If you want to look at proof - data and not raw emotion, mainstream press or the generally male-dominated history and view of cycling - I think you have to agree that the greatest cyclist of all time has to be Jeannie Longo.
Consider that Eddie Merckx, considered the greatest male cyclist of all time, earned 525 career wins. Longo has earned an impressive 1,022 victories. Sure, Merckx's career was a relatively short 13 years and Longo's career is 29 years long. At the young age of 49 (turning 50 on October 31) she is giving no hints of retirement.
In a great column by Charles Pelkey, in the September issue of VeloNews, Longo said, "Retire? I don't understand why everybody is asking me this question," she sighed. "It's impolite, isn't it? It's almost as if they are saying ‘We are sick of you and want to see you go away.' I like to ask the reporters then ‘When will you stop your work? When will you stop writing?'"
Just to give you a small glimpse of some of those victories, know that she has qualified for seven Olympic Games and has four Olympic medals. At the 2008 Beijing Olympic time trial, she was only two seconds shy of her fifth medal. Two seconds!
She has competed on the road, on the track, mountain bike and vied for the hour record. She owns 13 World Championship titles on the road, has 10 UCI World Track Championship medals, has a silver medal from the 1993 UCI World Mountain Bike Championships and beat her own hour record in 2000, fourteen years after her previous record.
In the VeloNews column she says, "It's a matter of focus. I like what I do and I get great satisfaction from doing it well. There is a satisfaction in doing something well, and that allows you to defy time."
I couldn't agree more.
The VeloNews column is not available online, at least that I could find. You can find some information on Wickipedia and the links at the bottom of the page dedicated to Jeannie.
To her critics in France, those that say she should move aside to make room for younger women, I say quit worrying about Jeannie's success and begin worrying about why your younger women cannot perform to her level. Do not lower the standard by asking her to step aside, seek to better your athletes' performances.