Pedals and Charm

Five of the most ‘charming’ climbers past and present, as chosen by The Cycling Podcast.

The Cycling Podcast has earned a dedicated following amongst cycling fans for its on-the-nail reporting, and for the good-natured relationship between the three hosts Richard Moore, Lionel Birnie and Daniel Friebe.

A popular segment of the podcast is ‘Pédaleur de Charme’, in which the trio awards a special Rapha t-shirt to a rider who has shown a particularly ‘charming’ display at a race.

The award is inspired by the late, great Hugo Koblet, renowned as much for his riding prowess as his immaculate appearance. The Swiss rider’s jerseys had special pockets sewn in to fit a comb, a bottle of eau de cologne and a sponge, and he would blow kisses to the crowd as he crossed the line. The Cycling Podcast’s Pédaleur de Charme winners should embody this spirit.

To celebrate the launch of Rapha’s official The Cycling Podcast collection, and as part of our celebration of climbing this July, we asked the team to choose their five ‘most charming’ climbers. Here, we present their selections:

Federico Bahamontes

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The first man to win the king of the mountains competitions in each of the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España, Bahamontes did so with barely a hair out of place. The ‘Eagle of Toledo’ had the nickname to end all nicknames too. Eagles soar, and so did Bahamontes. One of the most charming stories about Bahamontes concerns the time he stopped at the top of the Col de la Romeyere in the 1954 Tour de France for an ice cream. Never mind that he had a couple of broken spokes and was waiting for the Spanish team car, the image of the great climber enjoying a scoop of vanilla ice cream in a wafer cone while sitting on a little stone wall in the sunshine is too cool to spoil.

Abelardo Rondón

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This is an esoteric choice but if you saw Miguel Indurain’s first two Tour de France wins at the start of the 1990s, you’ll remember Rondón’s distinctive climbing style. Where Indurain climbed with a machine-like efficiency, Rondón’s shoulders bobbed and rocked as he set the pace for his Banesto team leader for kilometre after kilometre. Rondón’s utterly charming trademark was to grip the handlebars right in the centre, with his hands almost over the stem and it was a style that was emulated by at least one teenage cyclist in the home counties.

Robert Millar

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For anyone who discovered cycling at an impressionable age in the 1980s, Robert Millar was responsible for a number of crimes against fashion being committed. Over the years Millar had three distinct looks, all of them seeming to symbolise the fierce individuality of a man who was an outsider everywhere he went. There was the bubble perm and headband phase, the mullet, and the ponytail, but whatever his hairstyle, Millar even had a nose that suggested a shadow of Fausto Coppi. His preference for the Pyrenees over the Alps was wonderfully eccentric too and it told us that the character of the mountains could sometimes echo the character of the rider.

Thierry Claveyrolat

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I [Richard Moore] have a very personal memory of Thierry Claveyrolat. It was 1990, the first Tour de France I ever saw in the flesh. We were holidaying in Annecy and went to see the Tour pass near Albertville. Claveyrolat was off the front on his own. With his aviator shades and tanned legs – shorts half-way up his thighs – Claveyrolat looked cool and elegant. He flew past us and won the stage, half-way up Mont Blanc. It was my first glimpse of the Tour and, embodied in the small figure of Claveyrolat, was all the excitement and glamour I had dreamed of. And he was as climbers should be – alone. That Claveyrolat seemed so exotic and glamorous makes the post-script even more tragic. He got into trouble, in business and in his personal life, and was facing possible a possible prison sentence after a car crash in which a boy lost an eye. Claveyrolat committed suicide in 1999, aged 40.

Marco Pantani

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Prematurely balding and with protruding ears, Pantani looked anything but an idol when he first arrived on the scene but by embracing his physical features, and shaving his head, he recreated himself as the pirate, complete with hoop earrings and bandana. But it was his style on the bike that captivated his audience. By gripping the dropped section of his handlebars and riding for long stretches out of the saddle, he bent the gradient of the mountain passes to his will. Of course, his downfall revealed how he was able to do it, and the end of his life left a tragic legacy, but watching film of Pantani in full flight can take your breath away, such is the symmetry and beauty of his movement.

Alberto Contador

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The accelerations may be a little less violent than in the past, but Alberto Contador is a man who refuses to accept when he is beaten. It could be argued that had he adopted a more pragmatic, less impulsive, approach he might have won more but that is not Contador’s way. As long as he has air in his lungs, he wants to put his rivals to the sword.