Cycling and Politics

Cycling and coffee often seem to go together; but what about politics and cycling?

First here’s a bizarre brew of Colombian cycling and Italian politics. Then there’s a more general look at those who have tried to swap pedal power for political power.

Claudio Corti’s successes have bookended his career as a pro rider. Before turning pro he was junior world champion and when retiring he became a team manager and won the Giro d’Italia and plenty more from behind the wheel of the team car with Chateau d’Ax, Gatorade, Polti, Saeco, Lampre and the Barloworld. After a break he’s returned with the Colombia-Coldeportes team, you might remember the recent win of Darwin Atapuma on the Passo Pordoi stage of the Giro dell Trentino.

But Corti has ambitions beyond cycling. He wants to become mayor of Curno, a small town of about 7,000 near Bergamo in northern Italy. He’s standing for Lega Nord, the “Northern League”. It’s a populist party that wants the north of Italy to cut ties with the south. You can find more on the ideology on Wikipedia.

Corti’s hit on the idea of coffee (pictured above) to voters. “A pack of coffee for every family” as a way to hook voters says local news site and note the corri con me slogan on the packet which means “run with me”… but also race with me, Corti is playing on his cycling management skills as part of the electoral appeal. It’s unknown if this is café de Colombia nor whether the gimmick will work with local voters.

Corti is the latest name in pro cycling to go into politics. Here’s a list and thanks to those on Twitter who helped me expand the list.

  • Giro d’Italia winner Gianni Bugno stood for election with the Parti Democratico but it didn’t work.
  • The same for José Antonio Pecharromán, who flourished for a brief moment in the 2003 cycling season before vanishing but didn’t get elected either.
  • Things went better for Miguel Ángel Martín Perdiguero who is a town councillor in a Spanish suburb after being a mountain specialist in the decade ago.
  • Flemish talent Edwin Van Hooydonck, winner of the Tour of Flanders in 1989 and 1991 quit cycling early and in time became a local politician in Flanders.
  • Former pro Jean Marie Leblanc, more famous as the Tour de France organiser for some time, is now a local councillor in Northern France.
  • Paolo Savoldelli won the Giro and Il Falco, “The Falcon” was famed for his descending skills but his political career went downhill too five years ago after losing his bid for election with Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party.
  • Tom Steels sprinted to electoral success in 2006 as town councillor in Sint-Niklaas in Flanders.
  • Paris-Roubaix winner Duclos-Lassalle joined a French political party called “Hunting, Fishing, Nature and Traditions” and stood for election in 1994 but I don’t think it worked out.
  • Franceso Moser (another winner in Roubaix) was called “The Sheriff” long before he dabbled in politics.
  • Colombian mountain ace Fabio Parra didn’t climb into the Senate in Colombian elections in 2010.
  • Sir Hubert Opperman was an Australian who went to Europe long before Phil Anderson or Allan Peiper bought their single tickets and he was elected to parliament in 1949. He’s someone who lived a very full life.
  • Meanwhile in East Germany Gustav-Adolf Schur was a top cyclist who joined the Volkskammer in 1959.
  • Further east and former Paris-Roubaix winner Andrei Tchmil was appointed Minister of Sport in Moldova in 2006.
  • And we cannot forget Alexander Vinokourov was on the winning list of candidates during the last round of elections in Kazakhstan but he’s yet to take up his democratic duties.

There seem to be several ex-Paris-Roubaix winners there. I don’t know if the pavé helps them for the rough and tumble of politics. But out of thousands of cyclists it’s entirely normal that a few go on to become politicians, especially since they might have a head start thanks to their celebrity.

23 thoughts on “Cycling and Politics”

  1. Sport and politics – not a good mix for me. Especially when it comes to racist, xenophobic parties like the Lega Nord. They’re even down here in Sicily which makes NO sense to me! BigTex and Texas? I’ll stay out of that one.

  2. As I live on the other side of the pond and just keeping up with US and some global politics is enough to make anyone mad, I’ll read INRNG’s Wikipedia link to the Lega Nord party ideology; then I’ll comment.

    Okay, read almost the whole Wikipedia page and got to here and that was enough:

    “The party takes a tough stance on crime, immigration, especially from Muslim countries, and terrorism. It supports the promotion of immigration from non-Muslim countries in order to protect the “Christian identity” of Italy and Europe, which, according to party officials, should be based on “Judeo-Christian heritage”.[81][84] Because of this, the party has been labeled as “xenophobic”[110][111] and “anti-immigrant”.[112]…In 2002 the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) first denounced the party: “members of Lega Nord made a particularly intense use of racist and xenophobic propaganda, although it should be noted that even members of other parties used a xenophobic or otherwise intolerant political talk.”

    In our post-911 world, racism and xenophobia have increased (well-established in the literature).
    Separatism, Nationalism, racism, intolerance, hatred abound in today’s world. It’s very sad.

    That being said, it’s apparent that I prefer a Utopian society:) Life’s too short for all of this nonsense. It’s takes a lot less energy to love than to hate.

    It’s good to be educated and informed, so thanks for this slice of Italian-Colombian politics.

    On a lighter note, for a good laugh, here’s a short list of “celebs” who jumped into politics here in CA, land of Hollywood:

    – Arnold Schwarzenegger (“the Terminator”) was our last governor (no further comments on him)
    – Ronald Reagan, the actor, also a former CA Gov + US President (definitely no comments on him)
    – Clint Eastwood, former mayor of Carmel, CA (now making some of the best movies in Hollywood)
    – Jessie Ventura, former professional wrestler served as the Gov of Minnesota from 1999 to 2003
    – Sonny Bono (of “Sonny and Cher”) was elected mayor of Palm Springs in 1988, then won a seat in
    the U.S. House of Representatives. Sadly, died in a skiing accident with the tree winning:(

    I’d rather ride my bicycle, as Freddie Mercury wrote in ’78:

    • Hmm. So, the Lega Nord party doesn’t want Muslims immigrating into Italy and being a force for the establishment of sharia law in Italy–which would be inevitable. And, because of that, the members of Lega Nord are racists, intolerant, and hateful people. Sharia law, at least as it is interpreted today by so many Muslims around the world, is simply evil. It subjugates women and is the “law” of primitive, cowardly men. I don’t want more Muslim immigration into my country. Muslim ideology is completely incompatible with liberal political principles.

      I don’t know a damn thing about Lega Nord, but your Wikipedia quote of their ideology doesn’t justify in any way their condemnation. Have you noticed, Roadie61, how no one really ever responds to your posts? Why is that? It’s because you’re so unhinged and loose in your comments, engaging with you would be like trying to convince Father Winter that he should not bring rain and cold. Shut up about politics and please try to restrain yourself to only talking about bike racing.

        • Agreed Another Dan. Tim, you may well be a good bloke but the ignorance you expressed here makes you look like a dick to all on this blog. One of the appeals of cycling (to me and many others I believe) is it’s internationalism. In a world riven with xenophobic bulldust and worse, it is a joy to see teams made up people from many cultures and religions. We will ruin this excellent blog if we attack each other. Vive velo, vive le difference.

      • @Tim: “…the ignorance you expressed here makes you look like a dick to all on this blog,” says TheBillyoh.

        “…you could have just written ‘My name’s Tim and I’m an asshole,’ says AnotherDan.

        Looks like I’ve got the support of people who also see that you are ignorant. That you think Sharia law would be established in Roman Catholic-dominated Italy, and that it is “inevitable” is fear-based thinking. “The lack of fair representation of Muslims in the public sphere allowed for too much of a one track misdefinition of the Muslim identity and a further ostracizing, with Muslims becoming the ultimate feared ‘other’ of today’s Western liberal society.” (Source:

        Even the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) denounced the Lega Nord party. Muslims are just everyday people like anyone else in this world, and they happen to practice Islamic religion. Who are you to make a blanket statement that all Muslims are extremists and want Sharia law in Italy? The Lega Nord party supports the promotion of immigration from non-Muslim countries to protect the “Christian Identity” of Italy (Judeo-Christian heritage). This is separatism, and again, fear-based.

        “Freedom of religion in Italy is guaranteed under the 1947 constitution of the Italian Republic. In 1984, following a revised accord with the Vatican, Catholicism lost its status as the official religion of the Italian state. In Italy in 2006 there were 53 million of Christians, 4 million Atheists and Agnostics, 1,210,00 Muslims, 160,000 Buddhists, 115,000 Hinduists, 70,000 Sikhs, 45,000 Hebrews, 15,000 Pagans.” – Wikipedia

        “The Catholic Church holds considerable power and has an influence on most political parties, with the exceptions of the Italian Radicals and the Communist Refoundation Party.”

        You don’t have anything to fear except fear itself. Educate yourself before you again embarrass yourself on this blog. I’ve given you a place to start above.

        • Yeah, but name-calling has, thankfully, not been a plague on this excellent blog and I hope it’s not starting up. In the end, no matter what our political angle, we’re cycling fans and most of us here are trying to keep this a place for civilized, respectful dialogue. My comments about the Lega Nord were made because they are/were a far-right political group trying to use cycling to further their agenda. There should be no argument about that since they ARE far to the right of most Italians – the group is concentrated in the north of Italy and I can tell you first-hand, their views are very far from universal in Italy. That said, I hope we can get back to discussing (rather than arguing) the SPORT of cycling without political issues causing nasty posts full of vitriol, no matter what your political stripes might be. And now, I’ll step down from the soapbox 🙂

  3. Don’t forget “Gopher” from the Love Boat television series in the U.S., Fred Grandy, member of the United States House of Representatives from the state of Iowa. 😉

  4. On the celeb-turned-pol front: There’s also “Cooter” from the Dukes of Hazzard – Ben Jones. Was a Democrat Congressman from Georgia, until redistricting put him up against Newt Gingrinch, and he lost his seat.

  5. It’s naive to think sport and politics can be divorced. Sport has been used politically in ways from the universally revered to the universally reviled. It’s still happening now – look at the F1 race in Bahrain.

    Corti’s candidature for mayor is his and the voters’ business. But one association between cycling and politics that really did bother me was the “Giro di Padania” – a race set up, as I understand it, to promote the Northern League and their policy of either devolution or possibly outright separation from the rest of Italy.

    Given the level of protest the race encountered (as was entirely predictable given the controversy surrounding the Lega and its nationalist ambitions) what was the UCI doing sanctioning the race?

  6. Sir Hubert Opperman was a huge deal in this country. His exploits on the bike captured wide public imagination and I commend you to read about his attempt at the TDF – on old-fashioned bikes and in the face of Gallic resentment and belicoseness* on a scale far greater than Greg, Phil and Lance ever had to endure. That said his role in the national government was not one I can admire.

    *Given my rant about internationalism maybe this may seem a little harsh on the French. These were different times and their antics were fairly outrageous even then. In this same era some French villages were constructing memorials for the Australian soldiers killed in their defence.

    • There was certainly no ‘Gallic resentment’ towards Oppy in 1991, when Jacques Chirac presented him with a medal in recognition of his 1931 Paris-Brest-Paris win in a ceremony in front of the Hotel de Ville (and a large crowd including me) in Paris. This was part of the celebrations surrounding the centenary edition of PBP.

      • Somebody filed through the chains on both his bikes at the 1928 Bol d’Or. He won, riding 17 of the 24 hours on a bike he borrowed from his interpreter, a clunker with mudguards etc. He won respect the hard way. But many resented foreigners taking pay from their pockets. An ugly side of sport the world over viz the treatment rookies in MLB get for having displaced a veterans mate to win a place on the team.

  7. I’d totally forgotten about Fabio Parra. He was very good in the mountains but I have the memory of him always frowning, in a race or when on TV after the stage. Maybe his face did not help him in politics??

  8. OK, this isn’t a story of a cyclist turning to politics, rather it’s the exploits of a cyclist affecting politics.

    Gino Bartali entered the 1948 Tour for the first time since he won it a full decade earlier. After twelve stages of racing, it didn’t look like he would repeat his victory, as he languished over 21 minutes behind the leader, Frenchman Louison Bobet.

    Indeed, most thought the Tour was won, or at least fnished for the Italians, and a majority of the Italian press abandoned the race and went home from San Remo at the end of stage 11. Bartali contemplated quitting himself. Two days later, however, an assassination attempt in Italy would indirectly alter the course of the race.

    On July 14th, a rest day for the riders, a Sicilian by the name of Domenico Pallante shot the chairman of Italy’s powerful Communist Party, Palmiro Togliatti, three or four times, depending on who you believe. The shooting caused a political crisis in Italy, including a General Strike and large-scale protests from Italy’s Leftists.

    Fearing the problem would spiral into Civil War, the Italian prime minister, Alcide De Gasperi, rang Bartali. One version of the conversation has it that De Gasperi said, “Everywhere’s in chaos here. Do you think you can still win the Tour? It could make a difference, and not just for you.” Another variant has it that De Gasperi simply asked Bartali to win a stage, to which Bartali replied that he would not just win a stage but win the whole race.

    Whatever was said, it worked. The next day, on the Col de la Croix de Fer, Bartali rode away from Bobet and everyone else. He flew up the Col d’Izoard and by stage’s end had clawed back all but one minute of the deficit. The next day, Bartali and Bobet duked it out for much of the stage until the latter cracked. On his arrival in Aix-les-Bains, Bartali took the yellow jersey with a nice buffer of 8 minutes. He won the next stage too and stage 19 for good measure.

    • I forgot to mention the most important (and political) bit – Back in Italy, everyone was glued to their radios. On July 17th, the General Strike was called off and Palmiro Togliatti was recovering in hospital. By the time the peloton reached Paris, Bobet had slipped to fourth, Bartali had won by over 26 minutes and Italy was a little more stable thanks to his efforts.

    • Yes, it’s a great story. I’ve just started reading “Pedalare, Pedalare”, the history of Italian cycling. I’ve not reached this version but as you say there seems to be different versions of the story.

  9. There’s also a link between politicians and getting into a pro-team. Maybe it’s risky to say this but truth must come out…

    In Flanders you have the Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator team that helps young talented riders into procycling. As you may know Topsport Vlaanderen is a government-structure to help young talented sports(wo)men to get their chance and develop as a professional sports(wo)man. The team has got big influence from the Flemish Ministry of Sport (currently lead by Minister of Sport Philippe Muyters (N-VA)).

    I have no hard evidence to state what I’m saying but as almost everyone in my region and who follows youth cycling a lot knows that certain young riders got into this team just because of local or national well-known politicians supporting them. It’s not because they have the most talent or they got the best results you became a professional cyclist. I regret this sort of thing but that’s what life is about. Getting the power and having a lot of connections in this world, and unfortunately some politicians have power to help some less talented riders to get a spot in some cycling teams… While others who have more sporting talent and have no or less connections don’t get the chance to become a professional cyclist…

    • Good point. There is also the Walloon version too.

      Eddy Merckx was famously ignored for the amateur world championships because he wasn’t under the wing of the right people. But his mother started lobbying for him and he went to Sallanches and won.

  10. Oh and I forgot to mention that in the French speaking part of Belgium, Wallonia, they’re setting up continental cycling teams to support Walloon riders to get their chance into cycling. They want to become a counterweight for the Flemish domination in the national cycling races. There’s always a bit a struggle for Walloon cycling federation when there are no Walloon riders in the national selections for big races or championships. If you’re a good Walloon rider it’s hard not to be in a continental team which is not the case for Flemish cyclists.

    I remember the Belgian championships timetrial for U23 2years ago in Habay-La-Neuve. It was held in the most south part of the country in the province of Luxemburg and the track passed through the many forests there, there was a lot of controversy around Jonathan Breyne (now pro @ Landbouwkrediet) winning it and the best Flemish timetrialists who, that year always obtained better timetrial-results, had the best chances to win. It was claimed Walloon riders were pushed by cars and got into slipstream of motor vehicles and so they managed to get a better time… It was pouring rain out there and there wasn’t hardly any audience in the forests so no one will know the very truth unless those who were present in the race cars or some (Walloon) commissaires….

    So you see, there’s always a connection between politics and sports! Wanting to get more votes at the elections and getting in control of more power…

Comments are closed.