Remembering Jempi - 40 years later.

He was the James Dean of cycling.

Forty years ago yesterday, on August 16, 1970, Belgium's Jempi Monsere had the world at his feet.  Flandria's home-grown superstar had just won the World Professional Road Championships in Leicester, England - and seemed destined for a career that would rival that of his other superstar countryman, the legendary Eddy Merckx.

Tragically, just a few short months later, Jempi lost his life in a minor early season Kermesse in Retie.  It was March, 1971.  He was coming out of a curve, struck a car going opposite the race, and was killed instantly.  He left a wife and toddler son.  All of Belgium, and cycling, mourned.  

Jempi's best mate and sidekick was another Flandria discovery, a certain Roger DeVlaeminck.   Le Gitan, along with brother Eric, was there on the side of the road that sad day, yelling in frustration and anger for assistance that could not change what had happened.   Hardman Roger shed bitter tears as he walked alongside the coffin in that funeral train along with Leman, Schotte and the rest of the 'red guard'.

Jempi's wife's first cousin later married his young friend Freddy Maertens.  Jempi had been the matchmaker.   Freddy was racing the amateur Tour of Algeria when he got the news of the accident.  Devestated, his first reaction was to quit and go home.  His director, Eddy Merckx' father-in-law, Lucien Acou talked him out of it.

Freddy remained close to Annie Monsere.  In '76, at the peak of his career, he gave the gift of a bike to Jempi's cycling-crazy young son, Giovanni Monsere.    Tragically and ironically, Giovanni was also struck by a car and killed riding his bike in the summer of '76, while Freddy was winning the Green Jersey in the Tour de France.   His team kept the news from him until the the Tour finished in Paris.  Just an unspeakable tragedy.   Can you imagine?   I sometimes think of it whenever I go on a road ride with my son, a reminder that you can never be careful enough.      

Sporza just released a video tribute to remember Jempi, featuring an interview with Roger DeVlaeminck.  Check it out here.  There's another one here from a few years ago of Freddy with Annie Monsere at an exhibit dedicated to Jempi at the National Wielermuseum.

So remember Jempi today.  Remember him by keeping your head up, and riding defensively.  

Comments

  1. saw jempi when my friends and i went for our holidays racing in ghent 1968 and i was also at the world champs that he won at mallory park leicestershire,to hear that he had died less than 12 months later whilst racing in his rainbow jersey and hit by a car that had got onto the race circuit was just terrible.
    a tragic loss for his family,for belgium and for cycling.
    rip jempi.

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