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Bike Racing as a Family Business

By David L. Stanley

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David L StanleyDavid Stanley is an experienced cycling writer. His work has appeared in Velo, Velo-news.com, Road, Peloton, and the late, lamented Bicycle Guide (my favorite all-time cycling magazine). Here's his Facebook page. He is also a highly regarded voice artist with many audiobooks to his credit, including McGann Publishing's The Olympics' 50 Craziest Stories and Cycling Heroes. And there is his masterful telling of his bout with skin cancer, "Melanoma: It Started With a Freckle".

 


The Family Business

Don Vito: I never wanted this for you. I work my whole life - I don't apologize - to take care of my family, and I refused to be a fool, dancing on the string held by all those bigshots. I don't apologize - that's my life - but I thought that, that when it was your time, that you would be the one to hold the string. Senator Corleone; Governor Corleone. Well, it wasn't enough time, Michael. It wasn't enough time.

Michael Corleone: We'll get there, pop. We'll get there.

If you grew up the son of Don Corleone, you probably did not have a conversation about going into the family business. It was the business of The Don to choose his toughest, smartest son to fill his Gucci loafers. If you were tapped, you were the Chosen One. If you weren’t tapped, odds were good you would look out for your brother’s interests. Because if not, you might hear “Fredo, you’re my older brother, and I love you. But don’t ever take sides with anyone against the Family again. Ever.”

And that is certain to be followed by “I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart. You broke my heart!” That’s never good to hear.

Cycling is not life or death. I can’t recall a single tollbooth hit ordered in the sport, but it is also a tough business. To get to the Big Show, you must be cut-throat and hard as nails. For the post-WWII generation, professional cycling was a way out of poverty; a way to escape life in the mines or factories or farms. That creates a desperation that can drive a rider to greatness. Some of the drive is in-bred. Some of it, you can learn from your parents. These offspring all made it. Some were more successful than Mom and Pop, some were not. In a few instances, I chose some notable brother acts. As every sports scientist says, If you want to be a world-class athlete, the first step is to choose the right parents.

Let’s look at 24 Families of Cycling.

Merckx. Eddy & Axel. Eddy is the GOAT. The Big Cheese. Le Gros Fromage. De Grote Kaas. Son Axel gave up a promising soccer career to take up cycling full-time. While Axel has an excellent palmares, with wins in Belgium’s national championship, a Giro stage win, and several semi-classics, his greatest contribution is still on-going. He owns and directs the UCI Continental team Hagens-Berman-Axeon. The list of riders that have made the Big Show under his tutelage is extraordinary.

Eddy Merckx and Tullio Campagnolo

Two cycling families represented here, Eddy Merckx & Tullio Campangolo

Backstedt. Magnus & wife Megan Hughes & their daughter Elynor. The big Swede was an outstanding Classics rider with a 2004 Paris-Roubaix winner’s cobblestone trophy on his mantel to prove it. He fell in love with top British cyclist Megan Hughes and they settled in Wales. Their daughter Elynor is fast becoming a top pro, winning time trial events on road and track.

Magnus Backstedt

Magnus Backstedt wins 2004 Paris-Roubaix. Sirotti photo

De Bie. The brothers Rudy, Danny & Eddy de Bie were outstanding cyclists. Danny is one of the world all-time greats in cyclocross with a 1989 World’s victory. Sean de Bie is Eddy’s son and currently racing for UCI ProTeam Bingoal Pauwels Sauces WB.

De Vlaeminck. The brothers Roger & Erik. Roger is arguably the finest classics rider we’ve seen. You cannot argue with 11 Monument wins. He is also noted for telling modern-era cyclists to get off his lawn. Erik won 7 World cyclocross championships. Erik’s son Geert was on path to become a fine cyclist, but he died of a cardiac issue whilst racing cyclocross as his father watched. Artist Maurice de Vlaeminck (1876-1958), the famed Fauvist painter, may have been related and was a professional cyclist in the early 1890s.

Roger De Vlaeminck

Flat back and going fast. The incredible Roger de Vlaeminck.

Indurain. Miguel & brother Prudencio. Miguel, as winner of five consecutive Tours de France, two Giri, and countless shorter stage races and classics, is easily one of the Top Five racers of all time. His brother Prudencio was a selfless and talented gregario for his 4 years older brother.

Miguel Indurain

Miguel Indurain in yellow in the 1994 Tour de France

Kneteman. Gerrie & his daughters Roxane & Elise. Gerrie was one of his generations best all-around riders, starring for TI-Raleigh as he won a wide variety of one-day events that includes a World’s. He won nine shorter stage races and ten stages of the Tour de France. He wore the yellow jersey on four occasions. He died while on a ride with friends near Bergen on Nov. 2, 2004. His daughter Roxane was one of the world’s top all-round track riders from 2006-2019. Elise raced for several years, and currently is one the Netherlands’ top age group Crossfit Games athletes.

Lammertink. Brothers Maurits & Steven. Maurits is a fine climber who rides well in one-day events for Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert Materiaux. Steven, just retired, was a top-shelf time trialist for several D1 teams. It is suggested on several websites, but unproven, that the brothers are distant cousins of the Dutch great Jos Lammertink.

Martin. Neil, son Dan, & Neil’s father Vic. Neil competed in several Olympics, was a fine climber, and now serves as the U-23 Team director for Ireland’s High Performance Cycling program. His father Vic was an excellent amateur track cyclist. Neil’s sister Lydia was married for many years to Triple Crown winner Stephen Roche. Vic’s grandson, Neil’s son Dan Martin, with Israel Start-up Nation, is one of the world’s most feared attackers at the end of a hilly, grueling race.

Dan Martin

Dan Martin racing in the 2021 Giro d'Italia. Sirotti photo

Minali. Nicola & Riccardo. Nicola Minali’s name is familiar to all who followed cycle racing in the 1990s. Twice winner of Paris-Tours, 12 stages of Grand Tours, including the finale on the Champs, he was always in the sprint mix from 1993-2002. Riccardo is less well known, but still, he has been a solid, working-class pro since 2017. Just weeks ago, he was La Lanterna Rossa at the Giro d’Italia.

Riccardo Minali

Riccardo Minali winning a stage in the 2018 Tour de Langkawi.

Nys. Sven & Thibau. Sven and cyclocross dominance are synonyms. He is the most dominant CX rider ever. 6 World Cups. 12 SuperPrestige victories. 2 World Championships. 9 Belgian national titles. He was also a stellar MTB racer, with 5 Belgian championships among his palmares. Thibau, only 18, has dominated the CX scene at the Belgian and world level since he began racing. He also shows great promise on the road. He recently took 9th in a stage of the 2021 Baloise Belgium Tour which was won by Caleb Ewan.

Phinney. Davis, his wife Connie Carpenter, & Taylor are a rarity: Taylor’s father and mother were both top class professional cyclists. Davis was one of the world’s fastest men, and the first USA rider to win a stage at the Tour de France. As he battles Parkinson’s, Davis has become an advocate for those with Parkinson’s disease. Connie was at least equally gifted. First a speedskater, at age 14 Connie was in her first Olympics and to this day, remains the youngest ever US participant. She won the first gold medal awarded in women’s road cycling at the LA 84 Games and 12 national cycling championships. Their son, Taylor, was one of the world’s finest racers against the clock on both track and road, and a winner of the U-23 Paris-Roubaix. His career was cut short by a horrific leg injury in 2014. Although he continued to race after a year and half of recovery time, he admits he was never the same and retired in 2019.

Taylor Phinney

Taylor Phinney putting on the Maglia Rosa in the 2012 Giro d'Italia. Sirotti phboto

Planckaert. This one, we might need a flow chart. Stay with me. Willy (5 April 1944), Walter (8 April 1948 ), & Eddy (22 September 1958), are brothers. In the 1960s and '70s, Willy was one of the world’s finest sprinters and classics men. Walter, in the 1970s, was a king of the classics, and is considered one of the finest directors sportif of his era. Eddy was a king of the cobbled classics, with several monument wins, as well as a green jersey. Eddy’s son Francesco raced pro for 6 years and was an excellent sprinter. Willy’s son Jo was a solid pro, with wins in many semi-classics.

Walter Planckaert

Walter Planckaert

Planckaert. V.2 Ignace & Baptiste (born 28 September 1988) & Edward (1 February 1995) & Emiel (22 October 1996). Father Ignace (b.1958) raced well as a junior in the 1970s. Whether he raced as a pro is unclear, as my Flemish is sketchy. Baptiste, although his wins are few, most notably the Rund um Koln in 2019, can always be counted on for many top ten finishes every year. Edward, not to be confused with Eddy, is also a rider of much consistency at the top level. Youngest brother Emiel raced as a pro without much distinction for three years before moving on.

Roche. Stephen & brother Laurence & Stephen’s son Nicolas. Stephen, of course, needs no introduction as a Triple Crown winner in 1987. Younger brother Laurence was a solid domestique. Nicolas is having an excellent pro career. Much like his father, he excels across the spectrum of cycling and boasts an impressive palmares. He and Dan Martin are cousins, as Nicolas’s mother Lydia is sister to Dan’s father Neil.

Stephen Roche

Stephen Roche in pink in the 1987 Giro d'Italia.

Schleck. Auguste & Johnny & Frank & Andy. Patriarch Auguste was a ranking cyclist in the 1920s. His son Johnny became a top domestique to Jan Janssen and Luis Ocana in 8 Tours de France. He managed to win stages along the way and place in the top 20. Sons Frank and Andy animated and dominated the climbing scene from 2003-2016.

Simon. The Brothers Four. Les Quatre Freres. In chronological order of their appearance: Pascal & Regis & Jerome & Francois. Pascal was a fine rider, raced in 11 editions of the Tour, and is most widely known for his efforts to maintain his Yellow Jersey in 1983, despite racing with a broken scapula which took him out of the race. Regis had the shortest career, yet he won stage 18B in 1985, winning from a two-up breakaway. Jerome had a long career, won a stage in 1988, was a frequent top ten finisher, and rode strongly and selflessly in support of Greg LeMond in the 1990 Tour. In that Tour, Team Z also claimed the Team Trophy. Francois never won a stage yet wore the Yellow Jersey on several occasions and in 2001, finished a strong 6th on GC. In addition, he was the only brother never to ride a Tour de France with another Simon sibling in the race.

Sukhoruchenkov. Sergei & daughter Olga Zabelinskaya. Had he been born a Belgian, instead of a Russian, Sukho may have been one of the famous riders ever to put leg over top tube. He won everything there was to win within the Soviet bloc, at a time when Russian ‘amateurs’ controlled world amateur cycling. Later, as a pro, when past his prime, he still was a feared competitor with a win in the Circuit de la Sarthe. His daughter, Olga Zabelinskaya, is a top pro, with a multitude of wins in all the races that matter. She is especially fearsome against the clock.

Tomac. John & son Eli. John Tomac is one of the MTB world’s most significant figures. He won races of all sorts. He appeared in the very first MTB instructional video. Impressively, he crossed over to the road and rode well in some of the toughest events: Paris-Roubaix, the Tour of Flanders, and the Giro d’Italia. His son Eli races as a top ranked pro in motocross. He broke in with a win. In 2010, Eli Tomac became the first rider in the history of the sport to win his professional debut, winning the 250cc AMA 2010 Hangtown Motocross season opener

Van Hooydonck. Edwig & Nathan. From 1986 to 1995, when Edwig van Hooydonck lined up at a cobbled classic, he was a marked man. With four victories in Brabantse Pijl, 2 wins in the Tour of Flanders, and a Kurne-Brussels-Kurne, Edwig knew how to ride and suffer. He was also an innovator: with a sore knee in the spring, he had his team clothing supplier create cycling bibshort knickers to keep his knees warm. Son Nathan shows much promise, with multiple victories in the U-23 ranks, including the Belgian National championship, and a 7th place in this spring’s senior Gent-Wevelgem.

Edwig van Hooydonck

Edwig van Hooydonck winning the 1991 Tour of Flanders.

Van der Poel. Adri, brother Jacque, & sons David & Mathieu. Adri van der Poel, for 20 years, was one of the most feared riders in the peloton. He won Monuments. He won classics. He won semi-classics. He won stages in grand tours when he wasn’t slaying himself for his leaders on the PDM/Concorde squads of the late 1980s. He was a phenomenal racer. His older brother Jacque also rode several Grand Tours, albeit without his brother’s success. To bump up the family gene pool, Adri married the daughter of France’s favorite son, Raymond Poulidor. Older son David is a fine, world-class CX rider who dabbles in road racing for the top-tier Alpecin-Fenix squad. That said, it now looks as if Adri’s son Mathieu will supplant Dad’s success. Mathieu has already won 4 cyclocross world championships. The 26 year old Mathieu has won Classics, Monuments, and semi-classics He has also finished on the podium in National and European Championships on the mountain bike. His rivals have a problem: if you get in a break with MVDP, you will most likely lose the sprint. If you don’t get in the break with MVDP, you will certainly lose, because that break is not getting reeled in.

Adri van der Poel

Adri van der Poel at the 1993 Paris-Roubaix

Van Poppel. Jean-Paul, wife Leontine van der Lienden & daughter Kim & sons Danny & Boy. If you watched a Grand Tour race between 1986 and 1994, the odds are good you saw Jean-Paul win a stage from a bunch sprint. He won nine stages of the Tour de France, nine stages of the Vuelta, and four stages of the Giro. Leontine was a top Dutch amateur cyclist, with wins throughout Europe and a berth on the 1984 Women’s road race squad. Daughter Kim raced well as an amateur, turned pro, and retired after one season. Son Danny, while perhaps not as flat-out fast as his father, is a hard man, with top results in Classics and Monuments, while taking stage wins in both a Grand Tour and several lesser stage races. Older brother Boy, at age 19, was the youngest starter in the Tour de France in the post-WWII era. Much like Danny, his palmares is loaded with top results in the toughest races, including a GT stage, although he does not have a Classics victory.

Van Sevenant. Wim & son Mauri. Wim is the classic Belgian pro. He was not paid to win races; he was paid to take care of his captain. How tough was Wim? Three times he was the Lanterne Rouge (last place) finisher in the Tour de France. If you are hours behind the leader, you can always invent an injury or illness to bail on the race and your team. You take last place three times, that means you are tougher than anyone has the right to be. Mauri shows more promise. At 22, he has finished on the podium in tough races like Trofeo Laigueglia.

Wiggins. Gary & son Bradley. Gary Wiggins was an excellent trackie and a much-troubled man. He specialized in the 6-day Madison races throughout the European winters. He raced hard, and won a lot, often with Tony Doyle. Bradley was born in 1980 in Ghent to his British Mum and Aussie dad. From 1982 until 1996, Gary had no contact with his son. In the interim, Gary did a lot of amphetamines, developed an alcohol abuse problem, and finally died under sketchy circumstances after a party in 2008. Bradley became a multiple world champion and Olympic gold medalist on the track; in the pursuit, the team pursuit, and the Madison with partner Mark Cavendish. He moved to the road full-time in 2008. Sir Wiggo joined Team SKY in 2010, and in 2012, became the first UK cyclist to win the Tour de France. Along the way, he was named a CBE in 2009, and set a World Hour Record in 2015. Bradley is certainly one of the best all-round cyclists of the late 20th and first 20 years of the 21st century.

Bradley Wiggins

Bradley Wiggins racing in the 2015 Paris-Roubaix. Sirotti photo.

Zabel. Detlef & son Erik & Erik’s son Rick Zabel. Born in 1933, Detlef Zabel was a solid team-riding amateur for the GDR amateur national team, beginning in 1948. He competed in road events around the world. He raced as a pro from 1955-57. His son Erik had a bit more success (wink-wink). Erik was one of the most successful Grand Tour sprinters of all time. He won the Green Jersey in the Tour 6 years in a row. He won 12 stages. He won the Vuelta’s points jersey 3 times and took 8 stage wins. Zabel also won a wide variety of classics and Monuments including 4 editions of Milan-San Remo. Son Rick is another solid, working-class pro. He rides in support of others in the big races, and his work ethic is unsurpassed.

Erik Zabel

Erik Zabel in the start gate in the 1996 Tour de France. Sirotti photo

It’s a tough spot, as a professional cyclist/parent whose child decides to also race, to allow the kid to choose their own way in the sport. You know how vicious the business is, the sacrifices and pain and discipline and risk one takes on. You learn to bite your tongue, to offer advice only when asked, to allow your kids coaches and managers to do their jobs. Still, when you see your kid succeed, to stand on the podium or do massive turns at the front to help the team’s sprinter win, that must be doubly sweet as so few people truly know what it takes to get there.

The King: (gesturing expansively out his son’s bedroom window) One day, lad, *all* this will be yours.

The King’s Son: What, the curtains?

King: No, not the curtains, lad! All that you can see, stretched out over the 'ills and valleys of this land. That'll be your kingdom, lad.

Son: But, Mother...

King: Father, lad, Father.

Son: But, Father, I don't want any of that.

King: Listen, lad: I built this kingdom up from nuthin'. When I started here, all of this was swamp! Other kings said it was *daft* to build a castle in a swamp, but I built it all the same, just to show 'em! It sank into the swamp. SO, I built a second one! That sank into the swamp. So I built a *third* one. That burned down, fell over, *then* sank into the swamp. But the fourth one......stayed up. And that's what you're gonna get, lad: the *strongest* castle in these islands.

Son: But I don't want any of that! I'd rather...

King: Rather what?

Son: I'd rather...just...sing!......  <music up>

If I were a pro cyclist, I’d love to hear my now-adult child sing on that bicycle.


David Stanley, like nearly all of us, has spent his life working and playing outdoors. He got a case of Melanoma as a result. Here's his telling of his beating that disease. And when you go out, please put on sunscreen.

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