A peloton that bites, lifts & flies

Lotto-Soudal rider Andre Greipel of Germany (right) sprinting to win the 183km 15th stage of the Tour de France from Mende to Valence on Sunday. The burly rider is known as the "gorilla of Rostock". The list of colourful nicknames for the leading cyc
Lotto-Soudal rider Andre Greipel of Germany (right) sprinting to win the 183km 15th stage of the Tour de France from Mende to Valence on Sunday. The burly rider is known as the "gorilla of Rostock". The list of colourful nicknames for the leading cyclists ranges from shark to butterfly.PHOTO: REUTERS

BOURG-DE-PEAGE (France) • 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 - although sometimes, 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.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 21, 2015, with the headline 'A peloton that bites, lifts & flies'. Print Edition | Subscribe