Anatomy of a nickname: shark, scarab and gorilla among Tour de France peloton
With a shark, a scarab and a gorilla among its ranks, the Tour de France peloton boasts an eclectic mix of nicknames rather than species.
Those nicknames are as often a reference to a person’s origins as they are their physical appearance – sometimes, though, they take some explaining.
While it is not hard to imagine from where burly German sprinter Andre Greipel 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 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.
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 unique gift is his grace – the “Butterfly of Maastricht”.
A Dutch journalist once described him as having “natural elegance”, such that 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.
Chris Froome, a Briton, is called the “White Kenyan” in reference to his place of birth.
Likewise British sprinter Mark Cavendish, “the Manx Missile”, being from the Isle of Man where people are known as Manxmen.
As those last few nicknames show, not everyone is named after a creature, even if their strength or valour is being celebrated.
Swiss time-trial and one-day classics specialist Fabian Cancellara is known as “Spartacus”.
Just like the Roman-era gladiator, he is known for his feats of strength on a bike, whether that be the race against the clock or over the back-breaking cobbles at Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders, both of which he has won three times.
Then there is “Hulk”, Peter Sagan, although that refers to the similarity in colour between the Superhero and the Tour green jersey the Slovak has owned for the past three years.
Superheroes have been a consistent theme with Sagan, who used to be known as “Wolverine”, although that was simply for his haircut.
For others, their nickname comes from an even more obscure source, such as Joaquim “Purito” Rodriguez.
Purito means “little cigar” in Spanish and came after a training ride in the mountains soon after he joined the ONCE team, his first 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 a cigar later that evening, and ever since the little climber has been Purito, the explosive little cigar.
He is not the only Spaniard lauded for his dynamism.
Two-time Tour winner Alberto Contador is “El Pistolero” – the pistol – while Ardennes Classics specialist Alejandro Valverde is “La Balla” – the bullet.
As a junior, he used to be “El Imbatido” – the unbeaten one – after a run of 50 consecutive wins
Although he has earned great success as a senior, 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, it was his near misses that put paid to the nickname.
Twice second and four times third, he has never won the world championships, while his Grand Tour results include 11 top-10 finishes for just one victory.
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