A reporter at the newspaper I work for once asked me if Mark Cavendish had a nickname. Cav had just won the BBC Sports Personality Of The Year award, and my journalist chum wanted a catchy handle to pep up his report of the event. So I told him, yes, Mark Cavendish does indeed have a nickname. It is the Manx Missile.
“Really?” said the reporter.
“Yes, really,” I said.
“That is BRILLIANT! Thank you!”
His cycling knowledge is negligible and he was up against a deadline, so he was grateful I had helped to fill a small hole in his copy. And he realised that most of his readers, even though they may have very little interest in cycling, would like Cav’s nickname too. It’s got pizazz. It’s leavened with humour. It sticks in the mind.
Sadly, The Manx Missile is one of cycling’s few memorable current nicknames. Off the top of my head, I can only think of three others that are similarly energised: Tornado Tom, El Pistolero and Spartacus. And this is a sport that, once upon a time, effortlessly produced stacks of classic calling cards such as The Cannibal, The Heron, The Angel of the Mountains, and The Eagle of Toledo. Where oh where have all the good names gone?
To remedy this paucity, I am now starting this alphabetical list of professional cyclists’ nicknames, each of which I have made up (except for Edvald Boassen Hagen’s, which Mrs Dynamite will have to answer for). I’ll add more as I think of them. No rider is too obscure, nor any moniker too daft, so please feel free to email me any further suggestions to dancehippocleides at mac dot com or leave a comment below.
Let the sobriquet-fest begin!
NAME: Edvald Boasson Hagen
WHY: Some say “BWA-son Hagen”, others say “Bo-AH-son Hagen”, whereas Mrs Dynamite prefers to say “Boobs-And-Hard-On”. Or “Boobs” for short. Yes, it’s a bit rude, but then so are the sort of films you would stereotypically associate with the Scandinavian’s home region, so at least it’s appropriate in that sense. Besides, we can go back to calling him The Boss when he actually gets round to winning big.
NAME: Enrico Gasparotto
NICKNAME: The Poacher
WHY: The finishing line will not grace the crest of the Cauberg for the Amstel Gold in April, so this particular nickname is a means of drawing attention to 2012’s thrilling hilltop climax at a race that is often overshadowed by its Belgian one-day counterparts. Oscar Freire, alone at the front with less than one kilometre to go, looked like he might just take the win. Then Philippe Gilbert leapt out of the bunch to get within touching distance of the fading Spaniard – victory, surely, was soon to be his. But suddenly Peter Sagan, one of the three men who Gilbert had taken with him, now appeared to have the edge… only for a lesser-celebrated rider from Astana to pass the Slovak as Jelle Vanendert banged his handlebars in frustration. Hardy Classics veterans and young up-and-commers were both denied. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you poach a win.
NAME: José Rujano
NICKNAME: The Merlin of Merida
WHY: Giro high-flyer Rujano and Robert Gesink have both been referred to as The Condor, thereby contravening the fundamental nickname rule that all appellations should be as individual as the riders to whom they are assigned. Thankfully, Merlins can be found flying at high altitude in the compact climber’s home state of Merida, so the little Venezuelan need never be confused with a lanky Dutchman ever again.
NAME: Ian Stannard
NICKNAME: The Iron Man
WHY: This one is based on a Dutch commentator’s mispronunciation of the GB hardman’s name, which he rendered as “Iron Stannard” over the tannoy at the 2012 World Road Race Championships in the Netherlands. And what better name than Iron Man to express the doughty domestique’s indefatigability? Like the titular character in Ted Hughes’ children’s story, he’s quite a tall fella and, as the shredded legs of his rivals can surely attest, he too leaves a trail of destruction in his wake.
NAME: Geraint Thomas
WHY: Speaking to Cycling magazine last month, Team Sky’s coaching guru Shane Sutton said of the young Welshman: “‘G’ has got it all. He can climb, time trial and last the distance.” In short, he’s a future Tour contender. He’s a force to be reckoned with. He is… G-Force.
NAME: Thomas Voeckler
NICKNAME: Le Mighty Bouche
WHY: The man with the quintessentially Gallic gob-shape is awarded a nickname which alludes to Britain’s most theatrical comedy act. He licks his supposedly dehydrated lips en route to taking the yellow jersey, he frowns as he toils up a mountain, and he beams on the podium like a delighted kid. Yes, in cycling, the legs do the talking – but in Voeckler’s case, so does his mouth.