April 1, 2012 by Irish Peloton
The youngest ever monument classic winner
This week in cycling history in 1944, Rik van Steenbergen won the Tour of Flanders at the age of 19.
The now legendary Belgian began racing at the top level in the midst of World War II. Because Belgium was still occupied by the Germans at the time, he had to forge a German identity card in order to turn professional.
He won the Belgian national championships in his first year as a pro, and in 1944, he took part in his first Tour of Flanders. This was the last edition to ever finish in a velodrome as the finish line came after 224km in the Kuipke Velodrome in Ghent.
Nine riders made it to the velodrome together just behind the lone leader Georges Claes. But a problem with directions, caused Claes to crash at the entrance to the velodrome. Van Steenbergen was fastest out of the group of nine and won the Tour of Flanders aged just 19. He remains the youngest ever rider to win a monument classic.
This was the first major win of an incredible list of career wins which Van Steenbergen racked up in a career which spanned 24 years. He won the Tour of Flanders again in 1946 where he again won the race as Belgian national champion. He also won Paris Roubaix and Fleche Wallonne twice each and Milan San Remo.
But he is perhaps most famous for being a triple world champion, a record only equalled by Alfredo Binda, Eddy Merckx and Oscar Freire. But not only was he prolific on the road, he was also a master on the track where he won a total of 1,591 races.
To find out more about this edition of the Tour of Flanders and more about Rik van Steenbergen check out the Velocast – This Week in Cycling History podcast available now on iTunes. We also discuss Tom Simpson’s Tour of Flanders victory in 1961 and Bradley Wiggins’s first ever stage race victory way back in 2001.