Coffee is an integral part of cycling. I don’t know a cyclist who doesn’t drink the stuff. A cup of coffee before I leave for a ride is mandatory. A mid-ride stop at a coffee shop is essential, even if it’s just to fill up my water bottles. Depending on the day I have ahead, I may even have a cup when I get home. Three cups of coffee a day is lightweight status for true coffee fiends, but cut me some slack, I’m sensitive to the stuff. There’s no denying the benefits of coffee, so rather than going into the physiological benefits to coffee, I’d rather explore the history of coffee in cycling. Besides the awesome effects of coffee, why exactly have coffee and cyclists become so inseparable? I would argue it’s because of a handful of legendary teams.
In 1955, the Milanese coffee machine manufacturer, Fabbrica Apparecchiature Elettromeccaniche e Affini (FAEMA) began title sponsorship of one of the most successful teams of the twentieth century. The first great champion to ride for “The Red Guard” was Rick Van Looy. During his time with FAEMA, Van Looy won the Mountain Classification at the Giro d’Italia, the Points Classification at the Tour de France, the World Championships (twice), Milan-San Remo, Tour of Flanders (twice), Paris-Roubaix (twice), Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and the Giro di Lombardia.
The next great rider to wear a FAEMA jersey is the greatest cyclist in the history of the sport. Eddy “The Cannibal” Merckx was an unstoppable force for nearly a decade, and won nearly every race on the calendar. During his time at FAEMA, Merckx won the Tour de France (twice), the Giro d’Italia (twice), Paris-Nice, Tour de Romandie, Volta a Catalunya, Milan-San Remo, Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix (twice), and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Keep in mind, these are just the major results on the road, over a span of three seasons.
Cafe de Colombia
Colombian cycling first broke into the European peloton thanks to Colombian coffee. At the 1984 Tour de France, riding for the Varta-Café de Colombia team, Luis “Lucho” Herrera won Stage 17 to Alpe d’Huez. The following year, Herrera won two more mountain stages. He also won the Mountains Classification in 1985. His teammate Fabio Parra won a mountain stage as well that year, and wore the white jersey of best young rider in Paris. In 1987, Lucho Herrera was the first person from outside of Europe to win the Vuelta a España. He followed up this incredible performance by taking the Mountains Classification at the Tour again in 1987.
In 1996, Saeco entered cycling. In doing so, the coffee machine manufacturer ushered in one of the coolest teams to ever grace the peloton. I’m not going to lie, the reason I ride a Cannondale today is because of the Saeco team. There are few teams that embodied Italian style in modern cycling more than Saeco. Riders such as Ivan Gotti, Danilo Di Luca, Gilberto Simoni, Francesco Casagrande, Paolo Salvodelli, Damiano Cunego, and, of course, Mario Cipollini won races up and down the calendar. The dominance of Cipollini in sprints was unrivaled for a time. The red train would light up the last few kilometers, and deliver Cipo to the line with laser precision.
These are three iconic teams of cycling, all featuring legendary champions, and incredible style. While these teams aren’t solely responsible for coffee’s presence in cycling, they certainly helped cement coffee’s place as a part of cycling culture and history. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a cup of coffee that’s getting cold.