Francesco Moser, Italian, 1951 -
You could say that Francesco Moser was to the late 1970s and early 1980s what Peter Sagan is today - a fantastically accomplished, powerful, clever, and successful cyclist who was fated to never win the General Classification at the Tour de France. Moser won a mere 273 professional road races, won the Giro in 1984 and won Paris-Roubaix three times in a row (1978, 1979 and 1980), etc., etc., but he only makes it onto this site because he won the World Road Race Championship in 1977.
Despite all this, for me, Francesco Moser is most closely associated with the dawn of 'modern' cycling - with all its problematic mechanical and biological technology. In 1972 Eddy Merckx had set his famous Hour record. He had covered such a stunning distance that many people considered that his record would never be broken. On 1984, Francesco Moser, at the end of his long and distinguished carrer, decided that he would definitively establish himself as one of the all-time greats by beating Eddy's record.
In order to have any chance of success, this project had to draw on every advance that Italian technology could offer. Moser rode an extreme aero bike, possibly developed from Soviet designs, with two disc wheels, the rear wheel having a bigger diameter than the front. We had never seen anything like it. It was the kind of futuristic bike that you might expect to see leaning against the wall of one of those pubs that Harrison Ford liked to frequent in Star Wars - the ones that were full of weird boozing aliens. It foreshadowed a whole host of controversies from Greg Lemond defeating Laurent Fignon by 8 seconds to Graham Obree impersonating Superman.
And, crucially Moser enjoyed the services of Francesco Conconi (and his able assistant Michele Ferrari) to train his body up to a peak of physical performance. It was while reading coverage of Moser's record attempt that ordinary cyclists like me first came across these soon-to-be-infamous names. Today Conconi and Ferrari are regarded as satanic figures who led cycling astray into the wastelands of EPO, stratospheric Haemocrit values, Marco Pantani and, of course, Lance Armstrong. But it is important to also recognise that Francesco Conconi was possibly one of the world's most innovative sports scientists in a number of areas that were not drug related. It's arguable that if you use a heart rate monitor in your training you can count yourself as one of his loyal disciples.
Francesco Moser did break Eddy Merckx's record and the world gasped in awe. Inevitably, many years later, he admitted that he had blood-doped while doing it. And so dawned the modern world.
This brilliant photo of a thoroughly battered Francesco Moser is from the Amstel Gold Race in 1978.
I believe that he used a Campagnolo Super Record (4001) derailleur to win the World Road Race Championship in 1977.
(Source nationaalarchief.nl Dutch National Archive)