Unlike in other sports, in cycling, it is far more complicated to compare riders from different times. And not only compare times, it is also difficult to compare cyclists from same time, as there are so different disciplines inside cycling (climbers, grand tours contenders, time trialists, classics riders or sprinters).
In other sports we only need to check which team won more World Cups or leagues, which tennis player has more Grand Slams, to say: “they are the best of History”. In cycling you can do the same. But only can say who won more Tours de France, more World Championships or more Monuments. But there are too many races, too different from each other and varied status. Making a reasoned statement about who were the best in History takes a moment of consideration and many hours of work.
Here it is my attempt to establish my own historical ranking for cycling.
First I have to say that can not be perfect, not at all, it is approximative and therefore, just a guidance. A rider can not be considered better than other after being classified 30º and 31º, just similar to each other, around the 30º best rider.
Second. Races can be assessed in other ways. I gave a special value to those riders who won many different races. And to those who achieved milestones. Then, those who won the 5 Monuments along their careers will earn more points than those who won the same number of Monuments but did not win all of them. The same with Grand Tours. Furthermore I give extra points to those who have the record of victories in each race.
Third. I can only consider a limited number of races. I have accounted every historical result from the first “Lièges” in the XIX century. I can not account, then, too many races or the number of riders would became huge. Now there are 803 cyclist in the ranking. That is the reason I had to select the most relevant races. ¿Why relevant and not important? This is an historical ranking, therefore using too modern races would be unfair for those riders who competed before its foundation. That is why an important requirement for race selection was their antiquity.
Fourth. It was important to make balanced selection of races between the different “disciplines”, to make it as much fair as possible. Then, Big Tours and Monuments apart, I selected 8 events of 1 day and 8 stages competitions, in addition to the World Championships.
Fifth. Explain the calculation process would be hard, confuse and unhelpful. But, to be transparent I will show the “formula”, which I will not try to explain:
I will just mention that races are weighted. One day races(x1), stage races(x1,25), Monuments, Grand Tours and World Championships(x1,75), while Tour de France has (x1,2) extra than Giro and Vuelta.
After explaining how it works, this is the current ranking: (Charts are in Spanish, I hope it is enough easy to understand all relevant information)
In the following charts (click to enlarge them) we can see how the ranking evolved the last years. Riders marked on blue are active riders. (Some changes in the ranking from one year to another about retired riders are due to small modifications to improve the ranking).