"Racing was ingrained in my family on my mother's side. My aunt, my mother's sister, and her husband were fervent cyclists. As a young boy, I was allowed to go to the races in the Renault of uncle André and aunt Maria. This was back in the days when there were pockets on the front of the cycling jerseys and the bottles were mounted on the handlebars in a double bottle cage. The bottles were made of aluminium and clattered on the ground when they were thrown. I thought that was a wonderful sound. I also loved the swishing of the tubes as the peloton went by and the typical smell of massage oil on the cyclists' legs. It did not take long before I was sold.
Patrick started racing in 1970, at the age of 15 as was legally stipulated at the time. Uncle André became his first mentor and support. For races that were held during the week Patrick could fall back on former world champion Benoni Beheyt [Beheyt won the World Championships in 1963]: "At one point I needed a new racing bike. I hesitated between a brand new Novy and a nearly new bike, which was for sale in the bicycle shop of Benoni in Roeselare. In the end, the choice fell on the bike from his shop. And so I regularly visited Benoni. In time, we started training together. I remember well that he almost always rode with his hands loosely on top of the handlebars, which was not common at the time. If it went uphill, I could loosen him up. But in the sprint I was not even in the picture. He was still a class act."
In order to train better and more, Patrick exchanged the Heilig Hartcollege in Waregem for the nearby Rijksinstituut voor Technisch Onderwijs (RITO, now MSKA) in Roeselare. Together with his regional partner Johny Deblaere, the young rider went to races in the vicinity and beyond: "As a second-year youngster we decided to go to a race in Saint-Gérard, near Mettet. That day I went to school by car, actually a shortened van. My brother-in-law had given it to me as a present. In the morning, we had already put our bicycles and luggage in the car, and then, fifteen minutes before the end of the school day, we ran away and drove quickly to Wallonia. We drove at 150 km/h and arrived in Saint-Gérard half an hour before the start. There were more than 200 riders at the start, but Johny and I were among the best. We were both in the decisive breakaway and finished it nicely. I won, Johny came third. After the finish a local photographer asked us where our supporters were. They didn't believe we had ridden so far for a race."
A year later, Lefevere was selected as an amateur for the 1975 World Championships, which were held in and around Yvoir and Mettet: "In the final, a front group of six escaped, with no Belgians. They already had a minute's lead when I ventured alone and found a connection. A few kilometres from the finish line, the peloton catches the breakaway with Pol Verschuere and Jean-Luc Vandenbroucke in the lead. So compatriots. I'm not saying I was going to win, but you never know. In the end, Dutchman André Gevers wins. Lefevere finished in 24th place.
Lefevere's performance did not go unnoticed. The big Molteni company of world star Eddy Merckx is quick to offer the enthusiast a professional contract: "After a race in Huldenberg, Robert Lelangue spoke to me. He asked if I wanted to ride for Eddy and said he could offer me thirteen thousand francs a month. Of course, that amount could increase considerably because Eddy won just about everywhere. But as an enthusiast, I was earning about 36,000 francs a month at the time. That was a lot in those days. I earned 16,000 francs with my sister because I was registered for thirty hours a week - my job consisted of drawing up damage reports on damaged vehicles. In addition, I received about twenty thousand francs a month in prize money. I also turned down an offer from Flandria. They had about forty riders at the time and I didn't want to be one of them. I preferred to remain an amateur. Until Guido Reybrouck, sports director of EBO, managed to make my head spin. He offered me a two-year contract for 22,000 francs a month. And so, in 1976, I became a professional cyclist.
That debut was not an easy one. On the contrary, Lefevere thinks about quitting almost immediately: "My first race was the Tour of Levante. A new world opened up to me. Without going into details: the Spanish pharmacies were very popular with the older pros. I had no idea that it was like that and my heart sank into my boots. Until Willy Vanneste happened to ride next to me. How is Feverke?' he asked me. He convinced me not to look at those old pros and to ride my own course. With result, because two days later I won a stage. I'm still grateful to Willy for that."
In 1978, the West-Fleming showed his good form early in the season. He takes several places of honour in the Tour of the Mediterranean and works very hard for his team leader Fons van Katwijk during the Omloop Het Volk. One day later, Lefevere was at the start in Kuurne: "The course at that time went from Kuurne via the Rijksweg to Roeselare and so on to Moorslede. So we passed by my door. And just on the Rijksweg the peloton split into three echelons. Of course I was in the third and thought of riding straight home. But a bit further on it merged again. So I stayed in the race. In fact, in the hills in the Flemish Ardennes I was actually in the lead. On the way back to Kuurne Ludo Delcroix and I were left. In the final part of the race a chasing group emerged just behind us because of a mistake on the road. I immediately went to see the race commissioner who told me that they were going to be dropped from the results. In the confusion, Walter Planckaert passed the finish line first, even though he was not really in the race anymore. Meanwhile, I sprinted with Delcroix for the victory. I left a gap between myself and the Nadar, where he wanted to crawl between. He rode his guidon against my buttocks and shouted 'right', which of course I did not do. So he had to break and remount. But by then it was too late."
After the victory in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, Lefevere managed to win a stage in the Vuelta. Yet in the course of 1978, doubts crept into the head of the West-Fleming: "I found it difficult to make all those sacrifices and I didn't really like it anymore. Moreover, my monthly salary was still the same as when I was a neo pro, while I dreamed of a nice, big house that I could not afford. But you can't just stop in the middle of the season. Nevertheless, in the spring of '79 I closed the brakes. I didn't even finish my last race in Bonheiden. Bike in the trunk and done. There I was. I had no job, I had nothing. Luckily for me Marc De Windt, who financed my team Marc Zeepcentrale, saw other possibilities. Romain De Loof was team leader at the time and he was in charge of everything. The team did have a cash book, but nobody really knew what was going on. And the administration was a disaster. De Windt knew I had an accounting background and spoke several languages. Marc asked me if I wanted to become second team leader and put things in order behind the scenes. I could start immediately. Three days later I was finished and my second career started."
The rest is history. Patrick Lefevere becomes the most successful team leader in the world and his top formation, which was borne out of Mapei-GB to Deceuninck - Quick Step, churns out classic victories, stage races and world titles. In 1996, Johan Museeuw became world champion for the first time; in 2020, Julian Alaphilippe - one of the spearheads of The Wolfpack - adds to the solid list of world champions. One absolute top race is still missing on the record of the West-Fleming: the Tour de France. Can gold medallist Remco Evenepoel close that one gap?
Paris–Roubaix, April 11, 2004. At 38, Belgian cycling legend Johan “The Lion of Flanders” Museeuw is at the start of his final classic. Three days...
What do the athletics decathlon and heptathlon, modern pentathlon (fencing, swimming, horse jumping, shooting and athletics) and triathlon have in...