Rik Van Looy

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Cycling

BelgianBorn Henri Van Looy

Belgian former professional cyclist

Born on December 20, 1933 in Grobbendonk, Antwerpen , Belgium (90 years)

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Henri "Rik" Van Looy (born 20 December 1933 in Grobbendonk) is a Belgian former professional cyclist of the post-war period. Nicknamed the King of the Classics or Emperor of Herentals (after the small Belgian city where he lived), he dominated the classic cycle races in the late 1950s and first half of the ‘60s.
Van Looy was twice world professional road race champion, and was the first cyclist to win all five 'Monuments': the most prestigious one-day classics – a feat since achieved by just two others (both also Belgians: Roger De Vlaeminck and Eddy Merckx).
With 379 professional road victories, he ranks second all-time behind Eddy Merckx. Van Looy is ninth on the all-time list of Grand Tour stage winners with thirty-seven victories. These numbers could still have risen had he not been the victim of a significant number of falls resulting in serious injuries. Moreover, early in his career he had to compete with the legendary Rik Van Steenbergen, and at the end with Merckx.
...   Henri "Rik" Van Looy (born 20 December 1933 in Grobbendonk) is a Belgian former professional cyclist of the post-war period. Nicknamed the King of the Classics or Emperor of Herentals (after the small Belgian city where he lived), he dominated the classic cycle races in the late 1950s and first half of the ‘60s.
Van Looy was twice world professional road race champion, and was the first cyclist to win all five 'Monuments': the most prestigious one-day classics – a feat since achieved by just two others (both also Belgians: Roger De Vlaeminck and Eddy Merckx).
With 379 professional road victories, he ranks second all-time behind Eddy Merckx. Van Looy is ninth on the all-time list of Grand Tour stage winners with thirty-seven victories. These numbers could still have risen had he not been the victim of a significant number of falls resulting in serious injuries. Moreover, early in his career he had to compete with the legendary Rik Van Steenbergen, and at the end with Merckx.


Early life
Rik Van Looy was born in 1933 in Grobbendonk, in the Antwerp Province. As a child, Van Looy was fascinated by cycling. Before the age of 13, he worked as a paper boy. The foundation of his further career was laid in that period, by daily riding on a packed, much too heavy bicycle.
In his very first races as a youngster, however, he did not yet stand out as the big talent.


Career


Amateur years
Van Looy rose to prominence when he won the Belgian amateur road championship in 1952. He repeated the victory the following year, adding third place in the world title race the same year, before turning professional. He took part in the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki, participating in the road race, but without completing it. Instead, he and his teammates won the gold medal in the team road race. At the age of 19, Van Looy won the bronze medal in the World Championship amateur road race in Lugano.


1953-1960
A powerful sprinter, Van Looy won two races in what was left of his first professional season (1953), and 20 more over the next couple of seasons. In 1956, his victories included Gent–Wevelgem and Paris–Brussels, plus two stages and overall victory in the Tour of the Netherlands. He also won a silver medal in the world road race championship, behind his countryman Rik Van Steenbergen (whom the team was obliged to ride for).

He repeated his Gent–Wevelgem and Tour of the Netherlands victories in 1957, and in 1958 won the season's opening classic, Milan–San Remo.
1959 saw Van Looy take the early-season Tour of Flanders and the autumn classic, the Giro di Lombardia. In between, he scored another 38 victories, including three stages of the Vuelta a España (finishing third overall and winner of the points competition) and four stages of the Giro d'Italia (for 4th overall).


1961-1966
In 1960, he scored the first of two consecutive victories in the world road race championship, but Classic victories eluded him. However, he made up for this in 1961, winning both Paris–Roubaix and Liège–Bastogne–Liège – making him the first rider to take all five 'Monuments' – as well as retaining his rainbow world title jersey, and taking three stages, plus the mountains competition, in the Giro.
Van Looy scored two more Classic wins in 1962 (Paris–Roubaix, Tour of Flanders), took another Gent–Wevelgem, and two more Giro stages. At the age of 28, he made his debut in the 1962 Tour de France as one of the major favorites. Van Looy's strategy was to exhaust co-favorites Federico Bahamontes and Jacques Anquetil before the mountain stages started. However, after ten stages in which Van Looy gave a spectacle, he was forced to abandon the Tour due a collision with a motorcyclist. Tour director Jacques Goddet publicly regretted his departure.

In 1963 Van Looy rode the Tour de France again, taking four stages en route to victory in the points competition and a 10th place on general classification; he also grabbed a silver in the world title race. In the latter race, held in Ronse in his native Belgium, he was beaten in the sprint by his countryman Benoni Beheyt who manually pushed Van Looy aside. Van Looy, starting the sprint too early, did not take this defeat lightly. This race has remained memorable in the history of Belgian cycling.
In 1965, he scored 42 victories including Paris–Roubaix, and eight stages of the Vuelta on his way to his second third place overall (his highest placing in a Grand Tour). For good measure, he also took two stages in the Tour de France.


1966-1970
During the final years of his career, Van Looy's road performances began to fade, as the new Belgian star Eddy Merckx rose to prominence, but he still grabbed second in the 1967 Paris–Roubaix, won La Flèche Wallonne in 1968, and took a stage of the 1969 Tour de France. His rivalry with Eddy Merckx reached the height of sabotage of Merckx in the world championships in 1969.


Track cycling career
Van Looy was also a star on the track, winning 12 Six-day races. His first came in Brussels in 1957, his last in Antwerp in 1968. For ten of these victories, he was paired with Dutchman Peter Post.
In the winter of 1956 he was paired with Rik Van Steenbergen for some track races. Events that many looked forward to, but the plans were shelved after they both had arguments during the world championship in Copenhagen. The two Riks would eventually ride together in a few Six-days races in 1963.


Riding style
Van Looy was a very powerful sprinter, rather heavy for his height due to his muscular legs. In mountain stages, he was usually able to keep up the pace, but less able to make the difference.
Despite his sprint qualities, he usually wanted to avoid the sprint by escaping earlier. Van Looy enjoyed the cheering of the crowd more during solo arrivals. There was no time for that while participating in a sprint and preparing for it.
He could also motivate himself knowing he was being chased by competitors. This is also why he did not excel in individual time trials, it fascinated him less. Yet that shortcoming is hard to reconcile with a man who could ride in the lead for miles without a flinch, visibly hurting his opponents. The more calculated riding during stage races, was at odds with his attacking style. As a result, he never won the overall classification in a Grand Tour, which also always included time trials. He did win overall victories in shorter stage races (in the 1965 Giro di Sardegna, for example, by winning 5 out of 6 stages...).


Leadership
Van Looy did not spare himself during preparations for races, which were characterized by spartan training methods combined with a carefully selected diet.
Gradually, he stood out for his dominant character, both in his team and in the peloton. His leadership was strict, but always fair. Because of him, the term "team captain" was brought to a higher level. He worked out the fledgling leader-domestique system to perfection, and the team had to ride entirely in his service. Instead of the team manager, he himself decided the tactics, which riders were best suited for this and even what they would earn.
The Flandria-Faema team that was built around Van Looy was nicknamed the Red Brigade by the peloton and public, after the red jerseys the riders wore.


1963 World Championship incident
The 1963 world championship in Ronse seemed an ideal opportunity to triumph a third time, with a course that suited Van Looy, and this time supported by a home crowd.
The Belgian team would be riding completely for Van Looy, but during the race it turned out that Gilbert Desmet and Benoni Beheyt (both riding for a different brand team than Van Looy) had other plans. At the end of the race, Desmet escaped and Van Looy was forced to start the sprint much earlier than expected, after which Beheyt (pushing away on Van Looy's shoulder) eventually finished first.

The jury only briefly considered the problem of the obviously irregular sprint and did not change the final result. The medals were awarded in front of a rather confused audience, with both Van Looy and Beheyt having a hard time smiling. The story about the Betrayal of Ronse dragged on for a long time in the press and public, and crowds of people showed up at races where both gentlemen would start.
It didn't really seem to bother Van Looy, he enjoyed the commotion that cycling caused. Nevertheless, it is suggested that he systematically thwarted Beheyt's career afterwards. Fact is that the latter already stopped cycling a few years later at the age of 27, also due to injury problems.
The two gentlemen turned out to be on good terms after that, although neither of them seldom wanted to talk about the 1963 world championship again in interviews.


Retirement
On August 22, 1970, after a race, Van Looy decided to quit professional cycling immediately and in all discretion. Unlike his predecessor Rik Van Steenbergen, he resolutely refused a lucrative "farewell tour" via criteria and track races. Neither was he interested in a high-paying farewell cycling race in the Antwerp Sports Palace.
Not surprisingly, he subsequently was appointed as team manager for Willem II. Afterwards he became a driver-consultant for a newspaper and magazine during races and in a later phase director of the Flemish cycling school in Herentals, the city of which he is now an honorary citizen.
In his house nothing reminds of his glorious past. "What's past is past. All the trophies, jerseys and medals, ... I've given it all away. To charities, supporters and friends, it means more to them than to me" Van Looy once mentioned.


Personal life
Rik Van Looy married Nini Mariën in 1955. Both formed a close-knit couple. Nini was partly behind the top career Rik Van Looy was able to build. She was one of the most famous riders' wives in the peloton in the 1950s and 1960s, and put her life entirely at the service of Van Looy's career.
After a lingering illness, she died in 2021 at the age of 88. By then, Van Looy had already withdrawn from public life for a while to assist her. "She has done so much for me, now it's my turn" Van Looy said.The couple had a daughter and a son. Van Looy rode on incentives, which could also come from his family. When he lectured his son by saying "when will you come home with good school results again?" the boy's response was "when will you win another classic again?" The following week, the 34-year-old Van Looy won La Flèche Wallonne.


Legacy
Given the specialization of a cyclist's role in the modern peloton, Rik Van Looy's number of road race victories will most likely never be surpassed in the future.
Van Looy is also probably the most popular rider Belgium has ever known. Obviously because of his victories and his attacking way of cycling. But his constant accessibility towards supporters, combined with his honest no-nonsense style in interviews contributed even more to this. Common people could identify with him, in contrast to the less language-savvy Eddy Merckx. Even when Merckx's performances began to surpass those of Van Looy, he seemed to have more opponents among Belgian cycling fans, compared to Van Looy.
In addition, Van Looy had a "clean image", compared to many of his colleagues and the generations of cyclists that would follow. "My performances started to improve significantly after I started following the training schedules and diets of doctor Dries Claes, which I had to convince to start a collaboration. As he was also a member of the anti-doping commission, the use of banned substances was completely out of the question." Van Looy mentioned in an 2023 interview.


Awards and honours
Trophée Edmond Gentil: 1959
Belgian National Sports Merit Award: 1961
General Tour de France Combativity Award: 1963
Stage Combativity Awards (8): 4 in 1963, 1 in 1962, 1964, 1965 and 1966
Swiss AIOCC Trophy (fr): 1982
UCI Hall of Fame: 2002
Mémoire du Cyclisme – The Greatest Cyclists: 11th place: 2002
Sports Personality of the Antwerp province: 2005
Honorary citizen of Grobbendonk: 2012
Statue in Herentals: 2017
GP Rik Van Looy (nl): from 2018
Bust in Grobbendonk: 2021
Mural in KOERS Museum, Roeselare: 2023
ProcyclingStats – All Time Wins Ranking: 2nd place (162 wins)
ProCyclingStats – All Time Ranking: 8th place
CyclingRanking – Overall All Time Ranking: 12th place
UCI Top 100: 16th place


Records
The only winner of all 8 original classics: 5 Monuments + Paris-Tours, Paris-Brussels & La Flèche Wallonne
Winner of all 5 Monuments of Cycling (record shared with Eddy Merckx & Roger De Vlaeminck)
Winner of all 3 cobbled classics in one season: 1962 (record shared with Tom Boonen)
Former record of most races won by a professional cyclist: 379 (1961-1972)


Major results


Road


Track

Source


Books
Pedalare! The Emperor: The Rik Van Looy Story by David Armstrong in 1971, Kennedy Brothers, 34 p. (English) ASIN B0006C6X94
The Beast, The Emperor and the Milkman by Harry Pearson in 2019, Bloomsbury Publishing, 289 p. (English) ISBN 9781472945068
Rik Van Looy: De Temperamentvolle Wereldkampioen by Marcel Grosjean & Roger Meuleman in 1960. G.P.V., 40 p. (Dutch)
Rik Van Looy by Fred De Bruyne in 1963. 42 p. (Dutch)
Rik Van Looy: Heerser en Verdeler by Louis Clicteur & Lucien Berghmans in 1966, De Steenbok, 222 p. (Dutch)
Ik, Rik! by Rik van Looy & Rob Jans in 1972, Brito, 95 p. (Dutch)
Van Looy Story by André Blancke, Jan Cornand & Roger Quick in 1979, Het Volk, 69 p. (Dutch)
Rik Van Looy: Monument Voor Een Keizer by Roger De Maertelaere, Guy Crasset & Modest Maertens in 2005. De Eecloonaar, 192 p. (Dutch, French) ISBN 9789077562185
Flandria: de 20 Wondere Jaren van een Wielerploeg by Mark van Hamme in 2007, De Eecloonaar, 392 p. ISBN 9789077562338
Groene Leeuw: de Wielerploeg die de Keizer Uitdaagde by Jan De Smet and Patrick Feyaerts in 2008, De Eecloonaar, 360 p. ISBN 9789077562512
Rik Van Looy 80 by Mark Vanlombeek & Robert Janssens in 2013. Borgerhoff & Lamberigts, 272 p. (Dutch, French) ISBN 9789089313997
Van Looy / Les Héros! by Robert Janssens in 2018. Kannibaal Books, 120 p. (Dutch, French) ISBN 9789492677402
Rik Van Looy - De Val van een (Wieler)Keizer. 1963 & 1964 Anni Horribiles by Jan De Smet and Patrick Feyaerts, De Eecloonaar, 210 p. (Dutch)
’t Is Rik – Hommage aan de Keizer by Bart Lamers en Thijs Delrue in 2021 (Dutch, French) ISBN 9798201045227


References


External links

Rik Van Looy at Cycling Archives
Rik Van Looy at Olympedia
Rik Van Looy at Olympics.com



Biography from Wikipedia (see original) under licence CC BY-SA 3.0

 

Geographical origins

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