Happy Birthday ‘Mr Paris-Roubaix’ – born 24.08.1947
Paris Roubaix winner – 1972, ’74, ’75, ’77
Milan-San Remo winner – 1973, ’78, ’79
Giro di Lombardia winner – 1974, ’76
Ronde van Vlaanderen winner – 1977
Liege-Bastogne-Liege winner – 1970
Tirreno-Adriatico winner – 1972, ’73, ’74, ’75, ’76, ’77
Resplendent in his eye-catching Brooklyn team jersey, with trademark sideburns and position, de Vlaeminck was always a magnet of attention in the peloton. The younger of of two de Vlaemincks who would dominate the Belgian cyclocross scene throughout the Seventies, Roger was also the best Classics rider of his generation. Despite being pitted against the might of Merckx for much of his career, ‘The Gypsy’ carved out a remarkable palmares, becoming one of only three riders to have won all five ‘Monuments” (de Vlaeminck’s countrymen Merckx and Rik Van Looy are the others). His unique riding style, with hands curved inwards over the low brake hoods, and elbows almost below his knees, was highly unusual for the day and his bike handling skills – honed over many winter cyclocross seasons – were exemplary. The cobbled classics of the Spring were his forte and his four wins at Paris-Roubaix will be his eternal legacy, even if Tom Boonen goes on to win one more to take the record outright. His third place in the 1976 edition, captured in Jorgen Leth’s “A Sunday in Hell” shows him in fine attacking form but (like Cancellara and Sagan in years to come) perhaps overconfident of his own powers in the final attacks.
Hair got me into cycling. I know it sounds ridiculous – the leap from barnet(1) to bicycle is not an easy one to imagine – but it’s true. The ponytails of firstly Robert Millar and then, and more importantly, Laurent Fignon bewitched me more than any lofty mountain pass or low-profile time trial machine. Who were these sportsmen who exhibited such flair with their hair? It is said that the aero disadvantage of Fignon’s follicle affectation cost him the 1989 Tour, which he lost to the tousled golden locks of the American Greg Lemond by just eight seconds, but (and I realise that it would have been scant consolation to the distraught Frenchman) it won my undying admiration.
Fignon and on and on.
It was the BFI’s Bicycle Film Festival last week and The Armstrong Lie is hitting the screens next month so it seems like a good time for a Jersey Pocket Podium for cycling films:
3rd spot: Breaking Away – Peter Yates – 1979.
Capturing the exotic appeal of Continental road racing (as seen through the eyes of a young American) Breaking Away warmly mixes the key teenage obsessions of idols, girls and friendships.
2nd spot: Belleville Rendezvous / The Triplets of Belleville – Sylvain Chomet – 2003.
Wonderfully eccentric in terms of plot and vision, Chomet’s animated extravaganza about a kidnapped Tour de France star remains burned on the retinas long after the film finishes.
1st spot: A Sunday in Hell. 1976. Jorgen Leth.
Merckx, Moser and De Vlaeminck do battle in the Paris-Roubaix Spring Classic but the pavé of Northern France is the real star of this exceptional documentary.