The curse of the rainbow jersey, we all have heard of it. However, Maertens was clearly not affected by this! After he won the World Championship in 1976, a series of strong victories followed. In the following months he won both 'Omloop Het Volk' and Paris-Nice. He continued this trend at La Vuelta in 1977, where he surpassed the other riders. La Vuelta was used by many riders as a preparation for the Giro d'Italia, so the number of participants was lower. The organisation tried to compensate this by attracting the Flandria team, which included Freddy Maertens. They did this by emphasizing sprint stages and time trials. And this was exactly what Maertens excelled in! From the prologue onwards, he was the top favourite and he also outsprinted everyone in the mass sprints. The gap was so big that already on the second day of La Vuelta there were complaints in the newspapers that the race was not thrilling enough. Thanks to the bonification seconds Maertens was able to build up this lead. Towards the end, there were still a few mountain stages, but he had already built up a big enough gap to be able to keep the leader's jersey. That year he won no less than 13 of the 19 stages and wore the leader's jersey from start to finish. A record that no rider has been able to match since!
Maertens considered this impressive victory more as a good preparation for the Giro d'Italia and he proved it. He won five stages, but then he unfortunately crashed and broke his wrist. This caused a sharp turnaround in his career. In 1978 Maertens was able to win two stages and the green jersey at the Tour de France, but for a rider of his calibre this was only a weak result. A little later, halfway 1979, Maertens retreated after a breakdown. In the press there was much speculation about the cause: did he have financial problems? An alcohol addiction? Had the doping taken its toll? Maertens denied all these explanations and had himself tested, which showed that he was physically fine. Yet it seemed that Maertens' successful career would be ended early. He still took part in cycling races, but he usually didn't finish them, let alone end up in the lists of honour.
Freddy Maertens during the prologue of the 1978 Tour
But in the summer of 1981 he had a short revival. He managed to win five more stages in the Tour de France and won the green jersey. Later that year he also became world champion for the second time in Prague. With this victory his many splendid victories came to an end. He won some smaller races until he officially ended his cycling career in 1987.
The finish of the World Championship in 1981
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