Fifty years ago, the then Gaverling Willy Van Malderghem was "le roi des paves" according to the French l'Equipe Cyclisme Magazine. Indeed, he was the inspirer of the wet and windy 70th edition of Paris-Roubaix on April 16, 1972.

Alone in the lead

On the infamous cobblestones in the Forest of Wallers, the rider of the Watney Avia team was suddenly in the lead with Frenchmen Alain Santy and Jean-Luc Molinéris. They break away one by one. The maximum lead of Willy is 2’35”. Then bad luck strikes, he has a flat tire. There is only a margin of 1’00” left when he sets off again. Shortly before the last cobbled strip in Hem at 5 km from the finish Roger De Vlaeminck joins him. Willy was already 60 km in front.

Fate strikes again

He attacks, but on the last cobbled section his chain snaps while shifting in the mud and Willy loses 5 meters, but on an unleashed De Vlaeminck the gap grows rapidly. Until two km before the finish he gives everything in his body, but when André Dierickx passes him, he gives up. He is completely exhausted. On the track, Barry Hoban and Willy Teirlinck also sprinted past him. He finally finished in fifth place at 2″36″ from the winner Roger De Vlaeminck, who then won the first of his four victories with a lead of 1″57″.

That it was a heroic edition was shown by the fact that of the 160 riders who started, only 49 finished the race after 272.5 km.

Mural on the course of the BK time trial

Gavere has not forgotten Willy, who now lives in Zottegem. On the eve of the BK time trial 2022, a mural painted by artist Michel Steppe was unveiled in the Vluchtenboerstraat just before the traffic circle, recalling the moment Willy was the “king of the cobblestones”.

You can’t get a more beautiful tribute 50 years after the fact.

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