From the gravel and grit of Bartali versus Coppi through to the speed and showmanship of Cavendish and Kittel, here are some of cycling’s greatest battles.
1. Fausto Coppi v Gino Bartali
The rivalry to end all rivalries. Coppi joined Bartali’s team in 1940 and then basically spanked his leader in the Giro d’Italia, taking the win. The pair went on to duel each other in intensely single mindedly ways. Preferring to fight each other than work together even if it cost them both the victory.
The tussle between these two Italians went beyond cycling and ended up signifying the wider social divide of Italy itself. Coppi’s fans – the Coppiani – were generally from the industrial north, secular and very modern. Bartoli’s bunch – the Bartaliani – were from the south, traditional, religious and rural.
Even the moment they finally (temporarily) kissed and made up ended up dissolving into rancour. In 1952 on the Col d’Izoard one of the pair helpfully passed a water bottle to the other.
Each rider (and their army of fans) claims it was them who was the giver of the bottle (even though there’s a famous picture of the occurrence – see above – which to our eyes clearly shows that it was Coppi passing the bottle to Bartali).
2. Jacques Anquetil v Raymond Poulidor
Where Coppi and Bartali was all about Italy. The Anquetil and Poulidor rivalry is all about a divided France.
Anquetil was stylish, aloof, controlling, a fabulous time trial rider from northern France. And he was a born winner. Poulidor was rugged, a decent climber, outspoken and from the central region (imagine a French Brummie). He ended up with reputation as a nearly man. Permanent runner-up.
Their elbow-to-elbow duel on the Puy de Dome in the 1964 is their iconic moment (above). Poulidor won the stage but not by a sufficient amount to stand a chance of overall victory. Anquetil had out-thought him.
Anquetil never raced a major Tour against Poulidor again. They continued their mutual disrespect on the criterium tours of the next few years.
At the very end, they did make amends of a sort. Poulidor recalls Anquetil’s last words to him on his deathbed: “He said to me that the cancer was so agonisingly painful it was like racing up the Puy de Dôme all day, every hour of the day. He then said, I will never forget it, ‘My friend, you will come second to me once again.’ ”
3. Eddie Merckx v Roger De Vlaeminck
This spot could just be ‘Eddie Merckx v Rest Of The World’ with his unrivalled palmares. But we’ve chosen to choose his relationship with Roger De Vlaemink. Yes, partly because this rivalry features two of the greatest jersey designs ever made!
But seriously, Roger De Vlaeminnk arguably wasn’t overly preoccupied with Merckx. Merckx however, was preoccupied with winning EVERYTHING and as such De Vlaemink’s frequent wins in the Classics really naffed Eddie off.
4. Anna Meares v Victoria Pendleton
The story of the biggest tussle in women’s competitive cycling. Britain’s Golden Girl, Vicky Pendleton and Australia’s Anna Meares have had an ongoing track rivalry for years. Two contrasting characters with a shared ambition and drive to succeed.
5. Mark Cavendish v Marcel Kittel
It’s relatively early days on this one admittedly but it has the potential to be develop into a proper cracker. Youth versus experience. Britain versus Germany. Two big brand teams.
Let’s hope that Cavendish doesn’t run away from this battle (which is what we’d do if we were in his shoes).
6. Graham Obree v The Man
The UCI banned his homemade bikes and his oddball riding positions. In one infamous circumstance the UCI informed Obree of a rule change only one hour before the World Championships and disqualified him when he refused to compromise.
And then there’s Obree’s attitude to doping: “I still feel I was robbed of part of my career. I was signed up to ride in the prologue of the Tour back in 1995, but it was made very obvious to me I would have to take drugs. I said no, no way, and I was sacked by my team. I feel I was robbed by a lot of these bastards taking drugs. I also hate the way that people think anyone who has ever achieved anything on a bike must have been taking drugs.”
Graham Obree is The Man.
7. Greg Lemond v Bernard Hinault
In 1985 Bernard ‘The Badger’ Hinault promised his team mate Greg Lemond that, in exchange for Greg’s help in winning the 1985 Tour De France, Hinault would help Lemond win the 1986 Tour De France.
The Badger lied. Hinault tried his best to win the Tour for himself. Lemond went ballistic. Lemond won the 1986 Tour De France.
8. Nico Vouilloz v Steve Peat
The Niki Lauda versus James Hunt of downhill mountain bike racing. Nico Vouilloz was (is) very probably the best DH mountain biker of all time. He won the Downhill World Champs ten times. Ten times!
But… he wasn’t very exciting to watch (he looked strangely slow) and he certainly wasn’t very exciting to read about. You were impressed by Nico but you didn’t really like him. You liked ‘Peaty’ instead.
Steve Peat only won the World Champs once. And it was at the tail end of his racing career. When Nico was racing, Steve would always lose to him. When Nico retired, Peaty still somehow managed to not win the World Champs until 2012 (aged 38).
Nico deserved more respect and recognition. Peaty deserved more wins.
9. Johan Museeuw v Peter Van Petegem
AKA Mapei versus The World. In the nineties, and even into the noughties, Museeuw’s Mapei team were the biggest pro team in cycling. Truth be told, in the Indurain-and-then-Armstrong era there weren’t many teams that offered up much of contest in the races outside of the big three Grand Tours (Tour De France, Giro d’Italia, Vuelta a España).
In the Classics and other races it was Peter Van Petegem who was the best David to Mapei’s Goliath. Van Petegem switched teams quite a bit (PDM, Lotto, Trident, TVM to name a few) but stayed as a constant thorn in Museeuw’s and Mapei’s side.
10. Fabian Cancellara v Tom Boonen
It’s quite tricky to find a decent, consistent rivalry within modern day road racing. Kittel and Cavendish’s career’s arguably don’t quite overlap enough (Kittel is starting out, Cavendish is seemingly winding down).
So that leaves us with ‘Spartacus’ versus ‘Tomeke’ (Cancellara v Boonen). And it’s a bit of a funny one really. Their rivalry is more like an arrangement where they take it in turns to win all the Classics. The amount of times they’ve properly duked it out to the finish line is actually very few. They’re like two big European football teams who never seem to meet very often in direct competition, or at least interesting stages in a competition.
But we’re including them here in this list mainly so we can show the following YouTube of Cancellara simply motoring away from Boonen during the 2010 Tour Of Flanders.