“I was a rouleur,” Johan Museeuw says. “A rouleur is someone who can ride on the flat. A rider who can go hard on the cobblestones, a rider who can make the breakaway. Not at the beginning: four riders going away for publicity in the Tour de France? That’s not really a rouleur.
“A rouleur is somebody who knows the race and has the specialisms for it. Not really a good climber, but he can defend in the mountains and do some great things on the flat. A rider with a big engine who can ride alone, who waits to attack in the last ten kilometres, not for the finish. A rider who is always at the finish fast: that’s the meaning of rouleur for me.
“Thomas De Gendt, that’s a rouleur. He tried at the Dauphiné, the Tour de France, everywhere, to go in breakaways, at the beginning and the end. He always wants to drop his rivals. He wasn’t a winner, but he’s a rouleur. One time a rouleur, maybe you’re always a rouleur.”
Museeuw first hit the headlines by winning a brace of Tour de France bunch sprints in 1990, contesting the green jersey. But he knew deep down where his specialism lay. “Everybody said I was a sprinter. But I wasn’t really: I was fast after a hard race. So I was more a rouleur than a sprinter, and that was also the reason I lost Classics later on.
“I knew I had a good sprint but I wasn’t afraid to go alone and do something special, like a rouleur.
“The way I won my last Paris-Roubaix [in 2001], I did a breakaway 55 kilometres from the finish. You don’t know why you want to go, but that’s the moment in the race, you say ‘I go’, even if it’s a long way out.
“It’s the same with the breakaway in Tenbossestraat in Geraardsbergen [in the 1998 Tour of Flanders], that was 30 kilometres from the finish. That’s the tactical thinking of rouleurs. To win a hard race like the Tour of Flanders or Paris-Roubaix, you have to be a rouleur.”
At Mapei in the mid-‘90s, he was at his peak among several other irresistible rouleurs. Alongside Franco Ballerini and Andrea Tafi, the boys with blocks on their jerseys took some beating.
Who does Museeuw consider the greatest rouleur of all time? “Briek Schotte, Rik Van Steenbergen and Rik Van Looy were rouleurs. But number one, I have to say Eddy Merckx, eh? He won in the sprint, he won in the mountains, he won alone and he did most of them in the breakaway from a long way out.”
The final piece of the puzzle for Museeuw? Winning with style. “For each big race, I always had a new jersey, shorts, socks and gloves. I wanted to be at the start with clean kit, even when it was raining. My bike, my condition, my clothing: everything had to be perfect. It was important – it still is.”
Johan Museeuw and his Mapei team are the inspiration for our new performance range of apparel, the Rouleur Collection launching Friday 16th March.