The Spoke December 5, 2010

10 things you might not know about 'Flandria'

Part Three of bikebritain's '10 Things you might not know about' series brings us to the iconic professional road team 'Flandria'. Flandria were one of the most successful teams in cycling history, so it seemed only right that they get the bikebritain treatment with a look at their achievements through the years. The eagle-eyed amongst you will also notice thesre's actually 12 fact-ettes here - there's just alot to share about Flandria.......

1. The Flandria Bicycle Manufacturing Company was founded in Belgium in the early 1950s by two brothers, Aimé and Remi Claeys. The company was established on the basis of the mass appeal for bicycles and mopeds, then the most affordable means of transport for the general populous. Regrettably the two brothers were famed for not getting along very well. This culminated with them dissolving their business relationship and building a brick wall, literally, half way through their factory in Zedelgem. On one side Aimé retained the Flandria name with Remi creating a prestige brand called 'Superior'.   

2. The Flandria professional cycle team was formed in 1959 following a chance meeting with (Flandria owner) Aime Claeys and Faema-Guerra team sprinter, Leon Vandaele. One of Vandaele's team mates was Rik Van Looy, AKA 'The Emperor'. He was Belgian champion - and had high expectations of his fellow team mates - as in they would support him so he could fulfil his title aspirations. However, during the previous season Vandaele had 're-interpretted' 'team' orders, thus winning both Paris-Roubaix and the Championship of Flanders. Out of favour, Claeys formed the Flandria team around Vandaele, with the infamous 'Iron Briek' Schotte as rider-manager.

3. During their first season in competitive racing, the Mann-Fladria team won 44 races with Vandaele taking 8 victories. Ironically in 1962 Van Looy joined the team. As well as the tea winning over 100 races that year, Flandria also invented the notion of the 'lead-out' team. This allowed the Flandria 'Red Guard' to lead Van Looy to within about 200 meters of the finish line leaving him to sprint to the finish line. It was a highly successful tactic, but was not met with universal appreciation; double Tour de France champion Gino Bartali claiming it was 'morally reprehensible'.

4. Van Looy left the team in 1962 and a new team ethos took over. Now under Flemish management, strength in depth, team work and mental toughness now summarised the Flandria tradition. In 1967 'The Bulldog of Flanders', Walter Godefroot, joined Flandria. He epitomised these qualities. In one word - 'relentless'.With Eric Leman also signing for the team, these two riders won a number of classics between them, including the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix and Gent-Wevelgem. Flandria's reputation as THE team to beat continued to grow and by 1970 they were dominating one day Classic events. 

5. With new riders such as Roger de Vlaemick and Jozef Plankaert swelling Flandria's ranks, the team continued to win in the one day classics and the multi-day stage races alike. On top of this Plankaert had also come second in the 1962 Tour. This achievement was equalled by Dutchman Joop Zoetemelk, who turned professional with Flandria in 1970 and finished second in the 1970 and 1971 Tour. Flandria were also dominating the Tour of Flanders - having won it 5 times in the 13 races.

6. Flandria scored another first in 1970 when the team's co-sponsor was the Mars chocolate company. Wishing to launch the 'Mars Bar' in Belgium, Mars decided it would gain maximum exposure if it teamed up with Flandria. Mars wanted a high profile and successful brand to be associated with their new product and a deal was struck. Thus Flandria became the flag-ship marketing device for Mars and their 'Bar'. 

7. In 1973 Flandria made another significant decision, this time regarding bike components. Up until now, Japanese manufacturer Shimano had struggled to penetrate the European market. Now known as a race team prepared to be different, Flandria struck a deal with Shimano. This is where the 'Dura-Ace' range originated from. Flandria provided feedback to Shimano and in return they produced a brand new range of components designed specifically for them. Enter the Flandria-Shimano team. Being asscoiated with Flandria gave Shimano credibility - but the new components did their own talking. Walter Godefroot won a stage of the Ruta del Sol in February 1973 - the first win for a Dura-Ace equipped bike. 

8. One of the most successful Flandria riders was another Belgium legend, Freddy Maertens.  Having joined Flandria in 1972, Maertens gave Flandria-Shimano a second place in the 1973 World Championships in Barcelona though he was still a few years off his peak. in 1976 in managed to chalk up 54 professional victories in one season, equalling the great Eddy Merckx's total in 1971. This included 8 stages of the Tour de France. More was to come in 1977 when the Maertens-Flabdria combination blew the opposition away. Maertens was the star, winning the prologue and led from start to finish, winning an unbeliveable 13 stages, the overall classification and the points jersey. Flandria won 14 out of the 20 stages with team mate and fellow Belgian Michel Pollentier taking the other stage win.

9. Marc Demeyer’s victory in Paris-Roubaix was documented in the 1976 cult film “A Sunday in Hell”, written and directed by Jorgen Leth, reckoned to be on of the best films ever made about professional cycling. It captures the spirit of competition of the Spring Classics as well as heavily featuring Flandria heavy weights, Messers Maertens and Demeyer. 

10. In 1977 a young Irishman called Sean Kelly joined Flandria under the guidance of Maertens. This was also the year when Flandria won a record 103 professional victories, with Maertens and Demeyer winning at will. 

11. Despite all their successes, Flandria never won a Tour de France title outright. They came close in 1978 but during a pivotal stage to Alpe D'Huez caused leading rider Michel Pollentier to become dangerously dehydrated and suffering from exhaustion. Unable to provide urine for a drugs test, the result was assumed to be positive and Pollentier was disqualified. Nevertheless, Maertens claimed the green jersey and Portuguese rider Joaquim Agostinho ensured Flandria stood on the podium, albeit in third place.Going into their final season, Flandria again missed out on overall Tour de France victory, with Agostinho again taking third position. 70 Classic victories later, the team disbanded with the company eventually going bankrupt in 1981. 

12. 21 years after it went into receivership in 1981, Flandria was reborn. Nowadays Flandria is a UK based company, but it remains true to it's Belgian heritage. Flandria specializes in road bikes and frames from the aluminium 'Competiton' to the 'C Six'.

Sources:

www.flandriabikes.com

/www.roadcyclinguk.com

www.freddymaertens.de

Thumbnail Photo Credit: flandriabikes.com

Slider Photo Credit: 'A Sunday in Hell' a film by Jorgen Leth, 1976

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