The Wolfpack, Maertens and Roger De Vlaeminck’s ego
There was a recurring Belgian Classics theme at the third day of the Rouleur Classic with both Roger De Vlaeminck and Freddy Maertens making an appearance on the stage.
Now 71, De Vlaeminck provided one of the most entertaining interviews of the show, delivering his frank opinions and knowing braggadocio with expert comic timing.
A prolific classic bagger and the 1975 world cross champion, he recalled the season in which he won 62 races in one year.
“Quick Step have 30 riders; they’ve won 72 times this year.”
Why doesn’t the four time winner like the nickname Mr Paris-Roubaix? “I don’t like France,” he dead-panned. “I won in France, I won in Italy.”
On Tom Boonen: “He won Paris Roubaix four times…but I also came second four times.” Has he ever talked to Boonen about his claimed superiority? “He knows I’m the best.”
Where did he get such self assurance from in races? “You want to see my legs?”
Nonetheless, De Vlaeminck described Eddy Merckx, visitor to the show two days earlier, as “incredible” although not without chipping in a Tour of Switzerland anecdote in which De Vlaeminck repeatedly beat him into second place.
Read: When Bradley Wiggins met Eddy Merckx
And when asked who the last worthy world champion was, De Vlaeminck surprised an audience expecting a hark back to, say, a mid 70s ‘cross worlds, by answering 2018 men’s road champ Alejandro Valverde.
“He’s the only [current day] rider who’s good in the sprint, the time trial and the mountains.”
With this year’s Rouleur Classic themed around the Worlds, Maertens -who also won 35 Grand Tour stages- recalled winning his two world titles and particularly his fondness for the second victory in 1981 after a couple of tough years on and off the bike.
“I trained very hard,” said the 66 year old. “In one week I did three 320km rides. I felt very strong again. It was for all the journalists who wrote bad things about me.”
Asked where he thought the next Belgian elite men’s world title might come from, he noted: “That may be difficult. Van Avermaet is losing his sprint. Tiesj Benoot maybe. For the tours we don’t have anyone.
“[Maybe] the little one who is making the move from juniors to the pros,” he added with reference to Remo Evenepoel. But: “It will be hard.”
Reflections: Evenepoel, Pidcock and the danger of overhyping junior talent
Also appearing in the theatre was photographer Sigfrid Eggers who spent 2018 embedded with the Quick Step team and presented pictures from his book – The Wolfpack.
“I use little cameras so they don’t notice I’m there,” he said of some of his more candid images. Even so, if there was discord after a sprint had gone wrong, he knows: “at that moment you need to get off the bus.”
Eggers time spent within the team allowed deep insight into the personalities and relationships amidst the prolific Belgian squad.
Gallery: Quick Step training camp on the Costa Blanca
Julian Alaphilippe and Bob Jungels: “They’re like brothers,” he noted. The notoriously prickly Niki Terpstra: far more popular within the team than out for it. Many of the team are sad to see him go.
But it was the photography he was really embedded for and the images he showed on stage were nothing short of striking.
Zdenēk Štybar covered in grime after Strade Bianche backdropped by the stunning hilltop townscape of Sienna; Fernando Gaviria riding one of his three horses at home in Colombia.
Then back in back in the team’s heartland: powerful scenes from the aftermaths of Het Nieuwsblad, Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.