4min reading time   by Andy Mc Grath on 14 July 2021
Leicester, August 1970. The 21-year-old from Roeselare, Jean-Pierre Monseré, outsmarts his opponents at the world cycling championships and becomes the surprising winner. Less than a year later fate strikes. During a fair, Monseré collided with a car and died on the spot. Sister Marie-Claire and former teammate Eric Leman look back on the life and career of Jempi.


"Jean-Pierre always got what he wanted," says Marie-Claire. "When he was twelve, he asked our parents for a bicycle. Which he would get if he achieved 70 per cent at school. Jean-Pierre, who didn't care for school, did his best and came home with 72 percent. Thus began his cycling career. My brother was jovial and always in for a joke. He could also fool people. He liked to make it appear that he was a heavy drinker, but that was not the case. At a moment when the people around him were not paying attention, he quickly poured his beer into a planter. That was Jean-Pierre."

In 1968, Monseré emphatically puts his nose to the window. As an amateur he won no less than 25 races that year. In the summer of 1969 the man from Roeselare signs a contract with the West-Flanders Flandria team. The Tour of Lombardy was his first classic. Jempi immediately finishes second to Dutchman Gerben Karstens. When it turns out that Karstens tested positive, Monseré is declared the winner. He had just turned 21 years old. Teammate Eric Leman: "It was not exceptional for a neo pro to win a big race right away. In Lombardy Jean-Pierre showed he was a class act, that was clear from the start."

World champion

During the Belgian championship in 1970 Monseré is in great shape. He neutralised several breakaway attempts by favourite Eddy Merckx, but then kept his legs still. Merckx soloed to victory and Monseré could look forward to a place in the World Championship selection. Marie-Claire: "Before leaving for Leicester in England, he asked his wife to pack his best clothes, which indicated that he was thinking of finishing high up. Moreover, he could start that World Cup with the number 22, his lucky number."

Jean-Pierre is racing attentively at the front and is part of a leading group of six with Italian Felice Gimondi as the biggest name. Thanks to the blocking work in the background, the six will decide who wins. In the last kilometre Monseré attacks and holds on until the finish line. Marie-Claire: "Of course Roeselare turned upside down. A 21-year-old rider who became world champion, that was fantastic! Jean-Pierre was honoured by everyone. But in the meantime he remained himself. He often stopped for children to give him an autograph or even put them on his bike. I think that is one of the reasons why he is still popular today. Also because he came from an ordinary family.

Of course Roeselare turned upside down. A 21-year-old rider who became world champion, that was fantastic!
Marie-Claire Monseré

Triumph and tragedy

In the spring of 1971, the young world champion shows that he can also do well in stage races. In the Tour of Andalusia he dominated the race together with teammates Eric Leman and Roger de Vlaeminck. Leman: "We had won two stages each. Monseré was also leader in the general classification. But the Spaniards did everything they could in the last stage to steal Jean-Pierre's leader's jersey. Because there was a thirty second bonification at the finish, we put everything on our final sprint. I put myself in front, let Jean-Pierre pass and then closed the door. Mission accomplished: Monseré won the general classification. But after the finish, I left quickly. I didn't want to wait for the reaction of our Spanish competitors ..."

In preparation for Milan - San Remo, the first classic of the season, Eric Leman chooses Paris-Nice; Jean-Pierre Monseré prefers to prepare in his own country. On 15 March Monseré starts in a fairground race in Retie, in the Antwerp Kempen. There he collides head-on with a car coming from the opposite direction. The world champion does not survive the collision and dies on the spot. The cycling world is in shock. More than 30.000 people attend the funeral in Roeselare. Five years later his son Giovanni dies. Dressed in a rainbow jersey, he was out for a ride and collided with a car. Marie-Claire: "We had to accept that. We have to live with the beautiful moments we had together and forget the rest. But forgetting is damned hard. It still feels like yesterday, not like something that happened 50 years ago."

Jean-Pierre Monseré

Jean-Pierre "Jempi" Monseré (8 September 1948 – 15 March 1971) was a Belgian road racing cyclist who died while champion of the world.
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