Johan Museeuw is the son of former professional cyclist Eddy Museeuw. Museeuw's father doesn't want his debutant son to get burned out. That's why he lets him take part in many cyclocross races as a youngster. In the white and blue colours of cycling club Zeemeeuw Oostende, the Gistel resident soon causes a furore. It is only later that the young Johan fully converts to the road. No doubt those years of cyclocross experience helped Johan Museeuw during the cobbled classics.
Museeuw makes his professional debut in 1988 in the ADR yellow jersey with stars like Eddy Planckaert and Tour winner Greg LeMond, who seems to be past his prime after a hunting accident. Nevertheless, LeMond unexpectedly wins the Tour again in '89 after a blood-curdling final time trial in which he beats Laurent Fignon out of the yellow jersey at the last minute. LeMond owes his new Tour victory for a large part to his cunning sports director José De Cauwer and to... 'helper' Museeuw. LeMond had fallen hopelessly behind in a crucial stage and was in danger of losing a new Tour victory. Thanks to a phenomenal effort by Johan Museeuw, the American was able to limit the damage after all.
Despite his excellent work, Johan Museeuw has to look for a new employer at the end of 1989. Greg LeMond has little confidence in the solvency of the car rental company ADR (All-Drive Renting) of Bruges businessman François Lambert and therefore leaves for the team of children's clothing manufacturer 'Z'. After LeMond's departure, the ADR team falls apart. Museeuw has made a name for himself in his first two professional years and can easily join Jean-Luc Vandenbroucke's Lotto team.
In the Lotto colours, Museeuw is particularly successful in the 1990 Tour de France. (Johan Bruyneel also showed his skills as a climber in the white and pink Lotto-Superclub jersey). First there was the sprint victory on the Mont Saint-Michel and then, even more spectacularly, Museeuw beat all the top sprinters of the moment in the final stage on the Champs-Elysées: Baffi, Ludwig, Abdoujaparov... Museeuw made a name for himself with his fast pedals. Belgium seems to have a sprinter in its ranks. However, Museeuw ended up being a classic rider rather than a sprinter. In 1991, he came second in the Tour of Flanders and won the Zurich Championship. A year later, Museeuw won his first national colours. The real classic breakthrough came in 1993 when Museeuw joined Patrick Lefevere's GB-MG team.
GB-MG is already an absolute top team in 1993: with then Belgian champion Museeuw, Wilfried Peeters, Andreï Tchmil and with Italian top riders such as Franco Ballerini, Fabio Baldato and Mario Cipollini, the team can play a leading role in any race. The GB team was also dominant in the final of the Tour of Flanders '93. Museeuw supported Franco Ballerini in the front group of eight. The two "GBs" are up against a strong duo from the Wordperfect team of sports director Jan Raas: two-time Tour of Flanders winner Edwig Van Hooydonck and Amstel Gold Race winner Frans Maassen.
On Tenbossestraat, 28 kilometres from the finish, Museeuw jumps away. Dutchman Maassen is the only one to catch the West-Flanders after a hard effort. Initially, Maassen does not do a single meter in front. Favourite Van Hooydonck feels the breakaway is cutting him short: "Museeuw was too fast for us. In addition, Maassen was immediately in his wheel. Then I had to keep calm. If I had caught up with Maassen and Museeuw, the pressure would have been enormous. Then we couldn't lose at all. With only Frans in front, the pressure was on Museeuw's shoulders. But apparently he was able to bear it well."
Sports director Lefevere is euphoric in the press after the victory of Museeuw in the Ronde van Vlaanderen. He also knows his entire team is doing well: "I am happy that Johan's victory shows we are an absolute top team: we have top leaders and we have top domestiques. Can I just underline that when that first definitive break in the peloton happened, there were seven GB riders with us." Museeuw scored his first major classic victory in the Tour of '93. I had a super day and there was an incredibly strong team behind me. I just had to finish it. When we cycled with those eight in front and Ballerini was with us, I knew it was either me or him. We discussed it: we would take turns to attack in the final. I was lucky that I tried it first. This is how I like to race. At Lotto I was pushed into the role of a sprinter, but basically I am different. I am not a sprinter, I want to cycle like I did today... I felt I had to attack in Tenbossestraat. I had not forgotten that two years ago Edwig Van Hooydonck had also left at the same spot. I was happy that Frans Maassen joined in. Better him than Van Hooydonck, because Frans sprints slower. It was damned inconvenient that he did not cooperate, but I understand that: we were the men to beat and his teammate Van Hooydonck followed further behind. But this way could have disrupted the party. I tried to go alone on the Bosberg, but I couldn't get rid of him. I did not push. In the end we were almost at a standstill. I calmed myself down. Ride at 80 percent, the wind blows from behind, stay calm and then beat him in the sprint,' I said to myself. That's how it went. Suddenly Maassen started cycling again. I don't know why. Then it just couldn't go wrong."
Number two Frans Maassen acknowledged Museeuw's mastery at the finish: "Just too strong. It's not unfair to be beaten by him. In theory I was the slower spur, it was up to Johan to show that he really wanted to continue. That's why I waited to see what would happen. I was expecting a reaction from the background." The "greatest of all", Eddy Merckx, was also impressed by Museeuws first Tour victory. He was able to follow the race from the front row in his race car: "The best rider wins. The way Johan left Brakel was formidable. A great winner of a great Tour of Flanders."
Patrick Lefevere is delighted to have Johan Museeuw in his team at the finish. He realises that the man from Gistel will grow in importance in the future. He has found the striker who will lead his legendary team to success for years to come: "Johan is not a bragger, he is a training beast, but he does everything in silence. He doesn't go public with it, but he lives for his job day and night. That hard work has been rewarded. Johan has been criticised in the past, but I think he has silenced all critics today. The first real big victory is there. I hope he has now started a beautiful series."
When we look at Johan Museeuw's palmares, they appear to be prophetic words from Lefevere: Tour of Flanders 3 times, Paris-Roubaix 3 times, Paris-Tours, Amstel Gold Race 2 times, Zurich, Hamburg, World Cup 2 times, Belgian Champion 2 times, World Champion... The West-Fleming is one of the best Belgian riders ever in one-day races.
Museeuw always remains loyal to the team of Lefevere. From GB-MG over Mapei and Domo to Quick-Step, the 'Lion of Flanders' rides for one patron for almost his entire career. Tom Boonen - labelled by Museeuw as his successor on the podium of Paris-Roubaix in 2002 - seems to be going down the same road. And there are even more similarities between Boonen and Museeuw. Both initially impress with their fast legs in group sprints, but by concentrating on the classic work their sprints dwindle. After a few years, Museeuw hates the Tour because he can't win any sprints there anymore. Boonen's love for the Tour de France also cools. And just like De Mus, de Bom van Balen underwent the metamorphosis from sprinter to classic top rider under one of the best sports directors of the last twenty years: Patrick Lefevere.
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