Albert Van Damme won more than 400 cyclo-cross races

"I am the man of the world championships", Erik de Vlaeminck always said. "And Albert van Damme is the man of the Belgian Championships." If you look at the roll of honour of the florist from Laarne, you have to agree with the sevenfold world champion. Albert van Damme did indeed win the national jersey six times and only became world champion once.
However, that world title did form the highlight of his glorious cycling career. In the Spanish Vera di Bidasoa his professional seriousness was rewarded generously. He was the only one to explore the track the day before the championship race in the pouring rain, while the other riders stayed at the hotel. That paid off, because the next day nobody was a match for Albert van Damme, who was flanked on the stand by Roger de Vlaeminck and the Swiss Peter Frischknecht. At a time when nobody expected it, the 33-year-old Albert van Damme could still put on the rainbow jersey after participating in the world championships fourteen times.
As an amateur, the florist did not succeed in reaching the stand during the world championships. At the Belgian championship race for all categories he reached first place in 1963 and 1965 as an amateur. As a professional rider he became Belgian champion four times. On two occasions, Albert van Damme was close to winning the world championships. In 1970 he lost from Erik de Vlaeminck in a millimetre sprint and the next year he blew his chances in Apeldoorn due to a careless spectator, who caused Van Damme to fall in the last lap. After two silver world championship medals, in 1974 Van Damme finally reached the highlight of his career by becoming world champion with the professional riders in Vera di Bidasoa. The many battles with the De Vlaeminck brothers in those years pushed the Belgian cyclo-cross to an unprecedented level. Albert van Damme was the big opponent of the two brothers from Eeklo and as such he was a frequently asked cyclo-cross rider in the many Belgian races. "The Lion from Laarne" had the bad luck in his career to encounter an exceptional cyclo-cross rider such as Erik de Vlaeminck. On the other hand, the presence of De Vlaeminck provided him with an additional incentive to work even harder at the training, because nobody could really go through it like Van Damme could. He was a powerful person, who enjoyed plodding and grubbing. When he ended his career in 1978 with a victory in Oostakker, he crossed the finish line as a winner for the 419th time. That is undoubtedly a unique number.
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