This advert celebrates Freddy Maertens as the ‘second place winner’ in the 1973 World Championship Road Race. The concept of lionising a ‘second place winner’ who is referred to as using the Shimano Crane in his ‘winning race’, may be somewhat alien to modern participants in competitive sport. Today the person in second place is more likely to be tagged as the hopeless ‘loser’.
The 1973 World Championship Road Race, in Barcelona, was a properly Gothic event, seething with bitter rivalries and rife with unsubstantiated rumours. The World Championships in these days were regarded as a competition between nations as much as between individuals (as to some extent they are today). Belgium was one of the cycling super-powers, with their ‘team’ led by the all-conquering Eddy Merckx. Freddy Maertens was a new kid on the Belgian cycling block, having only turned professional after the 1972 Olympics. By rights he should have played the role of a humble domestique, supporting his illustrious fellow countryman - but Freddy was a world-class talent in his own right and had the ego to match - never a recipe for a good domestique.
The race was going to plan, with Merckx having made a break off the front in the final lap, leaving the other ‘big names’ in the peleton. But then, horror of horrors, Freddy Maertens chased down Merckx and, by doing so, towed Felice Gimondi up to Merckx. In the final sprint Merckx was exhausted from his break, Maertens was tired from the long chase down and Gimondi was perfectly placed and took the win. Merckx was incandescent with rage, officially because a Belgian had needlessly undermined a certain victory for Belgium. But unofficially the story was that Merckx was affronted that the young upstart Maertens had the temerity to even think that he could challenge the great Eddy Merckx and win the race for himself.
Freddy Maertens inevitably saw things differently, he saw himself as the strongman of the leading group having demonstrated his power by chasing Merckx down. He felt that Merckx should have acknowledged his position as the weaker Belgian in the leading triumvirate, and that Merckx should have worked for a Belgian win by effectively acting as Maertens’ lead-out man (effectively a domestique - not an idea that was ever likely to gain much traction with Merckx). Maertens explained his theory of why Merckx behaved as he did in the following, fascinating, statement:
"He must have decided that Gimondi would make a better winner. And that's simply because Felice Gimondi, like Merckx, rode with Campagnolo. Shimano, for whom I was riding, was the up and coming rival of Campagnolo. Tullio Campagnolo called Walter Godefroot and passed on the message that under no circumstances was the world championship to be won by a Shimano rider".