Eddy Merckx’s retirement in 1978 brought an end to the most dominant career in pro cycling history. Included in his 525 victories are 11 grand tours, three world road titles, 19 monuments wins, and victories at every major one-day race on the calendar. Most fans believed no cyclist would ever dominate the sport at that level.
Yet 30 years later, a new Merckx rose from the peloton to start a fresh era of versatility and domination. Her name was Marianne Vos and she announced her place in the sport by winning the UCI road world title at age 19. “I had to say to myself that I’m not only in the group, but that I can also win,” Vos told reporters at the time. “I said it over 10 times to myself and went for it.”
In the ensuing years, Vos’ hold over the sport surpassed that of even Merckx. Vos took a haul of 12 world titles across road (three), cyclocross (seven), and track (two). She added two Olympic gold medals: one in the track points race (2008) and also in the women’s road race (2012).
She also won every major one-day race on the women’s calendar, dominating La Flèche Wallonne (five wins), Trofeo Alfredo Binda (four), and the Ronde van Drenthe (three).
To add to her versatility, Vos transformed herself into a brilliant stage racer and grand tour rider after dominating one-day races. During her era, women’s cycling had just one major climbing stage race, the Giro Rosa, and Vos won the overall in 2011, 2012, and 2014. She also claimed a whopping 25 stage victories at the race.
The success came at a cost. After the 2014 season, Vos suffered from fatigue, and she stepped away from racing in 2015 to try and recover. “I really wanted to win the Giro, which I did, but it was so much work to get this done,” Vos said. “It’s a thin line to balance between healthy and fit, to know which pain is normal and which pain is too much.”
It took nearly three seasons of injuries, rest, and setbacks before she got back to her old ways. And in 2019 Vos again hit her peak, taking 19 more victories. Her career total now counts 288 and she’s only 32 years old.
And throughout her reign Vos helped push women’s cycling forward, becoming an outspoken voice to push for bigger events, more racing days, and equal treatment. Will Marianne Vos equal Eddy Mercks’s 525 wins? Perhaps not, yet she’s already equaled or surpassed him in many other areas.