Love Handles

Words: Andy McGrath Photographs: Offside

Now the racing season’s all but over, we can get talking about the serious issues that modern cycling has failed to address.

This one has been on my mind since this year’s Tour de France, what with G’s pelvis-smashing crash, the Tourminator dominating the points competition and Froomey winning the whole thing.

See the problem? What’s in a nickname anymore? Not much, and that’s a shame.

Back in the day, lone scribes would conjure up (often) fictional accounts of riders battering through the dark on rutted roads, regularly telling a story lent by their style, background or personality.

The original purpose wasn’t on the reality – how could they catch the riders passing? – but on getting readers interested and laying on the poetic license, picking favourites and eulogising.

Nicknames have become a part of cycling’s rich heritage. They are instant, pleasant entry points to a sport for the novice, or provide a rich image for the fan.

Physical or personal characteristics become accentuated, mortals on bicycles lent a violence or beauty.

We had a bunch of locomotives and cannibals; phantasmagoric battles where a heron could swoop above lions and leopards.

Charly Gaul, a slight man who worked in a Luxembourg slaughterhouse before turning professional, became the Angel of the Mountains.

Sometimes they were sillier or downright rude. Three-time Giro winner Carlo Galetti was the Squirrel of the Canals, in reference to his birth by the Milan waterways, scrunched-up facial features and conservative racing style.

Henry Anglade acquired the sobriquet of Napoleon for his (lack of) height and bossy manner. Appropriately, he didn’t mind the association.

The bunch of the ‘50s and ‘60s was a caricaturist’s dream, and the fans lapped it up.

Now I feel like we’ve reached an impasse, cycling lolling into the lazy territory owned by football’s dressing room.

The –y or –o (Froomey and Wiggo, tut, tut) is more readily tacked on at the end as an afterthought, a vague attempt at familiarity.

They used to be anointed by journalists; now you’re as likely to have executives thinking up new sobriquets as a way of making money.

The elephants and other animals – the menagerie is close to being exhausted – have been caged. New nicknames are either forced or cliché. It doesn’t take much imagination so it doesn’t capture the collective one.

Vincenzo Nibali is the Shark of Messina, but as a well-brought up bambino, he’s got about as much bite as a goldfish. As for Sagan’s Tourminaitor… we can do better.

Maybe it’s me erringly romanticising the past; maybe it’s a malaise relating to the present day.

With coverage exploding in the last decade, everyone can see the action, give an opinion and try to be an Antoine Blondin; the myriad platforms are available at the click of a button.

Social media and the availability of action is a joyful advance, but it means we rapidly take on the water of rapid information and opinions, and struggle to float.

No one person is a key outlet like the scribes of yore being read by millions.

Cycling is sharing a smaller piece of the popularity pie too. Whole nations aren’t enthralled by a race or a rider anymore.

Perhaps the last man to gain such a heady national fervour was Marco Pantani. Or rather Il Pirata, Elefantino, Nosferatu… he had nicknames aplenty.

I feel this particular cycling lyrical tradition is slipping away. It’s a little sad (though not a lot sad because, let’s face it, getting better nicknames is somewhere low alongside ‘make team kits more fashionable’ on the sport’s never-ending to-do list).

As it’s annoying to moan without offering solutions, here’s a few suggestions. Feel free to add your own – or dismiss mine.

Ian Stannard: the Iron Man of Milton Keynes.

Matt Goss: the Tasmanian Devil, for his tactical slyness and propensity to fly into an occasional rage at a sprint going awry.

Gerald Ciolek: The Iceman, a nod to his sangfroid and winning ways in wild weather.

John Degenkolb: the Flying Moustache, part-dependent on whether he keeps his facial topiary.



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9 Responses to “Love Handles”

  1. Jimmy Says:

    I thought Wiggo was Le Gentleman…

  2. Jack Thurston (@thebikeshow) Says:

    I dunno, Andy, I reckon there are plenty of decent nicknames in today’s peloton.

    Ian Stannard goes by “Yogi”; “Froomedog” – I don’t know where did that came from but it fits; “Purito” Rodriguez, nicknamed after a small cigar; Mark Cavendish the Manx Missile; Alberto Contador, “El Pistolero”, currently firing blanks; poor old Andy “Schleckette” Schleck; “Spartacus” Cancellara; Cadel “Cuddles” Evans… I could go on.

  3. thejerseypocket Says:

    As the media gets more evermore exposure to the riders, and as the riders speak more directly to the fans via social media and TV, it’s inevitable that we begin to pick up the nicknames they use on the team bus. ‘Yogi’, ‘Froomey’, ‘G’ etc are what they call each other. We hear that in interviews and see it on twitter and follow along.. I expect the Tashkent Terror was just called ‘Abdou’ on the bus..
    Journalists are in danger of simply adopting these ‘team nicknames’ instead of making their own which have a bit more meaning in terms of defining the character of the rider as they needed to in the past to help newspaper descriptions..

  4. Larry T. Says:

    I’ll agree with Jack, there are still plenty of nicknames, though perhaps not quite as colorful as back-in-the-day? Here’s a link to a list of some past and present.

  5. ragtimecyclist Says:

    The old time nicknames have a certain grandiuer that I love. I mean, who wouldn’t like to be known as ‘The Eagle of Toledo’?

  6. Yoav Says:

    What if it had been Foomo and Wiggy instead?

  7. James Dutton Says:

    Yeah, my kids call Sir Bradley Wiggins ‘Wiggy’.
    I call him Sir Madly Wiggins myself.

  8. Chris Little Says:

    Stannard would have to be the Tin Man (search for Stannous).
    He always has that name in my mind, anyway.

  9. humancyclist Says:

    Tommy Voeckler, man of an inexhaustible supply of exhausted faces

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