Who was the biggest Bad Ass: Cycling has its fair share of hard bastards, which isn’t too surprising when you think what the riders put themselves through to win the world’s hardest races. But some riders take the term ‘hard man’ too far. Ed Hood takes his pick of the 13 top ‘Bad Asses’ of the peloton.
Baldato didn’t make it
The British ‘Cycling Weekly’ magazine recently ran a feature listing their top 10, ‘Bad Asses’. Their words, not ours, but the gist was riders who are/were, controversial, tough or ‘hard’.
Their top 10 was:
1) Bernard Hinault
2) Sean Yates
3) Sean Kelly
4) Alberto Contador
5) Thomas De Gendt
6) Beryl Burton
7) Thor Hushovd
8) Jacques Anquetil
9) Octave Lapize
10) Alfonsina Strada
Not a bad premise for a piece we thought, so we had a think and here’s OUR top 13 – to use a controversial number – in alphabetical order:
Joaquim Agostinho: fought for three years in Angola and Mozambique during Portugal’s colonial wars, before turning pro. The legend is that his captain in the army ‘discovered’ him due to his being able to ride 50 kilometres in two hours on a heavy army bike when delivering messages – his contemporaries taking five hours. When asked if the Tour de France was tough, Agostinho replied that it was much less tough than sleeping in the jungle during a guerrilla war. . .
Agostinho – Tough as they come and a sad end
Jacques Anquetil: his personal life would make a great movie but we’ll leave that aside; Cycling Weekly rightly focuses on his winning the Dauphine Libere then flying direct to Bordeaux to ride and win the marathon partly Derny paced Bordeaux-Paris. An ‘exploit’ for sure. Englishman Vin Denson was one of his key domestiques; one of his main jobs if Jacques was riding for the win? To deliver Jacques his, ‘finishing bidon’ – containing champagne and brandy. They don’t make them like Jacques anymore.
Anquetil – Smooth rider, but hard
Lance Armstrong: yeah, we know, but this is a man who really did come back from being close to death to win the Tour de France – the ‘kitting up?’ Have a wee look at the top 10 of the Tours he won. It would be quicker to list those who didn’t get ‘done’ than those who did; would he have won if everyone was ‘clean?’ That we’ll never know.
Armstrong – Very hard on ‘friends’
Danilo Di Luca: ‘The Killer’ was a joy to watch, aggressive to the max, and well respected by his team mates. A winner of the Giro, Lombardia and Liège-Bastogne-Liège – and then he got ‘done’ and suspended. Back he came, aggressive as ever; and promptly got ‘done’ again – that’s ‘bad ass’ for sure. The man broke my heart.
Di Luca – Maybe not the cleverest rider
Jackie Durand: in the Cycling Weekly they list Thomas De Gendt for his long, lone breaks – ‘respect’ for sure. But has he ever won a Monument? Nope – but Jackie did, the Ronde in 1992; and two French Professional Road Race Championships, Paris-Tours, the Tro Bro Leon, three Tour de France stages and a spell in the yellow jersey. Thomas has a way to go before he can match the Frenchman as a hard man, ‘baroudeur’.
Durand – Flanders winner
Bernard Hinault: hard to argue with Cycling Weekly’s inclusion of the Breton, he won just about everything there was to win including one of the most savage World Professional Road Race Championships ever, Sallanches in 1980. Then there was his 80 kilometre solo to win Liège-Bastogne-Liège in a snow storm, he still suffers from the frostbite in his fingers. He won the Tour with a broken nose after a ‘face plant’ crash at top speed and wasn’t averse to riding into strikers protesting on the parcours at full pelt with fists flying. Not a man to mess with. And of course, he challenged young team mate Greg LeMond all the way to finish of the ’86 Tour de France after having pledged his support to the American. He explained that he was just making sure that LeMond’s win was a ‘worthy’ one. Right, Bernard.
Hinault – Yes, hard
Sean Kelly: another Cycling Weekly selection we have no quibble with; the ‘King of the Classics’ and a Vuelta winner, his sprint battles with Eric Vanderaerden would have even Carlton Kirby lost for words and the commissaires reaching for the smelling salts.
Kelly – Head wound injury stitched without anaesthetic
Johan Museeuw: The absolute ‘Recordman’ for the Ronde with eight podiums and three times a winner of Paris-Roubaix where a bad crash in Arenberg Forest in 1998 almost saw him lose his leg as gangrene set in. Two years later he would cross the line in the Roubaix velodrome, triumphant with aforementioned knee raised to leave us in no doubt that he was back. Hardcore.
Museeuw – Nearly lost a leg
Luis Ocaña: we’ve excluded Eddy Merckx from this list, it goes without saying he was the ‘baaddest’ by any measure. Many said that they weren’t frightened of Baron Edouard Louis in his 70’s prime but few actually put their money where their mouth was. Ocaña did, savaging Merckx in the mountains in the ’71 Tour de France until his infamous crash on the descent of the Col de Mente which saw him have to abandon with the maillot jaune on his back. Ocaña would win the Tour in ’73 but in the absence of Merckx who rode and won both the GC and points classifications in the Vuelta and Giro that season. But Ocaña’s ’71 ‘failure’ is now part of our sport’s archive of legends.
Ocaña – Unlucky or a sad life?
Tom Simpson: none harder, a man who could ride himself into somewhere beyond the pale – and on the Ventoux he just went too far. The king of French cycling journalism, Philippe Brunel called him as a ‘genius’. I wouldn’t argue with that assessment.
Simpson – He went too far
Rik Van Looy: along with Merckx and Roger De Vlaeminck, Rik II is one of only three men to win all of the monuments; harder than hard and a man who’s word was worth – well, not much. Englishman, Vin Denson rode for Van Looy and Jacques Anquetil and whilst the Norman’s word was his bond, Rik’s was anything but. . .
Van Looy – Tough and tricky
Rik Van Steenbergen: another man whose personal life would make a good movie with gambling, drugs, smuggling, police busts and. . . starring in a soft porn movie. There’s a school of thought says that had he raced less – he’d often race twice a day, anywhere the money was strong – then he’s have won more that his three World Professional Road Race Championships and eight Classics.
Van Steenbergen – He led quite a life
Sean Yates: a young Russian rider who had just had a tongue lashing from the ‘Big Sean,’ rode up to his team captain, Evgeni Berzin asking who the Englishman thought he was? Berzin counselled the youngster that it would be best to bite his lip, it wasn’t a good idea to tangle with Yates. A man even the young, cocksure Lance Armstrong didn’t answer back – not known as, ‘The Animal’ for nothing.
Yates – Big and hard
# And now we’re waiting for the ‘hate mail . . . . #
Fiorenzo Magni didn’t make it in to the top ‘Bad Ass’