Eddy Merckx Bikes in Dwars Door Vlaanderen: six times the chief jay

Eddy Merckx Bikes in Dwars Door Vlaanderen: six times the chief jay

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On Wednesday, March 27, the 79th edition of Dwars Door Vlaanderen will take place. For us at Eddy Merckx Bikes, this race holds a special place in our cycling hearts. Over the years, a rider on an Eddy Merckx bike has won six times.

Since 1945

Waregem, for us Belgians, is not only known for its horse race or soccer team. Since 1945, a race has also arrived in the West Flemish town every year. Until 1998, the race went through life as Dwars Door België. Today it is better known to cycling fans as Dwars Door Vlaanderen.

For quite some time, Dwars Door Vlaanderen functioned as the kickoff of the sacred Flemish cycling weeks, but for several years it has been the last incentive riders seek on the Wednesday before the high mass of The Tour of Flanders. Read below the account of six memorable victories on Eddy Merckx bikes, from Vanderaerden to Wallays.

1986 - Heroic Vanderaerden

In 1986, Eric Vanderaerden provided the first Eddy Merckx triumph in Dwars Door België. Despite his youthful age of 24, his palmares already included five Tour de France stage wins and a first Tour of Flanders.

The 1986 edition of Dwars Door België was a heroic one. Rain and wind turned the race into a leaden elimination race that caused an immediate difference in the first hour. After barely 75 kilometers, only a leading group of 20 riders remained, including Vanderaerden and Adrie van der Poel. Moments later, Marc Sergeant and Noël Segers, among others, managed to make the jump toward the head of the race. Top favorite Sean Kelly had missed the battle and would no longer feature in the piece.

From this elite group, Noël Segers, Frits Pirard, Martin Kemp and Adrie van der Poel managed to slip away. However, despite frantic attempts by Vanderaerden to initiate the chase, the lead of the four leaders grew to two minutes.

After 120 kilometers of racing, Vanderaerden threw his trump cards on the table: he broke up the chasing group. Only Jozef Liekens and Sergeant reacted to this attack. Twenty kilometers later they caught up with the leaders, but Vanderaerden's hunger was not yet satisfied. He took off again and was joined by van der Poel and Sergaent. Moments later, seven other riders made the connection. They would decide among themselves who would take the victory in Waregem.

In the sprint, Vanderaerden attacked early, and after a famous power sprint, he won by several lengths ahead of van der Poel and Peter Stevenhaagen. After a third-place finish in '83 and a second in '85, Vanderaerden finally hit the ground running in Dwars Door België. In 1991 Vanderaerden also added a second win in the Belgian classic.

1989 - Dirk De Wolf plays solo smart

Three years after Vanderaerden's win, it was time for the next win by an Eddy Merckx bike. This time, Dirk De Wolf was the winner. De Wolf rode for team Hitachi for the fifth consecutive season in 1989. Notable fait divers here is that none other than Belgian soccer legend Paul Van Himst served as assistant team manager.

In '89, a group of ten riders rode away with 80 kilometers of the race remaining. Some of the escapees included Herman Frison, David Mann, Nico Verhoeven, Dirk De Wolf and a still very young Johan Museeuw.

Soon they took a lead of several minutes, whereupon the peloton gave way. Twenty kilometers before the finish, it was De Wolf who attacked. The rest of the group hesitated and 'Wolfke' cycled to a two-minute lead.

The then 28-year-old De Wolf arrived solo in Waregem with a lead of 1 minute and 45 seconds over Theo de Rooij. The sprint for the remaining podium spot was won by Johan Museeuw.

2003 - Robbie McEwen gives lickety split

After a 15-year drought without an Eddy Merckx victory, it was back to winning ways in 2003. Robbie McEwen overwhelmingly won the sprint from a breakaway of 14 riders.

It was a victory that came with some pressure. Lotto-Domo had started the season weakly and the press was particularly critical. Indeed, eternal rival Quick Step-Davitamon was in good form. So the Lotto riders were keen to show something.

The course of the race was very traditional. Three escapees got away and took a maximum advantage of eight minutes. Behind them, the teams of the favourites organised the hunt for the escapees.

A little over halfway through the race, however, a big crash took place. The biggest casualty of the crash was Johan Museeuw, who had to abandon the race. As a result, Quick Step-Davitamon had lost their big man and it was up to Vandenbroucke and Boonen to take over this role. Boonen initially did so with verve as he was the cause of a split in the peloton on the Oude Kwaremont. Baden Cooke, Leon Van Bon, Nick Nuyens, Frank Vandenbroucke and McEwen were some of the riders who survived the split.

Cooke was not feeling his legs that day and tried time and again to ride away from his fellow breakaway riders. Despite this, it was Jo Planckaert who came closest to a decisive attack on the final climb of the day. Planckaert did not get away on his own either and they rode with fourteen riders towards Waregem.

These fourteen included four Lotto-Domo riders. It was an ideal situation to set up a strong train for McEwen. Some frantic attack attempts came but the Lotto train managed to close every gap. Peter Van Petegem eventually brought the lead out, followed by Van Bon, Stefan Van Dijk and finally McEwen's final shot. On the podium, he was flanked by Cooke and Max van Heeswijk.

McEwen's reaction afterwards spoke volumes: "I'm very happy that I was able to win today, but it's also really a victory for the team. We were constantly in the mix, we controlled the race in the end and launched the sprint. It ended very well."

With this classic win, the train for Lotto-Domo had now really taken off. Van Petegem managed the double of De Ronde and Roubaix and McEwen won further stages in the Giro d'Italia and the Tour of Switzerland that season.

2005 - Nico Eeckhout with his second

In 2005 it was time for the first win for one of the forerunners of today's Team Flanders - Baloise. Christophe Sercu's team has a fine history with Dwars Door Vlaanderen and Nico Eeckhout, as the then leader, was the absolute exponent of it.

In the 60th edition of Dwars Door Vlaanderen, the race remained closed until about 60 kilometres from the finish. On the Paterberg, it was Nico Mattan who led the forcing. The steepness of this slope created a breakaway of 14 riders, including top favourites Tom Boonen and Peter Van Petegem. The peloton hung out in the ropes.

Mattan continued to put pressure on the rest and launched another attack with 30 kilometres to go. On the Holstraat, Stijn Devolder reacted with Boonen in his wheel, but moments later Van Petegem and Boonen missed the decisive battle towards leader Mattan. Boonen said afterwards that after Milan-Sanremo he did not have the legs to ride everything to pieces.

Eeckhout, however, was always alert. So did Nick Nuyens, Mathew Hayman, Baden Cooke and Marcus Burghardt, among others. Hayman made another attack eight kilometres from the end, but he could not avoid the sprint. In this sprint, Nico Eeckhout clearly showed himself the strongest. He won ahead of Roger Hammond and Gabriele Balducci.

After his victory in 2001, this was already his second Dwars Door Vlaanderen for Eeckhout. After finishing, he looked back delighted. "I saw that Boonen and Van Petegem didn't come back, but even with these guys, a sprint in such a small group is always tricky. I felt good and if I can sprint at the end after a tough race, I know I'm strong. The freshest rider won, I think."

Eeckhout also showed several times in later editions that this race was written on his body. In 2007 and 2009 he finished second each time and in 2008 he also managed to take third place on the podium.

2006 - Frederik Veuchelen: Servant becomes master

One of the most remarkable victories on an Eddy Merckx bike belongs to Frederik Veuchelen. He too rode for the then Chocolate Jacques / Topsport Vlaanderen. In 2006, the team recorded its second consecutive victory in Dwars Door Vlaanderen.

Everything started with the breakaway of the day. In many cases, this is a means of both putting your team in the spotlight and introducing yourself as a rider to the general public. But very rarely, when everything falls into place, the early breakaway riders sing it out until the finish. Such was the case in Dwars Door Vlaanderen 2006. After a good ten kilometres, four riders broke away from the peloton. Drawing present: Veuchelen, David Boucher, Kevin Neirynck and Harald Starzengruber. The quartet soon got a free ride and managed to secure a huge lead of up to 18'20" after 90 kilometres of racing.

Bit by bit, Tom Boonen's troops began to nibble away at this gigantic lead. But would they still be able to catch up with the leaders in time? With accelerations on the Oude Kwaremont and the Côte de Trieu, the peloton thinned to a group of 13 riders. They were not sitting still at the front either. Of the original foursome, only Veuchelen and Boucher remained. At the start of the two local laps, the escapees still had a lead of 3'30".

Boonen meanwhile waged war in the background, but the kilometres were to the disadvantage of the chasers. Veuchelen had managed to break away from Boucher and with one kilometre to go he had a 20-second margin. The peloton approached quickly but Veuchelen held on. Dwars Door Vlaanderen was won for the second year in a row by a rider from the team of Planckaert and Sercu.

For Veuchelen, it became the most beautiful victory of his career. At the same time, it was also a very emotional one. He dedicated the win to his mother and father, as the family had gone through hell in the weeks before. Frederik's father was an avid cyclist and during an Italian cycling trip he had fallen badly. He broke a vertebra and was in a coma for several days. Only in the week of Dwars Door Vlaanderen was there any spectacular improvement. The flowers afterwards were therefore for Frederik's parents.

In 2017, Veuchelen went into retirement. Currently, the Brabander is working as head coach at Intermarché - Wanty, where his responsibilities include coaching top African talent Biniam Girmay.

2015 - Jelle Wallays finishes the perfect team game

For the provisional last winner on an Eddy Merckx bike, we return to 2015. Exactly ten years after their first triumph in Dwars Door Vlaanderen, Topsport Vlaanderen - Baloise was celebrating again.

It was a drizzling day at the start in Roeselare and that clearly had its impact on the peloton. It took no less than kilometre 70 before there was any separation. Eventually, a group of nine riders rode away, including Matthias Brandle, Adrien Petit, Gert Dockx and Jelle Wallays.

For the next 70 kilometres, the escapees stayed together, but after the first hills, however, the front began to fall apart. While the escapees were picked up one by one by the peloton, Wallays felt on the Eikenberg that his moment was there. He accelerated out of the leading group and anticipated the approaching peloton.

That peloton effectively arrived very quickly. On Taaienberg, Michal Kwiatkowski threw a spanner in the works. In doing so, he had two companions in Dylan Van Baarle and Wallays' teammate Edward Theuns. The three of them rode towards Wallays and the final could fully begin. From the background, Lars Boom and Stijn Devolder tried to catch up, but both crashed in the same bend.

Among the leaders, the poker could begin. A golden opportunity presented itself for Topsport Vlaanderen - Baloise to convert the overtime into a victory. Until the final kilometre the quartet stayed together nicely, and under the arc of the last kilometre Wallays took off first. Kwiatkowski and Van Baarle watched each other and Theuns, as an exemplary teammate, kept his legs still. Wallays soloed to victory and shouted his joy on the line. Edward Theuns completed the party for the team. In the sprint he dealt with Kwiatkowski and Van Baarle, giving Topsport Vlaanderen - Baloise a unique one-two.

Wallays and Theuns reacted elatedly afterwards. "The weather suits me and so does this race," Wallays said in the press tent. "I knew I had to keep going because in the early break I had already lost quite a lot of strength. It was my only chance when a small group got to me and it was perfect that Edward was with me. It was fantastic!"

Theuns was also euphoric: "It was ideal for us. I could count on my sprint because I know I'm pretty fast. Jelle could then try to take advantage of the hesitation of the other two and that worked out perfectly. One and two is really fantastic for us and for the team."

After his time at Topsport Vlaanderen - Baloise, Wallays moved to Lotto for five seasons and finally to French Cofidis for three more. Last winter, Wallays announced his cycling retirement. In 2024, Wallays will focus on triathlon and aims to compete in five Iron Mans. In the autumn, he has picked the Gravel World Championships in Leuven as his big goal.
Photos Vanderaerden and De Wolf: KOERS Collection. Museum of cycling.
Photos McEwen, Eeckhout, Veuchelen and Wallays: Photo News.
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