Earlier this year, I became familiar with a certain acronym that had (briefly, I hope) come into vogue. Employed to celebrate an individual in the most rhapsodical of terms, it happens to spell out the name of a certain sheep-related species animal species. Even the editor of Rouleur, Andy McGrath, has been known to utter it, but I don’t like it. I don’t like it one bit.
If, however, I was prepared to permit my fingertips onto the keys to produce the abbreviated form of “Greatest Of All Time”, there’s only one for whom I would make that exception: Marianne Vos.
That she is the only active rider on any of our shortlists shows how exceptional her career has been. Vos darted off the front of the bunch years ago and didn’t look back, only to come all the way round, lap the field and make most of them look average all over again.
In today’s world, the scale of Vos’s successes is hard to make sense of. The official record counts 228 career wins to date, including the stage race GCs. No other rider comes close. It’s a tally that makes the 142 of Jeannie Longo-Ciprelli – who is also on our Hall of Fame shortlist – look positively modest.
She leads the way in Giro d’Italia Feminine stage victories with 25. Bear in mind that the Giro Rosa is only ten stages long, and has at times been as short as eight. Forget Cavendish overtaking Merckx in Tour stage wins, Vos is the one breathing down his neck. Two more years? Could happen.
I’ll take some flack for comparing Vos to Eddy Merckx – you shouldn’t have to bring men’s cycling into it, they’ll say – but they do have the same nickname. And come on, Merckx is no mere man. More meaningfully, doing so ought to give the should-be-ashamed-of-themselves uninitiated some sense of the dominance of the Vos era, and the impact she has had on the sport as a whole.
For just as with Merckx there was nothing shameful in coming second if Vos was the only rider ahead of you. How many more wins would, say, Judith Arndt or Emma Johansson, have to their names if their careers hadn’t crossed with that of Vos? Likewise our Lizzie would have had an Olympic Gold if it wasn’t for that meddling Dutchwoman.
As with Merckx, however, Vos’s presence on the pitch lifted the level of those around her. If they wanted to win races they would have to raise their game, train harder, professionalise. And they did, even if it meant fewer medals, garlands and jerseys for Vos for a few years. Only a few, though.
This season Vos has been at it again. Nineteen wins by our count – more than anyone else and but still ranks as her sixth best season, and more than enough to earn her a spot in the rider of the season final four – including one particularly noteworthy one, finished in the most ferocious fashion some of us have ever seen:
Well look at that. Almost 500 words in and I’ve still only spoken about Vos’s road racing record. Well, this is a road rider award, so if you want to find out about her accomplishments in ‘cross, mountain-biking and indoors on the track, you’re going to have to research those yourself.
Is there a rule that says someone can’t be double-inaugurated into the Cycling Hall of Fame? Vos could well be a contender, but let’s get the first time out of the way before we start thinking about that. “G.O.A.T”? Go on then.
Read more from our Cycling Hall of Fame 2019, “The case for…” series: