Pro Cycling Families Part 1

Stephen Roche

Most walks in life are well used to the idea of the family business and in cycling, this comes across as well. We’ve not really seen the former cyclist become team owner and push his children through model – no Merckx and Sons Ltd. cycling team – but particular names certainly open doors.

Eddy Merckx & Axel Merckx

Eddy Merckx needs no introduction, the winner of nearly every race he entered at least once. Merckx dominated professional cycling from the mid-60s to the late 70s winning every Grand Tour and a ridiculous amount of Monuments too.

Eddy Merckx
Eddy Merckx

His son Axel in fairness could never live up to this and settled into life as a super-domestique for top-level teams. His best results were a bronze medal in the Athens Olympic Road Race, the Belgian National Championships and a 10th Overall in the Tour de France. Axel clearly had some talent but never came close to the heights of Eddy. He’s been a Directeur Sportif for teams like Axeon Berman Hagen since retiring.

Massive win for Eddy – 5 v 0

Stephen Roche & Nicolas Roche

Stephen Roche rivals with Sean Kelly for Ireland’s most famous cyclist. Roche probably counts as the better if only because Grand Tour wins count more! Roche won both the Giro and the Tour and a World Championship in his annus mirabilis in 1987.

Stephen Roche
Stephen Roche

Nicolas Roche has the best comparative record out of the father/son combinations we’ve looked at so far. He’s knocking on the door of a Grand Tour win with a top 5 in last year’s Vuelta. Also a number of other top-20 finishes and now moving away from the super-domestique role to genuine Tour team leader. You would think that the Vuelta offers his best chance at a win and I can certainly see him reaching the podium.

Things are further complicated here by cousin Dan Martin winning Liege – Bastogne – Liege in 2013.

Based on achievements, Stephen’s far ahead of Nicolas, winning 4-1

2019 Update: Nico Roche never came close to that top-5 GT result again. Settling back into the role of an elite mountain domestique for Chris Froome and Alberto Contador. He’s won a Vuelta stage in 2015 and worn the leader’s jersey for a few days in 2019 too. No reason to change the result above.

Stephen’s stays far ahead of Nicolas, winning 4-1

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Erik Zabel & Rick Zabel

Zabel’s 6 Green Jerseys in a row is a tremendous achievement for possibly the most consistent sprinter of all time. Throw in 3 Vuelta points jerseys, 4x Milan – San Remo, an Amstel Gold win and a few World Champs near misses and you have a near-perfect palmares for a sprinter.

Erik Zabel
Erik Zabel

Rick Zabel’s youth career should mean that we will be talking about him more and more as he develops. He’s on his first professional contract with BMC in 2014. So it’s a little harsh to do a full comparison but winning the National U-23s and the U-23s Tour of Flanders shows there is some talent there. We will look forward to seeing how he progresses.

Far too early to grade this one, but Rick will be doing well to match father Erik’s results.

2019 Update: Rik Zabel has ended up as a general strong rider. He only has 2 wins since this article was first published in 2014 though. His win at this year’s Tour de Yorkshire was the biggest win of his pro career. He’s still only 26 years old but it looks unlikely he’ll match the heights that his dad Erik did.

Think this has become a 5 v 0 win to father Erik.

Johny Schleck & Andy/Frank Schleck

Johny Schleck took part in 7 Tours, being part of the winning team twice (in ’68 and ’73 for Jan Janssen and Luis Ocana). He also finished in the top-20 twice. This paints Father Schleck as a super-domestique in the 60s. He had a stage win in the Vuelta and Luxembourgish National Champion to his name as well.

Father Johny Schleck
Johny Schleck

Son Andy has won the Tour de France after Alberto Contador’s retroactive disqualification. As well as 3 White Jerseys in the Tour and another Youth Jersey in the Giro. So far though, he comes across as the nearly man with 3 second places to his name and we’re still waiting to see how he really fares after his big injury in 2012.

The older Schleck brother Frank has always been considered just a touch less good compared to Andy. An equal match in the mountains his awful time trial ability means he always falters in the general classification at key moments. He’s had steady Grand Tour results with 4 Top-5 finishes but it will be a surprise if he ever wins one.

2019 Update: Andy didn’t do much after this article was published. 3rd in the national road race was followed by crashing out of the 2014 Tour de France. By October 2014, he had retired.
Brother Frank finished 12th in the 2014 Tour and won the national road race. He won a Vuelta stage in 2015 on his way to 24th place overall. After a quiet 2016 season with a final 34th finish in the Tour, Frank retired.

Father Johny was a very good domestique but the repeated visits to Grand Tour podiums put the sons ahead – 4v1 to the younger Schlecks

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Davis Phinney & Taylor Phinney

Taylor’s dad Davis was the second American to win a road stage of the Tour de France back when surprisingly there weren’t many Americans racing in Europe and he also won a National jersey and an Olympic bronze too. He came second in the hunt for a Green Jersey in 1988 losing out to a dominant Eddy Planckaert.

Father Davis Phinney
Davis Phinney

Taylor Phinney has an exciting amount of potential, so far blitzing his way around Time Trials and making appearances during the classics (winning the U-23 Paris Roubaix). He took a stage win in the 2012 Giro, wearing the Pink Jersey. He just missed out for medals finishing 4th in the TT and Road Race at London 2012 and recently won his first stage race in Dubai.

Taylor will almost certainly eclipse his father, it’s close already and Taylor sneaks it because it’s certain he’ll accomplish more. 3-2 to Taylor.

2019 Update: Everything changed in 2014 for Taylor. He won the national TT champs, a California stage and the Dubai Tour GC but then had a very serious crash in the national road race. The crash meant he didn’t race for a year. He went on to win the national TT champs again in 2016 and different team time trials.
He also wore the King of the Mountains jersey for a couple of days in the 2017 Tour. The only other result of note in that time was his 8th at Paris Roubaix in 2018. He was clear that pro cycling wasn’t interesting him any more and he retired, aged just 29, at the end of the 2019 season.

I think knowing what we know in 2019 – this is super tight and could now be 3-2 in Davis’ favour.

It should also be noted that Taylor’s mum Connie Carpenter-Phinney was also an elite cyclist. She won gold in the 1984 Olympics.

Alain Gallopin & Tony Gallopin

This one nearly contradicts my opening paragraph. Alain Gallopin is a successful Director Sportif of teams such as Trek, Radioshack, Astana, Team CSC and Francaise de Jeux for the past 15 years. His own professional riding career wasn’t spectacular though. He suffered a huge crash in the 1982 Circuit de la Sarthe. The results of which left him with poor balance skills and ended his pro career.

Father Alain Gallopin
Alain Gallopin

Son Tony has only really just begun his career. However, last year he won the San Sebastian classic under his father’s tutelage at Radioshack. He’s had a series of top-10 results at various races and some Overall Best Young Rider jerseys. His Overall placings in Grand Tours continues to steadily climb. He should be able to break into the top-50 if he makes any of the Tour squads for new team Lotto Belisol.

A victory for the son but father Alain’s director results do a lot to even things up, 3-2 to Tony.

2019 Update: Tony won a Tour de France stage and wore the yellow jersey in 2014. He did also make the top-50 overall with 29th place. He’s built a career in finishing highly but not winning hill classics in Belgium, Italy and Spain. He picked up a Vuelta stage win in 2018. In general, though the results are quieter since moving to AG2R in 2018. He’s 31 though, so still time for more.

With 2 Grand Tour stage wins, a yellow jersey to his name and a career full of great results (not wins!) this score is now 4-1 to Tony.

Hope you enjoyed the classic photos!

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