I’ve been following cycling since I was plonked in front of the Channel 4 programme back in 1997, the year that Jan Ulrich won his Tour. The following year I followed the whole thing and saw Marco Pantani zoom off and win.
This list is those that have captured my attention and been the stuff of dreams ever since!
5 – Fabian Cancellara
Fabian Cancellara is pretty much the closest thing to an elite all rounder cyclist that this generation has had. I struggle to think of another rider who has bossed the Classics, Time Trials and Stage Racing. Boonen has bossed the Classics and Sprinting, Wiggins/Froome bossed TTs and Stage Racing in 2012 and 2013 but noone has quite managed to be so good in 3 areas. Admittedly, Cancellara isn’t the best climber, he’s usually seen motoring the bunch at the bottom of a climb and then falling back, however he is good at the short power climbs as shown in the Classics.
Cancellara has a glittering CV: 4x World Champion TTs, 1x Olympic Gold Medal, 3x Paris-Roubaix, 2x Tour of Flanders, 8x Tour de France stages, 3x Vuelta Espana stages, 1x Milan San Remo, 3x G3 Harelbeke, 1x Tirreno-Adriatico, 1x Tour du Suisse, 8x Swiss National TTs, 2x Swiss Nationals and 1x Olympic Silver Medal.
One of the best statistics that he owns is that he’s the rider to have spent the most time in the Yellow Jersey without winning the Tour. He has spent 28 days in Yellow winning the opening stage in 2004, 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2012 and usually holding onto the jersey until the mountains. His career total is higher than legendary riders such has Fignon, Lemond, Zoetemelk, Coppi, Ullrich, Delgado, Pantani, Froome, Wiggins, Evans, Contador and Schleck.
There was a period from around 2006-2011 where he was almost unbeatable in Time Trials and Prologues, only the recent rise of Tony Martin the last couple of years has there been real competition. With Boonen missing or off-form in 2013 Cancellara capitalised and added to his Palmares with relative ease. Sepp Vanmarcke was mentally beaten well before the actual Roubaix finale for instance.
There’s a hint that Cancellara has peaked and after a poor winter there may be some signs of his powers waning, but he will still make every favourites list for any TT or Classics ride for the foreseeable future.