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BOURG-DE-PAGE, France (AFP) — With a shark, a scarab, and a gorilla amongst its ranks, the Tour de France peloton boasts an eclectic mix of nicknames rather than species.
Those nicknames are often a reference to a person’s origins or their physical appearance — although sometimes, they need some explaining.
While it’s not hard to imagine where burly German sprinter Andre Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) got his “gorilla of Rostock” moniker, others are less apparent.
“It’s a nickname I’ve had since my junior days. I can’t even remember who gave it to me,” said the 33-year-old winner of three sprint stages already this year.
From a “gorilla” to a “scarab,” Nairo Quintana’s (Movistar) nickname is no surprise either. The diminutive Colombian is a giant in the mountains, so comparisons to a beetle that can lift many hundreds of times its own body weight is somewhat logical.
From the land, the peloton branches out into the sea and the “shark of Messina” — reigning champion Vincenzo Nibali (Astana).
Once again, it is a nickname that has followed the 30-year-old Sicilian since his junior days, given for his tenacity in chasing his goals and an insatiable appetite for victory.
But not all riders are compared to creatures notable for their strength or ferocity. Dutchman Thomas Dumoulin’s (Giant-Alpecin) unique gift is his grace — the “butterfly of Maastricht.”
A Dutch journalist once described him as having “natural elegance,” saying he could “ride a time trial in a dinner jacket and cross the line without his bow tie being out of place.” A bow tie in Dutch, like many languages, is called a butterfly.
But while that nickname seems tremendously contrived, others are blindingly obvious.
Sky’s Chris Froome, a Briton, is called the “white Kenyan” in reference to his place of birth.
Likewise, British sprinter Mark Cavendish (Etixx-Quick-Step), “the Manx Missile,” is from the Isle of Man where people are known as Manxmen.
The little cigar
Of course, as those show, not everyone is named after a creature, even if their strength or valor is being celebrated.
Swiss time trial and one-day classics specialist Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) is known as “Spartacus.”
Just like the Roman-era gladiator, he is known for his feats of strength on a bike, whether that being the race against the clock or over the back-breaking cobbles at Paris-Roubaix and the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders), both of which he’s won three times.
Then there is “Hulk,” Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo), although that refers to the similarity in color between the superhero and the Tour’s green jersey the Slovak has owed for the last three years.
Superheroes have been a consistent theme with Sagan, who used to be known as “Wolverine,” although that was simply for his haircut at the time.
For others, their nickname comes from an even more obscure source, such as Joaquim “Purito” Rodriguez (Katusha).
“Purito” means little cigar in Spanish and came after a training ride in the mountains soon after he joined the ONCE team, his first squad as a professional.
His teammates stepped up the pace on a climb, at which point the upstart neo-pro rode past them making a gesture as if smoking a cigar — suggesting that the climb was too easy for him.
His teammates had their revenge, forcing him to smoke an actual cigar later that evening, and ever since the little climber has been “Purito,” the explosive little cigar.
He’s not the only Spaniard lauded for his dynamism.
Two-time Tour winner Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) is “El Pistolero” — the pistol — while Ardennes classics specialist Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) is “La Balla” — the bullet.
As a junior, Valverde used to be “El Imbatido” — the unbeaten one — after a run of 50 consecutive wins. He’s had great success since, such as winning the 2009 Vuelta a Espana, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and La Fleche Wallonne three times each, and La Clasica de San Sebastian twice.
However, it’s Valverde’s near-misses that back up his “bullet” nickname. Valverde has twice finished second and placed third four other times in the world championships, while he has registered 11 top-10 finishes — including one victory — in grand tours.