2min reading time   by Toon Claes on 13 April 2022
It was in the early fifties. I was not yet born, but I heard the story several times. And Rik Van Looy can confirm it. My father, Dries Claes, had settled as a young doctor in Herentals and was passionate about everything that had to do with sport.

Father had a German education, and his approach with bone-hard but well-directed training was new and his athletes did very well. His practice soon became a household name in the sports world. One of the first athletes he coached was René Baeten, Belgium's first ever motocross world champion in the 500cc class in 1957.

Due to his rapidly growing name and fame, father was soon overcharged. That is why he included in his schedule an invitation to run with him twice a week in the Herental forest, at half past six in the early morning. Only one of his athletes was always present, a young guy from Grobbendonk, who listened to the name Rik Van Looy. Dad took him under his wing, became his doctor and trainer, then soon also his confidant, advisor and lifelong friend.

Van Looy was able to excel in all fields. In 1962 he won Paris-Roubaix for the second year in a row. One year later he almost managed a third consecutive victory. Rik was the clear favourite that year, but he was narrowly beaten in the sprint by the Brussels ket Emile Daems at the velodrome of Roubaix. So no third cobbles for Rik, but there was some frustration because Rik and Emile were not close friends, a consequence of the 1960 world championships, where Rik won his first rainbow jersey. For that race Rik was designated as the absolute leader of the Belgian team. However, the very young Emile Daems - who joined the team after winning two Giro races as a neophyte that year - had neither ears nor legs for it and rode his own race. Afterwards there was a lot of talk, which meant that Daems was not allowed to share in the winnings...

The Emperor of Herentals was the first to win the five classic monuments (Milan-Sanremo, Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Tour of Lombardy). Only Eddy Merckx and Roger De Vlaeminck were able to follow in his tracks. If we also consider Paris-Tours as a monument, only the Emperor of Herentals has won all six. With 379 victories on the road, he remains one of the strongest one-day riders in history.

Rik Van Looy

Henri "Rik" Van Looy (born 20 December 1933 in Grobbendonk) is a Belgian former professional cyclist of the post-war period, nicknamed the King of the Classics or Emperor of Herentals (after the small Belgian city where he lived). He was twice world professional road race champion, and was the first cyclist to win all five 'Monuments': the most prestigious one-day classics – a feat since achieved by just two others (both also Belgians: Roger De Vlaeminck and Eddy Merckx). With 379 road victories he's second to Merckx only. He is ninth on the all-time list of Grand Tour stage winners with thirty-seven victories.
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