Freddy Maertens, Belgian, 1952 -
Freddy Maertens was a quixotic figure. He was undoubtedly a star winning the World Road Race Championship twice - in 1976 and 1981. But that does not really capture his true importance. In an age when Eddy Merckx was totally dominant there were few riders who were strong enough (or foolhardy enough) to take him on. Elegant submissiveness was the name of the game. But a young Freddy Maertens had no fear, and he also had the skill, strength, intelligence and sheer mental brutality to give as good as he got. His victory in the 1977 Vuelta was a masterclass in dominant, power, riding.
But Freddy could turn it off as quickly as he could turn it on. He could go a whole season without winning anything, and then startle everyone with a crushing victory. Inevitably, and probably deservedly, he was dogged by allegations of doping, and failed a number of drug tests. But most of all he was the kind of person that my grand mother would have called 'unreliable' with a look that could freeze your blood - forever in trouble with debt and alcohol and probably no stranger to the bookmaker.
One, very Freddy Maertens, story that you often read is that, in 1979, he flew from Amsterdam to Chicago on an American Airlines DC-10, reg no N110AA. On the flight he claimed that he commented that one of the engines was making a strange noise. After Freddy had disembarked in Chicago, the plane took off for its next leg to Los Angeles. On take off the left engine fell off the left wing and the plane crashed into the ground killing all 273 people on board. To this day this remains the highest death toll from any air crash on American soil.
This Panini card shows a young Freddy Maertens