Remco Evenepoel turned 24 on Jan. 25, 2024, and we compared the palmares - up to the 24th birthday - of the greatest riders of various eras. Today we come to the number thirteen in our ranking Rik Van Looy.

First name: Henri (Rik)
Last name: Van Looy
Nationality: Belgium
Age: 90 years old
Date of birth: 20-12-1933
Place of birth: Grobbendonk
Nicknames: Rik II, The Emperor of Herentals

Rik Van Looy, the emperor of Herentals turned 90 on December 20, 2023. An event that people in Belgium did not just let pass by. There was extensive coverage on TV channels and in all the newspapers of the festivities organized around his birthday. His career was put back in the picture and this was more than justified because Rik is one of the truly great riders of cycling history. He was definitely one of the greatest one-day riders ever. Rik was amazingly explosive and fast at the finish line, was good over the hills, and even in the real mountains he could stay near the climbers. Moreover, he was a boulder in the cobbles.

With a total of 162 UCI victories, he is currently in a shared third place all-time (after Merckx 276, Cipollini 163, tied with Cavendish 162 and with one more win than Roger de Vlaeminck 161).

Van Looy rechts

Van Looy is the emperor of Herentals but was perhaps even more the emperor of the classics. He was the first to win all five monuments (Milan-San Remo, Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the Tour of Lombardy), later Eddy Merckx and Roger De Vlaeminck would also succeed in this. To this day, these are still the only three riders who managed this. But moreover, Van Looy is the only rider who won the eight original cycling classics, namely the five monuments + Flèche Wallonne, Paris-Brussels and Paris-Tours. Both Merckx and De Vlaeminck never won Paris-Tours.

That Van Looy was a true cobbled specialist becomes clear when you look at his impressive palmares. For example, he was also the first person ever to win in 1962, the Tour of Flanders, Ghent-Wevelgem, Paris-Roubaix (the ‘cobbled classics trilogy’) all three in a row. This was only matched by Tom Boonen in 2012. In between, Rik also became road world champion twice.

However, he never won the overall victory in a major tour, although he was a top rider there as well. In 1958 he was the leader in the general classification and had already won five stages in the Tour of Spain. In 1959 he finished third in the Tour of Spain in which he won four stages and the mountain classification and fourth in the Tour of Italy in which he also won four stages. He won the mountain classification twice in the Vuelta and once in the Giro, clearly underlining his climbing ability. In 1962 he started in the Tour de France for the first time and soon won a stage, but in the 11th stage he was hit by a motorcycle and had to be taken to the hospital in Pau. In 1963 he finished tenth in the Tour, winning four stages and the green jersey. A total of nine Tour stages, 12 Giro stages and 18 stages in the Vuelta are to his credit. Van Looy also rode on the track. He won twelve six-day races, ten of which he won with Peter Post.

The latter days of his career saw one Eddy Merckx appear in the peloton. Merckx joined the same team as Rik in 1965. In 1966, Merckx left Van Looy’s Solo-Superia team (the red guard) because he wanted to go more his own way. It was the beginning of a feud, slightly whipped up by the press. Rik started to race a little more defensively to “eat Eddy’s plate first” and then try to strike … But when that didn’t work out Rik sometimes preferred to see someone else win than Eddy and the other way around was no different. Of course, this made for some spirited stories of rivalry between the two champions. That they now appreciate each other so many years later was evident on Van Looy’s recent birthday. During an interview for TV he was called by ‘den Eddy’ , who congratulated him. A beautiful moment that came into focus and clearly showed the respect that is now present between the two of them.

Bronze statue

A statue was placed for Rik Van Looy in 2017 in the Grote Markt of Herentals. The three-meter high statue is by artist Philip Aguirre and Rik Van Looy determined the pose himself in consultation with the artist, who depicted him faithfully. A beautiful and fitting tribute to a great figure in the history of cycling one would think, were it not for the fact that the statue was made in polyester.

Supporters of Rik thought that the statue of this champion should be cast in bronze for eternity…

And so it happened on his 90th birthday.

Wednesday 20/12/2023 in Herentals was completely dedicated to the 90th birthday of cycling legend Rik Van Looy. The Emperor of Herentals is now also an honorary citizen of the city and his birthday was celebrated extensively. Although he was born in Grobbendonk, it will always be Herentals that will be linked to Van Looy. The new bronze bust, which stands near the Den Druyts sports hall on the Grote Markt, was solemnly inaugurated Wednesday afternoon, thus immortalizing Rik.

Patrick Van Gansen

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