Jaques Anquetil

The Best Cyclist Ever (apart from Eddy Merckx!)

A no-brainer, you might say.  It was Jacques Anquetil, surely.  Or was it?

Jacques Anquetil

He won five Tours, two Giros, one Vuelta, four Paris-Nice, one Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and two Dauphiné Libéré, one of which he followed immediately (the next day) with the 560 km Bordeaux-Paris one-day classic – an amazing feat. And loads of other races, of course.

Jacques Anquetil 1963
Jacques Anquetil 1963

But he was best known for his time-trialling ability. He held the hour record and won NINE Grand Prix des Nations, regarded in its day as the time trial world championship.

But Jacques Anquetil and Eddy Merckx were not alone in their prolific achievement records…

If you want to award Anquetil the title of second best cyclist of all time mainly on the basis of his time-trialling, then you have to cast your net a bit wider.

Beryl Burton

Beryl BurtonBeryl Burton’s palmarès is up there with him. You can read all about her in Cycling Weekly (see link below), but in brief: Burton was the UK pursuit champion 13 times and won the road title on 12 occasions. She was 18 times the 100-mile champion, 23 times the 50-mile champion and 26 times the 25-mile champion. Burton still holds the women’s 12-hour record, set in 1967, with a distance of 277.25 miles, that for two years stood ahead of the men’s record! And on the world stage she was road champion twice and pursuit champion five times… Here’s the link.

For sheer versatility, however, one needs to consider also Sir Bradley Wiggins, being a multi-Olympic and world track champion, world time trial champion, hour record holder and Tour de France winner. Only thing missing is a classic road race or two.

But I have a fourth contender, namely John Woodburn.


John Woodburn

Not so prolific, I hear you say, but it is the job of the blogger to provoke! John was UK 25-mile time trial champion in 1961 aged 24. However, he could also exceed 500 miles in 24 hours and, in 1982, aged 45, he set a Land’s End to John O’Groats record with a time of 45 hours, 3 minutes and 16 seconds for the 848 miles.

But he wasn’t finished yet. In 2002, he broke the 50 mile time trial record for over 65s, with a time of 1 hour 47 minutes and 40 seconds, breaking the record by nearly three minutes. And at 70, he rode a 10-mile time trial in 21 minutes 48 seconds.

Here’s a link to a Cycling Weekly article on John Woodburn’s “End-to-End” effort.

About Tony Varey

Tony Varey took up cycling at school in the 1960s and became an avid follower of the sport. Struggling to understand the rapidfire RTL race commentaries on a transistor radio certainly helped his French!He then left it behind and followed a career in the oil business including time in Latin America and the Middle East before returning to cycling in his fifties.His enthusiasm has recently been invigorated by the rediscovery of the joys of riding vintage steel-framed bikes around the lanes of West Sussex.

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