Guest Post: Who Is the Greatest Cyclist of All Time? The Ultimate Argument Settler.



Here I go with my second post for C.I. Hope you enjoy it, even if it's on the long side.

Every sports fan out there, regardless of the sport they follow, has had the inevitable, "Who Is the Greatest of All Times" conversation at least once. They will talk about Babe Ruth vs. McGwire, Pele vs. Maradona, Johnny Unitas vs. Joe Montana or Sachin Tendulkar vs. Brian Lara (I don't know shit about cricket, I just looked these dudes up on some website). The argument takes a turn for the worse when people realize that different eras meant different ways of playing the sport. Different scoring systems, better, more accurate officiating, different rules and other factors. Another aspect that may influence our opinion on the matter is personal preference. For example, I think Kaka is better than Lionel Messi, not because he's a better player, but because, overall, I don't like Argentinean players. Many standards may be set to determine "the best of all times", but you can find bias and cracks in all of them.

We have the same issue in cycling. Since I was a kid I've heard the Coppi vs. Merckx debate. Later Hinault came into the picture. Oh, boy! By the time Armstrong and Indurain had done their thing, I had stopped caring about the "best of all time" and was content with just enjoying the sport. But, just like the story of the first time you got drunk and puked on your shoes, the debate kept creeping up in conversations. With most Americans who know shit about cycling, the conversation usually goes like this:
Them: Ah, you ride a bike?
Me: Yeah.
Them: Like Lance Armstrong?
Me: Yeah.
Them: He had cancer, you know?
Me: Yeah.
Them: Testicular cancer.
Me: Yeah.
Them: He won the Tour of France a bunch of times.
Me: Yeah.
Them: He's the best of all time.
Me: Yeah.
Them: So, do you wear those funny shoes that clip into the pedals?
Me: Yeah.

Why bother arguing with someone who wouldn't even know the difference between a mountain bike and a road bike. These people think Armstrong won the Tour 23 times, riding a Huffy and have no idea that it's a 3 week race. Fuck them, I'll let them think whatever they want to, and let them be.

Some people know a little bit about cycling and when they find out I'm into it, they'll come up and...

Them: Eddy Merckx is the best of all time. Anyone who knows cycling will tell you that.
Me: Yeah.
Them: There was this guy from Spain who won the Tour of France a few times.
Me: Yeah.
Them: There's also a Tour in Italy, I think. Armstrong never won that. He only wins in France
Me: Yeah.
Them: Everyone who doesn't know cycling thinks Armstrong is the best. He's SO not.
Me: Yeah.
Them: They make bikes out of carbon now.
Me: Yeah.

The conversation with someone who knows a fair amount about the topic usually will go like this:
Them: Who do you think is the best of all time?
Me: I don't know, it's hard to say.
Them: Well, it HAS to be Anquetil, because his style was awesome, or Merckx because he won the most Grand Tours, or Bahamontes because he was the best climber of all times, or Zabel, because he won so may stages.
Me: Sure.
Them: Everyone who doesn't know cycling thinks Armstrong is the best. He's SO not.
Me: Yeah.
Them: I have a Cervelo S3.
Me: I need a drink. Now. Bye.

Unless I have a few hours to discuss the topic in depth with a knowledgeable, preferably friendly and humorous person, I just avoid the argument altogether. I avoid it mostly because I don't know the answer. What's NOT pointless, however, is reading about it in this blog. Why? Because yours truly; The SkullKrusher (omnipotent master of all things cycling) has come up with THE ultimate way to once and for all decide who the best cyclist of all times is. No, it's not based on the overall ridiculousness of your haircut (we all know Laurent Brochard would win hands down), or based on how much they look like a starving Ethiopian covered in flour (Rasmussen would win that, of course). My system actually comes from a much, much more reliable standard: Mathematics!

In order to understand my rating scale you must first know where it came from and how I developed it. Let me start by saying that I'm a complete nerd and have no friends (that's actually not true at all, but it gives this post a little more flavor, so bare with me). I am recently single, and just received a partially torn meniscus from a very unfriendly patch of pavement I met during a ride to see my ex, in order to try to get her back. It didn't work. You can laugh now. Since I can't ride and I have no one to hang out with, I'm left with plenty of time to think about the aforementioned Merckx versus Coppi debate. Maybe Coppi was the better overall cyclist, but since his career was split in half by WWII, we will never know how many more races he would have won. The reality is that Coppi, at the end of the day, only won 7 Grand Tours and Merckx won eleven. But does that settle the debate? I mean we all know that cycling is about a lot more than the three Grand Tours. For starters, what about Paris-Roubaix? It's a tough race. It may not make De Vlaeminck (4 wins) the best cyclist of all time, but classics and other races have to be included if we're to come up with a rating system (and thus a consensus), right? Well, Roubaix can't be worth as much as a Grand Tour win, but it's worth more than winning La Fleche Wallonne. As I started to figure this all out, things started to get interesting. I started to make a list of all the races that should be included in the equation. I figured out how much each one would be worth. After hours and hours (and I mean hours and hours) of internet research and old school pen/paper action, I came up with what I think is a fair rating system. I believe it to be fair and balanced and if you disagree with me, you can kiss my ass. For the record, said ass will probably be sitting on the couch, where it usually is these days.


The criteria
I decided to only include road cyclists, whose careers happened mostly after the 1930s. Before then it was way too easy to cheat by hanging on to cars, getting a lift from a guy on a mule, or spreading nails on the road, etc. I'm not saying that type of shit hasn't happened since, but it was much more common then. Also, most of us don't know those names, so it wouldn't be as much fun.

The point system
After lots and lots of work, I came up with this point system:

Grand tour GC
Win: 9 pts.
2nd: 3 pts.
3rd: 1 pt.

Grand tour jersey competition
Mountain/points/sprint etc.: 2 pts.

Grand tour stages
Stage win: 1 pt.

Other stage races GC*
Dauphine Libere: 2 pts.
Paris-Niece: 2 pts.
Tirreno Adriatico: 2 pts.
Vuelta al Pais Vasco 2 pts.

Classics
Milan-San Remo: 3 pts.
Paris-Roubaix: 3 pts.
Tour of Flanders: 3 pts.
Amstel Gold: 3 pts.
Liege-Bastogne-Liege: 3 pts.
Clasica San Sebastian: 1 pt.
Giro di Lombardia: 1 pt.
Fleche Wallonne: 1 pt.

Other shit
Gold medal for TT or road in the Olympics: 3 pts.
TT or Road World Championship: 3 pts.
Hour Record: 1 pt.
Trofeo Baracchi: 1 pt.

*the reason I only gave 2 points for a smaller stage race and 3 to certain classics, is because most teams use these stage races for preparation and training, making them "less important" in the calendar. Some of the Classics, though, are races that teams prepare for.


The Results
Here I give you the Top 25 Cyclists of All Times, according to my most awesome super nerdy, time consuming, headache giving system in the world:



1. Eddy Merckx - 218 pts.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that Merckx is number 1. With 11 Grand Tours wins, 3 World Championships and 7 Milan-San Remos, The Cannibal is by far the best, and the most prolific cyclist of all time. His sideburns were also the most powerful in cycling history.



2. Bernard Hinault - 149 pts.
The Badger won all 3 Grand Tours, a slew of Classics and he was World Champion. Why is Hinault crying in this picture? Two reasons, because the sponsors made him wear a headband, and because he knew he'd eventually end up working as a bouncer.



3. Fausto Coppi - 127 pts.
Coppi won the Giro and the Tour in the same year twice – in 1949 and 1952. He never raced in La Vuelta. He had a huge nose.



4. Miguel Induarin - 120 pts.
One of my favorite riders of all time, Indurain won the Tour 5 years in a row and did the Tour/Giro double in 1992 and 1993. Oddly enough he never won his home Grand Tour: La Vuelta. "Miguelon", as he was known in Spain, is perhaps the only cyclist in history who could give Sean Kelly a run for his money in the contest of who had the least personality off the bike.



5. Jaques Anquetil - 109 pts.
The smooth-riding Frenchman was the first to win the Tour five times in a row, and won the Grand Prix of Nations an impressive 9 times. He was the first cyclist to sport a pompadour to lower his aerodynamic drag.



6. Gino Bartali - 105 pts.
Just 4 points behind Anquetil comes the beloved Italian who is better known for being second to Coppi, than his actual palmares.



7. Tony Rominger - 88 pts.
Big gap between "The Greats" (1 through 6) and everyone else. Edging Armstrong by only a bit, Rominger is the first in the "Not So Good" class. The Swiss dominated the Vuelta in the early 90s, and broke the hour record (HPVA/WHPVA) twice in 1994.



8. Lance Armstrong - 87 pts.
Now, when randoms ask you if Lance is "the best", you can tell them, "Nah, he's like the 8th best."



9. Laurent Fignon - 82 pts.
I know he has the whole cancer thing going on now, but I could never get myself to like this pompous asshole. Note the small gap between him and Armstrong.



10. Mario Cipollini - 72 pts.
Everyone's favorite flamboyant sexy-man, Cipo never came even close to winning a Grand Tour, but won over 50 stages in them.



11. Roger De Vlaeminick - 71 pts.
Monsieur Paris-Roubaix won The Hell of the North a record four times and Tirreno-Adriatico a record six. He also won Milan-San Remo, the Tour of Flanders, Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Giro di Lombardia and La Fleche Wallone. I was hoping this guy was gonna be higher on the list, but we can all agree he is the King of the Classics. He was also the king of wearing chaps during training rides. Seriously.



12. Laurent Jalabert - 69 pts.
Sixty-nine points... Ha ha! Sixty-nine... In 1997, Jaja won the ITT World Championship, Paris-Niece, the Giro di Lombardia and La Fleche Wallonne. Not a bad year. Is he wearing a beeper around his wrist in this picture? Was he checking it and that's why he crashed? We'll never know.



13. Felice Gimondi - 67 pts.
The Phoenix Gimondi was only the second cyclist in history to win all 3 major Tours.



14. Sean Kelly - 62 pts.
Sure, he has the personality of a cinder block, but this fucker could race. His Paris-Roubaix wins are truly awesome, dare I say "epic" races.



15. Francesco Moser - 60 pts.
One of my childhood idols, he won Paris-Roubaix three times and broke Merckx's hour record in 1984.



16. Louis Bobet - 59 pts.
The Frenchman won the Tour 3 times and multiple spring Classics during the 1950s.



17. Erik Zabel - 56 pts.
This beast of a racer won the Green Jersey in the Tour six fucking times. Sometimes he got sad (as seen above), because his haircut was so ridiculous.



18. Fiorenzo Magni - 55 pts.
Three Giros and three Tours of Flanders in the 1950s.



19. Alessandro Petacchi - 51 pts.
Another sprinter in the top 20. Only 4 stage wins in the Tour, but over 20 in the Giro and 19 in the Vuelta. He's probably going to win a few more Giro stages, but being in a crappy team, I doubt he'll ever go back to France or Spain.


20. Greg LeMond - 50 pts.
Love him or hate him, the jackass did win the Tour 3 times, was World Champion twice and had the balls to call out His Majesty King Armstrong.



21. Alberto Contador - 49 pts.
At age 27 and years before he retires, El Pistolero has already won all 3 Grand Tours. He is already in 21st place and will probably break into the top 10 in the next 2 seasons.



22. Jan Jansen - 48 pts.
First Dutch to win the Tour, World Champion in 1964 and won Roubaix in 1967. Nice glasses, chief! And nice pigeons, too.



23. Charly Gaul - 47 pts.
Better known in the cyclo-cross world, this Luxembourger won the Giro twice and the Tour once.



24. Jan Ullrich - 44 pts.
The eternal runner-up, he always wished that his first name was Lars. He also wished that his freckles weren't so creepy, and that he didn't get too fat in the off season.



25. Marco Pantani - 43 pts
Weeeeee, Pantani comes in at 25, despite how many bandanas have sold worldwide after his death.


Other people of note I did for fun

Federico Bahamontes - 42 pts.
Pedro Delgado - 42 pts.
Robetro Heras - 41 pts.
Denis Menchov - 41 pts.
Jan Raas - 40 pts.
Paolo Bettini - 35 pts.
Stephen Roche - 32 pts.
Luis Herrera - 31 pts.
Tom Boonen - 28 pts.
Alexander Vinokourov - 28 pts.
Fabian Cancellara - 27 pts.
Damiano Cunego - 24 pts.
Mark Cavendish - 19 pts.
Ivan Basso - 19 pts.
Claudio Chiapucci - 19 pts.
Thor Hushovd - 15 pts.
Cadel Evans - 11 pts.
Andy Schleck - 9 pts.
Iban Mayo - 8 pts.
Fabio Parra - 8 pts.
Alessandro Ballan - 7 pts.
Fränk Schleck - 5 pts.
Jens Voigt - 5 pts.
Mauricio Soler - 3 pts.
Sylvain Chavanel - 1 pt.
Wim Vansevenant - 0 pts. (only man to finish as lanterne rouge at The Tour three times)


So, there you have it. What did we learn today? Well, nothing, really. I'm sure you all probably had a good idea of who'd be in the Top 10, but at least, I settled the argument with hard evidence. Everyone will now follow my system and no one will ever disagree on the topic ever again. Tell your friends.

Did we forget anyone? Did we get the point system wrong? Will this help you settle arguments with your uncle Earl when you're back home for Christmas?