MEMORABLE DUTCH CYCLISTS AT LA VUELTA AND THE TOUR

11 August 2021 By Elien Kaes History

On the 14th of August, La Vuelta will start again. Of course, we cannot let this classic go by unnoticed, so let us first take a look at the history of this wonderful cycling race. 

Joop Zoetemelk en Lucien Van Impe op de Vuelta in 1979
Joop Zoetemelk and Lucien Van Impe at La Vuelta in 1979

La Vuelta took place for the first time in 1935, but remained fairly small until 1995. This was because La Vuelta took place in April until 1995 and was therefore the first cycle race of the season. In 1995 the decision was made to move La Vuelta to September. Thus La Vuelta became the last cycling race of the year and became a much more important race in the cycling world. This was reflected by the participants from that year onwards, for example the winners of the Tour or the Giro participated in La Vuelta. The races were also made more attractive; more mountains were included in the tour, which also attracted climbers to the starting line of La Vuelta. Some of these mountain races are truly legendary. Thus, La Vuelta transformed from a small tour to one of the big classics alongside the Giro and the Tour de France.

Until now, only two Dutch riders have succeeded in winning La Vuelta: Jan Janssen in 1967 and Joop Zoetemelk in 1979. However, there were other Dutch riders who managed to win a number of stages during La Vuelta, including Mathieu Hermans. The Belgians performed slightly better, La Vuelta was won seven times by a Belgian. Gustaaf Deloor (1935 and 1936), Edward van Dijck (1947), Frans de Mulder (1960), Ferdinand Bracke (1971), Eddy Merckx (1973) and Freddy Maertens (1977) won La Vuelta.

JAN JANSSEN

He is the first Dutch rider to win both the Tour de France and La Vuelta. Janssen rode La Vuelta twice and in 1967 he was able to bring home the title!

1967 - a good year for Dutch cyclists. Jan Janssen was in top form as was Gerben Karstens (the Clown), who finished right behind Janssen in the points classification. Karstens won no less than four stages that year. Dutchmen Evert Dolman, Jan Harings, Jos van der Vleuten and Henk Nijdam also managed to win a stage. But in the end Jan Janssen was the first Dutchman ever to win La Vuelta.

1968 - the first Dutchman ever to win the Tour de France. Before the final stage Herman Van Springel was still at the top of the classification. There was still a time trial to be ridden, but little was expected of Janssen since he had never won a major time trial before. But that day he rode the race of his life and against all odds won the time trial! He finished first in the general classification, just 38 seconds ahead of Van Springel.

After his professional cycling career, Janssen started a bike factory in 1972 where racing bikes are made under his name. Also, the 'Jan Janssen Classic' is still ridden in Wageningen every year and a bronze statue of him was placed in his native village Nootdorp in 2020. He was a legendary cyclist who won't be forgotten easily!

Jan Jansen op de Tour in 1968
 
Jan Jansen at the Tour de France in 1968

JOOP ZOETEMELK

The only other Dutch cyclist who managed to win La Vuelta and the Tour de France.

1979 - the victory in La Vuelta. In this year Joop won many cycling races such as Paris-Tours, Tour of the Haut-Var and Paris-Nice. But 1979 was above all the year in which Joop won his first major race. He finished first in La Vuelta!

1980 - the everlasting second. Zoetemelk has participated in the Tour de France several times before 1980, but he never managed to finish first in the final classification until this year. Before this he almost always managed to get one of the first ten places and finished second no less than six times! Hence his nickname "the everlasting second". Fortunately, as of this year, he could finally say goodbye to this name. In 1973 he already won the white jersey, which was then linked to the combination classification.

Joop Zoetemelk op de Vuelta in 1979
 
Joop Zoetemelk at La Vuelta in 1979
 

MATHIEU HERMANS

Mathieu Hermans was unable to win La Vuelta, but he did manage to secure many stage victories. How did he manage it? Hermans was known as one of the best sprinters at the end of the 80s. He could really excel in cyclocross, track and road cycling, but still he mainly cycled on the road - because here his sprints could really shine.

1985 - his first participation in the Tour of Spain. Hermans did not manage to win a stage this year and eventually finished in 67th place. However, this year he did manage to finish third in a bunch sprint. The tone was already set for the rest of his career! This year Hermans' team leader won La Vuelta: Pedro Delgado.

1988 - a great year for Hermans at La Vuelta. He managed to win no less than 6 stages during this tour, including the final stage to Madrid. Our favourite of this year remains the fifth stage victory (Albacete). One kilometre before the finish Hermans had an unfortunate fall and still managed to win the stage. That' s one that will go down in the history books for sure! Unfortunately the six stage victories were not enough to win the sprint jersey that year, which eventually went to Irishman Seán Kelly. However, Hermans did celebrate that year because he was made an honorary citizen of his village, Astigarraga, for his outstanding performance at La Vuelta.

1989 - a calm participation. Hermans again managed to win a number of stages in La Vuelta. This year there were slightly fewer wins, but with four stage victories, his participation in 1989 could certainly be called a success! But why did he slow down this year? He wanted, like many other riders, to save his energy for the Tour de France. At that time La Vuelta took place first (around April/May) and after that the Tour de France. Mathieu Hermans also wanted to win a stage at the Tour - that way you were really seen as a good rider - and that is what he did in 1989! On 12 July 1989 Hermans won his first and last stage at the Tour. This was the 11th stage from Bagnères-de-Luchon to Blagnac.

In total Hermans won ten stages at La Vuelta, including nine sprints and one time trial. So it is clear where his talents lied! Currently, Hermans is still active within the cycling world. He has started his own cycling club, FC De Kleppers. In 2013, the book 'Mathieu Hermans: Tegen De Stroom' (Mathieu Hermans: Against the Stream) was published, which led to the cycle race 'Mathieu Hermans Kleppertocht', of which the entire profits go to a good cause.

THE LATERNE ROUGE

Another fun fact about Mathieu Hermans is that he managed to win the Lanterne Rouge twice during the Tour de France. The Lanterne Rouge is not a real prize, but it is awarded verbally and gets a lot of media attention. The award goes to the last rider in the final classification. You might think that it is easily achieved, but this is certainly not the case! Some riders try to win the Lanterne Rouge, but this is very nerve-racking. If you arrive outside the time limit, you are disqualified. Hermans, however, did not suffer from these nerves; he won the Laterne Rouge in 1987 and 1989. In 1989 he only realised he had won the Lanterne Rouge a day later. After the finish he immediately boarded a plane, so he was not present at the award ceremony.

Mathieu Hermans in 1986 bij Seat Orbea
 
Mahieu Hermans in 1986 with his first professional cycling team
 
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