Bisons, Badgers, Cobras, Tornadoes, Professors…Cyclist’s Nicknames and their origins

We all love nicknames for some reason. Especially when you can give them to a celebrity or sportsman. Being able to refer to them in such a way gives a pally sense of connectedness, it’s like we simultaneously are in on the joke whilst showing a sense of friendship and respect for a rider. Indeed, you’ll struggle to find domestiques with nicknames – it’s only the big guns, the men with the style, ability and ultimately, results, who command the ability to be able to have a nickname. Some are bestowed upon them by others, some create their own. Here’s a page of alliteration, animal comparisons and bad trivia.

Paolo Bettini – The Cricket


Bettini is ‘The Cricket’ thanks to his small stature, and his ‘leap’ – an poorly put way of saying he had quite the acceleration from his legs. Oddly, he won few races solo, instead getting the ‘jump’ on small groups in the sprint. Yes, you can see already that this is going to be a barrel of laughs…

Mario Cipollini – The Lion King

Mario Cipollini-thumb

The mane of hair Cipo used to wear was the reason for his nickname, helped in no small part by his regal manner and dress sense. As King of the Jungle, he would occasionally punch other riders to the ground, for the amusement (that’s a lie, its actually because they were annoying him.)

Danilo Di Luca – The Killer


Look at that face. Already you feel a terror quaking deep within your bones. And now you know why he’s called the Killer.

Riccardo Ricco – The Cobra


Ricco self christened himself the Cobra as he ‘strike my opposition, like a Cobra.’ The name became more synonymous with its biblical, downtrodden schemer and deviant when Ricco kept testing positive seemingly ever other day.

Jan Ullrich – Der Kaiser


As all English people know, there is something amusing about the German language – perhaps its the slightly guttural nature and swings in pitch. But whatever it is we so pathetically find amusing, Der Kaiser just fits for Ullrich – it’s gutteral, as he’s a bit tubby most of the time, its sort of a joke, as he’s always the prince, never the King ‘Der Kaiser’ implies, but most of all, he grinds men into submission by riding up mountains in the 53.

Vincenzo Nibali – The Shark From The Strait


A bit of an odd one – Nibali is sleek, stylish and has even been a bit snappy at the likes of Wiggins, so is,er, just like a Shark then. The bit about the strait refers to his hometown in Messina, which is separated from mainland Italy by the Straits of the same name.

Tom Boonen – Tornado Tom


If you joined cycling in the last couple of years, you’ll wonder how Tom Boonen could have been referred to as ‘Tornado Tom’ as he seemingly never sprints anymore. But in 2005, 2006 and 2007, Boonen was arguably the King of the Sprinters, beating the likes of McEwen, Pettachi et all with consummate ease. Nicknames always need alliteration, so Tornado Tom it was, although Tomeke also persists.

Mark Cavendish – The Manx Missile


Cavendish’s missile comparison is less to do with hitting targets, especially after a 2012 where, if we’re harsh, he failed to hit those he set for himself (San-Remo, Olympics, Green Jersey), but more down to pure speed. It’s also a reference to his train, as this allows the commentator to talk about ‘priming the missile’ and ‘locking on’, unless of course it’s Phil Ligget, who will tell you Cav is the ‘man with three legs from the Isle of Man’ which will ruin the sports credibility with whomever you’ve tried to introduce to it that day.

Thor Hushovd – The God of Thunder


He’s called Thor. So is the God of Thunder. This one wrote itself.

Juan Jose Cob0 – The Bison


I’ve never really got this one, but supposedly it’s because he is a big chap who can still haul himself up mountains. That’s all I have. Discuss.

Bjarne Riis – Mr 60%/The Eagle from Herning


Neither of Riis’ nicknames are too kind to him, the first being a reference to his alleged haemocrit level at the 1996 Tour de France (50% was the limit in the 2000s, and the average man in at 40%), and the second was a disparaging reference to how he became such a climber, ‘soaring like an Eagle’, when he came from notoriously flat Herning. Riis did’t mind though, and adopted the Eagle onto the kits of his teams, from CSC to SaxoBank.

Bernard Hinault – The Badger


It was a terrible moment in my childhood when I learnt that badgers where not the big cuddly lumps of fluff they appeared as, but actually ravenous, disease ridden death machines that ate cute bunny rabbits and were generally rather nasty. Hinault was, er, not a murderer, but still had the death grip and raw determination exhibited by the creature, and occasionally would engage in the casual beating of protestors, which he’s extended to pushing protestors off podiums at the Tour de France when he works there these days.

Laurent Fignon – The Professor


The late, great Fignon was the Professor because of his glasses and hair essentially. The picture shows why.

Eddy Merckx – The Cannibal


Merckx won everything, except Paris-Tours. Slacker. As a result,as he gobbles all before him, he is the Cannibal.

Sven Nys – The Cannibaal


Nys is the Merckx of cyclocross, and luckily, he comes from the town of Baal. All that had to be done was for some cheeky sod to stick it on the end and pun away.

Alberto Contador – El Pistolero


Contador’s pistol celebration, which everyone thought he’d retired when he crossed the line at Fuente De at the Vuelta, until he did it on the podium, has become a part of him to the degree his logo (yes, he’s good enough to have one) features the hand, and he’s got it plastered on the side of an Audi somewhere.

Fabian Cancellara – Spartacus/Tony Montana

Fabian Cancellara Prologue (10)

Cancellara supposedly doesn’t like Spartacus sometimes despite the gladiator rhetoric, so occasionally you’ll see a bike marked ‘Tony M’ – a reference to his favourite film, presumably because of the quote ‘The World is Yours’, not because he wants to run a huge cocaine ring.

Marco Pantani – The Pirate


The Bandana, earing, goatee and the like are self explanatory.

Robbie McEwen – The Kangoeroe van Everbeek


He’s Australian, but lives in Belgium, presumably in Erverbeek, hence the name.

Paolo Salvoldelli – The Falcon


Every schoolboy knows the Peregrine Falcon is the world’s fastest animal, which can plummet from the sky at 200mph or something like that. Salvoldelli was the same on a bike – he would simply plummet down mountains at such speed to help him to two Giro wins. He then got a job testing out descents, and unsurprisingly came back and said the Monte Crostis, the one they had to put nets on to catch riders who went over the edge (…) was perfectly safe.

Denis Menchov – The Silent Assasin


Menchov has a habit of quietly sneaking into the top rungs of a grand Tour, especially at the Tour de France, where he barely appears then -Wham- he’s on the podium. His Giro win was a bit more obvious, and he was so silent he lost one of his Vueltas the other week, although Heras had won it outright to start with. Apparently Bond films have made it compulsory that all Russians are assassins as well.

Joaquim Rodriguez – Purito


Rodriguez, at 54kilos and short in stature, apparently resembles a ‘Purito cigar’. Make of that what you will.

Alejandro Valverde – The Green Bullet (Balaverde)


Verde means green in Spanish. I always thought he was the green bullet because he was a good sprinter in his youth and ‘verde’ would work as a pun on his name, but it turns out that the much better pun Balaverde is ‘The green Bullet.’ So there you go.

Peter Sagan – The Terminator


Sagan wins what he wants, when he wants, terminating the opposition. He even has a bike to say so these days.

Andre Greipel – The Gorilla

greipel gorilla

Can you see why they give him the name from this picture.

Thomas Voeckler – Le Chouchou


Translating as ‘the sweetheart’, Voeckler is indeed dearly beloved by French Housewives for his 2004 and 2011 Tour heroics, as well as for his very short shorts.

Tony Martin – Der Panzerwagen


Panzerwagon sounds powerful and teutonically German, so it’s ideal for the World Time Trial champ.

Edvald Boassen Hagen – Eddy Boss


Not very original for Sky’s wasted super-domestique, who should be winning races as a leader rather then riding for others.

Davide Rebellin – The Priest/TinTin


Rebellin’s haircut got him the name the priest, not that testing positive for CERA was very moral, so we have to go with TinTin, which, like Cadel Evans, he is apparently a big fan of.

Fausto Coppi – Il Campionissimo


The best till last. ‘Champion of Champions.’ Beat that!

One thought on “Bisons, Badgers, Cobras, Tornadoes, Professors…Cyclist’s Nicknames and their origins

  1. Some wag on an internet forum once coined the nickname WackyRod for Joaquim Rodriguez, which I much prefer to “Purito”.

    Anyway, if you believe Wikipedia (and who wouldn’t) actually came about when, as a neo-pro he passed teammates on a training climb pretending to be smoking a cigar and suggesting he was climbing effortlessly.

    Hmm, in retrospect your explanation is just as good.

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