Top Five Cycling Rivalries

Nothing captures the fascination of cycling fans quite like the intensity of a rivalry. Through the years, riders have battled it out on roads and trails alike, from grand tours to world cup downhill races, all in search of everlasting glory. Everyone loves drama and our sport is teeming with it.

 Eddy Merckx & Roger De Vlaeminck

Roger De Vlaeminck left, Eddy Merckx right

These two Belgian riders threw down every classics season. Roger De Vlaeminck was best known as a spring classics specialist who rode for Brooklyn Chewing Gum. Merckx and his Molteni Sausage team dominated every major race on the calendar. Seen as the underdog compared to the more popular Eddy Merckx, De Vlaeminck had to fight to the top. In 1970, De Vlaeminck clinched both a Liège–Bastogne win and a Tour de France stage in his third year as a professional. He went on to win his first of five Paris Roubaixs two years later. The Cannibal (Eddy Merckx) was on a quest to win everything and would often get frustrated at losing to De Vlaeminck in the classics.

Lance Armstrong & Jan Ullrich

Armstrong and Ullrich during the 2001 Tour de France

More recent is the rivalry between Lance Armstrong and Jan Ullrich. Even though they raced in an era rife with doping, the fierce battles between them are legendary. Backed by a stellar team, Lance Armstrong was a force to be reckoned with. Jan Ullrich won his first and only tour in 1997 while Armstrong was recovering from his fight with cancer. They were polar opposites in riding styles; Armstrong pedaled with a fast cadence, while Ullrich rode with a slower, more methodical cadence. Armstrong rode Shimano while Ullrich rode Campagnolo. It’s actually tough to call this one a rivalry, as the term implies both sides have a shot at winning. No matter how hard Ullrich rode, Lance managed to beat his biggest rival every time on cycling’s biggest stage. Sadly, revelations regarding Ullrich and Armstrong’s systematic doping raises the question, “Were the combatants in this rivalry Armstrong and Ullrich, or their doctors?”

Ned Overend & John Tomac

Sloshing in the mud with Tomac, left and Overend, right.

In the 90’s, mountain bikes were overbuilt, heavy, clunky machines compared to what we ride today. Nevertheless they represent a simpler time we can reminisce about with fondness. Mountain biking represented a small niche in the cycling world at the time, but it was a fast growing niche that eventually exploded into mainstream consciousness. Two riders captured the world’s attention through their sheer competitiveness. Known as “The Lung” for his aerobic endurance, Ned Overend gave battle to John Tomac in the NORBA national championship series. One could say that the two shared a similar relationship to Armstrong and Ullrich. Overend ended up snatching the title six times from 1986 through 1992 with Tomac clinching the win once in 1988. Tomac eventually evolved into a downhill specialist and clinched the silver medal in the 1997 DH World Champs and won the Mammoth Kamikaze in 2004 and 2005.

Bernard Hinault & Greg Lemond

The fight between Lemond (yellow jersey) & Hinault atop l'Alpe d'Huez

The drama between rivals on opposing teams is intriguing, but the rivalry between teammates is captivating on another level entirely. Greg Lemond helped Hinault win the Tour de France in 1985 with the promise that the favor would be returned the following year. The plan didn’t come to fruition as Hinault atacked in the 1986 tour, donning the yellow jersey. As other riders attacked Hinault for GC contention, Lemond attacked as well. Eventually the yellow jersey went to its rightful owner with Greg winning the tour, becoming the first and only American to legitimately do so.

Nicolas Vouilloz & Steve Peat

Steve Peat and Nico Vouilloz in Punta Ala, Italy for the Superenduro PRO2

Two competitors still racing today are DH world cup rivals Steve Peat and Nico Vouilloz. Their careers ran parallel to one another. Nico Vouilloz won the glorious World Champion stripes eight times while Steve Peat clinched only one DH World Championship and three silver medals. Showcasing different personalities, Peat was an animated character that everyone wanted to be around, while Vouilloz was often called the Alien, not only because his riding style was “out of this world” but because of his Spock-like, nearly emotionless personality. The two compete in the enduro series as fierce rivals on the trail, but are good friends outside of racing.