The Red Guard: A New Way of Winning


the_red_guard_1In 1962 reigning World Champion Rik Van Looy joined the team that he, unknowingly, had had a part in creating four years earlier. Van Looy was at the peak of his powers in 1962, and won the Tour of Flanders, Gent Wevelgem and Paris-Roubaix. Van Looy was the overwhelming favourite for the 1962 Tour de France but was denied victory when a collision with a press motorbike forced him to abandon. Said a rival racer: "Whoever wins now, his victory won't be complete. He won't have beaten Van Looy." Jacques Anquetil went on to win that year. 1962 also saw the introduction of a revolutionary new tactic by the Flandria team. At the end of a race the Flandria “Red Guard” would pilot Van Looy to within 200m of the finish, allowing him to comfortably out-sprint everyone else. The now ubiquitous “lead-out train” had been invented. Double Tour de France winner Gino Bartali believed that such tactics were morally reprehensible, and entirely against the spirit of cycling. Today, however, lead-out trains are the norm for any team possessing a strong sprinter. Flandria’s lead-out was awe-inspiring; the 1962 squad was so strong that many of the domestiques were themselves fast enough to win races, if they had not been ordered to sacrifice themselves for Van Looy. After Van Looy's  departure from the 1962 Tour de France, Jozef Planckaert held the race leader's yellow jersey for seven consecutive days, before surrendering it in the time trial to Anquetil just two days before the finish in Paris.

the_red_guard_2Van Looy’s stint at Flandria lasted only one year. In 1962 Flandria was still the secondary sponsor, with Italian firm Faema being the team’s title sponsor. The following year, the Flandria company began to invest more heavily in professional cycling and took over the lead sponsors’ role from Faema. This meant that the riders’ wages were now managed from Belgium rather than Italy. Van Looy, despite being Belgian himself, was not happy at this development, and for some reason insisted that he ride for an Italian sponsor. He left the team at the end of 1962, taking most of his devoted Red Guard with him.

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