One can’t simply jump into this argument and start firing off names regarding who is cool and who is simply not cool in the pro tour peloton. Ground rules need to be established first, or at least some solid guidelines and worthy benchmarks. Remember this is about cool and not class, I feel it’s important to distinguish between the two. Many of the cool riders mentioned will overlap with class but class is not the aim of this article.
Road cycling is an old sport and has always had its share of cool and not so cool heroes along the way. Cool doesn’t mean he is always the winner. The coolest riders transcend all of that into a status of their own. At the very pinnacle of cool, they become the people’s champion regardless of the result. These are cycling icons who leave their mark on the sport when they leave.
Cycling’s golden years were the 1940’s. If you have any clue, you would think Fausto Coppi the minute I said 1940’s. If you didn’t think Fausto Coppi, then you are just not very cool yourself and you may well need to join the Ion Göttlich school of cycling cool. Coppi seemed to ride a bicycle so effortlessly and with so much grace that he was known as the fallen angel. Once he broke away, the peloton would not see him again until the podium. He won everything there was to win; from an hour record that stood 14 years to the grand tours and spring classics. His depth will never truly be known since many races stopped during the 2nd world war and he was unable to race. From 1943 to 1944 he was a prisoner of war held by the British in North Africa. Part of being cool is being a bit of a bad boy, and again Coppi had this covered when he was caught up in a scandalous love affair with the “Woman in White” Giulia Occhini. Affairs in our time are not such a big deal but in the 40’s, Italy was a strait-laced country in which adultery was thought of poorly.
Ultimately for any master of cool to be respected a solid rival is needed. Coppi was no stranger to rivalry with the legendary Gino Bartali, a rivalry so great that together they owned the cycling world much to the frustration of the French and Belgians.
Sadly, Coppi left this world far too early at the age of 41 after contracting malaria in Africa. But then again that’s exactly what the coolest always seem to do, they leave us wanting more.
Fausto Coppi looking ever so cool in a solo break with his killer shades.
1960’s Cool - Jacques Anquetil
Just being French gives him a good start with the cool factor. Along with a killer accent he had hair and chiseled features from the gods. Much like Coppi, Anquetil won pretty much everything including 5 Tour de Frances. Anquetil had a rival to ensure he kept his cool and this came in the form of Raymond Poulidor also known as the eternal second, thanks to Anquetil.
There is even a book about him called Sex, Lies and Handlebar Tape! Now what’s not cool about that!
Here is my mobile number, yup that’s right,l Anquetil was so cool that he probably already had an iPhone.
1970’s Cool - Eddy Merckx
It’s hard not to mention Merckx since he is arguably the best cyclist of all time. Having won over 500 races in his time. Merckx wouldn’t care if it was was a small local race or the Tour de France, he was winning it! It was that very attitude that awarded him the cool nickname “The Cannibal”. On top of that he knew how to wear a casquette (known as a cycling cap for the uncool) and he had good hair even when he wasn’t wearing the casquette!
While Merckx had a few rivals such as Joop Zoetemelk and Raymond Poulidor I feel it was Luis Ocaña that was most feared and respected by Merckx. Ocaña could match Merckx’s cool and power in the pedals but was more fragile than the Cannibal. At the end of the day nobody had Merckx’s killer instinct.
This picture we see clearly what his competitors were thinking just by the expression on their face. In this expression I read WTF!
1980’s Cool - Laurent Fignon
When asked if he was the guy that lost the Tour de France in 1989 by 8 seconds to Greg Lemond, Fignon would answer, “No, I’m the guy that won it twice!”
Fignon was so strong in ‘84 that he recalls laughing at Bernard Hinault (5 time tour winner) when he continually attacked fignon on the 17th stage. Fignon went on to win that Tour de France with a 10 minute margin.
Fignon was known as the professor because of his glasses and ponytail. The very same ponytail that cost him the 1989 Tour de France. He lost the Tour by 8 seconds to Greg Lemond on the final stage that was a Time Trial that year. It is said, had he worn an aero helmet he would have won his third tour. Fignon was never quite the same after that loss, that in itself is kind of cool in a dark way.
Sadly, the Professor left us in 2009 due to cancer. He always will be one of my favourite of all the legends.
Fignon looks like he is contemplating particle physics while he is about to drop Bernard Hinault.
1990’s Cool - Mario Cippolini
The 90’s was blessed with “cool” and there are so many to pick from; Claudio Chiappucci, Maurizio Fondriest, Marco Pantani, Alex Zülle, Richard Virenque and Laurent Jalabert. One person stands out from the general cool like a towering iceberg. He alone without a doubt took cool to the next level. He is none other than Mario Cipollini the Lion King or also known as Super Mario!
I remember reading an article back in the 90’s as an eager teenager about Mario and his new Mercedes SL cabrio. In the article he told the journalist that he likes the cabrio but he needs to put extra gel in his hair so that it doesn’t get messed up. I suspect it was that very gel that protected his cool cranium when crashing at high speed during mental sprint finishes without a helmet on, on more than one occasion. Cippolini was a sprinter but not just any sprinter. He was so fast that once got out of that saddle nobody could come past him or barely even sit in his cool slipstream. It was Cipollini that invented the sprint train, the very same sprint train we see all the sprinter teams use today.
Cipollini was the ultimate showman of the 1990’s and takes that decade without a doubt.
Let me just take a puff of this ciggy before I smash out the winning sprint with my perfect hair.
I think as we ramp up to our time it would be good to mention a few “Tools” along the way.
n the 1990’s one name pops up almost immediately into my awesome cranium.
1990’s Tool - Djamolidine Abdoujaparov
I know with a name like Djamolidine Abdoujaparov one can’t help but think, WOW, this guy must be cool. Don’t be a fool, this guy was a proper tool!
To start off with he looked like a cannonball, not exactly elegant. Ironically, he rode his bike like a cannonball as well. He would throw his bike from side to side so that it was impossible to be close to him without getting elbowed in the face. He makes Cavendish look like he can sprint in a straight line. On top of that he probably sprinkled his eggs with testosterone while hitting a shot glass of EPO in the morning. If he was in the sprint finish somebody would end up in the barrier with a mouth full of cobbles, including himself.
Abdou taking a one of his infamous power naps after a sprint finish.
2000’s Cool & Tool - Lance Armstrong
This was an interesting decade in cycling for obvious reasons. Much like the 90’s, it too had many cool riders. One rider stands out to me more than anyone else as both “Cool” and a “Super Tool”. This is Lance Armstrong. Think of it as a 2 for 1 scenario.
I know your little puritan brain is shouting at me, “No Ion! How could you say that! Don’t you know about all the stuff he’s done?” Well let me educate you as to why…
Armstrong, like him or not, changed the sport and even changed cycling apparel. Think long socks, longer cycling shorts and sleeves. For me the thing that stands out as impressive more than anything else is the fact that he mostly stayed upright on his bike for 7 years! This is no small thing to do given the volatile nature of a speeding peloton. For 7 years he avoided the dreaded broken collarbone, illness and the rest of the uncontrollable circumstances that could have wrecked his tour progress. He was the “Boss” of the peloton for most of that decade.
Like 90% of the riders in the peloton he was on the gas. EPO was undetectable for some of the decade and riders really took advantage of that. Armstrong as we all know was deep into it along with other banned substances, however this is not the main reason he is a tool in my opinion. He is a tool for what he did to people that challenged him, even though most of the people that challenged him were all just as dirty and only looking to make a buck out of an ugly situation. Nonetheless he sold a false dream to many vulnerable people and kids with dreams, only leaving them all disappointed and bitter.
I like this image because it seems to plague my conscious, it’s like wow, 7 tours, then in the same breath, oh no you are a douche, but then again you are cool…….grrrr you are also a tool! It’s all so complex.
Current Day Cool - Peter Sagan
It’s a no brainer really, cycling has a new Rock Star and he comes in the form of the exceptionally talented Peter Sagan. It’s not like Sagan doesn’t have competition either, he is in the same peloton as the perfect hair day every day Marcel Kittel. Kittel races an entire tour stage, wins by blasting past Cavendish like he is standing still, then takes his helmet off to reveal perfect hair! Like how is that even possible! AND (Wait, I know how that is possible, because it happens to me also, but how can it happen twice during the same era?) Yet even with that sort of cool competition Sagan still rises to the top. We have not seen such a (myself excluded) Rock Star since Mario Cipollini in the 90’s, infact even Cipollini says Sagan is a Rock Star! Sagan has recently been ushered into the realm of legends after winning worlds last year and Flanders this year.
Sagan will wheelie over the line as if he is Valentino Rossi in a moto GP, do a heel click jump on the podium, land and pinch the bouquet girls arse while she falls in love with him wanting to have his talented children. He will then not bite the gold medal but swallow it whole, turn around with a peace sign go home and make a Grease music video tribute on youtube and get 1 million views in 3 days. Say no more!
Picture taken briefly before making bouquet girls weak at the knees.
Current Day Tool - Chris Froome
I know I’m cruel but I only speak the truth. I actually can’t think of another Tour de France winner that at least doesn’t have some cool or class. Even Big Mig (Miguel Indurain) in the 90’s who somewhat resembled a robot had an element of cool to him.
Sure Froome seems to know how to get the watts out and win the Tour de France, but to that I say Watteva!!! He is robotic and boringly calculated. It feels like David Brailsford codes him in the morning and sets him free to run through the simulation in the afternoon. He says all the right things as if programmed too…. “I assure you this is the win that will stand the test of time yadda yadda”, wake me up when he is retired please. What’s with the way he rides a bike? Never have I seen such an awkward style. Also, can Froome please stop crashing all the time and breaking his birdlike bones. Ok I’ll leave it at that as I’m not here to offend the sensitive.
Brailsford is probably saying something like, “I think the new Sky-Watt version 2.1 software we uploaded into your brain device may fix some of the bugs and aid you in staying upright in this stage to win the Tour once again” We have included a new “RUN” app if you do crash.. You will notice the cable sticking out of Froome’s brain that Sky use to upload updates on Froome.