The Greatest Ever: 10 Best Cyclists of All Time

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Few sports revere the heroes of their past quite like cycling.

From the anguish of Laurent Fignon’s ill-fated charge on the Champs-Élysées as the 1989 Tour slipped through his fingers, to the glorious duels of Bartali and Coppi in the Giro d’Italia’s Golden Age, to the sheer joy of Cavendish’s record-equalling 34th Tour stage win – the icons of cycling define the sport’s mythology.

Even among legends, though, some stand above the rest.

Join us as we embark on a journey through cycling history to settle on our list of the 10 Best Cyclists of All Time – as chosen by the BikeTips team.

The Best Cyclists of All Time: Title Image
Credit: Noske, J.D./AnefoCC BY-SA 3.0 NL, via Wikimedia Commons. Edited from the original.

#10. Mark Cavendish

Mark Cavendish in the green jersey at the Tour de France 2021, smiling and giving a thumbs up away from the camera.
© A.S.O./Charly Lopez

Mark Cavendish – the “Manx Missile” – is a name synonymous with speed, determination, and unparalleled sprinting prowess.

Cavendish’s remarkable career is defined by his turbocharged sprinting abilities, which have earned him a staggering number of victories.

With a record-equalling 34 Tour de France stage victories to his name, Cavendish’s dominance in flat stages is unparalleled, and his explosive launch and impeccable positioning in the final stretches made him the dominant force in sprinting for over a decade.

Beyond the Tour, his impressive haul of victories includes the World Road Race Championships, 17 stages at the Giro d’Italia, 3 at the Vuelta a España, the Milan-San Remo classic, as well as three Track World Championships and an Olympic silver medal.

Cavendish’s success is a testament to his resilience, repeatedly bouncing back from setbacks and injuries – including depression and the debilitating Epstein-Barr virus – to reclaim his spot at the pinnacle of sprinting excellence.

With Cavendish set to retire at the end of this season, his attempts to win a 35th stage and claim the outright record for himself ended in heartbreak when he crashed out on Stage 8 of this year’s Tour de France – though rumors are already swirling that the Manx Missile might be tempted to postpone retirement for one last shot at the record in 2024.

Regardless, his charisma, sportsmanship, and dedication have made him a fan favorite, inspiring generations to take up the sport. In the annals of cycling history, Mark Cavendish’s legacy burns bright as indisputably the greatest sprint cyclist of all time.

#9. Greg LeMond

Greg LeMond is a true cycling pioneer with an indelible place among the best cyclists of all time.

The American’s triumphs include three iconic Tour de France victories, each marked by his unwavering determination and innovative approaches to training and equipment, in addition to two World Road Race Championships.

He remains one of just three non-European Tour de France winners in history, alongside Egan Bernal (Colombia) and Cadel Evans (Australia).

LeMond’s central role in several of the most iconic moments in Tour de France history fixes his place as one of the sport’s true greats.

His titanic battle with teammate and five-time champion Bernard Hinault at the 1986 Tour – which LeMond would ultimately win – climaxed on the 21 legendary hairpins to Alpe d’Huez, with the two crossing the line arm-in-arm in one of cycling’s most enduring images.

However, LeMond’s finest achievement undoubtedly came at the 1989 Tour de France – widely regarded as the greatest in history.

After his maiden victory in 1986, LeMond suffered a near-fatal shooting in a hunting accident which kept him off the bike for almost two years. That he was able to return to racing was in itself remarkable, but he struggled desperately to find form and intended to retire after the 1989 Tour.

To the shock of the cycling world – and himself – LeMond battled ferociously with favorite Laurent Fignon for the yellow jersey throughout, but ultimately arrived at the final-stage time trial with a seemingly-insurmountable 50-second deficit to the Frenchman.

However, a time-trial performance for the ages, combined with the innovative use of “aero bars“, saw him overhaul Fignon by a mere eight seconds – the closest finish in Tour de France history.

LeMond’s strategic acumen and tenacity finally broke the European stranglehold, inspiring a new era of American cycling. LeMond’s impact reverberates through the sport, earning him an eternal place in the annals of cycling greatness.

#8. Felice Gimondi

Felice Gimondi was a colossus of cycling.

The Italian’s remarkable career spanned the 1960s and 1970s, carving an indelible mark on the sport. His triumphs included victories in all three Grand Tours – the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia, and Vuelta a España – a feat achieved by only seven riders in history.

Gimondi’s prowess extended beyond stage races. He excelled in one-day Classics such as Milan-San Remo and the Giro di Lombardia, and claimed a World Road Race Championship in 1973.

His versatility and consistency showcased his true mastery of the sport’s diverse challenges. With an impressive palmarès, Gimondi’s impact reverberates through generations, inspiring riders to embrace the rigors of both stage races and one-day battles.

His legacy, marked by tenacity, sportsmanship, and a love for the sport, cements his status as one of the best cyclists of all time.

#7. Gino Bartali

Gino Bartali’s rivalry with Fausto Coppi defined a golden age of cycling that captivated a continent.

Bartali’s legacy is etched with triumphs including three Giro d’Italia victories and two Tour de France titles, uniquely falling before and after the Second World War. His climbing prowess and tenacity on grueling mountain stages were unparalleled by all bar Coppi.

Beyond the podium, Bartali’s legacy shines even brighter. Amidst the darkness of World War II, the Italian smuggled false documents by bike to protect Jewish lives and aid the Italian Resistance, brazenly relying on his fame to dissuade arrest.

Bartali’s enduring impact is a testament to his prowess on two wheels and his unwavering integrity off the road. Undoubtedly, his list of cycling honors would be even more decorated without the interruption of war.

#6. Miguel Induráin

Miguel Induráin – nicknamed “Big Mig” – redefined the concept of Grand Tour supremacy with a period of unmatched dominance in the 1990s.

His unprecedented five consecutive Tour de France victories and two Giro d’Italia triumphs showcased a devastating blend of time trial prowess and climbing ability. He also claimed the time trial title at the 1996 Olympics and the 1995 World Championships and held the highly prestigious Hour Record.

He has also been described as a “physiological freak” uniquely adapted to cycling. Tests by the University of Ferrara famously found his resting pulse was 28 bpm (compared to 72 bpm for an average human) and a cardiac output of 50 liters per minute – double that of a typical cyclist.

Indurain’s humility and modesty masked an insurmountable will to succeed. His meticulous approach to training and unflinching consistency made him an indomitable force against the clock and on challenging ascents.

#5. Marianne Vos

Marianne Vos riding for Jumbo-Visma in the yellow jersey in the Tour de France Femmes, riding a Cervelo road bike with yellow grip tape.
© A.S.O./Thomas Maheux

Marianne Vos has redefined women’s cycling with her extraordinary achievements and unrivaled versatility. Her record is a tapestry of triumphs across road, track, and cyclocross disciplines, demonstrating her unparalleled talent and sheer determination.

Her titles include 13 World Championships (three on the road, eight in cyclocross, and two on the track), two Olympic gold medals, two Giro d’Italia Femminile wins, and too many Classics victories to number.

Vos was also a founding member of Le Tour Entier, a group that campaigned – successfully – for a Women’s Tour de France and other wide-ranging improvements to women’s cycling.

Her astonishing era of dominance, which began in 2006 and continues to this day, has drawn comparison with Eddy Merckx as a generation-defining cyclist.

#4. Bernard Hinault

Few cyclists in history can rival the record of “The Badger”, Bernard Hinault.

With an astonishing 147 professional victories to his name, Hinault can almost always be found at the business end of discussions of the best cyclists of all time. His crowning glories include five Tour de France wins, three at the Giro d’Italia, and two at the Vuelta a España.

Perhaps the greatest indication of Hinault’s remarkable ability comes from the fact that his ten Grand Tour victories came from just thirteen entries, spanning seven years.

In the other three, Hinault finished in 2nd place twice, and abandoned the race while leading in the other. All ten victories spanned a timeframe of just seven years, from 1978 to 1985.

#3. Beryl Burton

Beryl Burton with her head down riding in a seafront crit.
Credit: Brian Townsley, CC BY 2.0.

Beryl Burton is undoubtedly the least recognizable name on this list, but her staggering achievements put her position as one of the greatest cyclists in history beyond debate.

Burton was only introduced to cycling as an adult by her husband Charlie, but within three years she was a world champion – and went on to establish an era of dominance unlikely to ever be repeated.

Though she won multiple world championships in both road racing and individual pursuit on the track, her best event was undoubtedly the time trial.

Burton won 96 national titles at distances ranging from 10 to 100 miles and was the overall national champion for a ludicrous 25 years, spanning 1959 to 1983.

She also set countless world records for various distances, some of which remained undefeated as late as 2017 despite the vast leaps forward in technology and training.

The most famous record, however, was her 12-hour time trial record of 277.25 miles set in 1967. In setting the record, she caught and passed Mike McNamara, who was in the process of setting the men’s world record at 276.52 miles.

Burton’s mark surpassed the men’s record of the time by 0.73 miles, and was not superseded by a man for another two years.

The attention drawn by the event saw her uniquely invited to participate in the highly-prestigious Grand Prix des Nations, then viewed as the unofficial men’s time trial world championship.

Burton’s achievements are all the more remarkable given she remained resolutely amateur throughout her career, fitting training around her work as a rhubarb farmer.

#2. Fausto Coppi

Fausto Coppi standing over his road bike while holding gloves.

Few figures in cycling stand taller than Il Campionissimo, Fausto Coppi.

Coppi’s all-around ability allowed him to dominate cycling’s postwar era. He won the Giro d’Italia five times, the Tour de France twice, and the World Championship once, in addition to a host of Monument victories and the prestigious Hour Record.

Coppi’s career flourished in decades dominated by fierce competition and post-war challenges, yet his determination and sheer talent propelled him to unparalleled success.

Beyond his athletic achievements, Coppi’s personal charisma and unique style made him a captivating figure. His rivalry with Gino Bartali, another Italian cycling icon, added a layer of drama to their encounters, captivating audiences and elevating the sport’s popularity.

Coppi’s honors roll would be even longer but for the Second World War. Il Campionissimo won his first Giro title in 1940 before the next five editions were suspended due to the conflict.

Politics and infighting saw him contest just three editions of the Tour de France; two of which Coppi won.

However, his breathtaking ability is perhaps best described by French rival Raphaël Géminiani:

“When Fausto won and you wanted to check the time gap to the man in second place, you didn’t need a Swiss stopwatch. The bell of the church clock tower would do the job just as well. Paris-Roubaix? Milan-San Remo? Lombardy? We’re talking 10 minutes to a quarter of an hour.

“That’s how Fausto Coppi was.”

Raphaël Géminiani

#1. Eddy Merckx

Eddy Merckx is the most successful cyclist in the history of bike racing.

Merckx’s dominance was unparalleled. He clinched an astonishing 11 Grand Tour victories, including five Tours de France and five Giro d’Italia triumphs. Merckx also secured 19 Monuments victories, underscoring his versatility and brilliance across various race formats.

His insatiable appetite for victory earned him the moniker “The Cannibal,” symbolizing his voracious hunger for wins, ability to conquer any terrain, and his relentless refusal to allow anyone else to win.

In truth, when Merckx was on the start list, other riders faced a race for second – a fact acknowledged even by rivals including Dutch legend Joop Zootemelk. “First there was Merckx, and then another classification began behind him.”

Bernard Hinault was once asked by a journalist what parts he would take from different riders to build the “perfect cyclist”:

“One takes Merckx’s legs, Merckx’s head, Merckx’s muscles, Merckx’s heart, and Merckx’s zeal for victory.”

Bernard Hinault

Honorable Mentions

Having read our list of the 10 best cyclists of all time, some of you are no doubt fuming over the names we’ve missed out.

Jacques Anquetil, Marco Pantani, Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche, Major Taylor, Roger De Vlaeminck, Laurent Fignon, Jeannie Longo, Raymond Poulidor; all are titans of the sport in their own right, and would make many cycling fans’ greatest-ever lists in a heartbeat.

Even Tadej Pogačar and Jonas Vingegaard – neither of whom have even reached their 26th birthday – have a case to be heard, given their astonishing dominance of the sport in the present day.

Disagree with our list of the Greatest Cyclists of All Time? Argue with us in the comments below!

Photo of author
A road cyclist at heart, Rory clocked early on that he had much more of a knack for writing about bikes than he ever did racing them. In recent years, the focus of Rory's love affair with cycling has shifted to bikepacking - a discipline he found well-suited to his "enthusiasm-over-talent" approach. Originally hailing from the United Kingdom, Rory is currently based in Buenos Aires, where he is loving taking advantage of all the backcountry bikepacking Latin America has to offer. Rory is a UESCA-certified cycling coach.

19 thoughts on “The Greatest Ever: 10 Best Cyclists of All Time”

    • Hi Mike, agree he’s probably the easiest one to argue with – especially considering some of the names we left out! We felt we just couldn’t ignore his share of the Tour de France stage wins record, combined with the fact that he’s almost indisputably the greatest sprinter of all time, which is such an important and exciting aspect of our sport.

      Who would you have included instead, out of interest?

      • Lance Armstrong’s career in professional cycling is indeed a topic marked by controversy and debate, primarily due to his doping scandal. However, when considering his legacy as one of the best cyclists in history, it’s essential to examine his achievements within the context of his era and the unique challenges he faced.

    • Major Taylor was definitely one of the hardest ones to leave out for us! There’s no arguing with the fact that he’s an all-time great with a huge legacy. What probably counted against him for us is simply the passing of time – where the performances and legends of all the other riders here are still in living memory, and often recorded on film, Major Taylor rode in an era completely consigned to the history books so we’re reliant mainly on contemporary newspaper articles and biographies to understand his quality and impact, making it that much harder to compare his “greatness” across the generations from the present.

      He would absolutely be a worthy entry in any Top 10 cyclists list though – we found it incredibly difficult to make ours with having to leave out so many legendary riders!

      For anyone reading who’s interested in learning more about Major Taylor, you can check out our profile of him here: Major Taylor: The Story of a Cycling Icon

  1. No mention of Peter Sagan? While I do think he did put Mark Cavendish into the wall intentionally, he completely energized the sport of cycling for many years. Sir Bradly Wiggins would also be up for a mention for his impact on the sport. Also would like to shout out some super domestics like George Hicappie for his 17 consecutive TDF appearances.

  2. Yeah, Major Taylor should be #1. I think even Eddy would agree 🙂 The main issue of course is lack of knowledge of him. Fortunately, more has been written about him. The latest I have read is Major Taylor by Kerber. With Forward by Greg Lemond.

    Consider this: 1. For over decade he was in the media (In a major newspaper) daily. Yes, EVERY DAY for over a decade. 2. He could take a single speed bike right up to 50 mph. 3. Sport medicine people could still learn something from his Training methods. He did this is era where often half the field would be trying to block him or crash him. And on and on…


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