Born: 20th December 1933, Antwerp, Belgium
Number of professional victories: 419
In the late 1950s and early 1960s Rik Van Looy was the undisputed world number one in the one-day Classics. He is the only cyclist to have won every one of the Classics. Van Looy's leg muscles were unusually large, enabling him to ride with an immensely powerful style. In 1961 he almost lost the World Road Championship, when the sheer force of his legs ripped several spokes out of his back wheel. As he sprinted for the finish, his wheel collapsed, but he just managed to cross the line in first place. This episode earned him the nickname “The Wheelbreaker”.
This nickname was soon changed, however, to “The Emperor”. There were several reasons for this. First, the dominant, imperious manner with which he crushed his adversaries. Second, for his style and class; he famously carried a perfumed handkerchief in the pocket of his cycling jersey. The principal reason, however, was his role as the ruler of the famous “Red Guard”. Van Looy realised that he needed a team of utterly devoted domestiques who would sacrifice themselves completely in order to increase his own chances of victory. The Emperor would decide race tactics, gear choices and even what time his riders would go to bed. He also specified how much money each rider would receive for his services. Such was Van Looy's stature, Englishman Tom Simpson once remarked that if you weren’t a friend of the Emperor, you wouldn’t make any money riding in Belgium.
Rik Van Looy rode for Flandria in 1962. It was his greatest campaign in the Spring Classics. He had won the World Road Race Championship the previous year, and honoured the rainbow jersey with a spectacular triple of victories in the Tour of Flanders, Ghent-Wevelgem and Paris-Roubaix.
Van Looy is the only cyclist to win every conventional one-day Classic.
Major placings whilst riding for Flandria:
1962 Faema - Flandria
1st Tour of Flanders
1st Tour of Sardinia (also, 1st Stages 3 and 5B)
1st Stage 9 and 11 - Giro d’Italia
1st Stages 7B and 9B - Paris Nice
Team jersey image © www.memoire-du-cyclisme.net