Pro cyclists’ nicknames: we love ’em. Every major rider has had one, and often their origins are unknown to the average bike racing fan. We have done a bit of digging and dusted off a few classics.

Eternal Runner-up

Perhaps the best nickname to begin with, as it was used for various riders in the past. But in the Netherlands this nickname refers (perhaps unfairly) to one of the greatest Dutch riders ever to grace two wheels: Joop Zoetemelk. So, if the question Who is known as the Eternal Runner-up (De Eeuwige Tweede)? comes up in a Dutch sports quiz, you’ll know how to answer.

Although Joop Zoetemelk in his day won a huge number of victories (he was World Champion in 1985), his nickname stems from his battle with the Tour de France. He rode the race 14 (!) times, and was placed second six times. Fortunately, it wasn’t all unfinished business, and Zoetemelk finally won the Tour de France in 1980.

Joop Zoetemelk. Photo: Cor Vos

The Beveland Bull

A strong spring campaign in his debut season convinced his team leaders to let him ride the Tour of Spain in 2009. And, contrary to everyone’s expectations, he kept up with the GC contenders,  even in the mountains. Result? 12th overall. The tattoo of a bull on his upper arm gave rise to his nickname The Bull of Beveland. Beveland is where he comes from in Zeeland province, the Netherlands.

Despite the rather obvious nickname considering the back story, we do think he’s earned it. His serious tempo when leading a breakaway group has time and again caused serious pain to his fellow riders. And he finished “that” Tour de France stage, when he was driven into a barbed wire fence at speed by a Tour organisation car. He remounted his bike, bleeding profusely. After crossing the line, he was sent to hospital where he received 33 stitches to his wounds.

Johnny Hoogerland. Photo: Cor Vos

The Maastricht Butterfly

A nickname that the bearer is not happy with. At least, Tom Dumoulin would certainly have preferred a cooler nickname. But once a nickname sticks…

Early in his career, Tom Dumoulin’s achievements surprised the Dutch press. One journalist, commenting on his Tour de France debut, said he was transforming from a caterpillar into a butterfly. Thereafter, Tom Dumoulin was dubbed “The Maastricht Butterfly”.

Tom Dumoulin. Photo: Cor Vos

El Pistolero

El Pistolero is the nickname given to a rider who could attack like no other in the mountains: Alberto Contador. As if from nowhere, he would shoot away from all the other favourites. And each time he crossed the line first, he shot his imaginary pistol in the air. In the final years of his career he stopped his trademark gesture out of respect for the victims of terrorist attacks in Paris and Madrid.

Alberto Contador on the attack. Photo: Cor Vos

Der Panzerwagen

Ace German rider Tony Martin has a fearsome reputation for pushing huge gears during time trials—his speciality. There’s even a coffee that carries the same name in his honour. Martin can make the peloton suffer hugely by leading at breakneck pace, and at times attacking solo. Nothing can stop this guy once he’s barreling down the road, hence his military nickname Der Panzerwagen: the armoured car!

Tony Martin. Photo: Cor Vos

Bling

“Bling” is often associated with money and expensive cars. But Team Sunweb rider Michael Matthews didn’t earn his nickname for that reason. His cheerful demeanour (as well as a penchant for large gold bracelets and necklaces in his earlier career), his diamond earrings, positive attitude and joie de vivre all earned him the nickname. Bling: it’s a lifestyle.

Michael Matthews. Photo: Cor Vos

The Boss

“The Boss” refers, of course, to the (former) boss of the pro peloton. Lance Armstrong considered himself not only boss of his team, but also of any opponent who rode in his way during his career. His strong and dominant attitude on and off the bike gave him dominance over the peloton, with the exception of his biggest competitors who tried everything to knock him off his pedestal.

Lance Armstrong in Paris. Photo: Cor Vos