The first contacts between Flandria and Shimano are dated to 1972. At that time, Flandria – a Belgian manufacturer of bicycles – is present on the yearly Bicycle Show in New York. Marcel Verschelden, a sales representative of Flandria, gets to know some collegues of Shimano: “At a certain point, they just asked me if we want to equip our cycling team with Shimano-parts. That way, they wanted to challenge their Italian competitor Campagnolo, which ruled the European cycling scene by then.” After some negotiations, Flandria and Shimano found an agreement. The Flandria-squad would race in 1973 with Shimano parts on their bikes.
The debut of Shimano in the European cycling world causes a shock. Campagnolo is troubled and is desperated to find an agreement with Flandria. But Flandria refuses. Shimano even becomes cosponsor of the cycling team in 1973. Besides Campagnolo, also the riders themselves are – at least – in dubio. Johan De Muynck, who raced at Flandria in ’73: “I saw the entrance of Shimano as a huge adventure. Riders of other teams sometimes just laughed at us and asked if we rode with inferior material.”
His teammate and reigning Belgian champion Walter Godefroot is less enthusiastic: “I was the first Flandria-rider who won a race with the Shimano-parts. That was a stage in the Ruta del Sol. But I wasn’t really happy. I preferred Campagnolo. The Shimano Dura Ace-group wasn’t yet fully developed. You could feel that.” Salesman Marcel Verschelden: “At the start, there material was just like a disaster. There were many problems. Soon afterwards, Shimano sent some of his engineers to improve their material.”
Shimano is desperate to conquer the European market and aren’t looking on a effort. Verschelden: “They wanted to improve their products as quickly as possible and equal Campagnolo. They were constantly present with three or four mechanics and engineers, during races and training camps. They took thousands of pictures and sent them to Japan, to analyze and resolve the problems very quickly. They were fast learners.” Walter Godefroot agrees: “European cycling manufacturers needed months to solve a problem. Shimano was huge faster of them. They just needed some weeks to make adjustments.” Despite the good service, Godefroot doesn’t become a fan: “In the final of Tour of Flanders in 1973, I was at the front. Suddenly, during the climb of the Muur of Geraardsbergen, my chain felt off. I’m convinced that this was caused by my Dura Ace-group.”
At the finish in Meerbeke, Godefroot becomes sixth, Flandria-teammate Freddy Maertens… second. At the end, Godefroot admires Shimano anyway: “Within seven years, they just catched up their backlog to Campagnolo. That was really great.” Teammate Freddy Maertens: “I was really proud to be a the first European cycling team that was equipped with Shimano. That was really special.”