Freddy Maertens: Once Warrior, Now Poet.

This post needs a preface-disclaimer:   I'm a HUGE Freddy Maertens supporter.   Always was, always will be.  I know, I know...I'm not very objective on this...but to me he's simply Flandria's greatest ever.

If you love the underdog, you gotta love Freddy Maertens.   
Freddy is a living icon of Flemish wielersport.  The story of his meteoric rise and fall is well documented:  The amateur phenom from West Vlaanderen with the unbeatable sprint, the neo-pro who dared to challenge Merckx, the dominant ogre who won more races in a single year than any pro ever, the rider who was virtually unbeatable in '76-'77, who suffered two zero-years filled with injury and doubt, and then, just when the whole world had written him off, rose from the ashes to win the Tour Green Jersey and a second World Championship in '81...only to fall back into the abyss.   

His former directeur Lomme Driessens was once quoted saying that at his peak, Maertens was better than Merckx.

I don't know if that's true, but what I do know for sure was that in the end, Driessens flicked Freddy, using his reputation and name to score a sponsor for a new team -- and then once the cash was in, booting him off the squad at training camp, falsely claiming he was a 'drug addict'.

Freddy forgave him later.  I don't know that I could have.  You're a better man than I, Freddy Maertens.

His 'Fall from Grace'  (his must-read tell-all biography title) was sudden and tragic. Freddy became the Rodney Dangerfield of Belgain cycling ... the man who 'got no respect'.  When Eddy Merckx won the Worlds, the king would invite him to visit the palace.  When Freddy won, he'd get a congratulatory telegram.  It was just not right.  

The sport of cycling basically turned its back on him.  Stabbed in the back by those closest to him, he was left down and out. All his money was lost thanks to trusting shady business partners, and poor income accounting.    The Belgian Tax authorities made his life a living hell for decades, chasing back taxes on disputed earnings he claims he never received.  It was like the common boxer's tale.  He lost his wealth, and his home, but was fortunately saved by that time-tested combination of faith, family, character and work.   

God bless him though, there's no doubt he must really love the sport.  Thanks to a few loyal friends, de man seems to be finally getting the recognition and respect he deserves.  After working as Belgian Assos sales representative for a few years, he then became caretaker of the Nationaal Wielermuseum in Roeselare.   For a couple of years now, Freddy's been working at the Centrum Ronde Van Vlaanderen museum.  If you go there most days, you can meet Freddy and have him show you the exhibits.  Check it out here.  What's cooler than that?   

It seems Freddy's now getting airtime in a new career... as a poet!  

During this year's Tour, he's being featured on VTM television every night, reciting a short poem behind the wheel of the Flandria team car for their daily show 'in de wiel van de Tour'  

The series so far includes odes to Bahamontes (the Eagle of Toledo), Coppi, Johan Bruyneel, the Schleck brothers and Robbie McEwen.  Fun tounge in cheek stuff, even if you don't know any Flemish.  Check the clips out here. (And hey Bobke, Freddy is on to your cyclist-becomes-poet template!)

One of my coveted cycling possessions is a wool Flandria Velda jersey, signed by Freddy Maertens himself.  I got it thanks to Steve Pucci and the kind assist of a CCB rider who was racing in Belgium last year.   

I'll have to get back over to the Centrum RVV again someday soon to buy Freddy a beer and thank him personally.

You can read more on Freddy at his website here, and at the Centre Ronde Van Vlanderen site here.  Pay your respect and become a fan of Freddy on his facebook site here.

Watch Freddy's one minute video tip to aspiring racers on how to be a champion, here .  While his English may not be perfect, the point he makes is!

“Live healthy.  Train a lot.  Have a lot of rest.  And eat good.”

But perhaps the best way to appreciate de man is to view the short clip Freddy Maertens in de Paddestraat. - a roadside interview by Wilfied de Jong at the Het Volk this year, set on that famous cobbled road.  The almost artistic quality of this excellent piece of TV journalism expresses way more than words can convey about the religion that is Flemish cycling culture:  The only sport where yesterday's world champion becomes today's humble roadside observer -  just another soul lined up along the altar.   The first shall be last, and the last shall be first.   We Catholics have an innate understanding, and acceptance of cycling's timeless pillars:  Suffering, silence, anonymity, humility, the fleeting nature of glory, and the folly of grandeur.   It's no coincidence that cycle racing's deepest cultural roots took hold in Catholic Belgium, France, Italy and Spain. 

Freddy closes the film by shaking hands goodbye with the Flemish double entendre, "Mijn tijd is voorbij."...  
"My time is past."  

No way.  Long live Freddy Maertens. 

Comments

  1. Thank You, Thank You, Fast Ed for giving Fast Freddie some love.

    You are right, gotta love the dark horses, the hard cases, troubled souls, and Freddie Maertens.

    Hans

    ReplyDelete
  2. I believe i have found Freddy Maertens bike from his Paris bruxelles 1975 47994 km race. It is on the seal of the bike i just acquired, how can i confirm this?

    ReplyDelete

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