Johan Museeuw, know as “De Leeuw van Vlaanderen” (the Lion of Flanders) by his legions of fans, had one of the most successful careers in the history of cycle racing. Twice Belgian Champion and once World Champion, he is particularly known for his dominant performances in the highly demanding classics races including Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders.
Like that other great Belgian champion Eddy Merckx, Museeuw’s early sporting activities took place on the soccer field, but like so many other Belgian teenagers, he had one eye on the ball and the other on the action taking place off the field of play. That special calling only a racing cyclist will recognize beckoned and in 1981, aged 15, Museeuw traded in his soccer boots for cycling shoes.
Following the guidance of his father, also an accomplished cyclist, Johan first tried his hand in the rough and tumble of cyclocross, an ideal baptism into the world of bike racing. His father knew cross to be the ideal way of developing bike handling skills as well as being particularly effective in nurturing the character assets a bike racer needs. Not only that, wisdom gained as a pro in the ’60′s told him the relatively short ‘cross season meant less danger of the young Museeuw ‘burning out’ as so many talented youngsters often do.
By 1988, Museeuw’s rapid maturity and success in the art of cycle racing caught the eye of Jose De Cauwer, Directeur Sportif of the Belgian professional ADR squad. Museeuw the rookie took his place alongside Eddy Planckaert, one of Belgium’s most successful riders of the ’80′s.
In 1989, Museeuw rode in support of the great American Greg Lemond, who stormed to his sensational win in that year’s edition of the Tour De France. Riding in support of riders of the caliber of Lemond and Planckaert would be a tough apprenticeship for Museeuw, but he proved he was up to the job, chalking up five wins that season when allowed to ride free of team duties.
Over the next five years, Museeuw enjoyed a meteoric rise to the top echelons of the sport, proving his worth as a rider for all seasons.
Success in early season classics, yellow jerseys and stage victories in the Tour De France followed by overall victory in the World Cup series cemented his reputation as a champion capable of winning throughout the season – not one of the new breed of pampered, July-only Tour de France racers.
1996 would prove to be a momentous year for both Museeuw and Belgian cycling. The Lion roared throughout the year with a resounding victory in the greatest of all Spring Classics, the Paris Roubaix. He then went on to be crowned champion of Belgium, World Cup winner and topped off the season with a momentous victory in the World Road Championship. His status of great champion was sealed; his place in the annals of cycling history assured.
Throughout the remainder of the ’90′s and into the new millennium, Museeuw continued to chalk up wins in in classics, Tours and in World Cups. Neither a crash in the 1998 Paris-Roubaix which left him with shattered bones and gangrenous knee, nor a motorcycle accident which left him in a coma could stop the Lion. Each time, Museeuw came back stronger and even more determined to prove his reputation as the hardest of the hard; the toughest guy in cycling. In 2000, a movie-script win in the Paris-Roubaix left little doubt in the mind of cycling fans the world over. Here was a rider with the heart of a lion and the strength to match.
The career of Johan Museeuw has been one full of highs and lows – and one not without its fair share of controversy.
It has been a hard-fought and hard-earned career; behind every one of his 110 pro wins was a foundation of sheer hard work and unswerving off-season dedication. Not only was Museeuw a rider of immense natural talent, but a rider prepared to back up that talent as one of the hardest-working riders in the race. A rider capable of not only winning against all odds, but a rider capable of winning with immense panache – the mark of a true champion.
Behind all those wins, behind all the controversy and successes, lies an immense strength of will and character. The source of that strength is undoubtedly his unbending passion for cycling. It is a passion that drove him from those teenage years over the frozen fields of Flanders, to the glory of a rainbow jersey.
Today that passion still burns brightly and is channeled into in his work with Museeuw Bikes, a passion he’s happy to share with all.