Simpson the Lion Tamer
Before 1961 only seven non-Belgians had won from the 44 preceding editions of the Tour of Flanders (Ronde van Vlaanderen). British star Tom Simpson's form was clearly superior in 1961 but the odds were against him. The Ronde is the biggest race on the calendar as far as Belgians are concerned. The winner, whoever he is, becomes an instant honorary “Lion of Flanders”.
Right from the gun the hostilities started. World Champion Rik Van Looy attracted a crowd when he attacked with defending champion 'Tuur' de Cabooter and British star Tom Simpson to form a solid breakaway group.
The first break worked well and when four additional riders, including Tom's teammate Jo De Haan, bridged up to the leaders. The winning move had been made. All season Simpson had experienced near misses and several times had been outgunned by his own teammates. But on this day Tom was imperious, confident and flying.
Disaster struck pre-race favorite Van Looy on the climb of the Kruisberg, when the World Champion crashed heavily. Gallantly Van Looy tried to continue but abandoned in Zottegem.
The breakaway entered the closing laps of Wetteren. Simpson jumped away from the breakaway with track specialist Nino De Fillippis on his wheel. Not known as a sprinter Simpson had to outsmart the faster Italian. Tom started his sprint about 1km from the line with the Italian sitting happily behind him. At the 300 meter mark Tom eased off just a little and De Filippis thinking that Simpson was cooked jumped passed him on the right. Tom immediately switched across the road and passed De Filippis on his right. Thinking that he had the race won the Italian looked over his left shoulder. No Tom! This confused him momentarily and Tom lunged past him on his right take a spectacular victory.
Simpson (L) lunges past De Filippis (R)
SPECIAL NOTE: The 1961 edition of Flanders now had 6 climbs: The Oude Kwaremont, Kruisberg, Kerselareberg, Valkenberg, Kasteelstraat, and Grotenberg. (Total bergs 6)
SPECIAL NOTE: Sadly on December 20, 1961 the legendary race director Karel Van Wijnendaele passed away in Deinze. To honor Van Wijnendaele a monument was place on the cobbled climb of the Oude Kwaremont.
|Flanders March 26, 1961
|255 Km, Gent to Wetteren
Tom SIMPSON (GBr) 6h22'00"
Nino De Filippis (Ita)
Jo De Haan (Ned) +11"
Average Speed: 35.340 km/h
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