International Cycle Sport | July 1978 | Issue No 122 | Page 20
Bordeaux - Paris 1978
By Daniel Schamps
Herman Van Springel had won for the fifth time Bordeaux-Paris, the longest classic of the international calendar. He is now and certainly for a long time to come, the record holder of victories in this cycling marathon for with his victory in the 75th edition of the race he overtakes the former record holder the French rider Bernard Gauthier, victor for the fourth and last time twenty-one years ago. Needless to say that the veteran from Grobbendonk in the far outskirts of Antwerp now well deserves the nickname of "Monsieur Bordeaux-Paris".
During 180 kilometres on his own he was to hold out against every rider. Arriving on the circuit of Linas-Monthlery where four 12 kilometre laps remained to do he had built up a ten-minute lead on the best chaser, the stubborn Roger Rosiers, a former victor of Paris-Roubaix, who eagerly hopes to add Bordeaux-Paris to his honour’s list . . . when Van Springel retires.
This time, as with all the other ones (1970, 1974, 1975 and 1977), he had stood head and shoulders above all his opponents; never looking tired all along the 601 kilometres of the route from Bordeaux until the motor-racing circuit of Linas-Monthlery, with all the other participants adrift far behind him. The only man who gave him problems previously, Walter Godefroot, who beat him in 1976 was not there, obliged to support a failing Thurau in Italy. So for Herman it was a mere matter of form.
This year as usual it began after midnight in Lormont near Bordeaux. Fourteen were ready to risk their skins after the last-minute retirement of Mariano Martinez and Jacques Bossis, both sick or so it would appear, but certainly not sick with fear (Bossis won the Circuit de Andre on the same day). Van Springel was the main favourite and he was more than well prepared. According to his manager Roman Deloof he rode 500 kilometres daily for three weeks just to get used to the long distance. His team-mate of the Marc-Zeepcentrale team, Jan van Katwijk, was there to protect him till his final attack.
Joop Zoetemelk was Van Springel's main rival. He had trained hard since the last classic of April on the roads in the area of Meaux. In addition he really wanted to win a great race for since Paris-Camembert in March he hadn't won anything, even a small criterium. Joop had also a team-mate in the race Maurice Le Guilloux. Peugeot-Esso had delegated Roger Rosiers and Regis Delepine, winner of the event in 1974. Jean-Francois Pescheux, fourth last year, the two Fiat riders of Raphael Geminiani, Jean-Jacques Fussien and the new professional Serge Beucherie, too young and raw for such an adventure, the tall rider of Lejeune-BP Joel Gallopin, author of a long lone breakaway in the early stages of this year’s Paris- Roubaix one month before. The three Dutchmen, Jan Krekels, Fred Rompelberg and the National champion Fedor den Hertog were all outsiders but a victory by one of these would have really astonished us as much as the victories of Georges Van Coningsloo (1967), Emile Bodart (1968) and Enzo Mattioda (1973). To sum up, two Belgians, five Dutchmen and seven Frenchmen formed the field.
They left Lormont at 1.30 a.m., all muffled up in five or six jerseys, woolly caps, mittens and training tights to face the unusual cold temperature in May. Lightened with the head-lamps of the following cars, the 14 courageous men could not wait to stretch their legs and each in turn began to set a high pace. It was in fact the only way to get warm. They raced so quickly they reached Ruftec, the toilet station more than half an hour before the time on the sheet. Unfortunately for them the riders hadn’t yet finished with the bad weather.
The day broke under the rain and for everybody the muscles became tough and several men already suffered with cramp. You must notice that though the riders had not yet reached the half-way mark they had already raced more than 200 kilometres. Before 8 a.m. they reached Poitiers and the pacemakers. The great Dutchman Fred Rompelberg, who last year was record holder of the hour behind big motor-cycles, was the first to call it a day. It had been too difficult for him to change his rhythm, following Joop Zijlaard on his Kawasaki. A little bit further it was his compatriot Jan Krekel’s turn.
Running along the Loire between Tours and Amboise (300 km) the sun appeared at last but the rain had already played its devastating effect on several riders. Now the group faced a strong head wind. Joop Zoetemelk was to be the next victim. It was really unexpected but he was no more able to follow the pace set by Van Springel and his team-mate Le Guilloux who scrupulously prepared the ground for his now-failing leader. Very disappointed he dropped back behind the Van Springel express and lost ten minutes in less than 25 kilometres. The race was finished for him and for Van Springel it was the beginning of his victory.
A new speeding up of the sky-blue jerseyed man saw Pescheux, den Hertog, Fussien, Beucherie, Bertin, Gallopin and Jan van Katwijk’s downfalls. Ahead only Van Springel, Rosiers and Delepine remained together. The two Peugeot’s team-mates were not afraid of Van Springel but Delepine first lost his foothold (km 380), rejoined a little further, but was unable to keep in contact more than 5 kilometres. He was definitively dropped with 200 kilometres to go. He was quickly caught by Bertin and Le Guliloux and they were to stay together during more than 150 kilometres.
Ahead Rosiers resisted a little but taking advantage of a small climb leaving Clery-Saint-Andre (km 421 ) Van Springel freed himself finally from the bald-headed Peugeot rider. It was the beginning of Van Springel's winning move, well sheltered behind his pacemaker No. 1, Dewachter. Gradually Herman widened the gap as Pescheux, Den Hertog and Zoetemelk did not insist anymore and packed up. Nine men remained in the race and they all were to reach the finish after 14 or 15 hours on their saddles. Of course Van Springel reached Monthlery with 60 km to go and began the first ascent of the Cote Lapize (to climb five times) more than ten minutes before Rosiers and 14 before Bertin, Delepine and Le Guilloux.
Distance: 601 kms
1 Herman Van Springel Marc-Zeepoentrale-Superia 14-20-33
2 Roger Rosiers Peugeot-Esso At 8-02
3 Regis Delepine Peugeot- Esso At 10-30
4 Yvon Bertin Renault-Gitane At 13-57
5 Maurice Le Guilloux Miko-Mercier At 18-14
6 Jan van Katwijk Marc-Zeepcentrale At 33-39
7 Jean-Jacques Fussien Fiat At 40-16
8 Joel Gallopin Lejeune BP At 45-04
9 Serge Beucherie Fiat At 1-19-49
Behind it was a rout. The sixth man, Jan van Katwijk arrived 32 minutes after Van Springel and entered the circuit when his leader had no more than 2 laps to go. As for Fussien, Gallopin and Beucherie it was worse. For them the only thing which was important was to finish, the time was another problem. In the penultimate ascent of the Cote Lapize, Van Springel, self-confident, freewheeled and Rosiers and Delepine who had dropped Le Guilloux first and Bertin regained ground but it was too late. Van Springel reached the finish 8 minutes before Rosiers who was almost caught by his team-mate Delepine. The victor had already given all the interviews, taken his shower and was on the way home when Beucherie, the last man crossed the line, exhausted and happy. He had finished the first Bordeaux-Paris of his career.
Van Springel's fifth victory was certainly a great victory but we can ask ourselves what repercussion it will have in comparison with, for example, the one of Roger De Vlaeminck in Milan-San Remo. In fact the thin field and the absence of great names in the event is a pity but after following such a long race we better understand why the ‘bigs’ are ‘uninterested’ with it. In modern cycling, Bordeaux-Paris is really apart. Only the big primes attracted some riders in this fantastic race.