When Top-Class Cycling Runs in the Family

By Joshua Donaldson

Sport has always had the ability to produce fairy-tale stories where from generation to generation, the talent gene is passed down from father to son, mother to daughter – and the other two iterations in this narrative – allowing families to compete at the highest levels for decades at a time. Here we chart some of the most successful families across the sport.

The van der Poels

When Mathieu van Der Poel pointed to the sky and teared up in his post-stage interview after winning on the Mûr de Bretagne on stage four of the 2021 Tour de France, he wasn’t just emotional about the win but of the memory of his grandfather, the eternal second, Raymond Poulidor.

1964 Tour
1964 Tour de France. Raymond Poulidor and Federico Bahamontès. © Profimedia

This cycling family is three generations deep stretching from Poulidor battling Anquetil in the 60s to Mathieu fighting for world championships on multiple fronts. In the middle, we have Mathieu’s father, Adri, who was a fantastic cyclist in his own right. Married to Poulidor’s daughter, Corrinne, he was, like his son Mathieu, a cyclo-cross world champion – the only father-son duo to do it – and, like his son, won Tour of Flanders.

Arguably of the three, Mathieu has eclipsed his dad in terms of success and popularity. However, in France, the late legendary Poulidor is the most popular figure in the family due to his love affair with the Tour de France despite never winning it. He was unlucky to ride during the era of Anquetil and then Merckx but still attacked when he could and was an iconic fixture of the Tour until his death in 2019.

It’s worth noting that Alpecin-Fenix – the trade team of MVDP – is also home to Mathieu’s brother, David. He may live in the shadow of his brother but he is still a solid pro, riding both on the road and in the mud, with mostly average results across his 11-year career. He’s better as a cross rider, representing the Netherlands at the 2016 World Championships.

The Roche and Martins

Stephen Roche
Roche breaks away from the pack during the1992 Tour de France. © Profimedia

When Phil Liggett uttered the immortal words: “That looks like Stephen Roche. It is Stephen Roche!”, as the Irish climber came back during the climb up to La Plagne in the 1987 Tour de France, it would be in the middle of an incredible season for him.

After taking the Giro D’Italia by three minutes, 40 seconds from Phillipa York, he went to the Tour slightly unfancied with a stacked field that included former winner Pedro Delgado, Laurent Fignon and Jean-Francois Bernard. And before stage 20 to La Plagne, Roche’s luck had swung after an ambush on stage 19 where he took the yellow jersey back after a disastrous stage from Bernard, which included a flat tyre during a crucial part of the race.

On stage 21 – this Tour had eye-watering 25 stages – he survived attacks from Delgado and Fignon to do the Giro-Tour double. Adding to that, he would go on to secure the triple crown of Giro, Tour and world title – a feat that hasn’t been repeated since.

Three years before that achievement, he welcomed his son Nicolas into the world. He would go on to have a stellar career too, consistently placing relatively well in grand tours. But it took him eight years to get a grand-tour stage win, securing stage two in Galicia.

Not only that but the junior Roche was able to ride alongside his cousin Dan Martin for more than a decade. Martin was a prolific climber, winning the monument Liège-Bastogne-Liège with a late kick where he was famously chased by a panda. He also rode well in the grand tours, taking stage wins in all three. The two Irishmen retired in the same year, with Nicolas turning his attention to the ballroom on Dancing with the Stars.

The Merckxs

Eddy Merckx
Merckx at the 1975 Tour. © Profimedia

What more can we write about Eddy Merckx? The Belgian won literally everything. That may sound hyperbolic but he literally won a third of all races he entered, an insane amount of victories that will never be surpassed. Other than Marianne Vos, he must be considered the greatest of all time.

For Axel Merckx, living up to his dad’s hype was nigh-on impossible, even though he is a quality rider in his own right as he took a stage at the Tour de France in 2000 and finished third at the Olympic Games Road Race in Athens. But he has made more of a name for himself as a Sports Director for Hagens Berman Axeon. At the under-23 US team, he has sculpted many young talents into formidable riders. The list features Giro D’Italia winner Tao Geoghegan Hart, UAE Team Emirates star João Almeida, and Jasper Stuyven to name just three. In this role, Axel has become one of the world’s leading voices on Under-23 racing and a spot on his team is highly coveted by young riders across the globe.


Peter and Juraj Sagan
The Sagan brothers. © Profimedia

From dynasties to rivalries that are now kicking off in the peloton. Arguably, cycling seems to bring in more siblings either riding with or against each other than any other sport. In the last decade, we have seen multiple siblings compete in the sport. First up, we had the Schlecks whose father was also a pro. Frank and Andy were a perfect pair for each other, attacking other racers at the biggest races in the world with their crowning goal of winning the Tour realised. Andy was always seen as the better climber but they always seemed to do better with each other, rather than without.

In some sibling duos, there is a set hierarchy. Juraj and Peter Sagan certainly have that. Peter is a three-time world champion and a once-in-a-generation talent whereas Juraj is a pure domestique, riding with his brother for the past 11 years. The same can be said for Antonio and Vincenzo Nibali who have ridden in the same team since 2017.

Others are much closer. Adam and Simon Yates can barely be separated when they stand next to each other. So, thankfully, they have become rivals in the last couple of years after starting their careers in the same team. Now, with Simon still at Team BikeExchange-Jayco and Adam at Ineos Grenadiers, they are not only much easier to tell apart but are reaching their peak years in a time when being a climber has never been so competitive.

Adam and Simon could have claimed to be the only twins currently riding in the World Tour but that is changing with the introduction of Anders and Tobias Halland Johannessen. Tobias has started 2022 incredibly well, mixing it up with the best at Étoile de Bessèges where he won a stage and finished third overall. But the brothers are a destructive duo as they showed at last year’s Tour de l’Avenir, taking on the world’s best young riders, allowing Tobias to win the race and Anders finishing sixth. These two are the next big thing in cycling.

Hannah and Alice Barnes, Emma and Mathias Norsgaard, the Bäckstedts. There are so many cycling families where genes seem to play a part in making your way into the sport. Of course, plenty of other cyclists have no history with cycling but whether through connections or natural talents, cycling’s ability to keep it in the family is certainly there.