just hit the button and have it poop out a ranking.

I think most point systems tend to just use the year-by-year ranking systems and then add up points over the entire career which I don't entirely agree with. Like in tennis, YE#1 might be decided by an ATP 500, but it's not like anyone is gonna care about that tournament in the grand scheme of things, other than the rankings, which is a discussion for another sports forum. And even as a year-by-year system, most point systems give ridiculous amounts of points for small races and minor placings.

Now I'm also not a fan of just winging it without some guidelines cause muh consistency, and I do think not going by numbers makes people overrate a bunch of historical cyclists cause their myth is bigger than their results, and I also think this would be overwhelmingly biased towards the Tour.

But even with a point system where I'd consider the poitns for seperate events kinda fair, this would fail to take into account the uniqueness of achievements, would not give any credit for versatility, etc. I don't think winning one monument 4 times should be worth the same as winning 4 different ones once. Ideally I'd work in some sort of bonus system for certain records or something. You could work around that a little bit, but then there's a million small details you can endlessly bicker about.

What you can't work around is the changes of prestige of certain achievements over time. And this certainly goes both ways. Some races have just disappeared, some things like KOMs and points jerseys have lost a lot of value. At the same time, it's gotten a lot harder to win different sort of races, especially since the peloton is a lot stronger and more specialised overall. Winning Paris-Roubaix and the Tour de France in one career would be crazy now, while in the past it wasn't something impossible.
 
You just go by what results there are on the records books. Everyone you mention was punished appropriately according to the rules of the day and what they had done (or hadn't done).
Too many riders were not caught. Indurain being a likely example. And LA actually is another example, illustrating how big a role chance plays. Has anyone forgotten how close he was to going down in history as a legitimate winner of sevenTours, when Floyd opened up? IF LA had just given Floyd a job, nothing would have happened. Maybe years later, it would have all come out, but by then it would have been too late. As it was, it was seven years after LA's last Tour win that he was finally sanctioned and banned.

How about Contador? His samples happened to go to one of the few labs capable of detecting CB at the levels present in his urine. I could give some more examples, but we are in the wrong forum for this discussion.

Look at Jan and Lance - both were punished for the same offence in the same era. Officially, one is a Tour de France champion, the other is not.
I was going to point out that if you include LA, Ullrich looks pretty good, too, considering he rode most of his most important races vs. LA. Take LA out of the picture, and Ullrich has four Tour wins, two seconds (plus one stripped) and one third. Plus 2 WCTT, and an Olympic RR.

In fact, in a sense he did win four Tours, because though he officially finished second in three, no one finished ahead of him. Isn't that the definition of winning?
 

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