The Ultimate guide to Spain’s Greatest pro-cyclists.
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 ultimate 10 Spanish Cyclists of all time to motivate you to do some impressive cycling in your dreams or for real!
Memorable runners up of the guide to the ultimate 10 cyclists of Spain of all time
Climate & the Love of Cycling breeds the ultimate class of Spanish Cyclists
The calibre of Spanish roadies is high due to the challenging terrain and good weather. It also has a deep cycling heritage with its own national cycling race, La Vuelta, being one of only three Grand Tours. Aside from all this, 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 football. But who are the Spanish cycling icons for those of us mere mortals climbing the same roads?
Before hitting the top 10, here are some cyclists who didn’t make our top 10 list, but we couldn’t leave them out. Our remit for selection was based on our own biases, the human interest stories, those who conquered challenges and just plain favourites. This is opposed to looking at palmarès and we have not excluded anyone caught, or even suspected of doping (that’s another list!). Here is Cycling Country’s list of the ultimate 10 Spanish cyclists all time. Let us know what you think!
Honourable Mentions of the 10 ultimate Cyclists from Spain of all Time
Only male cyclist to win both the World Road Race (riding the last kilometre with a flat!) and World Time Trials Titles. That’s right, the king of the rainbow jersey. Olano also won the Vuelta in 1998 and an Olympic Silver Medalist for the Individual Time Trial.
Unfortunately, he was cycling in the Miguel Indurain era and forever in his shadow (although Indurain never won La Vuelta). This ultimate cyclist still deserves merit.
After retirement, he became involved in helping design La Vuelta course, but was let go when retro drug doping allegations surfaced.
Gold medal Olympic winner in the 2008 road race. Always a consistent rider, he was one of the peloton’s best descenders, well practised on his mountainous Asturiano home turf. His cycling resumé is impressive. Finishing 4 times in the top 6 of the Tour de France (TdF) and 6 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. A sad way to end an illustrious career.
I cried in the ambulance, I cried a lot, .. because I knew what I could have done in this year’s Tour,” Sammy Sanchez after abandoning TdF 2012
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 friendly 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.
Having the unbeaten record of being 4-time winner of La Vuelta (and podium finisher on 2 others). Heras was also Lance Armstrong’s hard working 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.
Countdown of the Ultimate Top 10 Spanish Cyclists of all time
10 / ÓSCAR FRIERE
“KING OF THE WORLD”
Short statured and superb sprinter, Friere had a rough start on life. Contracting tuberculous while young he almost lost his leg to it. Friere’s mark was left at the Worlds, winning the Road Race Title three times. This equalling the record of Alfredo Binda, Eddy Merckx, Rik Van Steenbergen and more 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 La Vuelta a España.
A remarkable Spanish rider.
9 / LUIS OCAÑA
“FIGHTER OF DEMONS”
A great rider who was the second Spaniard to win the Tour de France in 1973. Additionally winning an incredible 6 stages in it as well. Riding during the great era of Eddy Merckx, any win with the Cannibal around, was doubly impressive. In the 1972 TdF sparks flew between them ending with Ocaña crashing on a hairy descent chasing Merckx.
An accomplished time trialist, he won the Spanish National Championships, twice. Total wins before retiring in 1977, an impressive 110. However, despite this astonishing cycling career, Ocaña was a tortured character with personal conflict. Sadly in 1994, Ocaña committed suicide after suffering depression and cancer.
“On the podium I was with riders who had achieved more but I don’t regret any moment in that race (TdF 2016) or in cycling in general.” Purito on retiring
8 / JOAQUIM RODRIGUEZ
One of our personal favourites who we meet regularly of on our Vuelta bike tours, is Purito (“Little Cigar”). Ultimate 10 Spanish Cyclists all time
Loads of heart, ever popular and a bundle of energy. Unfortunately despite being on the list for the ultimate 10 Spanish cyclists of all time, Rodriguez never scored big the way he should have. Emotionally, just missing out on the World Championship in 2013, he was many times, so close to the top. Finishing on the podium on all 3 Grand Tours (with an amazing 12 top ten finishes), but never winning one. However, he did win the UCI points contest for best rider three times. Impressive career spanning 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 gritty explosive climbing on the Vuelta these days.
7/ JULIAN BERRENDERO
“OLD STYLE TOUGH”
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 instantly recognizable due to his dark colouring and his very light blue eyes. Spending much of the Spanish Civil War in France he returned due to missing his family in 1937. Subsequently Berrendero was sent to a concentration camp as punishment.
Upon his release, he went on to compete again, most famously winning the third and fourth editions of La Vuelta in 1940 and 1941. In addition, this ultimate Spanish cyclist won a total of three mountains jerseys at the Vuelta and TdF. He could climb, in an era of heavy bikes and no gears. Berrendero later opened a bike shop 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). A driven cyclist in a challenging era.
6/ CARLOS SASTRE
“SPOTLESS MR CLEAN”
Tour de France winner in 2008 and a Grand Tour expert, completing 25 of them, (finishing 16 in the top 10) and of 3 of those, on the podium. Wow!
Ultimate hard worker, as a domestique, he trained extensively. Improving his individual time trial results, he 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 consequently has earned the nickname, “Don Limpio”, Mr. Clean by the Press.
Stick with us for the next ultimate 5 Spanish Male Cyclists of all time on the Road Cycling Pro circuit!
5/ PEDRO DELGADO
Nicknamed “Perico”, one of Spain’s finest cyclists is 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 against Stephen Roche in the TdF1987, where he drove Roche so hard he collapsed (Roche won the tour but not by much). Unfortunately, Delgado’s crowning glory of winning the 1988 TdF 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. Today, Delgado continues to play a dominant role in the promotion of Spanish cycling and has his own charity road race each year.
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 racing. Specifically in Vuelta 1984, when non-contenders worked together chasing him down needlessly to lose a stage win in his home town of Segovia. 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.
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 (127 and counting), he has only won one Grand Tour, La Vuelta in 2009. Amazingly he has placed in the top ten of Grand Tours twenty times.
His palmares is incredible – 2 Dauphinés, 5 Flèche Wallones, 4 Liège-Bastogne-Liège, 3 Volta a Catalunyas, 1 Tour of the Basque Country, 2 Clasica San Sebastians, 5 Vuelta a Andalucías plus grand tour stage wins. However, it was with great delight that he finally won the coverted rainbow jersey at the World Road Race championships in 2017 after finding himself in 2nd or 3rd place six times previously. He claimed this victory was his greatest achievement and who could disagree after 15 years of trying. A man for all seasons and one of the greatest cyclists of all time.
3/ FEDERICO BAHAMONTES
“KING OF THE MOUNTAINS”
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).
“Bahamontes never had a strategy in the mountains. He just did not want anyone on his wheel.” Manager, Raoul Remy
Podium placing a further 3 times, Balmontes 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”.
An amazing feat for a cyclist, who was, reportedly, a frightened descender, dragging a foot to slow him up. Once, reaching the top of the Galibier climb alone, Bahamontes decided to dismount, wait for the peloton to catch up, and ate an ice cream whilst mechanics pretended to work on his bike! 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, winning trophy.
2/ MIGUEL INDURAIN
Ultimate Spanish Cyclists all time – Runner Up – “THE DOMINATOR”
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.
“Big Mig”, born in Navarre, North Spain in 1964, 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 as 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 with almost a time trial he couldn’t win. In fact, winning every single time trial stage in his 5 TdF wins. You would think though he might not have an advantage in the mountains. However, riding defensively there, he would say that his racing style was to “crush rivals in the time trails and control them in the mountains”. Very effective.
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 a cyclist that has ever been.
“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.”
NUMBER ONE ULTIMATE SPANISH ROAD CYCLIST OF ALL TIME
1/ ALBERTO CONTADOR
Ultimate Spanish Cyclists of all time – “GRAND TOUR GRANDEST”
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). Impressive.
His comeback after a devastating congenital vascular tumour, which was discovered after a terrible bike crash, is an amazing success story.
Contador would have had 9 Grand Tour wins, but his reputation was tarnished in the 2010 TdF when traces of clenbuterol were found. Protesting innocence in 2012 the Arbitration Court of Sport found Contador guilty, stripping him of his 2010 TdF and 2011 Giro titles and suspended him. In fact, between 2007 and 2011 he had won 6 consecutive Grand Tours he entered.
Retirement from his sport came after winning the steep Angliru penultimate stage in Vuelta 2018. The Spanish home crowd went wild and we were lucky enough to witness it. Again, another ex-cyclist with a big fan base, Alberto is very friendly with them at races where he is now commentating.
A super star Spanish ambassador for cycling.