Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Henri Van Lerberghe

Henri Van Lerberghe

Henri "Ritte" Van Lerberghe (1891 - 1966) was a Belgium racing cyclist who raced as a professional form 1910 through 1923. He is most famous for his win of the 1919 Tour of Flanders. The  third edition of the race. 

His racing style was to attack at the beginning of races. This usually didn't pan out for him, because it left him exhausted at the end of the race and unable to compete for the top places. Van Lerberghe was popular with the spectators, because of his aggressive riding during the early part of races.

"Ritte" won the fifth stage of the 1913 Tour de France.  He was racing in the category of an isolated cyclist. (individual cyclist, not part of a team) The "isolated cyclists" started fifteen minutes after the racers that were  members of a team. He was able to catch up to the lead cyclists and then go on to win the stage.

Henri finished in second place overall at the 1914 Tour of Flanders. Racing in Europe was put on hold for several years at this time because of World War I.

No one considered Henri Van Lerberghe a possible winner of the 1919 Tour of Flanders. World War I had just ended and he traveled from his military assignment straight to the starting line of the race. He showed up without a bicycle. After  borrowing a bike from a local, he announced that he was going to ride all the other racers to death (off of his wheel). His statement amused the other riders and they laughed loudly at him. Van Lerberghe never had many great race results and wasn't thought to be much of a threat to the top racers. His reply to their laughter was that he would 'drop them all at their own front doors on the way to victory'. As soon as the race had begun, in true Ritte fashion, he attacked as hard as he could. 

The other riders didn't chase after the attacking rider for a some time. Pitying him, they wanted to allow him a breif moment of glory. Once they decided to catch up to him, it was too late. 

Henri Van Lerberghe was intent on not being caught and rode in a fury. He came upon a train stopped across a railway crossing. Determined that nothing would stop him, he dismounted his bike and ran through an open train car with his bike across his back. Once through the train he jumped back on his bike and continued his ride. When he saw the velodrome, where the race was going to finish, he knew he had a huge gap on the rest of the field. He decided to stop at a pub outside of the velodrome and have a beer. It tasted so good to him that he ordered and drank several more. He was finally convinced to finish the race. After making his way across the finish line and winning the race, he was so intoxicated that he had to walk his victory lap instead of riding. He then announced to the crowd of spectators "You can all go home! I have a half a days lead on the others!" He actually only had a lead of 14 minutes on the rest of the racers. 14 minutes remains the biggest lead of a break away rider at the finish of the Tour of Flounders to this day. 

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