Jun 08, 2018

The Leon Van Daele Edition

  • The Leon Van Daele Edition
  • The Leon Van Daele Edition
  • The Leon Van Daele Edition
  • The Leon Van Daele Edition
  • The Leon Van Daele Edition
  • The Leon Van Daele Edition
  • The Leon Van Daele Edition
  • The Leon Van Daele Edition
  • The Leon Van Daele Edition

When we design our new ranges we do it with a simple rule in mind — we want to create cycling apparel that we would be proud to be seen in, on the bike and at the café stop. Our inspiration is wide ranging; from adventure to culture, from history to travel. Our Leon Van Daele tribute jersey marks 60 years since the Belgian sprinter’s great win in Paris-Roubaix. The cobbled classics hold a special place in our hearts and being able to commemorate the win of one of the sport’s lesser known heroes is a privilege.

What made this jersey even more special for us was to hear from Leon’s grandson, Frederic Tavernier, who wanted to show his appreciation for the jersey and to put us in touch with his mother Ann Vandaele – Leon’s daughter. Ann has written a biography of her father’s racing career, including that famous win, to keep the memory of this great racer alive. Ann was kind enough to spend some time sharing some memories with us and help us to tell a more complete picture of one of Paris-Roubaix’s great heroes.

It makes me so happy, at first I thought it was a joke — 60 years after?! His heart of gold would have been very pleased.
— Ann Vandaele

Leon was from the Flanders region of Belgium – Ruddervoorde, a small town with a population of under 6,000 residents, possibly best known for cycle-cross although in truth is widely not known at all. In a sporting sense it boasts only Leon Van Daele and current Belgian international footballer Thomas Buffel as its exports. We asked Ann whether cycling had always been a passion for her father – “He was on bikes before he could walk! He started his racing career at just 14, becoming professional at 19 for the Bertin-D’Alessandro team”. The fascination with bicycles was perhaps inevitable, Leon’s father owned a bicycle shop and workshop and made the bikes himself. Growing up in that environment must have been so exciting for a child, something we can all envy.

A tall rider, Leon was a sprinter of some merit, winning a total of 88 races including the Championship of Flanders in Koolskamp three times in a row. Something nobody has every repeated. The Roubaix victory, the subject of our special edition jersey, came in no little thanks to Roger Decock, Leon’s loyal team mate. “Roger kept him out of the wind so he could start fresh in the final. Dad was too fast for everyone in the sprint. Of course, I was just two years old but I make it my mission to keep the memory of my Dad and his career alive”.

At the time of the race Leon and his wife, Gilberte Baert, were the owners of a café in Zedelgem which became a scene of great celebration; “It was crazy!! Not only people from our town and around came to celebrate, but from the province and even further! Bikes were lying in big heaps as far as the eye could see!” The race brought change for Leon in many ways, he was instantly recognisable and became an overnight star, as Ann explains — “He became very well known, in fact everyone knew him at that time. I remember that, everywhere we went people were saying hello and asking signatures, and he always did this with pleasure! Even after he died, my mother still received a lot of mail asking for postcards.” For many people this kind of adoration could change them, but this wasn’t the case for Van Daele. “He was a quiet person and did not have star-behaviour. In fact, he should have had more as he was too humble and too good for that hard bicycle-world.”

Despite the famous win and new found recognition, Leon’s status in the team wasn’t necessarily improved. At this time he was racing for the best team of the era, the famous Italia Faema squad. “There were many ‘winners’ in that team, but Lomme Driessens (the manager) chose only one rider whom everyone had to ride for. After my father won Paris-Roubaix, the relationship between him and Driessens became very cold. That’s why in 1959 he changed team and became the first racer to sign a contract with Flandria. The owners of the team were from the same town, and as they were fans of my dad and came to the cafe all the time, they told him about their interest to start up a team. That’s how Flandria started! My dad became frontman and immediately had great results that year.”

The Flandria team became one of the most famous in cycling, boasting many great riders from Merckx, Van Looy and Godefroot to Freddy Maertens and Sean Kelly. It was no small honour to be the first rider signed up and it seemed likely that Van Daele would go on to a great career. Unfortunately that same year he suffered a serious crash during Paris-Brussels, resulting in a serious skull fracture. “Dad was finally the leader, but that injury broke his career. He was barely 26 years old and at the top! But he never achieved the same level after that fall, despite further victories“

Van Daele stayed closed to the sport, despite moving into cars (his other passion) after retirement. He worked for the KWB, Belgium’s cycling federation, to help promote cycling in the country. Ann explains that Leon stayed close to the race that made his name: “My son Frederic went to Paris-Roubaix with my father when he was a kid and not so long ago, he went back to ride on the famous place where my Dad passed the line. My Dad went back to the race every year as he was always invited – he always asked me if I wanted to go with him, I regret so much that I didn’t go!”

Ann’s book about her father’s career, packed full of newspaper cuttings and photographs it’s a treasure trove of memories. “Sometimes, writers or people who organise cycling-exhibitions contact me for photos or explanations. One of them, an author of cycling books was surprised that we had so many pictures and other material. He encouraged me to do something with it, and so I have worked with heart and soul on the book because Dad really deserves that. He himself has always been too modest about his performance.”

Being such a modest champion we wondered what he might have thought about a jersey in tribute to him, slightly worried that he might think it all a bit much! Thankfully Ann puts our mind at rest; “His heart of gold would have been very very pleased!”. And what about Ann and her mother, what did you think when Frederick showed you the Chapeau! jersey? “I really couldn’t believe it! I was so happy, but I have to say, at first, I thought it was a joke! 60 years after??!! Wow! It’s such a pity that my Dad is not around anymore, he would have been so very pleased, I can tell you that!! I posted some pics on Facebook and a few journalists got in contact for articles in the newspapers. I keep the story alive!”

Too often in sport we know little of the deep history, of the forefathers that built the sport we cherish today. In cycling we can read about the great champions, immortalised in books and film, but the stories run much further. In creating our tribute jersey to Leon Van Daele, we wanted to highlight a lesser known hero of a great race on the 60th anniversary of his triumph. Through doing that we’ve come to learn more about him, bringing his story to life. We’re very proud to have represented just one story from cycling’s great past and we hope you enjoy wearing the special edition jersey and helping to keep Leon’s story alive.

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