Brussels was chosen to host the start of the Tour de France in 2019. For the second time, the capital will receive the start of the Tour, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first Tour victory of Eddy Merckx in 1969.
Belgium has the second highest record of Tour de France victories (18) behind France (36). Although the last Belgian victory was 44 years ago, the legacy still highlights that cycling is a major sport in the country.
Belgian winners of Tour de France
Eddy Merckx (1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973)
Eddy Merckx is the most famous Belgian cycling champion who won Tour de France five times – there’s even a metro station (line 5) named after him. He holds the record number of victories, together with Jacques Anquetil (French), Bernard Hinault (French) and Miguel Indurain (Spanish) – as Lance Armstrong was stripped of his titles. He was nominated as the best cyclist of the 20th Century by the Union Cycliste Internationale. His son, Axel Merckx, was also a professional cyclist but never won the competition.
Philippe Thys (1913, 1914, 1920)
Philippe Thys is the second most titled Belgian cyclist in Tour de France. He won in 1913, 1914 and 1920. He was the second Belgian to win after Odile Defraye’s victory in 1912. Philippe was also the first cyclist to win the title three times. The 1910’s and the 1920’s were special years for Belgian cycling, as Belgian cyclists won the Tour de France seven times in a row, from 1912 to 1922 (between 1915 and 1918, there was no race because of WWI).
Firmin Lambot (1919, 1922)
After WWI ended in 1918, the Tour de France resumed in 1919. 69 competitors took part, but as most of the cyclists had no appropriate material, and due to the damage to the roads from WWI, only 11 managed to finish the Tour. In the penultimate step, Firmin Lambot was 30 minutes down on Eugène Christophe. But Mr Christophe broke his tire spoke and had to fix it in a factory, which allowed Firmin Lambot to win the race; with him winning again in 1922.
Sylvère Maes (1936, 1939)
World wars and Belgian victories in the Tour de France seem to be linked. With Philippe Thys winning in 1914 before the race stopped for four years, and Firmin Lambot winning once it resumed. Sylvère Maes, however, won the title in 1939 before WWII; the course was not held for seven years after. After his victory in 1939, he stated he no longer wished to take part as the Tour “has become too hard”, especially in the mountains. He then participated in the Tour of Italy in 1947, before he retired in 1948.