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By Barry Boyce,
CyclingRevealed
Historian



 

Top 20 All Time Major Classics #8

Tour of Flanders 1919: A Legendary Tale!

CR Timeline 1919

Four months after the ‘final shots' of World War 1 were fired bicycle racing in Belgium returned with the Tour of Flanders. Very talented Belgian rider Henri "Ritte" Van Lerberghe, second in 1914, arrived directly from his military post to the start line in Gent . Van Lerberghe had no bicycle but managed to borrow one from a relative of racer Jules Messelis.

Just before the start of the race "Ritte" shouted: "I will ride you all to hell !!!" Race favorite Jules Vanhevel had the best laugh on hearing the declaration and "Ritte" replied to him: "You shouldn't laugh because I'll ride you off my wheel in front of your own house!!!"

True to his opening declaration Van Lerberghe kept his promise and attacked on a hill in the Town of Ichtegem (hometown of Jules Vanhevel!!!). Amused by the theatrics, the other racers let him have the initial breakaway. By the time the peloton realized the size of the gap and started to chase him, it was too late. "Ritte" was too far ahead.

Steadily in heavy North Sea winds he rode away and with the velodrome finish line in sight Van Lerberghe stopped at a local pub and simply ordered a "Demie" (a demie is Belgian blond beer). It tasted so good he ordered another and then another. Race official Oscar Van Braeckel noticed "Ritte" sitting in the pub and he summoned Van Lerberghe's coach to fetch him.

After considerable persuasion Van Lerberghe's coach succeeded in dragging him from the pub. While "Ritte" was doing his “lap of honor” in the velodrome (walking because he wasn't able to ride his bicycle) he cried out to the public: "You can all go home, I've got half a day lead on the others!!!!!" He had actually only 14 minutes left of his initial advance because of his little passage through the Pub. Henri Vanlerberghe did complete the course and crossed the finish line for the 1919 victory in the Tour of Flanders.

But there is more to this legendary story. The famous railroad crossing!

During his ride to the victory in Flanders 1919 Henri Van Lerberghe did not let anybody or anything slow his pursuit of victory (not completely true; the demie's really slowed him down!!!!). As legend has it, Henri came to a downed railroad crossing with a train blocking the road and rode straight through a train. Undeterred Van Lerberghe, and without hesitation, hoisted his bike on his shoulder, crawled through the train car and out the other side. He then continued on to victory.


Lichtervelde Town Square during the Ronde 2004 (Photo: BB CyclingRevealed.com)

The Tour of Flanders always passes through this small Flemish town and Van Lerberghe's legendary stunt came to life again in Lichtervelde during the Ronde of April 2004. On the Market Square , a gigantic train car was built; the peloton rode straight down Main Street and through it on Sunday April 4th.


This proud Town of the Ronde honored their legendary hometown hero with a plaque opposite his birth place (Butcher's Shop Hans).
(Photo: BB CyclingRevealed.com)

 

Flanders March 22, 1919
203 Km Gent to Gentbrugge (Velodrome)

1. Henri VAN LERBERGHE (Bel) 7h28'02”

2. Lucien Buysse (Bel) +14'00"

3. Jules Van Hevel (Bel)

Starters: 47
Finishers: 23
Average Speed: 26.420 km/h

 

 

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