Why people give other people nicknames? I guess if your name were Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, Caligula would be a lot better option for a name. Especially if you’re a psychopath. But if you’re not a famous psychopath and just race your bike to make a living, why would anybody call you The God of Thunder, The Killer, Spartacus or Cobra? Who gives these nicknames, where do they come from?
Phony Cycling Nicknames
I suspect these and other cycling nicknames like that are phony, they are not real. I can’t imagine anyone but cycling journalists calling Thor Hushovd a God of Thunder. “OK, you and you will look after the God of Thunder, and you’ll cover The Killer while you stay with Spartacus. Don’t worry about Cobra, he won’t go anywhere today.”
Can you imagine a team meeting going like this before a race?
And this is why I think these nicknames are fake — they’ve been invented to spice up trite race reports.
Real Cycling Nicknames
There are real nicknames though in cycling, nicknames not made up by keyboard monkeys romanticising about the sport on a quiet Sunday night. I have no problem believing that Andreas Klöden went by the nickname of Klodi in the peloton just like Jan Ullrich’s real nickname was Ulle rather than Der Kaiser. Prosaic, yes, but nicknames are not supposed to be romantic, they are supposed to mirror the person.
It’s not all dull and boring though in the world of real nicknames in cycling. Some nicknames come with a bit of a story behind them. Luis Herrera, a famous climber from the 1980s and a winner of the King of the Mountains title in all three Grand Tours, came from a farming family in Colombia. He loved gardening and was nicknamed El Jardinerito, The Little Gardener.
Other nicknames in cycling, even though real, are not very well known to the public. Ever heard of Juan Pelota? If you didn’t, you’ll never guess whose nickname it is. Lance Armstrong. That’s right, true story.
Meet Djamolidin Abdoujaparov, Also Known As
Nicknames of Soviet-era cycling stars are not as illustrious as some cycling journalists’ imagination. Djamolidine Abdoujaparov, for example, had never been called Tashkent Terror by anybody in real life. In Soviet peloton he was known as Абдула (Abdullah).
The nickname has its roots in a popular Soviet-made Western from the 1970s called Белое Солнце Пустыни (The White Sun of the Desert). It’s a classic the Russians still watch today.
Abdullah is the movie’s bad guy, an Uzbek or a Turkman, we’re not told. Over the years, the name Abdullah became somewhat of a mocking name for anybody who came from the region known in Russia as Middle Asia which is where Abdoujaparov comes from. He is from Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, although he’s not an Uzbek.
That’s not all. Abdoujaparov had never, ever been called Abdullah in his face. Ever. Except in some circumstances. Because of the mocking nature of this name among mostly Russian-speaking peloton in the USSR, no one would ever dare to call Abdoujaparov Abdullah in his face. Suicidal. Behind his back, yes, that’s what pretty much everyone called him, but never in his face.
Gaffes happened though. My own came one day in a team bus (which had a nickname of its own, Fanta, because of its colour scheme).
We were getting ready for a race. It was wet and cold outside and everybody was putting embrocation cream on their legs. I couldn’t be bothered looking for mine in the bag so I grabbed someone else’s tub. When I was done, Abdoujaparov grabbed the tub from me and started putting the cream on his legs. At this point the guy whose cream it was walked in from outside and said, looking at me, “Where’s my cream?” I nodded in Abdoujaparov’s direction, who was sitting just a meter away across the isle, and said, “Abdullah’s got it.”
Oops. This wasn’t as bad as, for example, calling a dark-skinned person a nigger but you just don’t call a Tatar from Tashkent Abdullah and hope to walk away from it.
He looked at me with a grin on his face and said, “Djaphir, not Abdullah.”
Djaphir was a diminutive of his first name and even though Djamolidin isn’t that difficult to pronounce in Russian, it’s still too long. If you couldn’t be bothered with his full first name, your options were either not to talk to him or call him Djaphir. Unless you were looking for trouble.
You could get away with calling him Abdullah in some tight racing situations. In the heat of the moment you spit out whatever comes to your mind first and nobody cares about anything except the race. Since we called him Abdullah behind his back all the time, Abdullah is what would sometimes come from your lips if you needed to get his attention in the race. He didn’t mind.
Paradoxically, the normally scornful meaning of a nickname such as Abdullah was used with great respect with Abdoujaparov in the Soviet peloton.
By the Way
Abdoujaparov is probably the only professional cyclist in the history of the sport whose name was used to name a rock band.