The lost art of the nickname

Perhaps I'm wrong, but the days when nearly every professional cyclist had a nickname appear to be long gone. Sure, a few riders have nicknames, but they're seldom used by fans, and when used by the media they seem rather forced. Even in the throes of Lance-mania, no one really called him Mellow Johnny, even though we're now told that was his nickname.

Sure, there's the God of Thunder, Spartacus and other similarly unused nicknames today, which writers use in print as a way of not having to say "Cancellara" or "Hushovd" over and over again. We also see them in custom paints jobs on frames, but I have yet to hear anyone say "Wow, did you see the God of Thunder win that stage today?"

What's rather strange is that many riders are simply begging for proper nicknames and have yet to get one. Andy Schleck's bird-like looks have yet to inspire anyone in the media to come up with a proper nickname for him. Similarly, Philippe Gilbert's face, which looks like it caught on fire and was subsequently put out with soccer cleats, has yet to garner a single nickname (at least in English).

Things weren't always like this. Moreover, in Colombia, almost every rider continues to have a nickname. These are readily used by fans and the press instead of the rider's proper name. They aren't simply used by sponsors on custom saddles that reveal nicknames none of us really knew existed (Tommy D, I'm looking in your general direction).

So you've heard people talk about the good ol' days of steel frames, as they moan about carbon fiber. You've heard some others complain about the fact that drivetrains ever went past seven, eight, nine, or ten speeds. Well, I'm far worse than any of those people. I'm here to mourn the death of the nickname.

Consider Roberto "Pajarito" Buitrago (pictured above) whose nickname ("Little Bird") came about as a result of his ability to fly away from competitors during climbs. Not only did Buitrago have a nickname, his team truck did as well. It was called La Jaula, The Birdcage. You can see it's name written faintly along the back of the truck. The nickname came about due to Buitrago's nickname, but also because of the truck's cage-like rear deck, where his brothers would ride along, hosing him down, passing him food, and fixing his bikes after crashes.

Pajarito Buitrago today

For the record, it's also worth mentioning that Buitrago's greatest rival was Rubèn Darìo Gòmez, was known throughout Colombia as "El Tigrillo De Pereira" (The Oncilla or Ocelot of Pereira). But many others had and still have nicknames. As I said earlier, many of these are used instead of someone's proper name. "Cochise", for example (one of the first Colombian professionals, holder of the hour-record, and Giro stage winner), is never referred to by his real name, Martín Emilio Rodríguez. Even cycling fans in Colombia won't know who you are referring to at first. He's simply Cochise.

Here are just a few, which I've tried to translate and/or explain when possible:

Luis "El Jardinerito" Herrera
(The Little Gardner, as a result of Herrera working in a farm near his native Fusagasuga)

Edgar "Condorito" Corredor
(Little Condor, based on this popular comic strip)

Antonio "Tomate" Agudelo
(Tomato, as a result of his round head and rather rosy appearance)

Rogelio "El Carnicero" Arango
(The Butcher)

Martín Emilio "Cochise" Rodríguez
(Due to his affinity for Western movies and TV shows. Rogriguez admired Cochise as a figure in native american culture)

Henry "Cebollita" Cardenas
(Little Onion, as a result of people mistakenly thinking he was from a town famous for growing onions)

Alvaro "Corazon De Fantasia" Lozano
(Heart Full of Fantasy/Wonder, as a result of his diagnosed heart condition)

Hernan "El Cabrito De Barichara" Buenahora
(The Goat from Barichara)

Efrain "Indominable Zipa" Forero
(The Indominable Chief, a reference to a chief among native tribes in pre-conquest Colombia)

Argemiero "El Polaco" Bohorquez
(Pole or Polish, due to his unusually European-looking complection and hair color.)

Ruben Dario "El Diablo" Beltran
(The Devil)

Carlos Emiro "La Hormiguita" Gutierrez
(The Little Ant)

Julio Ernesto "El Hermano" Bernal
(Brother, because of the fact that he was a member of a religious order)

Israel "Pinocho" Corredor
(Pinocchio, obviously because of straight and long nose)

Javier Ignacio "La Pantera" Montoya
(The Panther)

Manuel "Jumbo" Cardenas
(Jumbo, like a 747 Jumbo Jet)

Luis "La Bala" Diaz
(The Bullet)

Edgar "El Gato" Arias
(The Cat)

Victor "Chicharra" Niño
(It's literally means cicada, but can also mean someone who talks a lot, makes a lot of noise.)

Alvaro "El Condor de Cundinamarca" Pachon
(The Condor of Cundinamarca, the department where Bogota is located. Pachon's nose is decidedly condor-like, as was his ability to soar over mountain passes)

Miguel "Don Coraje" Samaca
(Mister Courage)

Jose Luis "Mayordomo" Venegas

Alvaro "El Cometa" Mejia
(The Comet)

Javier "El Milagroso" Zapata
(The Miraculous)

Hector Ivan "El Mono" Palacio
(In Colombia, the word "mono" means either monkey, or blondie)

Armando "El Tanguero" Moreno
(The Tango Dancer)

Nestor "La Pulga" Bernal
(The Flea)

Carlos Humberto "Orejita" Cabrera
(Tiny Ear, because of his not-so-tiny ears)

Felix "El Gato" Cardenas
(The Cat, as in Felix The Cat)

Humberto "Eriso" Hernandez
(The Hedgehog)

Jose "El Leon de Bucaramanga" Serpa(The lion of Bucaramanga, his city of birth. Oddly enough, there's actually been reports of a lion sightings in suburban Bucaramanga recently. Perhaps Jose was out training)

Eduardo "El Guerrero Del Camino" Guerrero
(The Warrior of the Road)

Victor Hugo "El Tiburon" Peña
(The Shark, in part because Victor Hugo excelled at swimming and held numerous national records before he started cycling)

Patrocinio "Viejo Patro" Jimenez
(Old Patro, based on his first name)

Omar "El Zorro" Hernandez
(The Fox)

Alberto "El Toro" Camargo
(The Bull)

Jose "Chepe" Gonzalez
(Chepe is a shortened version of several names, no real way to translate it. Watch Chepe win a stage at the Tour here)

Nelson "Cacaito" Rodriguez
(Term of endearment derived from the cocoa bean)

Miguel Angel "El Raton" Sanabria
(The mouse)

Roberto "El Sastre de Envigado" Cano
(The tailor from Envigado)

Carlos "El Ladron De Corazones" Orejuela
(He who steals hearts)

Juan Esteban "Pantalla" Montoya
(Movie Screen, due to his large forehead)

Arturo "Peluca" Lopez
(Wig, due to his hair)

If anyone knows of any Colombian nicknames I've missed, feel free to share them. If you have a favorite nickname (for a rider from any country), or you'd like to make one up, share them in the comments section. Let the fun begin.