The Lion of Flanders still roars before De Ronde.
Johan Museeuw is a man in high demand during the week before the Tour of Flanders. Museeuw, 53, won the race three times (1993, 1995, 1998), and throughout the month of April he conducts interviews with the Belgian press and takes VIPs on rides along the famed Flanders bergs. In 2017 VeloNews spoke to Museeuw about his reputation in Flemish cycling, and his decision to step back into the public eye after admitting to doping during his career.
This year, we caught up with Museeuw to discuss the rise of Wout van Aert, his battles against Mathieu van der Poel’s father, Adri, and his opinion on Andrea Tafi’s attempt to race Paris-Roubaix at age 52.
VeloNews: What is your assessment of Wout van Aert as a classics rider? Do you think he can win Flanders?
Johan Museeuw: He has a chance, of course. I saw his climb on the Kemmelberg at Gent-Wevelgem and it was very classic of him. But winning the Tour of Flanders is different than Gent-Wevelgem, and so he may need more time. My favorite is Zdenek Stybar, and then I also have [Peter] Sagan and Greg Van Avermaet, and then we have [Mathieu] van der Poel, Wout van Aert, and the other contenders. Wout has a big chance but he has more time than Greg van Avermaet, and I want for Van Avermaet to win the Tour of Flanders one day. Maybe this is his last chance. Maybe next year is another chance, and then it’s over. Van Aert is at the beginning of his career, and so is van der Poel. They are big talents, and have a chance to win Flanders.
VN: Between Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel, who has impressed you the most?
JM: Both. Van der Poel is already winning and van Aert is always good in the breakaway. It means he is intelligent. I’m impressed. I know they are big talents and better than the others. Also, in cyclocross they are already great champions, but cyclocross is not road cycling. Now, they are more known for road riders than cyclocross, and everybody will know them. In cyclocross, that’s popular in Flanders and the USA and some other places. Road is international. So now everybody will know van der Poel and van Aert.
VN: You raced against Mathieu van der Poel’s father, Adri. What do you remember about Adri’s strengths?
JM: I raced a lot with Adri. He was a very good rider, a classics rider. He was also a very good climber. He won Tour of Flanders and Amstel Gold Race and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, and that means he is more than a classics rider. He did 150 percent for his job all of the time. He was always concentrated. Always training the way you have to do. I remember he was always aggressive in the races and wanted to win and even at the end of his career. I have just good memories of Adri.
VN: Flemish media loves to promote young talented Flemish riders. What is your advice on how young riders like van Aert should handle the attention?
JM: It’s difficult because we have the same plan with [Remco] Evenepoel, and in fact he has more hype than Wout van Aert. Van Aert is already a winner in cyclocross, and has a lot of time with the press from that. He has more experience than Evenepoel. But this is Belgium, and we are a small country, and everything is about cycling for us. When we have a young big champion like Wout van Aert and Remco Evenepoel, it makes sense that the Flemish media will call him the new Eddy Merckx. But of course it’s difficult to know whether we do have the next Eddy Merckx.
VN: Earlier this year your former teammate Andrea Tafi announced plans to race Paris-Roubaix at age 52. What was your reaction to this news?
JM: I take immediately to the phone, and call him, and I say you are crazy. I still bike a lot and I like to bike a lot, and this week my condition was very good and I was very happy. But I never think about getting back in a race. I bike a lot with people who love biking and who love Flanders, but I don’t think about wanting to race, especially with young professionals. Maybe I want to do a competition ride with ex-professionals, but not young riders.
VN: And what was his reply?
JM: He said, ‘Yes, but I feel great! I feel strong! I can do it!’ Yeah, maybe, but if you have a victory already for Flanders and Roubaix, I don’t find the motivation to do it again if you are more than 50 years old.
VN: What role does cycling play in your life today?
JM: My life is still cycling, and this week is always very special. If you win three times Flanders, that means some people want to talk with you and I’m also on the road with tour clients and people who love Flanders. I can tell stories about the past. I know the roads more than before. Flanders means something special to me.