The Greatest Road Cyclists of All Time

Marc Lindsay
by Marc Lindsay
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The Greatest Road Cyclists of All Time

In its 149-year history, there have been some seriously awesome cyclists competing in the professional peloton. While compiling a best of list is a largely subjective task, we’ve taken our best shot and ranked the 10 greatest cyclists to have ever ridden a road bike.


Photo Credit: Cindy

Without a doubt, Vos is the best women’s cyclist. She’s a world champion in just about every discipline from mountain biking to cyclocross — the latter of which she’s won seven world titles. On the road, Vos won gold at the 2012 Olympics and is a three-time World Road Race champion. Add in her many victories in the one-day women’s Classics and the Giro d’Italia Femminile, and it’s easy to see why she is largely considered the Eddy Merckx of women’s cycling. The only thing holding her back from moving up this list is the limited number of high-profile women’s road races on the pro event calendar.


Photo Credit: Brandan Ryan

With 48 stage victories in Grand Tours, Cavendish trails only Mario Cipollini (57) for victories by a sprinter. Our guess is he’ll pass that number by the time he’s finished, and when you add in his 30 Tour de France stage victories (which trails only Merckx), his World Road Championship victory in 2011, his 2009 victory at Milan San-Remo and his points classification wins at the Giro, Tour de France and Vuelta, it’s hard to argue against Cavendish being the greatest sprinter the sport has ever seen.


Photo Credit: Peter

Like him or hate him, what Lance did on the road was nothing short of remarkable. While it’s easy to argue his results are tainted, Armstrong beat the best of the best — most of whom were also using performance-enhancing drugs. Steroid era aside, his seven consecutive Tour de France victories were the most by any cyclist. He also has a world championship to his name (1993) and won a bronze medal at the 2000 Olympic Games.


Photo Credit: Ciclismo Italia

Although Fausto Coppi got the better of Bartali later in his career, there’s no doubt the Italian ranks among the all-time greats. Bartali was the first cyclist to win the yellow jersey and the king of the mountains jersey in the same Tour de France (1938) — then did it again 10 years later. Overall Bartali won 170 races, including the Tour de France twice, the Giro d’Italia three times, Milan-San Remo four times, the Tour of Lombardy three times and the mountains classification in the Giro seven times.


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Among the greatest individual time-trial cyclists of all time, Indurain won 8-of-10 Tour de France time trials during his five consecutive Tour de France victories (1991-95). His most famous time trial occurred in the Tour in 1992, where he gapped the field by more than  3 minutes, and put 6 minutes into rival Laurent Fignon on the way to overall victory. Indurain also won the Giro d’Italia twice and the first World Championship Time Trial in 1995.


Photo Credit: Tom70s

One of the greatest Italian champions of all time, Gimondi is one of only three riders in history to win the Tour de France, the Giro d’Italia, the Vuelta a Espana, the World Road Championships and Paris Roubaix in his career. The all-around champion is also the only Italian to win every Grand Tour and won two other cycling monuments with victories at Milan San-Remo in 1974 and the Tour of Lombardy in 1966 and 1973. Gimondi was one of the few riders in history capable of winning any race he lined up for, and were it not for riding in the same era as the legendary Merckx we could very well be talking about Gimondi being the greatest cyclist ever.



Photo Credit: Tom70s

The first cyclist in history to win the Tour de France five times, flashy, stylish Frenchman Anquetil was also the first to win all three Grand Tours — including the Giro d’Italia twice. In his day, Anquetil was known as the world’s greatest time trialist, having captured the prestigious Grand Prix des Nations a record nine times. All told, Anquetil won 200 road races, and his eight Grand Tour victories trail only Merckx and Bernard Hinault in the record books.


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Despite being unable to compete during the prime of his career because of World War II, Il Campionissimo (The Champion of Champions) still claimed victory at seven Grand Tours — the Giro d’Italia a record five times and the Tour de France twice. What gives Coppi the edge over some of the others on this list, though, was his well-roundedness, having won the World Road Championships, Paris Roubaix, Milan-San Remo (three times) and the Tour of Lombardy five times for a total of nine victories in the one-day Classics. In the history of the sport, there are clearly only two cyclists able to top these kind of career stats.


Photo Credit: Tom70s

With 250 professional victories, 52 time-trial wins, 10 Grand Tour titles and five victories in cycling’s one-day Classics, it’s truly amazing that another rider has managed to surpass what Hinault was able to do in his cycling career. “The Badger” was known for his aggressive, attacking style and was a complete rider who had no weaknesses on the bike. Hinault was also the only rider besides Merckx to win the green, polka dot and yellow jerseys (points, mountains and overall classifications) in the Tour de France and was the World Road Race Champion in 1980.


Photo Credit: Iban

For 10 years, Merckx dominated professional cycling like few athletes have in the history of sport. Nicknamed “The Cannibal” for the way he devoured his competitors with his have-no-mercy style, Merckx is both the greatest Grand Tour rider and the greatest one-day Classics rider ever. In a sport filled with specialists in the modern era, we may never again see a cyclist who’s capable of winning every single major race on the pro calendar the way Merckx was. Of his record 445 victories as a professional, here are a few of his most notable achievements:

  • Five-time Tour de France champion
  • Five-time Giro d’Italia champion
  • 11 Grand Tour Victories
  • 19 wins in cycling’s five monuments
  • Winner of the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and the Road World Championships to complete cycling’s triple crown.
  • Seven-time Milan San Remo champion

About the Author

Marc Lindsay
Marc Lindsay

Marc is a freelance writer based in Scottsdale, Arizona. He holds a master’s degree in writing from Portland State University and is a certified physical therapy assistant. An avid cyclist and runner of over 20 years, Marc contributes to LAVA, Competitor and Phoenix Outdoor magazines. He is the former cycling editor for


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