The science of nicknames

Journalists, for a long time, have enjoyed making up nicknames for sports people. There is a long tradition of creating monikers for cyclists in an effort to popularise the sport.  If you look back over the last century, many of the Tour de France cyclists have had nicknames bestowed upon them, sometimes by their team-mates, but more often by newspapers.

The simplest nicknames are those that are a derivative of a cyclist’s real name, to sound less formal and more affectionate such as Wiggo (Bradley Wiggins), Froomey (Chris Froome) or Jaja (Laurent Jalabert).  Other names are simply abbreviated, we all know Cav to be Mark Cavendish.  Home towns or cities are often referenced; Cav’s talent for formidable sprints combined with his native land, give him the catchy name  Manx Missile or sometimes the Manx Express.

Some names sound like something similar, making it irresistible to adopt them, two of my favourites are Nibbles ( Vincenzo Nibali) and Cuddles (Cadel Evans). Actions too present memorable names, Alberto Contador’s winning salute of a cocked thumb and finger has given him the name of El Pistolero (The Pistol)

Physical attributes can also offer inspiration, the impressive Miguel Indurain was known as Big Mig, and Laurent Fignon was called The Professor due to his studious look in his trademark glasses. Marco Pantani was once known as Elefantino (Elephant) because of his big ears, although he later took to wearing a pirate style headscarf, which along with his earring and goatee beard presented Il Pirata (The Pirate) as a more favourable nickname.

There are many cyclists with truly spectacular nicknames, usually earnt from their achievements in the sport. Fabian Cancellara has the great title of Spartacus, and although he does have a vague resemblance to Kirk Douglas, it is probably his tenacious time-trialling that has warranted him the name. Eddy Merkx known as The Cannibal, presumably because he devoured anything in sight, and then there’s Panzerwagon (Tony Martin), I had to look this brilliant nickname up – a WW2 German tank, very appropriate.

In reality, I think us lesser mortals, usually receive less remarkable nicknames, but they are usually memorable and have a tendancy to stick.  I’ve recently joined a newly formed cycling club, and one chap is already referred to as 6am Mike, for simply sending out a message to the group asking if anyone wanted an early ride. I don’t think he knows he has been given the name, but no doubt he will find it very hard to drop.

So what’s your nickname in your cycling world? Mine is likely to be badges, but that’s another story.

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