'Part of the ritual' - cycling’s long love affair with coffee

Current and former members of the peloton discuss why coffee has become such an important part of bike riding.

For many of us, it is hard to imagine cycling without coffee. What would cycling be, after all, without the ever popular coffee stop. In fact, many of us would struggle to identify whether they cycle or drink coffee first. 

“There is no cycling without coffee,” says Italian cycling legend Antonio Colombo, the longtime leader of both Columbus steel tubes and Cinelli cycles. “The link between coffee and cycling is firstly about brotherhood.”

Be it from a commercial perspective or a social one, coffee and cycling represent nothing short of a long love affair. 

Mercx

Image credit: Tutto Bici

Already in the late 1950s coffee manufacturers were attracted to the sport from a sponsoring perspective. There was of course the iconic Faema team, promoting the revolutionary espresso machines like the E 61. In the early 1960s riders like Classics specialist Rik Van Looy carried the team colors to glory winning the World Championships in 1960 and 1961. And then of course, a certain Eddy Merckx stormed to his first Tour de France victory at the end of the decade in 1969.

Coffee Bling

Other teams were less successful, but still left their mark. There was the Café de Colombia in the mid-1980’s, who gave the first generation of Colombian cyclists a taste of European racing. Led by gifted climbers like Lucho Herrera and Fabio Parra, the team had immense talent, although their rag-tag organisation often compromised their chances to shine.

“Café de Colombia got on board for a number of reasons. First they wanted to show the world that coffee was the country’s number one export and not some illicit drug,” Raphael Geminini says with a laugh. Geminiani, now 96, was the one-time teammate to Fausto Coppi, Louison Bobet and Jacques Anquetil, but he was also Café de Colombia’s first sports director back in 1986. 

“I’ll never forget the way Herrera climbed. He reminded me of Coppi,” Geminiani remembers. “But the problem was that the Colombian’s had never raced in Europe. I’ll never forget the Tour de France that year. I rented a big house by the finish of the team time trial because the Colombians had no experience in that discipline and I wanted to give them a couple days to prepare. But they never showed up. And when the TTT came, well they finished dead last and three of Herrera’s teammates finished outside of the time cut. Herrera may have been a great climber but without a team he had no chance.”

GVA

Despite the disarray in the beginning, Café de Colombia remained in the peloton for five years, and the team proved to be a real watershed. Herrera did go on to win the Vuelta a España and the team opened the door for Colombian cyclists for generations to come. 

Even today, a coffee manufacturer Segafredo remains a joint title sponsor in the WorldTour, having been a long-time partner to the Trek team. 

But while commercial links are well storied, it is perhaps the social link that marries the two activities even more. 

“I like to stop on a ride for a coffee, be it a hard ride or a easy ride,” says American Joe Dombrowski, a ten-year professional and admitted coffee aficionado. “If I bang out a bunch of intervals I like to stop for a treat. And if I am with friends, well, there has to be a coffee stop.”

“There is also the overlap with Italian in both cycling and coffee,” adds his wife Milica Wren. “Both are such mainstay in Italian culture culture. Stock car racing has Budweiser and video games have Monster energy drinks. But cycling has coffee.”

“It becomes part of a ritual,” Richard Frazier, CMO of Workshop Coffee in London, says of coffee and cycling. “It punctuates a ride. Going out for a cycle and having a coffee moment before, during or after, just creates an opportunity for cyclists to come together, a moment when they are not driving the pace or hanging on. It can act as sort of magnet for the ride. It can be its focus.”

Coffee

In some ways, coffee makes the pros that much more human. Sure, professional cyclists are often incredibly focused, sometimes obsessed, and almost single-minded in their preparation. But then they can put it all on hold for a moment over a coffee, little matter the calorie count of a cappuccino, as the coffee stop is simply one of cycling’s rituals. At the recent Grand Prix Cycliste de Québec and Montréal, few of the professionals missed the coffee stop in downtown Montréal on Saturday before the race. 

“I don’t know what it is,” say Dombrowski. “But coffee just has a way of making every ride better!”

You can pick up your very own Rouleur coffee cups here and if you order a set of two you can get 20% off with code CAFECYCLING .