Born: 2nd July 1943, Ghent, Belgium
Number of professional victories: 155
Flandria 1967 - 1969, 1973 - 1975
“Walter Godefroot is the only one of my adversaries who I never beat in a direct fight for victory” declared the great Eddy Merckx.
Godefroot amassed an impressive 155 professional victories in his professional career. He won 10 Classics, most notably the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and took 10 Tour de France stage victories. He was able to win the hilly classic Liège-Bastogne-Liège, to which his heavy build was completely unsuited, defeating Merckx in 1967.
In 1970 Godefroot won the Tour de France Green jersey, and even took a mountain top victory by outsprinting Merckx. In 1975 he was the first rider to win on the Champs-Élysées, which had that year been introduced as the Tour's regular final stage.
It is for his victories in the Northern Classics, however, that Godefroot is most famous, and which exemplify his character as a rider. Godefroot was a true flahute, a term reserved for only the hardest, toughest Flandrians such as Rik Van Looy, Roger de Vlaeminck and Sean Kelly, who excelled over the cobbles and were at their best in the foulest of weathers. Stocky in stature and somewhat dour in character, Godefroot was able to drive himself to brutal extremes. It was not uncommon for him to be physically sick after some of his victories.
Perhaps Godefroot's greatest triumph was his spectacular victory in the epic 1969 Paris-Roubaix, in which he inflicted a crushing defeat on Merckx.
The weather conditions in this edition of the race were among the worst the race had ever experienced: not only strong winds and heavy rain, but also hail and snow. As the riders entered the cobbled Hell of the Arenberg Forest, Godefroot and Flandria teammate Roger de Vlaeminck immediately attacked. Although Merckx managed to bridge up to the two leaders, Godefroot put in a huge attack with 28km to go, sustaining an incredible 48km/h (30mph), and quickly opening up a ten second gap. Ten kilometres later, the gap was almost a minute. Merckx tried desperately to close the gap but was unable to make any impression on Godefroot, and fell further and further back. Pushing an enormous gear, Godefroot stormed into the iconic Roubaix velodrome to huge applause, crossing the line nearly three minutes ahead of the dejected Merckx. Only 35 other riders finished. Merckx offered no excuses and stated that he had simply been beaten by the better man.
After his retirement as a rider, Godefroot was famously Directeur Sportif at the Telekom team (later T-Mobile), where he guided Bjarne Riis and Jan Ullrich to back-to-back Tour de France victories.
Major placings whilst riding for Flandria:
1967 Flandria - De Clerck
1st Stage 1B - Tour de France
1st Stage 7A - Tour of Switzerland
1st Stage 1 - Tour of Romandie
1968 Flandria - De Clerck
1st Tour of Flanders
1st Stages 3B and 9 - Tour de France
1st Stage 2 - Tour of Switzerland
1st Stages 3 and 8 - Tour of Anderlousie
1st Stages 2 and 6 Paris-Nice
2nd Paris Tours
3rd Paris Roubaix
1969 Flandria - De Clerck-Kruger
1st Scheldt Grand Prix
1st Stage 3 - Tour of Switzerland
5th Milan San Remo
1973 Flandria - Carpenter - Shimano
1st Stage 15 and 16A - Tour de France
1st Stage 4A - Paris Nice
1974 Flandria - Carpenter - Confortluxe
1st Championship of Zurich
1st 4 Days Dunkirk (also, 1st Stage 3A)
1st Henninger Turm
3rd Amstel Gold Race
1975 Flandria - Carpenter - Confortluxe
1st Stage 22 (Champs-Élysées) - Tour de France (1st Person ever to win on Champs)