Saturday, April 25, 2009
As the part of the season consisting of the spring classics ends with a bang we want to pay homage to a man who was referred to as the last of the Flandriens, Briek Schotte.
‘Iron’ Briek Schotte (1919 – 2004)
and the Tour of Flanders
Briek Schotte was the archetypal and
last of the Flemisch flandriens. A term used
mostly for Belgian riders of the period
between the first and the second world war.
Riders who were always giving all they had,
rain or shine, spare tubes round the neck,
mud on their faces and excelling on the cobbled
roads of Belgium and the north of France.
Not particularly graceful riders
but men with an amazing stamina who never gave up.
A man made out of cast iron with an amazing record in the Tour of Flanders, Schotte participated from 1940 on to 1959. A record number of 20 times, being the youngest participant in 1940 and the oldest in 1959.
In total he was represented an amazing 45 times. The last 25 in the function of team manager. As a rider Schotte won twice, in 1942 and 1948. He ‘won’ another 4 editions in his role as manager for the flemish Flandria team. Navigating Belgian riders like Foré, Godefroot, Leman and the dutch rider Dolman to victory. Asked after his racing tactics he would answer “ride fast when you have to, and don’t when you don’t have to”.
Back in the days of Briek Schotte the Tour of Flanders, and cycling in general, was a world apart from the modern editions of the tour of Flanders. There were only 3 of the steep, sharp Flemish hills on the road instead of the 15plus that the riders have to conquer nowadays. There was no need for them either. Almost half of the course led the riders over cobbled and sandy roads. The asphalt in between wasn’t much better either. Mechanical failure was a much bigger problem and drove him to give up early in several editions. There was no such thing as a team car following the riders with spare wheels and they had to carry their own tubes round their neck in case they had a puncture. He managed to ride himself onto the podium in eight editions. A record he shares as to this day with that other Belgian cycling legend Johan Museeuw.
During the second world war derailleurs, which were just invented, where to expensive and therefore prohibited. Schotte rode to victory on a fixed gear. More than 250 kilometers at a gear ratio of 49x17. A ratio which is nowadays used by a lot of urban riders and makes a pale comparison to the 53 x 11 used by most of the modern professionals.
Schotte first started racing as a professional in 1939 and his first victory was a remarkable one. In the Tour of the West in France he was leading the general classification after the first three stages. Because of the outbreak of the second world war the race was dismissed and Schotte was declared winner.
The second world war played a big part in his career. Similar to riders as Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali he was robbed of some of his best, most fruitful years during the war.
Schotte didn’t only shine in the Tour of Flanders but also won classics like Paris – Tours (1946 and 1947) Paris Brussels (1946 and 1952) and Gent – Wevelgem (1950 and 1955). He won his first world title in 1948, shouting the now famous words on the radio “Mother, mother, if you can hear me, I have won and I’m world champion”. The second world title was won in 1950 in the Belgian town of Moorslede not far from his hometown. Unleashing and unseen national celebration.
1948 was his best year overall. Becoming the first winner of the overall year classification, a prize given to the most consistent rider of the year. Having already won the final stage in the Tour de France of 1946, he finished second after the unbeatable Italian legend Gino Bartali who at his old age made a great comeback after the interruption of the second world was. This was manly thanks to the 2 apocalyptic stages in the Alpes. Schotte who wasn’t really a climber but profited under the Siberian weather conditions that tortured the riders during these 2 days. Having stages over several snowed climbs where riders had to wrestle themselves a way to the top over muddy roads. Roads that would hardly stand the comparison with goat trails, driving well established riders like Frenchman Robic (winner in 1947) to desperation. Descending from the Col du Galibier he had no less than 4 punctures and was carrying only 2 spare tubes. With the help of 2 other riders who gave him a spare tube and having to literally tear the tubes of his wheel with his teeth because of his frozen hands he continued and finished a respectable 26 minutes behind Gino Bartali at the finish in Paris.
After his active career as a rider and team manager Briek Schotte stayed a well respected figure and living legend in the Belgian cycling world. He was often present at one of the big races in Belgium like the one day race that was named after him, and never missing out on an edition of his beloved Tour de Flanders. It was during the 88th edition in 2004 just before the peloton passed by his monument on the route that he passed away, giving a final salute to his race.
Posted by Omloop van het Zuiden at 6:47 AM