The PEZ Heroes: When we were younger we all had heroes, but as the years pass that changes to an admiration of a person’s style, personality and in this case, cycling ability. Ed Hood has taken a poll of his chums and the PEZ crew to find the ‘Top Cycling Heroes of All Time’ (in our humble opinion).
‘We could be heroes’ – David Bowie
What was it David Bowie said? ‘We could be Heroes, just for one day?’ But it’s not like that. Your heroes are your heroes, as David added; ‘forever and ever.’ Mine haven’t changed over some 50 years – but more of that another time. Not for the first time it was my mentor and Cycling’s answer to Nostradamus, Vik who gave me the idea for this piece. He was pleased to see one of his Heroes, Guido Bontempi featured in our, ‘trackmen who transitioned to the road’ piece.
He told me that Big Guido was number two on his list of three Heroes – all Italians, with not a Belgian in sight – let’s start with number three:
‘Cipo’ larger than life
Mario Cipollini: Big, loud, brash, full of himself, politically incorrect – how could you not love the man? There were the crazy outfits, both on and off the bike, the colour matched machines, endless UCi fines – but what a showman and what a sprinter, 192 or is it 201 wins? I have to agree with Vik that the sport misses the big guys from Lucca.
Guido Bontempi – ‘The Buffalo’
Aforementioned Guido Bontempi, aka ‘The Buffalo’ was indeed a beast of a boy on a bike, not only did he transition from track to road he also re-invented himself as a winner from the breakaway when his sprint prowess began to decline – as they inevitably do for all riders. Few riders have looked more impressive when in full flight than this man.
Vik’s top choice lies at the other end of the personality scale from Cipo, one of the sport’s gentlemen but also Italian, tall and very classy – Sen. Vittorio Adorni. We could have included him in our transition piece, he was Italian Pursuit Champion in 1958 but he’s best remembered as the 1965 Giro winner and 1968 World Professional Road Race Champion at Imola where the rising star, Eddy Merckx didn’t give chase to solo escapee Adorni. Adorni was Merckx’s mentor at Faema, teaching him about preparation, diet and race craft. The last time I saw Sen. Adorni at the Giro he looked a million dollars, he could have been a visiting movie star.
Adorni – Looking like a million dollars
But what of my other cycling friends?
I went all the way to Japan to get the choices of Nakata Takashi, a man with whom I’ve collaborated on interviews with the likes of Masahiko Mifune, Damien Monier and Masatoshi Ichikawa.
Winner Masatoshi Ichikawa
Nakata’s man in third spot is aforementioned Masatoshi Ichikawa, an understandable choice as a true pioneer and Japan’s first Grand Tour finisher, in the 1990 Giro d’Italia, his full story can be read in the interview, HERE.
Chris Horner – Vuelta’13
His second choice is Chris Horner, the oldest ever winner of a Grand Tour by a considerable margin, the 2013 Vuelta at a remarkable 41 years and 328 days, he continued to race into his late 40’s after a pro career which lasted more than two decades.
World champion Bernard Hinault on the road to Roubaix
His main man is a name which is sure to crop up again, Bernard Hinault the feisty Breton. ‘Le Blaireau’ is second only to Eddy Merckx in terms of Grand Tour wins, 10 in total, five Tours de France, three Giros and two Vueltas; Baron Eduoard has 11 notches. Hinault won the Tour of Lombardy, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the Flèche Wallonne twice each as well as five Grand Prix des Nations – and wasn’t averse to a scrap if he didn’t like what the roadside fans were getting up to. . .
The ‘Badger’ was tough
Jakob Hansen-Schwartz is ‘my man’ in Denmark, I’ve missed seeing him beside the boards at Copenhagen these last couple of years due to the kind offices of Mr. Covid. But I hope to catch up with him at le Tour, this year.
Jan Ullrich – A flawed diamond
His third choice is flawed diamond, Jan Ullrich; World Champion on the road at 19, Worlds iTT medallist a year later, beating the likes of Erik Breukink and Abraham Olano, two years after that he was second in le Tour to team mate Bjarne Riis, riding a dazzling final time trial beating no less figures than Miguel Indurain and Abraham Olano.
His ’97 Tour win seemed inevitable and looked like the start of a new reign as King of the Tour. But another four second places followed; Pantani then ‘Big Tex’ denying him what had looked like his for the taking. There was a Vuelta, an Olympic Road Race title and two world individual time trial championships before it all started to go wrong. Nonetheless, a very human and simpatico man.
Bartali was a real hero
A wee bit before even my time, Gino Bartali does qualify for the ‘legend’ label, four Primaveras, three Tours of Lombardy, three Giri and two Tours with the second one credited with greatly easing civil strife in his native Italy. He’s revered in Israel for the Resistance work his did during the Second World War, aiding persecuted Jews. Legend indeed.
A Spaniard in pink – Alberto Contador
Jakob is an Alberto Contador fan to the core; the man from Pinto, the geographic centre of Spain divides opinion – the greatest stage race rider of his generation or forever ‘tainted’ by the ‘clenbuterol affair.’ I go with the former definition, personally, he won all three Grand Tours and between 2007 and 2011 he won six consecutive Grand Tours that he entered. And he deserves respect too for refusing to have the dreaded. ‘one season too many,’ which so many stars subject themselves and their fans too – going out in great style with a win on the fearsome Angliru on his second last day as a competitor.
Contador on Etna Giro’11
The man I answer to at the Six Days, soigneur Kris has the man who ended Eddy Merckx’s reign as ‘Roi de le Tour,’ France’s Bernard Thevenet as his third choice. Despite his ‘legend’ status in France, two time Tour winner Thevenet remains a very humble, approachable and friendly individual; he was the man who ran the Grenoble Six Day for many years, the very opposite of the dictatorial Six Day ‘Tsars’ of the North. There was also a Tour podium in addition to his two wins, two Dauphines, Romandie and Catalunya. And an epic Worlds ride in 1974 was thwarted by winner, Merckx with the Frenchman ‘man of the match’ in fifth place.
Bernard Thevenet – The man who beat Eddy Merckx
His second choice is the man he looked after during the 1981 Tour de France, Belgium’s enigmatic Freddy Maertens, written off by many, Freddy won five stages and the green jersey in that Tour with the cherry on top of that season the world road race title in Prague. After that? Slow decline but on his day in the mid to late 70’s – a force of nature.
Maertens in the race he should have won – Flanders’77
As a man of the sixes it’s perhaps no surprise that Kris should choose a track rider as his numero uno. Denmark’s Hans-Henrik Øerstedt came off a bronze medal at the 1980 Moscow Olympics in the 4,000 metres pursuit to win a medal at every professional pursuit World championship from 1980 to 1987 – three golds, three silvers and two bronze medals. A perfectionist, a stylist, a pursuit legend.
Øerstedt in Rotterdam ‘6 Days’
Finally, my Amigo, Dave Chapman, veteran of many a Tour and Giro de PEZ. His third choice – the man whose 2005 Worlds win and Classics successes boosted Belgian Cycling Federations ‘novices’ membership levels to unprecedented levels – as every boy in Belgium wanted to be like Tommeke. Tom Boonen, four Paris-Roubaix, three Tours of Flanders, three Gent-Wevelgems, five GP E3, two each Paris-Brussels and Scheldeprijs plus more stage wins than a stick can be shaken. Charismatic, simpatico and sorely missed.
‘Tommeke’ – Tom Boonen
His second choice is a man in the Adorni mould, Italian, immaculate, classy, a Worlds and Tour winner, like Adorni; but also a Primavera, Lombardy, Roubaix, Tour and Vuelta winner. The late, great Felice Gimondi.
Gimondi – Italian class
And to close the Capo di Capo, the man who by any measure is the greatest ever, Eddy Merckx. The winner of every Grand Tour; every Monument, including Liege five time and Sanremo seven times and a final total in excess of 500 wins. It’s all been said. . .
What didn’t ‘Big Ted’ win
I asked some of my Amigos about who their cycling Heroes are but I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t check out with our very own PEZ CREW who their Heroes are.
The PEZ Staff Heroes:
We start with the Capo di Capo, Richard Pestes himself:
Hinault in Paris-Roubaix
Bernard Hinault: He was at the top of his game when I came into cycling as a fan. Always seemed tough as nails, that determined grimace on his face – winning Liège in a snow storm, then vowing to never race it again – “badgering” LeMond into his first Tour win in ’86. Legend. When I finally saw him at a Tour stage as a reporter, I was afraid to approach him.
The Prof – Fignon
Laurent Fignon: I loved the wire framed glasses, blond hair and pony tail – so cool and with such a French (could care less) attitude. Such a stylish rider, fluid, relaxed, confident. I wish he’d won more and wish we’d interviewed him before he was gone.
Contador on the attack in la Vuelta’16
Alberto Contador: He proved his mettle when he not only stood up to, but beat Lance at his own Machiavellian games by winning the ’09 Tour. No one in the peloton had the guts, brains or talent to take on The Boss, but Bert did it – and with such humble style – He showed us how winning with class was supposed to be done.
Giro’11 action for Contador
As we’d expect from our Literary Editor, his choices are considered ones – over to you, Leslie Reissner:
Okay, cycling heroes. This is tricky given all the history I have read but I figure that it will be necessary to name an Italian, a Belgian and a Wild Card selection. Here they are:
Coppi leading Koblet and Bartali
1. Italian: Fausto Coppi – Grand Tours, Monuments, the One Hour Record riding around bomb craters at the Vigorelli. Someone who used modern training methods. Total style on the bike (how can you miss with a Bianchi anyway?) and off the bike. “A man, alone, in the lead, whose jersey is white and blue…”
Gilbert – He never gives up
2. Belgian: Philippe Gilbert – He probably won’t win Milan-San Remo to round out his palmarès with each of the Monuments but a great record of wins anyway, from the Worlds to Classics to Grand Tour stages. A rider who never gives up, as shown by going over a wall at the Tour and smashing his knee and still finishing the stage. Or a week after winning Flanders he was in the leading group at Amstel Gold, crashed out, got back on and even with a torn kidney caught up to the others and won the race. I was present for a Philippe Gilbert Fan Club ride and he was really happy to hang out with the kids.
Cancellara – More than just a TT man
3. Wild Card: Fabian Cancellara – another cycling style icon. A wonderful time triallist but also someone who could win a sprint at the Tour, astonishingly. A friend was riding at a sportif and Cancellara was participating, saying he was there, ‘so people could enjoy my presence.’ And they did, particularly when he stopped to help someone with a mechanical. To mix a metaphor, I think the Swiss have punched above their national weight in cycling and are always good value.
But also a top TT man
Mr. Chuck Pena our Technical Reviews Expert: If by “cycling heroes” you mean from the professional ranks:
Coppi – The first big hero of pro cycling?
Fausto Coppi – Because Coppi is Coppi. A legend. And when it comes to cycling, I’m an Italophile at heart.
Lemond – The ‘only’ US Tour winner
Greg LeMond – First (and only) American to win the Tour de France. His second two wins came after his being near to death. And those eight seconds – perhaps the greatest Tour finale ever? Plus I’ve actually met him and he’s a genuinely nice guy.
Andy Hampsten – The first American to win on Alpe d’Huez. His bike set-up (STI rear shifter and downtube front shifter) was the inspiration for how I re-configured my Hollands in the 90s. Plus he’s also a genuinely nice guy.
Giro winner and nice guy – Andy Hampsten
PEZ man on the Iberian Peninsula and our Editor, Alastair Hamilton remains true to his North European roots but his first choice is an interesting one:
José Manuel Fuente: Sadly, no longer with us, he was known as ‘El Tarangu’ – ‘a word in the Asturian language for a man reputed for his strength and character,’ but can also be translated as, ‘the Tiger.’ A ‘pure’ climber, afraid of no one, not even Eddy Merckx with whom he fought a bitter battle in the 1972 Giro – eventually succumbing to the Belgian but not before causing some fraying to Eddy’s ‘cloak of invulnerability.’ He twice won the Vuelta, was four times King of the Mountains in the Giro and finished on the Tour podium in 1973. And he did like a cigarette.
Mr. Paris-Roubaix – Roger De Vlaeminck
Roger De Vlaeminck: with Eddy Merckx and Rik Van Looy is the only winner of all five monuments. If you check the result of the 1969 world amateur cyclo-cross championships you’ll see that ‘Le Gitane’ – a name he didn’t like, as a true Flandrian he wasn’t a fan of the French – was second to countryman Rene De Clerq. Legend has it that Roger could have won that race, ‘with his fingers up his nose,’ as they say in Flanders BUT the rules of the day dictated that he had to remain amateur for another year if he took the rainbow jersey. He wanted to turn pro and start making money. His first pro race? Het Volk 1969. The winner. Roger De Vlaeminck. Legend.
Double World champion – Freddy Maertens
Freddy Maertens: Also selected by my amigo Kris in his ‘Heroes’ choices.
The stats are remarkable:
1972: 15 victories
1973: 15 victories
1974: 32 victories
1975: 32 victories
1976: 56 victories
1977: 61 victories
1978: 22 victories
1979: 2 victories
1980: 1 victory
1981: 13 victories – including five Tour stages and the Worlds
1982: 0 victories
Difficult figures to explain but the man remains a Legend.
Freddy winning in Wevelgem
What about me?
Ah, yes, right. . .
Fastman against the clock – Alf Engers
Not a pro or a name well known on the international stage but one of the coolest dudes I’ve ever known in our wonderful sport: Alf Engers the English track and time trial specialist, the first man to complete a 25 mile [40 kilometre] time trial inside 50 minutes – 30 miles per hour. His personality was as at least as big as his chain rings. . .
Merckx on the Alpe
Eddy Merckx: Martin and I had just dropped off the hire car in Sanremo having been working the Primavera. I stopped in my tracks as if hit by a lightning bolt; ‘Martin, see that guy walking towards us – it’s Eddy!’ Madame Merckx smiled tolerantly as another two grown men turned into little boys in the presence of her husband. The best, the coolest.
1965 World champion Tom Simpson
Tom Simpson: Harworth & Bircotes Sports and Social Club is an anonymous looking building, one of thousands of such places all over the UK. But inside there’s a shrine, a memorial to the man who’s ‘Cycling is my Life’ autobiography I’ve read and re-read so many times over the years. Ivan, Davie and I made the pilgrimage some years ago. The usual ‘inquisitive local’ asked us who we were and why we were there, upon explaining we were treated as prodigal sons and had to ‘pass’ on many offers of, ‘a pint.’ When Simpson took his savings out of the bank, left Harworth, crossed the Channel and settled in Brittany there was no Federation ‘Plan,’ no development team, no internet, no mobile phones and very little English spoken; there were only two ways it could go. Skulk home with tail between legs; or win, make a name, catch the eye of a pro team and sign on the dotted line. Simpson did the latter: Milan – Sanremo, the Tour of Flanders, The Tour of Lombardy, Bordeaux – Paris, the Worlds. No one better, braver or with more personality than this man. Always the greatest for me – my Hero.
Simpson – A real gentleman