Top 10 Spanish Cyclists of All Time (Male)

Best Spanish Cyclists of All Time, Contador, Valverde, Purito

Great Spanish pro-cyclists to Inspire you

Let’s face it, watching the best perform in any sport can be truly inspiring. Ever caught yourself daydreaming on the bike pretending to be racing up a Pyrenean climb or sprinting for that stage finish line? Here’s a list of our top 10 famous Spanish cyclists to motivate you to do some impressive cycling in your dreams or for real!


La Vuelta Cyclists, the Best Cyclists in the World, Purito and Valverde

Spanish Climate & the Love of Cycling breeds class


The standard calibre of Spanish roadies is high due to the challenging terrain, good weather and the deep cycling heritage of having clubs and of course La Vuelta, being one of only three Grand Tours. But, there are some cyclists who are truly extraordinary.
Not just a pretty country serving great tapas, Spain is a powerhouse in sport. Get them outside and they will run rings around you.  Without a doubt, ciclismo is up there with tennis, basketball and of course football. But who are the Spanish cycling icons for those of us mere mortals climbing the same roads?
Before hitting the top 10, we thought we would cheat a little and offer some names who didn’t quite make our list, but we just couldn’t leave them out. Our remit for selecting the 10 was based on our own biases, the human interest stories, those who conquered obstacles and just plain favourites as opposed to just looking at their palmarès and we have not excluded anyone caught, or even suspected of doping (that’s another list!).

Very Honourable Mentions of some of the Best Cyclists from Spain


Dean of Cycling Country & Olano
Abraham Olano - the only male cyclist to ever win both the World Road Race (riding the last kilometre with a flat tyre!) and World Time Trials Titles – that’s right, the king of the rainbow jersey. He also won the Vuelta in 1998 and an Olympic Silver Medalist for the Individual Time Trial. Unfortunately, he cycled in the time of the great Miguel Indurain and was forever in his shadow (although Indurain never won La Vuelta). After retirement, he became involved in helping design La Vuelta course, but was let go when allegations of drug doping surfaced.

Samuel Sanchez at La Vuelta for BMC Cycling Team
Sammy Sanchez at La Vuelta with Team BMC
Sammy Sánchez – Gold medal Olympic winner in the 2008 road race. Always a consistent rider, he is figured to be one of the best descenders, probably having gotten much practise on his mountainous Asturiano home turf. His palmarès are impressive finishing 4 times in the top 6 of the Tour de France (TdF) and 6 times in La Vuelta’s top 10. An immensely popular rider, he won the polka dot jersey for the king of mountains in the TdF in 2011. Unfortunately, drug allegations marred his last year of cycling in 2017, seeing him suspended until 2019.

Maggi of Cycling Country & Oscar Pereiro
Roberto Heras - has the unbeaten record of being 4-time winner of La Vuelta (and podium finisher on 2 others) and Lance Armstrong’s wingman in the mountains. Accused of EPO doping after his 4th Vuelta win, this was disproved in a later court case. A phenomenal climber with time trial ability, his retirement saw him enter mountain biking and later win the Garmin Titan Desert Race 3 times.

Óscar Pereiro – Starting out his cycle career in cyclo cross, this multi-talented rider won the 2006 Tour de France by default, when winner Floyd Landis of Phonak was stripped of the title. A current ambassador for La Vuelta, Pereiro was known as an aggressive rider and won the accolade in the 2005 TdF. Upon retirement in 2008, he became a football player, his childhood dream, and was signed by the Second Division Spanish side Cortuxo FC.

The Top 10 Spanish Cycling Countdown

 
Cycling Country & Oscar Pereiro on the Podium at La Vuelta
Cycling Country & Oscar Pereiro on the Podium at La Vuelta
 King of the World
Best Spanish Cyclists - Oscar Friere World Road Race Champion
Maggi of Cycling Country & Oscar Friere
10. Óscar Friere - a short statured and superb sprinter who had a rough start on life, contracting tuberculous while young and almost losing his leg to it. His mark was left at the Worlds, winning the Road Race Title three times, equalling the record of Alfredo Binda, Eddy Merckx, Rik Van Steenbergen and just recently, Peter Sagan.In his career he developed as a Classics and Monuments cyclist and won the Milan-San Remo race three times, four stages in the TdF(green jersey winner in 2008) and seven stages of the Vuelta a España. A remarkable Spanish rider.


Tour de France 1970s Winner

Best Spanish Cyclists - Luis Ocana, Tour de france winner
9. Luis Ocaña - one of Spain’s greatest cyclists who was the 2nd Spanish rider to win the Tour de France in 1973, winning an incredible 6 stages in it as well.  He also was riding during the great era of Eddy Merckx, so any win when the Cannibal was around, was doubly impressive. In the 1972 TdF sparks flew between them and unfortunately ended with Ocaña crashing on a hairy descent chasing Merckx.  A great time trialist, he also won the Spanish National Championships twice. In total, he won 110 races before retiring in 1977. However, despite this amazing cycling career, he was a tortured character with much personal conflict and in 1994, he sadly committed suicide after years of suffering depression and cancer.


Smoking Success

List of the Best All Time Cyclists - Joaquim Rodriguez
Purito 2nd from Left on Ascent of Angliru, Vuelta 2013

8. Joaquim Rodríguez - One of our personal favourites who we meet regularly of on our Vuelta bike tours, is Purito (“Little Cigar”). A lot of heart and a bundle of energy who never scored big the way he should have, just missing out on the World Championship in 2013, and has finished on the podium on all 3 Grand Tours (with an amazing 12 top ten finishes), but never won one. However, he did win the UCI points contest for best rider three times. With 14 Grand Tour stage wins and riding with many teams from Once (2013), Katusha (2010-2016) and finishing with Bahrain-Merida (2017), we miss seeing his explosive climbing on the Vuelta these days.



Cycling Through the Ages

Courtesy of
Bicicletas Berrendero
7. Julian Berrendero - Going back a few years, but still carrying the same accolades, Berrendero was born in Madrid in 1912. He was one of Spain’s road racing favourites and was known as “El Negro de los Ojos Azules” due to his dark colouring and his light blue eyes. He spent much of the Spanish Civil War in the mid 30s in France but returned due to missing his family in 1937 and was subsequently sent to a concentration camp. 

After the war, he was released and he went on to compete again and is most famous for winning the third and fourth editions of the Vuelta a España in 1940 and 1941. In addition, he won a total of three mountains jerseys at the Vuelta and the Tour de France – he could climb.  He later opened a bike shop Bicicletas Berrendero in Madrid in 1950 which is still being run by his nephew. He died August 1, 1995 two days after having a race circuit “el Circuito de Getxo” dedicated to him (he had won it twice before).


Fair Play Brilliance


6. Carlos Sastre – a Tour de France winner in 2008 and a Grand Tour expert, completing 25 of them, and on 16 of them finishing in the top 10 and of 3 of those, on the podium – wow! A very hard worker, as a domestique first off, he trained extensively to improve his individual time trial results and thus became a good all-rounder. A very consistent cyclist, amazing climbing ability, and a seemingly nice guy.  One of the very few pro cyclist winners who has never had a drug charge levelled at them and thus has earned the nickname, “Don Limpio”, Mr. Clean by the Press. 


France and Spain Double Winner


Best Famous Spanish Cyclists - Pedro Delgado, Tour de france winner5. Pedro Delgado - nicknamed “Perico”, one of Spain’s finest cyclists and now TV commentator on La Vuelta and TdF. Winner of La Vuelta in 1985 and 1989, his style was one of aggression and risk taking making him super exciting to watch. Perhaps his most well-known race was that against Stephen Roche in the TdF in 1987, where he drove Roche so hard he collapsed (Roche won the tour but not by much).  Unfortunately, Delgado’s crowning glory of winning the TdF the next year was tainted with drug allegations. In 1989, when his hopes were so high again, he was 2min 40sec late for his own time trial. The doping scandal did not diminish Spain´s high regard for him and he continues to play a large role in the promotion of cycling through the country and has his own charity road race each year. 

10 Most Famous Spanish Cyclists - Pedro Delgado, Tour de france winner“Pedro´s most outstanding quality is his positive attitude to all his small disasters…his innate ability to see life as a game,” said his wife. Although he almost lost his faith in cycling when he discovered how cross team/nation alliances work in the sport and had several non-contenders work together to chase him down needlessly to lose a stage win in his home town of Segovia in 1984.  British cyclist Robert Millar (now known as Philippa York) would voice the same sentiments as well in the following years of Vuelta racing, losing what seemed a Grand Tour victory after non-contenders continuously attacked him. 


Consistently Top

Top 10 List of the Best Spanish Male Cyclists - Valverde
Team Movistar - Alejandro Valverde - Grand Depart Alicante - 2019

4. Alejandro Valverde
– known as “el Bala” or the Bullet, Valverde is a real crowd favourite, mainly because he seems to have been around for ever and is very giving with his fans. We often see him stopping to sign autographs and take selfies, even when you or I would be running for the showers.  Starting at the age of 22, he has a classy style on the bike. Dogged, constant but explosive, he is both a solid time-trialist and excellent climber. However, despite his many race wins (123 and counting), he has only won one Grand Tour, La Vuelta in 2009. Amazingly he has placed in the top ten of Grand Tours nineteen times.
List of Top Spanish Cyclists - Alejandro Valverde & Primož Roglič
Valverde y Primož Roglič in La Vuelta 2019
His consistency is undisputed, and he holds the record for most podium placings on the UCI Road World Championships, and he finally did score big in 2018 and came away with a well-deserved rainbow jersey.  He was suspended in the blood doping Operation Puerto investigation for two years (2010-12) and so has his detractors.





“The” King of the Mountains

3. Federico Bahamontes - born in 1928 near to Toldeo (outside Madrid) to a Cuban immigrant, Bahamontes cycled his way to become a legend of the sport, a remarkable feat in once a very xenophobic climate. He is considered by many to be one of the greats, being nicknamed “The Eagle of Toledo” due to his climbing ability. Winning his first race in Andalucía, 13 years to that day he was standing on the podium in Paris having won the Tour de France (1959).            

Top 10 Best Spanish Road Cyclists - Federico Bahamontes
He made it on to the podium a further 3 times and wore the TdF “Pois Rouge” King of the Mountains jersey six times. In 2013, L´Équipe newspaper voted him the Tour de France´s best climber of all time.  

Top Spanish Cyclists - Bahamontes' La Vuelta 1958 King of the Mountains trophy An amazing feat for someone who was a remarkably terrible and frightened of  descending, dragging a foot to slow him up and once, having reached the top of the famed climb of the Galibier alone, decided to dismount and wait for the rest of the peloton to catch up by sitting down and eating an ice cream whilst mechanics pretended to work on his bike! His manager, Raoul Remy, once said, “Bahamontes never had a strategy in the mountains. He just didn´t want anyone on his wheel.” He still lives in Toledo at 92 years old. 


We at Cycling Country are proud to have a piece of history in our office, with Bahamontes´ King of the Mountains’, La Vuelta 1958 original winning trophy presented to him!



Top 10 Spanish Cyclists - Miguel Indurain
Miguel Indurain in the Tour de France 1993

The Dominator

2. Miguel Indurain -  If you want to talk about pushing a big gear up a mountain, this is the man for you. Put it down to genetic perfection, big lungs, efficient heart rate, huge aerobic capacity, intense wattage; whatever Indurain had, it was a lot for us little people and the other pros to match on the bike. 

Top Famous Spanish Male Cyclists - Indurain
“Big Mig” was born in Navarre, North Spain in 1964, and is a true Spanish phenomena. Five times consecutive Tour de France winner, 2 times Giro d´Italia winner, Olympic Time Trialist and voted with over 60% of the votes in 1999, Spain´s Athlete of the Century.  Need we say more.  At 6’1” and a fighting fit 78 kilos, he was pure muscle and power and there almost wasn’t a time trial he couldn’t win, and won every single time trial stage in his 5 TdF wins. You would think though he might not have an advantage in the mountains. But riding defensively there, he would say that his racing style was to “crush rivals in the time trails and control them in the mountains”.


Despite, his domination of road racing in the 90s, strangely, although competing in 8 Vuelta a Españas (withdrawing 4x), his highest podium finish in his national race was only 2nd in 1991.  Never one for drama or histrionics, he was as solid of a cyclist that has ever been. As he once said stoically, “I inherited that calm from my father, who was a farmer. You sow, you wait for good or bad weather, you harvest, but working is something  you always need to do.”


Alberto Contador, The Best Spanish Road Race Cyclists,
Alberto Contador at La Vuelta 2016 - Pyrenees
Grand Tours’ Grandest

1. Alberto Contador - El Pistolero (the gunfighter), Contador was a force to be reckoned with on the bike.  A popular cyclist who won all three Grand Tours (only 6 others have achieved the same feat), he was an exceptional all-rounder being a tremendous mountain climber with a quick snappy tempo as well as a strong time trialist.  We make him our number one for his fantastic crowd-pleasing attacking style and never say die attitude. Not to mention his incredible 7 Grand Tour wins (2 TdFs, 3 Giros and 3 Vueltas).  His comeback after a devastating congenital vascular tumour, which was discovered after a terrible bike crash, is an amazing success story.
He would have had 9 Grand Tour wins, but his reputation was tarnished in the 2010 Tour de France when on a rest day traces of clenbuterol were found. He protested his innocence, but in 2012 the Arbitration Court of Sport found Contador guilty and he was stripped of his 2010 TdF and 2011 Giro titles and suspended. In fact, between 2007 and 2011 he had won 6 consecutive Grand Tours he entered.
He retired after winning the steep Angliru stage finish in the 2018 Vuelta at which the home crowd went wild and we were lucky enough to witness. Again, another ex-cyclist who has a big fan base, he is very friendly with them at races where he is now commentating.
List of 10 ten Best cyclists, Alberto Contador, The Best Spanish Road Race Cyclists,
Alberto Contador -2014 Vuelta - Stage 18 - Mt. Castrove, Galicia
After his long and successful cycling career, when asked about who his greatest cycling inspiration was, he declared it to be the Italian Marco Pantani. On one of his first races together in 2003, he sought him out and "I said to him, 'I'm Alberto Contador, it's an honour to meet you.' And he said, in a kind way, 'thank you very much.' Pantani wasn't just anybody for me, he was a rider to be respected," Contador said. "Maybe there was a bit of Marco's spirit in me. I was always a non-conformist rider. It was better to risk losing everything by trying to be first, than to settle for second place."

Alberto Contador, The Best Spanish Road Race Pro-Cyclists,
Contador in the Ruta del Sol - Tour of Andalucia
Agree with this list? Please leave your comments below. 


Or want to see more of the Top Spanish road race cyclists to inspire you?  Join us for our VIP Vuelta Bike Tours.  It is the best way to meet these inspiring stars of Spanish professional cycling.


Comments

Popular Posts