The Tour of Flanders is a classic bike race considered by many enthusiasts the best of the cycling season. It’s often considered more exciting than the most famous Tour de France or Giro d’Italia, but why?
Well, the truth is that the Tour of Flanders is a very selective race that attracts only the best cyclists in the world.
But that’s not the only thing that makes it fascinating. There are essentially three factors that make this race different.
The first is the nature of the roads which are often narrow and, in many cases, cobbled. This makes the route particularly challenging – and also discourages inexpert racers to attend. Second, there are demanding slopes with gradients that in some cases exceed 20%. Called “the walls”, these challenging traits follow one another, not giving racers the possibility to catch their breath on a flat terrain.
Lastly, it’s the impressive popularity of the race that makes Tour de Flanders an expected national event in a land renowned for its passion for cycling.
Here are some curiosities about this awesome cycling tour that may just stimulate your interest in becoming one of the racers – or at least a fan.
Paul Deman – A Spy Champion
The Tour of Flanders was born in 1913 on the idea of Leon Van de Haute and Karel Van Wijnendaele, the editorial directors of Sportwereld magazine.
Inspired by the Roubaix competition, the first Tour of Flanders extended to roughly 330 kilometers and saw on the start line as many as 37 riders. The first winner of the race was Paul Deman who crossed the finish line on the outskirts of Ghent with a clear advantage in front of the competitors, beating fellow countrymen Joseph Van Daele and Victor Doms.
After winning yet another competition in France, Deman saw his career interrupted by the First World War during which he worked for the Belgian intelligence, hiding documents in his bike.
Deman was arrested by the Germans and only the armistice saved his life. After the war, Deman returned to his cycling career and in 1920 he also won the Paris-Roubaix becoming the first rider in history capable of scoring a double victory in two classic tours on cobblestoned roads.
1923 – The First Foreign Victory
Foreign competitors attended the Tour of Flanders since the first editions, but all victories went to Belgium until 1923 when Swiss rider Heiri Suter claimed the first place.
From this victory and up to 1948, all victories were registered by Belgian riders. The second foreign competitor to win the tour was the Italian Fiorenzo Magni, the only rider who won Tour of Flanders for three times in a row, between 1949 and 1951.
A Competition For The World Champions
Tour of Flanders is a very demanding competition that requires a high level of physical fitness and mental preparation. Attracting only the best of the best, this cycling competition appeals even to the world champions.
There are four riders who conquered the Flanders wearing the world champion jersey. The first was the French Louison Bobet in 1955, followed by Belgian Rik Van Looy in 1961.
In 1974, Eddy Merckx claimed the gold medal in the Tour of Flanders after having previously won the World Championship. Lastly, Tom Boonen won the tour in 2006.
Besides attracting world champions, 10 of the best riders in the world attended the competition before becoming world champions.
Three Tour of Flanders participants have almost won the first place for several times, but they got the second place each time.
These are Sean Kelly, from Ireland, who competed in 1984, 1986, and 1987, Johan Museeuw from Belgium in 1991, 1994, and 2002, and Leif Hoste, also from Belgium, who competed in 2004, 2006, and 2007.
Winning Tour of Flanders is a great achievement, but winning three cobblestone road competitions in the same year is near impossible. Yet, two myths have made it!
The Belgians Rik Van Looy and Tom Boonen have won in 1962 and 2012 respectively not only Tour of Flanders but also the Gand-Wevelgem and the Roubaix.
There are six other professional cyclists who have registered at least a victory in all three races, but none of them had made it in the same year.
The Fastest Rider Is Italian
Registering a good average speed in the Tour of Flanders is tricky, mainly due to the difficulty of the route. Yet, the Italian Gianluca Bortolami is known as the fastest rider in the history of the race.
He covered over 200 kilometers (124 miles) at an average speed of 43.589kph – the equivalent of 27.08mph.
The 1977’s edition will remain forever in history as the only edition that doesn’t have a second and third place winner.
The race was won by Roger de Vlaeminck who succeeded to surpass his team-mate, Freddy Maertens. Maertens, who should have been the second, was disqualified for having changed a tire after a puncture outside of the designated areas.
The second and third places were therefore attributed to Walter Planckaert and Guy Sibille. Yet, a month later, both riders, along with seven others including Eddy Merckx, have been found positive at Stymul, a forbidden drug quite commonly used because it couldn’t be identified in the urine.
What followed was an automatic disqualification of all positive riders and the second and third place remained vacant.
Alberic Schotte is the only rider in the Tour of Flanders history to have participated for twenty times in a row.
Schotte rode the first race in 1940, registering the record of the youngest participant in the Tour. He attended every year until 1959 when he got the title of the oldest participant in the Tour.
During his career, Schotte won the Tour of Flanders for two times, in 1942 and in 1948. He also won to second places in 1944 and 1950, and was the third for four times, in 1940, 1946, 1949, and 1952.
The Tour of Flanders is certainly one of the most engaging road cycling races in the world. Taking riders through mesmerizing landscapes and challenging them with steep slopes and cobbled streets, the race gathers new admirers each year.
What do you think? Would you participate in the Tour of Flanders? Do you know other curiosities about this race? I look forward to reading your comments.