Watts per kilo. Aerodynamic drag. Rolling resistance. Modern pro roadies have made a reputation for themselves as stoic cycling robots. They aren’t all boring pedaling machines though! Follow the right riders on social media and you’ll discover they have hidden talents and fascinating backstories.
Here are 10 of the most interesting pro roadies I’ve come across. This list is far from authoritative, so make sure to leave a comment at the bottom to call out an interesting rider that didn’t get a mention.
This Spanish veteran is far from the most decorated rider in the European peloton. In fact, he only has two pro wins to his credit, from over 10 years ago. However, he has my favorite nickname in the sport: the “Andalusian Lynx.” If that isn’t enough to pique your interest, back in 2021, Luis Angel Mate raced the entire three-week Vuelta a Espana and then just kept on riding. He pedaled another 1,000 kilometers back to his home in Marbella, Spain, which is in — you guessed it — Andalusia.
One of the few South Africans in the women’s peloton, Ashleigh Moolman Pasio makes a big impact on the road, the virtual road, and the business of cycling. Her fearless attacking style earned her a win in stage 9 of the 2021 Giro Rosa, atop a massive summit finish. She also attacked to victory in the inaugural UCI E-Sports World Championships in 2021 — basically Zwift worlds. Not many riders go all-in on virtual cycling, but Moolman Pasio is a full-fledged Watopian. And she wants to share the stoke. She founded the Rocacorba Collective to make e-sports cycling more inclusive. Oh, and also, she founded Rocacorba Cycling, a boutique cycling hotel in Girona, Spain, so start planning that dream vacation …
So remember how we started out talking about all that bike nerd stuff? Well, Victor Campenaerts is probably the nerdiest nerd in the bunch. But gosh darnit this Belgian has such a quirky personality that he’s irresistible. Really, I’m shocked things didn’t work out after he asked prominent Belgian personality Carlien Cavens out on a date at the finish of the 2011 Giro d’Italia’s time trial. And it was a very public proposal, I might add. No matter. With or without Cavens, Campenaerts went on to set the World Hour Record in 2019, smashing Bradley Wiggins’ mark, which many thought to be untouchable.
For starters, Lizzie Deignan is one of the most decorated riders on this list: world champion, Olympic medalist; Paris-Roubaix and Tour of Flanders winner. Beyond that, she’s a vocal advocate for women’s cycling and female athletes in general. She speaks her mind on questions of how the sport and its teams should be structured. And she leads by example, proving that women can continue their careers after having a child — she won Paris-Roubaix in 2021 after having her daughter 2019. After announcing she had a second child due in 2022, she extended her contract with Trek-Segafredo through 2024. Hmm, the Paris Olympics happen to be scheduled for 2024, what a coincidence.
Off the top, if you’re a pro cyclist with a cool nickname, I’m here for it. Miguel Angel Lopez is known as “Superman,” so we’re off to a good start. Reportedly, as a 16-year-old, he fought off knife-wielding bike thieves in his home country of Colombia. He suffered a flesh wound but kept the bike and went on to the sport’s highest level. Beyond that, Lopez has a penchant for drama, which is refreshing in a sport that encourages conformity. In the midst of a falling-out with his Movistar team at the 2021 Vuelta, Lopez abandoned the race on the penultimate stage. In doing so, he ceded a likely podium finish in the overall. As far as I can tell, it is a bad idea to mess with “Superman.”
Lightning round: Pro road racers who shred MTB and CX
There is a healthy contingent of pro roadies who dabble in dirt. These five are my favorites.
The man himself, van der Poel has four rainbow CX jerseys to his credit (plus more laundry won as a junior and U23), and the Dutchman has won Tour of Flanders, Strade Bianche, and Amstel Gold Race in the last three years. Oh and also he rides downhill, dirt jumps, and sometimes twists the throttle. Hopefully, he’ll bounce back from a back injury in 2022.
The van Aert vs. van der Poel rivalry is one for the ages. On paper, I think van Aert has the upper hand — so far. He’s a three-time world cyclocross champion who has won Milan-San Remo, Strade Bianche, Gent-Wevelgem, and Amstel. Plus, at the 2021 Tour de France, he won a sprint stage, a time trial stage, and a massive mountain stage that went over Mont Ventoux twice. Remind you of any other Belgian cyclists? Perhaps a certain man-eater from the ‘70s?
In 2015, Pauline Ferrand-Prevot became the first and only cyclist — male or female — to concurrently hold all three major world championship titles. That’s cyclocross, XC mountain bike, and road. Mic drop. She’s struggled with some health issues in the last few years, but hopefully, the French woman will rediscover her winning ways in 2022.
Hot off of an Olympic gold medal in the mountain bike race and a world cyclocross championship, I’m eager to see what this little British rider can do in the spring classics.
About 10 years ago, the cross-over thing wasn’t as hot as it is today. That didn’t stop Zdenek Stybar from finding success in both cyclocross and summer road racing. He’s a three-time CX world champ and a Tour de France stage winner. Plus, he is one of the few ‘cross riders who bridged the gap between the Sven Nys and van Aert/van der Poel eras. That makes it all the more notable that he’s been so successful.
Okay, I’ve said my piece, now who do you think are the most interesting pro cyclists on the road today? Let me know in the comments