Cycling has long been a popular sport and leisure activity, but it wasn’t until the 1890s that it became a major international sporting event. Soon, cycling competitions were drawing crowds in New York City, Paris, London and other major cities in Europe. Outside of Europe and North America, Japan also got into the act with bicycle racing becoming a popular, if not national pastime.
We now live in an era of cycling superstars! From legends like Lance Armstrong to Chris Boardman to the most recent Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas - here is our list of cycling's all-time greats.
World War II and The Tour de France
The Tour de France is the most famous cycling competition in the world. It was started by Henri Desgrange, a sports writer and journalist for L’Equipe, in 1903. At that time, he saw it as a way to popularize a sport with mass appeal.
Originally named Le Tour de France, it became known by its current name on July 7th 1944 after the country was occupied by German forces during WWII. The Nazis had banned any type of public events and the organisers of this iconic race needed to change the name in order to continue their event.
It is one of the toughest competitions in professional cycling and has been won by some of the greatest cyclists ever since it began: Jacques Anquetil (1963-1964); Eddy Merckx (1969-1973); Bernard Hinault (1978-1979, 1981); Greg LeMond (1986-1989) and Lance Armstrong (1999-2005). And now that Lance Armstrong has been stripped of his seven titles due to doping allegations – Geraint Thomas is the latest winner!
The Golden Era of Cycling
The 1890s was a golden era for cycling, with the sport evolving from being a popular leisure activity to a major international sporting event. The "Golden Era" of cycling spanned between 1896 and 1918 and is often referred to as the "Jubilee Era." This era saw many new innovations in bicycle design, most notably the invention of pneumatic tires in 1887. The introduction of rubberized road surfaces during this time also contributed to the popularity of racing bikes.
During this time, races were not always strictly for sport. They often played a political role as well, with some cyclists protesting against the war by refusing to compete in an event. Many cyclists even turned professional in order to support themselves financially.
This era was also known for having some of cycling's biggest stars, such as Ernest Paul (also known as E. P.) Taylor and Lizzie Jarvis, who were two of Britain's first female professional cyclists.
The cycling world has not been the same since Lance Armstrong's ignominious fall from grace. Like so many other sports, cycling is grappling with how to deal with the question of doping in its ranks. However, before we get too judgmental about cycling's past, we should remember that this sport was founded on a culture of performance-enhancing drug use, and it's still unclear if anything can be done to change that.
Chris Boardman had a long and successful career in cycling, winning four Olympic gold medals, representing his country in over 500 competitions, and setting 17 world records.
He also had a successful career as an inventor, designing the world's first clipless pedal system for cyclists in 1986 - it became an industry standard.
Boardman was also instrumental in the development of the time trial helmet and was involved in the design of the modern bicycle frame.
Chris Boardman is one of cycling's all-time greats!
The most celebrated cyclist of all time, Armstrong won the Tour de France a record seven times in succession from 1999 to 2005. A cancer survivor and philanthropist, he overcame life-threatening testicular cancer to become one of the most admired athletes on earth.
Eddy Merckx was born in Belgium in 1945 and is widely recognized as the greatest cyclist of all time. A professional from 1967 to 1978, he amassed a record five Tour de France victories, four Giro d'Italia titles and three Vuelta a España wins - often doing so without wearing the leader's jersey. Interestingly, during his first grand tour victory in 1970, he wore the yellow jersey right up until the last stage.
He also broke many records on the road including 11 world hour records and 72 major one-day victories.
Miguel Indurain was born in Villava, Navarra, Spain on October 25, 1964. Indurain is also the last Spanish cyclist to win the Tour de France. His dominance of the event was such that it became known as "the Miguel Indurain Grand Tour".
In 1994, he won the Giro d'Italia for the first time and in 1995 he won his first Tour de France - again without losing a stage. In 1996 he became the only cyclist to win the grand tours of France and Italy in one year and in 1997 he set a record by winning his third Tour de France in succession.
After achieving five consecutive victories between 1993 and 1995, rumors started spreading that he had used performance-enhancing drugs throughout this period. He retired from racing on June 21, 1998 then confessed to doping throughout much of his career in a tell-all interview with El País newspaper on October 5 of that same year.