Bike Racing 101: Cycling's Biggest Stars

Eddy Merckx (AP Photo)

If you're new to cycling, you have a lot of catching up to do!

While cycling's beauty is as a participation sport, it's also a spectator sport—particularly events like the Tour de France and the Olympics.

Cycling has a great history, and several big names have emerged from it as some of the best bike racers of all time. Here are a few names new cycling fans should get used to.

Eddy Merckx

Though Lance Armstrong is the most famous cyclist today, Merckx is widely regarded as the greatest racer ever. The Belgian raced professionally from 1965-78, and won the Tour de France five times, the Giro d'Italia five times, the World Championships three times, and overall compiled 525 wins.

He also set the record for longest distance covered in one hour, going 30.7 miles in 1972.

More: Why the Tour de France Is the Biggest Event on Two Wheels

Lance Armstrong

Surely you know his story. Gifted endurance athlete from Texas, a budding pro career derailed by a testicular cancer diagnosis that nearly killed him. Only he returned to win seven Tour de France titles in a row.

Before his cancer diagnosis, he won the World Championship in 1993 at the age 21, the youngest ever to win. After his cancer went into remission, he went on a dominant run no cyclist in history has matched. Armstrong has provided both cycling and cancer research a tremendous publicity boost through his efforts. His seven Tour de France wins are a record.

More: 4 Ways to Bike Like Lance

Greg LeMond

In 1986, LeMond made history by becoming the first non-European to win the Tour de France. He ended up winning the race three times (1986, 1989, 1990) as well as two world championships. He may have accomplished even more if not for a hunting accident in 1987 that nearly killed him and kept him off the bike for two of his prime years.

Before Armstrong's ascent in the late 90s, LeMond was probably the United States' most famous cyclist.

Davis Phinney

Phinney was a groundbreaking American cyclist, becoming the first American to win a Tour de France stage in 1986. He has 328 career bike racing victories, an American record.

Phinney raced from 1981 to 1993. His son, Taylor, is a current pro cyclist.

More: Davis Phinney Shares Wet-Weather Secrets

Miguel Indurain

Before there was Lance, there was Miguel. Indurain, a Spaniard, dominated the Tour de France in the early 90s, winning five in a row from 1991 to 1995. He also won the Giro d'Italia in 1992 and 1993.

Jan Ullrich

Ullrich was an accomplished bike racer for many years--he won the 1997 Tour de France and finished second place five other times (behind Lance Armstrong). However, the German is also a reminder of bike racing's ugly truth--due to doping offenses, Ullrich has been banned from pro cycling and many of his accomplishments have been retroactively stripped.

More: 10 Rules to Group Ride Like a Pro

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