Tour de France history: Freddy Maertens returns from the dead

Otto I. Eovaldi

At the 1981 Tour de France, absolutely everyone believed Belgian sprinter Freddy Maertens was burnt out – a has-been. How completely wrong they had been

Phrases: Giles Belbin Images: L’Equipe

The opening working day of the 1981 Tour de France did not go the way Freddy Maertens would have wanted. For just the 3rd time in its record the race experienced headed to southern France for its Grand Départ, with Awesome having the honour of web hosting the significant send out-off for the very first time.

To the bemusement of lots of observers, Maertens was amid the riders assembling on the Mediterranean coastline.

Maertens experienced experienced a awful former two seasons, ending handful of races and successful nothing of value. He was a shadow of his former self – a rider who had received 54 races and the rainbow jersey in 1976 who experienced led the Vuelta from get started to end in 1977, using 13 stage wins together the way who had won the eco-friendly jersey at the Tour two times (1976 and 78). He seemed tiny additional than a rapid-fading memory.

Right after six a long time of success with Flandria in the mid-1970s Maertens’ variety experienced fully disappeared. Speculation abounded as baffled journalists searched for an rationalization.

Did he have money difficulties? Was he an alcoholic? Experienced doping ravaged his overall body? Experienced he been pushed also tough early in his occupation?

In May perhaps 1979 he flew to the United States for a few weeks of assessments at a Philadelphia hospital. Very little was uncovered to be physically improper so Maertens returned dwelling and continued driving but little changed in his outcomes.

At the close of 1979 Flandria bowed out of team sponsorship, enterprise personal bankruptcy just two years absent. Maertens far too had significant fiscal problems. He was being pursued hard by the tax authorities, which he later gave as the explanation for his several years of weak form.

A damaged and broke rider, he moved to the Italian outfit San Giacomo for 1980. The time started promisingly more than enough – he was 12th at Milan-San Remo adopted by sixth at the Tour of Flanders – but following that arrived nothing at all.

By the start out of 1981 Maertens experienced moved to the Boule d’Or-Sunair group alongside his previous athletics director Lomme Driessens, with whom he experienced loved so considerably achievement at Flandria. But nevertheless the results did not occur.

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A stage gain at the Vuelta a Andalucía after Noel de Jonckheere was disqualified and a seventh location in Milan-San Remo were his sole finishes of observe.

In May possibly he lasted only a one phase of the Midi-Libre, and by this point Maertens experienced a track record as a rider who began races but didn’t complete them, permit on your own characteristic in the ultimate reckoning.

To secure his spot on the Tour staff he’d experienced to connect with Driessens’ wife and request her to argue his situation with her partner. Very little wonder several questioned what Maertens was accomplishing in Good, and they poked entertaining at Driessens for picking out his former star rider.

‘Psychologically, I was at a small ebb,’ Maertens would tell the writer Richard Moore for his book Etape.

So when Maertens crashed into a Niçoise pedestrian even though warming up for the Tour-opening prologue, it was the very last point he required. The collision compelled him into a past-minute wheel transform right before his race had even began. Soon after arriving late at the commence ramp he could only end 66th.

‘The push had a superior snicker about that,’ Maertens wrote in his 1988 autobiography Niet Van Horen Zeggen. Significantly less than 24 several hours later it would be Maertens who was laughing.


The second act of the Wonderful Grand Départ was a break up-phase working day. Initially on the agenda was a 97km stage into the hills all over the town just before a substantial-octane complete alongside the seafront. In the moist conditions an early break shaped that integrated the race chief and eventual general winner, Bernard Hinault.

For a while it appeared like this could be the profitable shift but a sequence of falls on the slippery roadways prompted the riders to progress with warning, and with 10km to go the escapees ended up back again in the primary bunch.

So the phase arrived down to an almighty 70-rider-sturdy sprint finale on the Promenade des Anglais, and there at the head of the bunch and top the gallop was Maertens.

Veering to his still left as he unleashed his closing sprint, the Belgian turned back the clock and driven to the line ahead of Sean Kelly, much to the shock of individuals viewing.

‘Nobody had assumed for a 2nd that he would ever [again] get nearly anything vital in his existence,’ noted the Dutch day by day Leidsch Dagblad. Even his fellow riders could not very think it.

‘Maertens the winner? You suggest Freddy? How is that possible?’ Johan van de Velde explained following the phase. ‘When I observed him this early morning with that significant physique I imagined, “He will never get again.”’

‘I may well now start to ignore my rotten year a little bit,’ Maertens mirrored. ‘I fell in the Ruta del Sol, wherever I broke my hand, then strike the deck in Paris-Roubaix, so I could not trip for a month. And yesterday I ran into a spectator just right before setting up the prologue… I was dissatisfied and required revenge nowadays.’

As it turned out his Wonderful acquire was just the begin of a fantastic three months for Maertens. He received a further 4 phases, like the last sprint on the Champs-Élysées, and claimed the eco-friendly jersey for what was then a file-equalling third time.

The return to sort for the Belgian was nothing small of impressive, a resurrection of a previous good. L’Equipe reportedly even ran a cartoon of Driessens keeping open a tomb from which Maertens emerged. ‘The old Maertens’ was back again.

A 2nd rainbow jersey arrived later in the time when Maertens came off the wheel of Italy’s Giuseppe Saronni in the last metres of the Highway Race Planet Championships in Prague, snatching the jersey out of Saronni’s palms on the complete line. Maertens’ extensive and hard climb again to the pinnacle of the sport was total.

That environment title would prove to be the Belgian’s remaining big earn. He retired in 1987, going on to do the job in the Flanders Centre. His Tour de France file stands at a impressive three inexperienced jerseys and 15 stage wins in just three appearances.

Giles Belbin is the author of Tour de France Champions: an A to Z ( isles)

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