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Freddy Maertens

One of the greatest racers of all time speaks his mind

Back to list of Oral History interviews | Freddy Maertens' major wins

To understand the interview below, some explanation will be helpful.

Freddy Maertens’ career consisted of two great arcs. The first began with a wildly successful time as a junior and amateur racer in Belgium’s province of West Flanders. As a junior in 1970 he won 42 races and in 1972 he won 28 amateur races before turning pro.

From there he kept getting better and in 1976 he became Belgian and World Champion, won the Tour de France green jersey, the Tour of Switzerland, Gent - Wevelgem and a host of other important races. He sustained that incredible streak in 1977 by winning Het Volk, Paris-Nice, Vuelta a España and was possibly headed for victory in the Giro d’Italia (he’d already won seven stages) when he crashed badly and broke his wrist. The next year race wins didn’t come as easily, though he did again win the Tour de France  green jersey.

After 1977 there were no major wins until 1981 when he again became World Champion and won the Tour de France green jersey. After that, he ceased winning the big ones and rode on smaller teams until his retirement in 1987.

These seemingly inexplicable crests generated intense press speculation. It was said that Maertens had ruined himself with drugs or big gears. Maertens’ own explanations are far less ominous. To make Maertens’ life more miserable, he placed his trust others who lost all his money and he got into terrible trouble with the Belgian tax authorities. Bad luck followed this gifted athlete like a lost dog looking for a home.

Today Freddy Maertens works at the Centrum Ronde Van Vlaanderen museum in Oudenaarde, Belgium, and there I sat down with Maertens joined by my wife Carol, writer Les Woodland and his wife Stephanie to spend a couple of hours going over his fabulous career. On a personal note, I found him to be a fun, charming man who has given his own career and cycle racing in general a lot of thought.  The interview was conducted the morning of November 25, 2011.


Fall From Grace
The cover of Maertens' out of print autobiography

Bill McGann: When we had lunch with Jac van Meer [Van Meer and Maertens rode on the same team late of both riders’ careers] yesterday, he had something very kind to say. He said you were too good for this world.
Freddy Maertens: I always tried to do my best. And he did his best as well. We all try to do our best.

Les Woodland: He said you are the nicest man he had ever met and that trying to do your best was part of your problems.
FM: [Laughs] I became a professional in the time of Eddy Merckx. If I want to win when Merckx is there, I have to beat him. He won more often than I beat him.

BM: You won 54 races in one year, the most ever by any racer?
FM: 56. And Eddy won 54 in one year

BM: But three of Merckx’s wins are track races?
FM: Yeah.

BM: So they don’t count?
FM: [shrugging] Some people count them, others don’t. I don’t. But I don’t lose sleep over it.

BM: There was a time when Belgian racers struck fear in the hearts of all other riders. For decades, man for man, Belgium contributed more great riders than any other nation. Where is Philippe Thys, Silvère Maes, Rik I and Rik II, the De Vlaemincks, Merckx, and Maertens? Belgium used to produce Philippe Gilberts, to paraphrase Mozart, like a cow pissing. What happened? Where are the Maertens’. Where are they?
FM: I think it has to do with the evolution of the world sport. It’s too easy.

Freddy Maertens

Freddy Maertens looking out the Tour of Flanders museum's main window. There is a cobblestone for each winner. On top of De Vlaeminck's 1977 stone is one with Freddy Maertens' name and under the year it says "moral winner". Maertens discusses the 1977 Tour of Flanders near the end of the interview.

BM: Too easy to be a Belgian racer?
FM: No, no.  It’s too easy...how do I explain? Now when a professional signs a contract for big money he can say, “I will ride the Tour of Flanders and I will ride Paris-Roubaix and then I will go on holiday. And then when I ride the Tour [de France], I will go for only one week. ” And now the big bosses accept that. In the 70s Merckx didn’t go to Molteni and say, “I am going to ride only two classics at the beginning of the year.” He had to ride all the classics and then he had to ride the Giro and then the Tour.

BM: You also raced the entire season...
FM: We had to do that. It was another time. Now, it’s too easy.

Les Woodland: Are you saying that because they don’t ride as many races, they are not as good as they could be?
FM: Yes.

Les Woodland: ...or that’s because they don’t ride as many races and can’t win as many…
FM:  They win too much money.

Les Woodland: Would they be better riders if they rode the whole season like you did and be more fit?
FM: I think so. This year [2011] Tom Boonen was not very good. He had a lot of problems during the races. But I am sure that next year he will be back. He is obliged, otherwise he is finished.

BM: But, why did Belgium go from having, man-for-man, more good riders than any country in the world? Is it because every dog has his day and success comes and goes?
FM: Yes. In Italy it is the same as well as the Netherlands. They don’t have the winning riders.

BM: Or is it because of the mondialisation of the sport?
FM: Yes, mondialisation!

BM: There are more riders from more countries fighting for the same pie?
FM: Yes. And the riders have smaller [racing] programs. Otherwise they won’t sign the contract. Maybe I can explain it another way. Before, in the 60s and 70s the boss came with the contract. First, it was the program. He put the program before you and then you could sign the contract. Now, you sign the contract and then select the races.

BM: I think Armstrong would have about 20 racing days in his legs before he would ride a Tour de France. 
FM: Yes, he can say, “I am going for the Tour de France and I won’t ride the classics.”

Les Woodland: How many days in a year did you race?
FM: 210.

Les Woodland: And Philippe Gilbert now?
FM:  85

Les Woodland: And Tom Boonen?
FM: [makes gesture that seems to imply fewer]

BM: I think Anquetil raced 240 days a year.
Les Woodland: If Gilbert and Boonen raced as many times a year as you did, would they go faster or would they go slower?
FM: I think they would go slower. Maybe Gilbert is a little bit like the type of rider I was.

Les Woodland: What are the similarities between you and Gilbert?
FM: When you look at all the races he won this year and you take my 1976 and 1977,  it’s almost the same. He only lost the World Championship, but the Copenhagen course was not suited for Gilbert. There was only a sprint [won by Mark Cavendish]. It was very hard and Cavendish had already proved himself at Milan-San Remo.

Les Woodland: Have you got the same personalities as well?
FM: I think so. He talks to everybody. He’s nice…

Les Woodland: Too good for this world, like you?
FM: Maybe. It’s possible. Today, Saturday, we asked him to come here [to the museum] and he said, “Freddy, I can’t, because I have eight appointments before I ride the pursuit tonight at the Ghent 6-Day. So if I come to visit you at the museum that makes nine, and that’s impossible for me.”
I said to him, “Pay attention, because winter is where you make your season. Take care of yourself.”

BM: You turned pro after a sparkling amateur career that included both a Belgian and Flandrian championship. You chose to ride for Briek Schotte’s Flandria team, turning down Ernesto Colnago and the Italian SCIC squad. Why did you go with Flandria?
FM: That was because of a little family problem. Well, it wasn’t really a problem. From the beginning my father had a laundry and my mother had a discount grocery store. Then, about the year I turned pro my mother had to start dialysis because of kidney problems. My father had to close the grocery store and my mother had go to the hospital four or five days [a week]. So there was Flandria and there was SCIC. Paul Claeys [owner of Flandria] said to my father, “Why don’t you open a bike shop and have one of your sons run it?  I’ll pay you every three months according to what you have sold. You don’t have to invest any money.”
I would have preferred to go to SCIC and Colnago but my father said, “You have to do something for us too.”

BM: So you’re going to Flandria was a result of family responsibilities?
FM: Family responsibilities.

Les Woodland: Do you regret that?
FM: [shrugs] I don’t know…

Les Woodland: How would it have been different if you had gone to SCIC?
FM: You know Italy? It’s a lot better there. Fewer races, more money. Better food.

BM: Better science?
FM: Yes, yes, yes!

BM: It seems from the start of your career, despite your enormous talent, the stars weren’t in your favor. You didn’t seem to get along with the Belgian Federation [Maertens shakes his head at this point], Briek Schotte thought Paul Claeys, the owner of the Flandria team, was overpaying you and even teammate and partner Walter Godefroot got your contract for the Grenoble 6-Day reduced by 150,000 Belgian francs. There was also the 5,000 franc fine for not properly contesting a criterium right after Paris-Tours. This brings to mind three questions:  First of all, was Belgium cycling a dog-eat-dog world where all the cyclists had to constantly defend themselves and all the riders were having their pockets picked.
FM: Yes, it was that. When I was an amateur, I wasn’t bad. Then I became a pro. It’s like you have a cake. At that time there was [Frans] Verbeeck, there was Godefroot, there was Merckx, there was [Roger] De Vlaemick. There was everybody. And when a young rider [appears], they won’t let him come in. They say, “We have this cake and if we let this new rider come in, we have to reduce the size of our cake pieces. And so we will try to keep the cake for ourselves and not let Maertens in.”

Les Woodland: How did they stop you getting in? What did they try to do?
FM: By creating a block against me.

Les Woodland: They were all against you?
FM: I have a good picture. In it I am at the head of the peloton at Gent-Wevelgem and I am looking back, listening to what Merckx and de Vlaeminck are saying. They are talking to each other, saying, “What are you going to do about Maertens now? If you go with him to the sprint, he wins. We have to try…” 
When the picture was taken, I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but they looked like that.

BM: Now what about the team managers and the race promoters of your era? It appeared they were always trying to cheat the riders. It seems like the riders are always having to fight for what was promised.
FM: This is the work of the manager...he gets the money in his pocket and he forgets. Now, there have been a lot of changes. The manager takes ten of fifteen percent, which is normal. He can take the contract of a Philippe Gilbert or Tom Boonen and improve it

BM: So things are more honest now?
FM: Yes. In the 60s and 70s there was only Jean van Buggenhout and he worked for Merckx.

BM: Was Belgium different from the rest of Europe in this respect?
FM: It was the same all over. Maybe things were better in Italy.

BM: And why were you, who should have been Belgium’s golden boy, getting knocked about so much?
FM: In Belgium, even if you are Eddy Merckx, you can never be the golden boy.

BM: Just like Rik Van Looy tried to keep Eddy Merckx down?
FM: Yes. You cannot be a golden boy in Belgium. Rik van Looy was never a golden boy in Belgium. Merckx…

BM: Not like in Italy…
FM: If Merckx had been born and raised and lived in France he’d have 20 statues. In Belgium, they are jealous. They are all jealous.

1973
BM:  In your first full year as a pro, 1973, you were in the Tour of Flanders winning break: Merckx, Eric Leman, Willy De Geest and you. Rokado director Lomme Driessens wanted to have his rider, de Geest, lead you out in order to deny Merckx the win, but your director, Briek Schotte, said no, leading to Leman’s victory and your second place. Do you know why Schotte made that decision?
FM: Ah, Briek...as a director he was very good, but he didn’t want to spend money. I asked Briek for 20,000 Belgian francs [about $600.00 U.S.] in 1973 to pay de Geest to lead me out in the sprint against Leman and Briek said, “It’s too much. We don’t have very much money.”
So I said to Briek, “Take it out of my money. Give it to him!” [pounds table]

BM: For a Tour of Flanders…?
FM: For a Tour of Flanders! 20,000 is nothing, eh?

Les Woodland: Would he do that?
FM: He always liked to go to the boss, to Flandria, with money.

BM: Would you, a neo-pro, have won Flanders with De Geest’s leadout?
FM: Yes. [said simply, with complete confidence]

BM: As a neo-pro, a brand-new man in the peloton?
FM: As a neo-pro, I would have won Flanders.

BM:  May we ask about the Barcelona World Championships [Maertens grins] without getting into your difficulties with Merckx? [For decades Merckx harshly criticized Maertens’ ride, blaming Maertens for Merckx’s failure to win.]
FM: Yes. [laughing] There were difficulties?

BM: I read your book. I had to ask. [In the final stages of the race, after an attack by Merckx the two broke away from Luis Ocaña and Felice Gimondi]
FM: We were two...I came up to him. I said to Eddy, “Let’s go on, you will be first, I will be second, no problem.” And he said, “I don’t believe you.”
[Ocaña and Gimondi then caught Merckx and Maertens, the four now almost two minutes ahead of a six-man chase group containing Joop Zoetemelk, Herman van Springel and Régis Ovion]
Then, when we went for the sprint, I said to Eddy, “Hey, I’ll lead the sprint for you.” Now maybe I was too fast when I went full speed and Eddy was three or four lengths off my wheel. A sprinter is not always a good lead-out man.

BM: It’s a special skill?
FM: Yes. A sprinter can go too fast.

Les Woodland: Did he offer you money to win? Did you offer him money?
FM: We never spoke about money. At that time I would have been very happy to have been second after Merckx on the podium. Maybe Eddy didn’t believe my words.

Les Woodland, Freddy MAertens and Bill McGann

Les Woodland, Freddy Maertens and Bill McGann

BM: We talked to Gimondi [who won the sprint from the other three that day and became World Champion] about Barcelona.
FM: And what did Gimondi say? He doesn’t have to talk, he threw me into the spectators.

BM: He threw you the old elbow? He pushed you into the barriers?
FM: If you watch the last 500 meters on video, you can see it very well.

Les Woodland: How is it between you and Gimondi now? When Bill said, “Gimondi,” you pulled a face.
FM: Yes I pulled a face...  But between us things are good. I saw him in Copenhagen [scene of the 2011 World Championships].

Les Woodland: You’ve forgiven him?
FM: [laughing] During our whole careers, if I don’t have to forgive everybody, then they don’t have to forgive me. A war of 50 years? That can’t be.

BM:  You and Roger De Vlaeminck announced that you were both riding for yourselves and Merckx’s asked Belgian team members to ride for him for 100,000 francs. Was the entire Belgian team made of individuals riding for themselves?
FM: Yes.

BM: Rather than as a team working to deliver a Belgian first across the finish line?
FM: Yes. The only time I know of when there was a whole team riding for one racer was in ’76 when I won in Ostuni.

BM: At the Ostuni worlds they rode for you?
FM: They all rode for me, even Merckx.

BM: And so Belgium gets the Rainbow Jersey?
FM: We got it.

BM: Was everyone riding for himself a result of Belgian Federation management of the team or that it was a team of champions, none of whom would ride as domestiques?
FM: No. You have to look at the course first. I was selected for Sallanches [1980]. What could I do there? It’s too hilly for me. I said thank you, but I don’t accept the invitation.

BM: You stayed home?
FM: I stayed home. A rider has to know if a circuit is good for him or not. Second, you can be a helper. Before a race there is a meeting and the first question is, “Who thinks he can win?” And then you have to raise your hand if you think you can win. And the others, they are asked, “Who is working for who?”

BM: Find out everything in advance?
FM: Yes. At Ostuni everyone said he was going to work for Freddy.

BM: And the course was made for you?
FM: And the course was made for me. I was at the front with Moser and I beat him.

BM: For decades Merckx assailed your riding at the end of the Barcelona race, but you have now made peace?
FM: Yes. Five years ago.

Les Woodland: What happened five years ago that you became friends?
FM: We talked, in France. For ten years there was a race promoted by Polo. And the last time he organized it Merckx and I slept in the same hotel. First, as he was going up to his room, I thought I would never see him again. And then he came down. I was smoking a cigarette and he asked me for a cigarette. He said to me, “Freddy, we have to talk about Barcelona.”
I said, “I think so too.”
And then we spoke about it for three hours and we shook hands and everything was over.

Les Woodland: He made the first move?
FM: He made the first move, yes.

Les Woodland: And you were both smoking cigarettes?
FM: Yes.

Les Woodland: Did you smoke when you were racing?
FM: No, no, no.

Les Woodland: Why did you start?
FM: I started...it was stupid of me...eight years ago. I don’t smoke very much. Today, it is almost noon and I haven’t smoked yet. After eating, I think I will smoke one. I don’t smoke in the car. I may not smoke at home or I have to smoke in the garage, and it’s too cold there.

BM: And to finish up Barcelona, was it an agreement with Merckx to disagree or stop publicly arguing about the race? I assume Merckx did not accept your position that he didn’t have the legs that day. What was the agreement?
FM: You know Merckx very well?

BM: No, we’ve just met quickly twice.
FM: Merckx was a great racer. But his heart is like that… a little hard.

BM: Still, it was incredible! You were 21 years old and second in a 248 km race on a difficult course. You had no trouble making the transition from amateur races to the pros?
FM: No.

BM: It was easy?
FM: I worked hard for it. I kept this in mind...if the race is 250 kilometers, you have to train for 280. I would train for 30 kilometers more than the race.

BM: So you would go on nearly 300-kilometer training rides?
FM: Yes.

BM: My! But I guess if you are going to be Champion of the World, you have to do that?
FM: You have to do that. And that is also what today’s racers don’t believe. They have their heart monitors and when they see they are in the red zone, they stop pedaling. [hits table and makes grumbling sounds to make clear his dislike of current practice]

Les Woodland: What time did you leave in the morning for a 300-kilometer training ride?
FM: 7:00 or 7:30.

Les Woodland: And you got back when?
FM: When I was finished. When there is a lot of wind, you can’t know how fast you will go.

1974
BM: During the Montreal World Championships, a laxative was put in your water bottle while you were in a leading break with Bernard Thévenet and Constantino Conti. You were always careful after that. Did you ever again suffer either mechanical or physiological sabotage?
FM: Only that year. It was the fault of Jef D’Hont, my masseur. He told Merckx’s soigneur, “I want to go to the restaurant to eat.” I never before heard of a soigneur, during a World Championship, leaving his post to go eat in a restaurant and asking a competitor’s soigneur, “Would you give a bottle to Freddy?”
I got confirmation of that from Gust Naessens [Merckx’s soigneur at Montreal]. He worked for me in ’81, ’82, ’83. I asked him, “Gust Naessens, what did you do in Montreal?”
“It was normal, Freddy. I was asked to give you your drink and I put something in it. You were too good for my guy, so I put something in it to block you.” [laughs at the memory]

BM: Could the same thing might have happened to Stefano Garzelli who was ejected from the 2002 Giro after being positive for the obsolete steroid masking agent Probenecid? To have taken Probenecid in 2002 would have been stupid, right?
FM: Yes.

BM: Did Garzelli have the same problem as you had in Montreal?
FM: For sure he had the same problem.

1975
BM: It started to come together for you in 1975 with victory in the Tour of Andalucia (5 stage wins), Tour of Belgium (3 stage wins), 4 Days of Dunkirk, Ghent-Wevelgem, Points classification  in Paris-Nice and 6 stages in the Dauphiné.  Lomme Dreissens became your Directeur Sportif. How much of this blossoming would you attribute to natural growth as a rider and how much to his management?
FM: [thoughtful pause and then gives the answer in a serious tone] 50-50. A lot of people complained about Driessens, saying he took the racers’ money, that he did this, he did that. But in the morning, he was the first to wake you, he prepared your food.

BM: He was a fabulous organizer?
FM: A fabulous organizer. He arranged the airplane flights, made sure they were okay. He made sure the food was there.

BM: So you just rode your bike?
FM: Yes. I would ask of him, “I want so much money for that race.” If he got 10, 20 or 30,000 more, yet every time I got the money I asked for…

BM: What’s the problem?
FM: What’s the problem. He had to pay for his car, telephone, gasoline...

BM: He’s working…
FM: He was working, so why not?

1976
BM: 1976, your magic year!
FM: Magic.

BM: Magic. In the spring you were Champion of the Belgians, and won, among other races: Amstel Gold, Ghent-Wevelgem, Flèche Brabançonne, Henninger Turm, 4 Days of Dunkirk plus lots of  individual stages. How would you characterize your ability as a rider? Were you a racer with lots of power who has enough speed to win sprints, like Tom Boonen and Alfredo Binda? In other words, a big engine with speed. Or a rider with huge lactic tolerance like Cipollini who can simply overwhelm the others in a long sprint, driving the others deep, deep, until they gave up, or a speedster like Rik van Linden or Robbie McEwen, or…? What kind of rider were you?
FM: I am not a van Linden or a McEwen. I am not a Cipollini.

BM: You are a Boonen or a Binda? Just a big engine?
FM: A big engine, yes. That year, I had a lot of horsepower. But I was not as quick as van Linden or McEwen. They are cats. When I saw the finish, I would start my sprint and then make sure nobody came forward. I was strong.

BM: Plus, enough quickness...
FM: But McEwen, van Linden and Cipollini…they are cat sprinters.

BM: Lomme Driessens became an important part of your professional career. Some riders, like Merckx, loathed him. How about you? Did you enjoy working with Driessens or did you find him just a necessary part of your racing to make your career work?
FM: No, I enjoyed working with Driessens. There were no problems. When you work with Driessens there are no problems.

BM: It just worked?
FM: Yes. He just said, “You do that, you do that, you do that.” I could ride my bike. And when there were problems, with Driessens, they weren’t my problems. I just rode my bike, I ate, I slept.

Les Woodland: Did you depend on him too much?
FM: [long pause before answering] I think…no. Before I became a professional rider, I had my dad behind me. The whole time I raced, I needed someone behind me.

Les Woodland: That was your father, then Lomme…
FM: There was my father, then in the beginning as a professional I had Schotte, then I had Driessens...

Les Woodland: Why couldn’t you do it yourself?
FM:  Maybe, because I never learned how. My father never said, “Now you have to go alone.” 

BM: So by the time you were a mature racer you had never developed the habits of independence?
FM: Yes, yes.

BM: In the 1976 Tour de France, you won 8 stages and the green jersey.
FM: And I sold one.

Les Woodland: Sold one? Which one?
FM: [instantly] The one to Divonne les Baines [8th stage], to Esclassan.

BM: Jacques Esclassan, the Peugeot sprinter?
FM: Yes.

Les Woodland: How much did you sell it for?
FM: For free.

Les Woodland: For Free?
FM: Yes. I’ll explain.  I had already won four stages. For Peugeot, this was not good. They were at zero. We knew [Peugeot director Maurice] De Muer very well. Lomme talked with De Muer and then talked to [my teammates Michel] Pollentier, [Marc] Demeyer and me. He said Peugeot needs to win a stage or they are finished.

BM: Which is bad for them, bad for cycling...
FM: Also for my friends, Jacques Esclassan, Bernard Thévenet and the others. So I said to Lomme, “Let’s do it, okay?”

Freddy Maertens

Maertens in yellow, winning the stage 3 time trial in the 1976 Tour de France

Les Woodland: Was the favor ever repaid? They helped you afterward?
FM: Yes. They were very grateful for the gesture that our team made. But it was a pity that one of the Peugeot riders…you see the sprint was between Esclassan and me...but 20 meters before the finish Patrick Béon, who was also a rider on the Peugeot team, put his hands in the air. It was caught in a picture. Otherwise, nobody would have known about this.

BM: Béon gave it away by giving a victory salute before the race was won?
FM: They said it was a bit odd. [Maertens holds his nose] It stinks a little of rubber [meaning brake pads being applied], they said. But if Beon had not put his hands in the air, nobody would have known.

Les Woodland: Did Peugeot offer you a place on the team? Did they want you to ride for them?
FM: No, they never asked. They had Thévenet, they had Escalssan. [changes subject] And now we have BMC. What do you think they are going to do with Gilbert? They have Cadel Evans, van Avermaet. They have Hushovd.

BM: Too many champions?
FM: Philippe [Gilbert] said to me, “Freddy, Thor Hushovd and I are good friends now.” When you race, you don’t have good friends.

BM: It’s business?
FM: Business.

BM: Did you enjoy riding three-week Tours compared to classics?
FM: Yes, yes. I liked them.

BM: Did you come out of your first Tour de France stronger or exhausted?
FM: Stronger.

BM: You were a man for the three weeks? Some riders come out of a Grand Tour looking horrible.
FM: For me, they were good.

Les Woodland: That year you had won all those stages in the Tour, how did you feel afterwards? What does a man think at the end of a Tour when he’s won eight stages?
FM: What does he think? For me, it was my first Tour de France and I was very happy. I could go on and ride more Tours. I went on to the Tour of Spain [1977] and won it. If I hadn’t suffered that bad fall in the Tour of Italy in 1977 I would have won the Tour of Italy [he had already won seven stages].

BM: You broke your wrist on the Mugello racetrack?
FM: Yes. That Giro was made for [Francesco] Moser. There was a lot of time trialing.

BM: Which you were very good at, and there wasn’t much climbing?
FM: It didn’t go very high.

Les Woodland: After winning all those stages in France and in Spain [Maertens won 13 stages in the 1977 Vuelta] you don’t just go home and think, “That’s a job done.” What’s in your head?
FM: No, it’s not a job done. You have the list that you have planned for the year...

Les Woodland: You must have felt wonderful in yourself?
FM: I felt wonderful, but the races go on. Life has to go on. Now they say, if I win the Tour of Flanders or I win Paris-Roubaix, I will go on holiday. In earlier times, it was not possible. You had to continue.

BM: Let’s talk about Ostuni [scene of the 1976 World Championships].
FM: Ostuni!

BM: You were certainly flying at Ostuni when you were able to bridge up to Joop Zoetemelk and Francesco Moser with Constantino Conti on your wheel. When you caught them, did you think, “I’ve got it.”
FM: I’ve got it, yeah. I didn’t think it, I was sure.

BM: Moser tried to get away with an attack on the descent. Was the descent technical or just a matter of pounding a giant gear?
FM: It was technical and it was raining.

BM: So it was difficult and dangerous?
FM: It was dangerous.

BM: So Moser tried to use his descending skills to drop you?
FM: I was on his wheel. I said when he falls, I will fall too.

BM: But you both made it?
FM: Yes, we both made it.

BM: And then, of course you were able to outsprint him at the end?
FM: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah [said in a way that showed his feeling of the inevitability of the outcome].

BM: You became World Pro Road Champion on your fourth attempt. Were you at all worried about the “curse of the Rainbow Jersey”.
FM: No. I just said to myself that I had to continue my work in the same way.

BM: You’re just a racer who happens to have a rainbow?
FM: I have my rainbow and I have to show it, the same for Cavendish, too.

BM: You had considered using your terrific form to break the World Hour Record, but Flandria’s owner stopped the program because Colnago was planning on supplying the bike.
FM: It’s a pity.

BM: Could Flandria have made a high-tech World Hour Record bike?
FM: Nooo [said with firmness]. 

BM: It was beyond them?
FM: Noooo [meaning Flandria couldn’t build the bike].

Les Woodland: Did Flandria make your bikes? Who made your bikes?
FM: I never rode Flandria.

Les Woodland: Who made the Flandria bikes?
FM: Paul Claeys in Zedelgem [city in Belgium]. But they weighed 11 or 12 kilos. Almost all of my bikes came from Italy. I knew someone who worked at the Flandria factory. I brought him my frames.

BM: And got them sprayed up and decaled Flandria?
FM: Yes, he arranged for them to be sprayed up.

BM: Like Tom Simpson rode Masi frames when they said Peugeot?
FM: Yes.  

BM: May I ask? Who was your builder?
FM: Gios Torino.

Les Woodland: Could you have got the World Hour Record?
FM: I think so.

Les Woodland: By how much?
FM: That was ‘76, I think it would have been very close.

BM: If you could replay the tape, would you make the attempt?
FM: Yes.

1977
BM: Italo Zilioli was always amazed that no matter what was going on in a stage race, no matter how much tension there was, Merckx could sleep soundly. Zilioli called Merckx, who was often his roommate, a “war machine”. How about you? How did you handle the hours leading up to an important race? Could you sleep the night before? What was going on with Freddy Maertens before an important race?
FM: After a race, such as in the Tour de France,  I went to the hotel. Then I took a shower, went for a message and then went to eat. Then I would have a little talk with the racers on my team about the next race, then go to bed and then I would sleep.

BM: You were a war machine as well?
FM: Yes.

BM: No problem just going to sleep.
FM: No problem. A racer must get a lot of sleep.

BM: Jan Janssen [‘68 Tour de France winner] told us a champion must be able to put worry and care aside. He has to tell himself that the concerns of the day must go away so that he can sleep.
Les Woodland: You could do that?
FM: If I had Driessens with me, I would put everything on Driessens and then I would get into my bed and then I slept.

BM: With all the tension, it’s still amazing that you could do that.
FM: Something else I learned from Driessens, when we were at the Tour de France and the Tour of Italy. If it was too hot in our rooms and there was no air conditioning, and in the 70s there was no air conditioning, Driessens said to take the sheets, put them in the bath with cold water, wring them out, and wrap yourself in the wet sheet. Then you sleep. You should try it when is too hot and there is no air conditioning. And in the morning you won’t have a cold.

BM: 1977 started well, but you crashed with Rik van Linden during the Giro on the Mugello raceway
FM: He was jealous.

BM: He was not sprinting fairly?
FM: Noooo.

Les Woodland: What did he do?
FM: He leaned into me, we tangled and then we fell.

BM: You were going fast, at full speed?
FM: Yes.

Moser and Maertens

Before the crash at Mugello. Francesco Moser in the maglia rosa leads Maertens in the purple points leader jersey.

BM: You won 53 races in 1977, but you broke your wrist in the van Linden crash, which you wrote in your book [Fall from Grace] was a career changer. How so?
FM: In the book, maybe it wasn’t written correctly. We’re in 1977 [pausing and thinking] and then we have ’78 and we have ’79…Halfway through the Tour of Italy there were some rumors that things at the Flandria factory were not good, things were not solid. 

BM: Financial problems?
FM: Financial problems. That is the beginning, because in ’79 things were finished at Flandria. The whole year we raced, Flandria-Ca Va Seul, but we were never paid anything. And in ’78 I received payment for only half a year. In ’78 I didn’t receive my black money.

BM: The promised under-the table money?
FM: Yes, under the table. And then I got into a lot of trouble with the taxes.

BM: A lot...
FM: Yes. The beginning was during the Tour of Italy. They sent tax bills, and then taxes and more taxes. I had to pay, constantly, a lot of money. Unlike the earlier years, I couldn’t relax. I was spending more time with my accountant and lawyer. Things were not regular.

BM: You were not tranquil, would that be the word?
FM: Yes, yes. And you cannot forget, my tax problems were not finished until last year, the 10th of June. They were on my back for 30 years. They were not just on my back, they were on my wife’s back.

Les Woodland: Now your problems with the taxes are finished, how is Freddy different now?
FM: We are happier, my wife and I. I had to pay a lot, lot, lot of money. Paul Claeys died two months ago, but I didn’t go to his funeral because he was not a good guy. He promised, he promised and…
I am in good health, my wife is in good health, my daughter’s in good health, my son-in-law is in good health and my little granddaughter is in good health...

Les Woodland: Carine [Mrs. Freddy Maertens] stayed with you all the time through all that…
FM: Yes, yes. On the 10th of November we were married for 39 years.

Les Woodland: Without her support, what would have happened?
FM: I don’t think I would be here anymore. I think I would have had problems with alcohol and other ladies…[laughs] when you don’t have money you don’t have to go to the ladies and you can’t buy alcohol 

Les Woodland: She saved your life?
FM: Yes!

BM: By the way, did you like racing in Italy, in the Giro?
FM: Yes, yes, very much!

BM: Even though [Giro boss] Torriani was making the race for Francesco Moser?
FM: Why not? When he was making a race for Moser, he was making a race for me.

1978
BM: At the request of Marc Demeyer, Michel Pollentier and with your support, the Flandria team replaced Driessens with ex-pro and race commentator Fred De Bruyne.
FM: I did not agree with this!

BM: You didn’t agree?
FM: I did not agree. I never knew about this. Driessens was out and they hired Fred De Bruyne. [Fred De Bruyne, a great classics rider of the 1950s and television commentator, died in 1994]

BM: Why did Pollentier and Demeyer want to replace Driessens?
FM: I think it was the same evolution that happened when Merckx worked with Driessens. After a certain period of time he put Driessens out.

BM: They just got tired of him?
FM: Yes, I think they were tired of Driessens. He was not a very easy man to live with.

Les Woodland: In what way?
FM: Ah! You put your hands in your pockets and let Driessens do everything.

BM: De Bruyne could not do that?
FM: De Bruyne? Nah.

BM: He was not a director?
FM: He was not a director. In the morning he was not at the table with us. In the evening he was in the bar with the girls.

Les Woodland: Fred de Bruyne was a television commentator...
FM: That he was good at. After us he worked with Peter Post [TI-Raleigh team director] in public relations. That he could do because he had been on television earlier. When you are a director, you have to be in the car...

BM: And thinking all the time?
FM: And thinking...yes. I used to work with Driessens and I didn’t agree with Pollentier and Demeyer. I said, “Why did you have Driessens removed?”
At Paris-Nice [an early season stage race] we already had a problem with Fred de Bruyne. Demeyer grabbed him [stands, showing that Demeyer, lifted de Bruyne by his jacket].

Les Woodland: Why?
FM: Why? For ten days we didn’t have the Flandria team bus. It was good when we had the bus. We could finish the race and just get in. There was one door that wouldn’t close. They called to have it repaired. The repair crew came to the hotel and the bus was driven there. The workmen asked if they could start work on the bus immediately because they had to go to the Côte d'Azur.
Fred de Bruyne said, “No, first you eat something. You eat with us and then you can repair the bus.”
“No,” said the two men. “We must go, we have many kilometers to travel to do all of our service work.”
“No,” said de Bruyne, “No.” [Maertens voice is dripping with sarcasm]
While we were eating, I asked Fred de Bruyne three more times to get the bus fixed. Marc Demeyer [a large, powerful man] didn’t ask. He grabbed Fred de Bruyne, boom, and he went into his pocket. “I have the keys, sirs” he said, and gave the keys to the mechanics. [laughing]
Les Woodland: And all this in the hotel restaurant.

BM: Your season started well that year.
FM: Yes, yes.

BM: You had victories in the Het Volk…
FM: The Tour was not good. There is a question, I think…[Maertens is looking at my page of prepared questions]

BM: …E3 and 4 Days of Dunkirk, but you read that…but you got the Green Jersey.
FM: Yeah, yeah, but before…

BM: [not understanding what Maertens is driving at and determined to bulldog my way through my list of questions] But you got Het Volk, E3, 4 Days of Dunkirk…
FM: Yes

BM: But after that your only big win that year was the Green Jersey in the Tour de France. [That I could ask such a question shows the magnitude of Maertens talent]
FM: Yes.

Les Woodland: [cutting through my failure to grasp what Maertens wants to say] Freddy has a question he wants you to ask him.
FM: In the Tour de France something happened. [points to question he wants me to get to in the list of questions]

BM: [realization dawning on dumb Irishman] Oh....Pollentier had a problem.
FM: A problem, a HUGE problem!

BM: You and Michel Pollentier were close friends.
FM: We are friends, yes.

BM: Back then you were very close?
FM: Yes.

BM: You took teammate and friend Michel Pollentier’s disgrace after l’Alpe d’Huez very hard? [Pollentier gained the Yellow Jersey after winning stage 16 which finished at the top of l’Alpe d’Huez. He was expelled from the Tour that evening after trying to cheat the drug controls with saved urine in a rubber bottle with a tube.]
FM: Yes. But whose fault was it?

BM: Of course, his own.
FM: No. De Bruyne.

BM: De Bruyne?
FM: Yes, De Bruyne.

BM: How so? Did he set up Pollentier with the bottle?
FM: Fred de Bruyne denounced Pollentier to the judges.

Les Woodland: I had never heard that put so precisely, but in France they say Pollentier was sold to the doctors at the controls?
BM: Wait a minute! You’re saying De Bruyne told the doctors to look for Pollentier’s bottle?
FM: Yes. He got the villa where he lived in France

BM: Why?
FM:  He was paid, but not in money. He was paid with the house.

BM: So Pollentier was sold.
FM: Pollentier was sold.

Les Woodland: When I saw Michel [Pollentier] he wouldn’t tell me that story.
FM: I was in the room. We slept in the same room.

Les Woodland: What happened afterwards?
FM: Michel had to go home. I was there, I had the Green Jersey.

Les Woodland: But between you and de Bruyne and Michel…
FM: I supported Michel.

Les Woodland: But you didn’t just say, “Oh, well, it happened.” You must have wanted revenge on de Bruyne.
FM: Aah…It was not easy. I was at the Tour de France, I had to defend my jersey. I had to win one or two more stages. You have to race. I had to do a lot of things.

Les Woodland: You had to live with that?
FM: So, I didn’t have any time to do something against…

Les Woodland: Did de Bruyne admit that he got the payment?
FM: No.

Les Woodland: He denied it?
FM: He denies it, I am sure. Because it was not normal the way they just lifted his shirt [to see the bottle apparatus].

BM: They knew?
FM: He came to the caravan and they took off all of his clothes. That is not normal, eh?

BM: I don’t know.
FM: [Normally] the doctors say, “Come in.” There are two or three people from the UCI there. And then they tell you to give them a sample. But they never open all your clothes from behind.

BM: My, my, my.
FM: My, my, my.

BM: At the end of the year Pollentier left Flandria for Splendor?
FM: That would be normal because there wasn’t any money anymore at Flandria. And Demeyer went to Capri-Sonne.

BM: You were upset that they took a lot of your riders with them?
FM: I was a little upset with Pollentier and Demeyer, that they didn’t take me with them.

Les Woodland: Why did they not take you?
FM: [laughing] Because I had signed a contract with Flandria.

BM: You were stuck?
FM:  I was stuck.

1979
BM: After two surgeries to repair the wrist you broke at Mugello…
FM: No! Only one [surgery]. And one week after I fell at Mugello my wrist was good. But there were journalists who wrote that I was the man of cortisone.

BM: Instead of a broken wrist…
FM: It was good. To be sure, I went to Doctor Fischer in Philadelphia…[to combat rumors within and without the Flandria team that said Maertens had been using drugs and was in permanent decline]

BM:  And they gave you a complete battery of tests and found you perfectly healthy…
FM:  With those results I went to Paul Claeys for him to see and I showed them to the journalists as well.

Les Woodland: What was the story about the plane that crashed?
FM: When we went to Philadelphia, we had to land first in New York at JFK. We got a car to go to Philadelphia but that same plane with many of the people who were with me continued on to Chicago and crashed.

BM: You have written that Flandria’s replacing the riders who left with Pollentier and Demeyer with the riders from the defunct C&A team [Merckx’s last team] didn’t work.
FM: Claeys made Jos Huysmans, who rode for Merckx, the director and he took in five or six of Merckx’s teammates and they formed a clique. One time they put empty amphetamine ampoules in my room.

BM: To try to sabotage you, that they might be found and you’d be blamed?
FM:  I bought a plane ticket and went home.

Les Woodland: Why do these things always happen to you?
FM: [laughs] I don’t know…

Les Woodland: You were born a pechvogel? [Flemish for a bad luck bird]
FM: [still laughing] Yes

BM: I always thought bad luck followed you like a lost dog looking for a home.
FM:  Yes…

BM: With a better team atmosphere do you think you would have had a better 1979? [Maertens had no significant wins in 1979]
FM: No. It was a bad year. I had to keep coming back here to deal with the taxes.

BM: Always the taxes? Lots of stress?
FM: I couldn’t do as I had in previous years, the training, the food…every time the telephone would ring with lawyers, accountants.

Les Woodland: In all that time how much tax did you have to pay back?
FM: If I add it up, all together, I paid 30,000,000 Belgian francs [almost one million U.S. dollars]. All the money I made racing.

BM: And you gave it all to the Belgian government?
FM: I gave it back.

Les Woodland: How much should you have paid?
FM: Normally, 1,500,000 Belgian francs [about $50,000 U.S.]

1980
BM: Let’s move on to 1980.
FM: That was the beginning of coming back.

BM: You ended up riding for the Italian team San Giacomo after Flandria folded, and weren’t paid. Did you have to pay taxes on the money from Italy you didn’t get?
FM: I received everything.

BM: San Giacomo paid you?
FM: Yes, yes. I had to ask more than one time, but I received it.

BM: You had lots of tax problems in 1980, and I think a manager stole your money?
FM: No, no. In 1980 things began to be good. I was in Italy, I had [Carlino] Menicagli as my director. He was very good. Carine and I and Romy [wife and daughter] could be tourists in Italy.

BM: It was good?
FM: It was good.

BM: But your biography made your time in Italy sound bad.
FM: No, no, no. It was good. I could train. There were no lawyers. [laughs]

BM: You could ride your bike and race?
FM: Ride and race. I was sixth in the Tour of Flanders. If I had not had a flat tire ten kilometers from the finish I could have sprinted with [winner] Michel Pollentier for first place. Against Pollentier I should win. [Maertens finished in the first chase group with three other riders: Roger de Vlaeminck, Marc Demeyer and Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle]

BM: So you were good?
FM: I was very good! I won two or three stages in Italy, at [the Cronostafetta in] Montecatini Terme I won the road race in the morning of the first day and I did a two-man time trial, like the Trofeo Baracchi, with [Tullio] Bertacco and an individual time trial, three stages. [Maertens came in third overall]

1981
BM: Back with Driessens when you signed with Boule d’Or. You put in a hard winter of training to prepare for the 1981 season. Did you believe you could again become the Magic Freddy of 1976?
FM:  Yes. I said to Carine that I’m going to do everything to come back. I will do everything to recover and get everything back, and then afterwards [he wipes his hands]…stop.

BM: You wanted to get everything right, have a fabulous season and then retire?
FM: Yes, a good show, the Tour de France, maybe a World Championship and retire.

BM: You had a lot of crashes in early 1981 after a career of staying out of trouble.
FM: That’s what the journalists said.

BM: Was it true?
FM: No. I trained 60 or 70 kilometers before I went to a race. Then I would race 100 or 110 kilometers and then I would stop. I’d put my things in the car with a driver and 40 - 50 kilometers farther I’d get out of the car, put on my training clothes and ride 80 or 90 kilometers. You know how many kilometers I had when I came home? 300. Every day.

BM: After a difficult first half of 1981 you won the TDF green jersey with 5 stages wins. You have attributed your success to hard training in the lead up to the Tour. But you had trained like a madman that winter. What was different from precious winters?
FM: ’74, ’75, ’76 …

BM: That was how you became Magic Freddy?
FM: Yes. I didn’t have any troubles anymore. No phones, nothing. And I had Driessens back.

BM: So he could organize your life?
FM: Yes.

BM: Getting ready for the Prague World Championships, did you do more than the 300 kilometers a day…
FM: No.

BM: That was all you could do?
FM: Yes. I may have trained a little more. But Thursday, after my last big training ride, I went home and said to Carine, “Who ever beats me on Sunday is World Champion.”

BM: You felt that good?
FM: You don’t say that to anybody, otherwise…

Les Woodland: I saw you win there and someone said, I read afterwards, it was like watching a carpet unroll. You had a 53-13, 53-14?
FM: Yes.

BM: Look at who you outsprinted at Prague: Saronni, Hinault, Duclos-Lassalle, Moser, De Wolf, Zoetemelk, Van der Velde, Criquielion, Battaglin. Did winning any other race give you as much pleasure as winning the rainbow jersey in 1981?
FM: It was more…because in ’76, that World Championship was almost an obligation.

BM: It was a fulfillment?
FM: Yes, because I had a famous season that year. But in ’81? No one thought I would be good in the Tour de France, nobody thought that.

BM: You don’t think a lot of people were betting on Freddy?
FM: [laughs] Oh, No! I heard they were betting, but they won a lot of money! Mr. Demeuler from Beaulieu, a good friend of mine who helped me a lot, won about a half million Belgian francs.

BM: Because he bet on you?
FM: The odds were twenty-one to one.

BM: What kind of bike were you riding at Prague?   
FM: Colnago

BM: Did you like Colnago bikes?
FM: Yes. I am close to Ernesto [Colnago].

BM: Besides Gios-Torino and Colnago, did you have any other special builders make your bikes?
FM: Special builders? The first one was Lupo. A small, small factory.

BM: Here in Belgium?
FM: [laughs] No, no. I never had a Belgian bike.

BM: Never a Belgian bike, always Italian?
FM: Always Italian.

BM: You had small Italian builders make custom bikes for you, to your measurements?
FM: Yes. That was the difference from Flandria. [Points to one of his Flandria bikes hanging from the ceiling] That is a Gios.

1982
BM: After Prague, it seems difficulties within your team sapped your morale.
FM: It’s normal, eh? I was angry with Driessens at that moment because he accepted as a team leader [director] Willy Jossart, who had worked before at IJsboerke with [Walter] Godefroot and others and the racer Daniel Willems. He said Daniel Willems is the head of the team and Freddy Maertens is the second. I was very angry.

BM: You were wearing the Rainbow Jersey?
FM: Right.

BM: Here’s a question I’ve always wanted to ask. I seen films of you sprinting. You and the other sprinters come racing down the street at 70 or 80 kilometers an hour, all these fast moving riders are just inches from you. And when you win the sprint you do this [I jerk my hands straight in the air]. That’s crazy!
FM: Cipollini did that, also Cavendish does that.

BM: Is it because you know you are with professionals and you can do the two-armed salute and not crash?
FM: Yes. Now they do more. [He shows all the different ways sprinters do victory salutes].

BM: You raced until 1987, but I think we’re covered the magic years, when things were beautiful.
Les Woodland: How do you feel, looking back? Did you make the most of yourself? Do you think, “I could have been better.”
FM: Everyone does. Even Merckx.

Les Woodland: But you more than most, because your career was like that. [makes wave motion with hand]
FM: Yes, yes.

Les Woodland: Do you regret it?
FM: I don’t complain about my career. It a pity about the history, the whole history. Nobody can plan to have a tax problem like I had.

Les Woodland: Why didn’t you pay the tax in the first place?
FM: With what?

BM: Because people you trusted were stealing your money?
FM: Yes.

Les Woodland: They wanted tax that went back how many years?
FM: How many years? Every time, of the year before. The biggest problem? You can pay the taxes, but if you don’t pay on the required day, they add interest.
And that’s what will kill you. At a certain point you can be paying just the interest and not paying any of the capital. And that kills.

Les Woodland: You were never a team manager. Were you ever asked? Did you ask?
FM: No, no, no.

Les Woodland: Why?
FM: I’ll give you an example. Someone come to me and says, “I can offer you a big place as a team manager.”
I say, “OK, You put my money for ten years in the bank.”
“You’re crazy,” he’ll say, “I’ll pay you each year.”
I tell him, “No, no, no, you can’t [fire me] after each year.”
I like it better here [at the bike museum].

Les Woodland: How did you get this job?
FM: Before, I worked in another museum in Roeselare [the Belgian national cycling museum], but they had problems. The director died. And then they brought in a young boy from the university to run the museum. He said to me, “We are going to make a museum like the one in Oudenaarde.”
I said to him, “Let’s stay with what he have. We now have 20,000 visitors, this was four years ago. We have the history of the bike, and the history of the racing bike here. There should not be two Tour of Flanders museums in Belgium. You can’t do it because you don’t have Sporza [Belgian radio and internet company] as a sponsor. Sporza gives this museum [Tour of Flanders museum] the movies and so on.

Les Woodland: How many people come here because you’re here?
FM: Many, a lot of people. Last year we had 52,000 paying visitors. I think this year we will have even more because we have a good cook [for the museum’s restaurant].

Les Woodland: How many people came before you were the curator?
FM:  30,000

BM: So you are going to double the attendance?
FM:  Yes, I can double it.

Les Woodland: How many old riders come here?
FM: [laughs] Many.

Les Woodland: How come you speak such good English?
FM: Because I lived near the sea. We had a shop and I had to deliver newspapers and I learned French, Italian, German, English.

Les Woodland: Did I read somewhere that you had a bike with newspapers on it and you rode with a training group and you stayed with them?
FM: Yes, yes.

Les Woodland: What’s that story? You were fourteen?
FM: I was fourteen. I was there with my bike with a load of newspapers. I saw other guys passing me.

BM: A few last questions. May I ask you what you think about a few riders, your impressions racing them?
FM: [nods in assent]

BM: Bernard Hinault … You put your thumb up. You think highly of him as a rider, as a person?
FM: Yes. He was correct. He was good. But he was a competitor. He was respectful and even now he is a good friend.

BM: Roger de Vlaeminck…You raise your eyebrows, you chuckle?
FM: Roger is not like Bernard Hinault, eh?

BM: How So?
FM: We had the Tour of Flanders of ’77. That Tour of Flanders Roger spent 80 kilometers on my wheel. [after Maertens was judged to have made an illegal bike change. De Vlaeminck sprinted by Maertens at the end.] We are professional riders. You know, I made an agreement with Roger. I did not ride with Roger on my wheel for 80 kilometers for nothing. And now he wants to tell people that we never spoke about money. He paid me 150,000 Belgian francs [roughly $5,000 U.S.]. And then I had to give Pollentier half and the other half to Demeyer. Where’s my share? He left me to pay 150,000 Belgian francs. But he said that I am paid and that we had never talked about money?

BM: So you paid Demeyer and Pollentier, but he didn’t pay you?
FM: He paid half of 300,000 [the amount Maertens expected to be paid for towing de Vlaeminck].

Les Woodland: Was that typical of Roger? That’s the kind of man he is?
FM: Still.

Les Woodland: You never trusted him? Not a nice man?
FM: No. He liked to put it in his pocket, but he didn’t like to give any of it. No, it is not possible to live like that.
Let’s say we are good friends. It is cannot be that you and you pay every time when we go out to eat. You make an agreement. One time it is me who pays, another time it is you. Every time the same person pays, it is impossible.
That’s Roger. You can ask anyone.
But he was good, eh? I don’t complain about when he makes a good win, but, he is not a man to have as a friend.

BM: Pollentier
FM: Michel Pollentier? Ah, good.

BM: You like him?
FM: [nods in assent] And it’s a pity we lost Marc Demeyer. [died of a heart attack in 1982 at the age of 31] Too young.

BM: Demeyer was awfully big.
FM: Awfully big? 1.85 [meters, 6’ 1”].

BM: Well, Mr. Maertens…
FM: Don’t Mister me, it’s Freddy!

With that friendly admonition, the interview was over and we ordered lunch.


The list of Maertens victories is very long, but here are the important ones.

1969 (Junior): 22 victories including Champion of Flanders

1970: (Junior): 42 victories including Champion of West Flanders

1971 (Amateur): 22 victories including Champion of Belgium, 2nd at World's

1972 (Amateur) 29 victories before turning professional

1973: 4 Days of Dunkirk

1974:

1975

1976:

1977:

1978:

1981:

Freddy Maertens retired in 1987