Building a Super Team: Champions and Tragedy


building_a_super_team_11962 had been a stellar year for the team, having won 101 races, but after the departure of Van Looy and his key lieutenants, the team needed to be rebuilt. Now under Flemish control, the team decided that a different approach was needed. Unlike all the other teams, Flandria decided that the squad would no longer be built around a single team leader. Strength in depth was more considered more important and the team became known for encouraging and nurturing new talent, and instilling in the riders that it was the success of the team, rather than individual success that mattered. This was to be achieved through the characteristically Flemish virtues of hard work, tenacity and mental toughness. Aspiring young Belgian cyclists dreamed of joining the Flandria squad, and when they were lucky enough to get signed, they felt they had no alternative but to produce results that would honor the Flandria tradition.

Walter Godefroot, soon to be known as “The Bulldog of Flanders”, joined the team in 1967. Already a professional for two years, he was neither flashy nor stylish. His riding style was aggressive and relentless, and he was the embodiment of the new Flandria philosophy. Eric Leman signed as professional with Flandria in 1968. He won Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne in his debut season, and took the Tour of Flanders two years later in 1970, the first of his three wins in the race. Godefroot was also storming though the Classics in 1968, winning both The Tour of Flanders and Gent-Wevelgem, and took second in Liege-Bastogne-Liege and third in Paris-Roubaix. In 1969 he took the top step of the podium in the famous Roubaix velodrome.

The reputation of the hard-as-nails Flandria team continued to grow, and by 1970 they had become the number-one team to beat in the one-day Classics.

building_a_super_team_2Roger de Vlaeminck started his career in 1969 with Flandria. Over the next 3 years he would learn the skills that would later take him to multiple classics victories and earn him the title "Mr Paris-Roubaix”.  Another new pro joined de Vlaeminck at Flandria in 1969: Jean-Pierre Monseré was a prodigy who won the Tour of Lombardy that year, and in 1970 claimed Flandria's first professional world road championship title, when he was just 21. The following year, however, tragedy struck; Monseré was killed during a race whilst wearing the rainbow jersey of the world champion.

Despite the cruel blow of Monseré’s death, the new decade saw Flandria embark on its most successful period. Unlike the teams of today, who generally specialize in either the one-day classics or the multi-day stage races, Flandria targeted them all. The team had already won several stages in the three-week Grand Tours, and Jozef Plankaert had finished second overall in the Tour de France in 1962. Flandria’s next serious Tour de France contender was the Dutchman Joop Zoetemelk, who turned pro with Flandria in 1970. He showed great potential from the beginning, and in his first Tour de France Zoetemelk finished second, a feat he repeated in 1971.

building_a_super_team_3While Flandria was becoming a major force in the Grand Tours, the team continued to excel in the classics. In 1970 Roger De Vlaeminck won Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, and was second in Paris-Roubaix. Eric Leman took the Tour of Flanders, was third Milan-San Remo and was third in Paris-Roubaix, just behind De Vlaeminck. The following year, Flandria took the Tour of Flanders again, this time with Evert Dolman the victor. By 1971, Flandria had won 5 of the 13 Tours of Flanders it had contested.


1972 and 1973 saw three new signings by Flandria, a trio nicknamed “The Three Musketeers”. The first of these, Marc Demeyer, went on to win Paris-Roubaix in 1976. Flandria’s next addition was to become one of the greatest cyclists of all time. Freddy Maertens, a fresh-faced 20-year-old pulled on the hallowed red jersey and joined the professional ranks in 1972. Michel Pollentier, the third Musketeer, joined the Flandria School of Excellence a year later in 1973.

Demeyer’s victory in Paris-Roubaix is brilliantly documented in the cult film “A Sunday in Hell”, universally acknowledged as the best film ever made about professional cycling. It eloquently captures the atmosphere the drama of the Spring Classics. The Flandria team features heavily, and the gritty determination of the Flandria riders - particularly Maertens and Demeyer - is plain to see.

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