Cycling legend Roger de Vlaeminck will always be known as Mr. Paris-Roubaix, after becoming the first rider ever to win the “Hell of the North” four times.
Also read: Peter Sagan takes the ‘Proust Questionnaire’
But the great classics rider also earned a reputation for his unpredictable nature both on- and off-the-bike. As a result, we thought he would be the perfect subject for the always insightful Proust questionnaire. And we were not disappointed as De Vlaeminck talks about his love for Lionel Messi or reincarnation as Eddy Merckx.
VeloNews: What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Roger de Vlaeminck: To continue to be healthy, and to be able to do everything I want to do without health problems.
VN: What is your greatest trait or characteristic?
RDV: I think it is my determination. You have to have a lot of determination in life, especially if you want to be a great bicycle racer. The fact that I had a lot of determination made me a better cyclist and helped me win races. The fact that I really, really wanted to beat Eddy Merckx always took me higher, always made me better. If I didn’t have that burning desire, that determination, I would have always finished second.
VN: What is your greatest fear?
RDV: Cancer — or any other major health issue — that prevents me from living a normal, healthy life.
VN: What is the trait or characteristic that you like the least in yourself?
RDV: That I have to do everything very quickly. I am really restless and have little patience.
VN: What is the trait that you most deplore in others?
RDV: When people are not friendly or nice. I try to be friendly. I do my best to greet people and treat them with respect. And I hate it when such people do not respond or cannot even say hello.
VN: What trait do you most admire in a friend?
RDV: Being honest, correct.
VN: When and where were you happiest?
RDV: Any day when I beat Eddy Merckx! Eddy was just so hard to beat, but one day in the Tour of Switzerland 1975, I beat Merckx three times in the same day. It was a day when we had a short road stage in the morning followed by a time trial. I won both stages and then took over the race lead in front of Merckx. So I beat Eddy three times in a single day. That felt pretty good!
VN: Who is the living person that you most admire?
RDV: Lionel Messi. I’m a huge Barcelona fan and am still disappointed that he left the team. I have always been a huge football fan. When I was 15 years old I would go see five or six matches a week and still love the game. Messi incarnates the best of the game.
VN: Who is the person in history that you most admire?
RDV: Cassius Clay. He so transcended the sport of boxing. He was just greater than life. I still go back and watch old videos of him fighting.
VN: What is your greatest extravagance?
RDV: Well I don’t have a lot, to be honest. I have always paid attention to my health and weight. As a result, I don’t have a lot of excesses when it comes to what I eat and drink. But with coronavirus that has been more complicated because we spent so much time inside with such little activity, so even an extra scoop of ice cream or a couple of cookies became an extravagance, at least in comparative terms.
VN: What is the most overrated virtue?
RDV: Sex drive
VN: On what occasion do you lie?
RDV: I always say what I think. I can be brutally honest, in fact. And that has often gotten me in trouble, especially in the Belgium press. When I hear somebody obviously exaggerating or something, it just drives me crazy. Before the Tour of Flanders this year some of the Belgian press was really calling Victor Campenaerts a pre-race favorite. I really couldn’t believe that. It was just so misleading. It drove me crazy.
VN: What do you most dislike about your physical appearance?
RDV: Well I was racing – I was perfect. (big laughs). But today, I have to admit, I am not perfect. I’ve gained some weight and I still want to be fit like I was then. I really want to be under 80 kilos, but with COVID, I put on weight and am now 84 kilos. It was so frustrating because I could only ride on the home trainer. But now spring is coming and I will be able to get back out on the bike again.
VN: What would you have been if you were not a cyclist?
RDV: A football player. Football is my other great love! I am just fascinated by all of the strategy, the tactics, you name it. It’s a beautiful game!
VN: What do you consider your greatest achievement?
RDV: Well that Tour of Switzerland in 1975 was pretty amazing. I won six of 10 stages that year. And if I didn’t win, I was second. I was just in amazing condition and I just completely dominated Merckx. I know most people would expect me to say Paris-Roubaix or something. But that Tour of Switzerland was a very special moment in my career. In fact, I won 62 races that one year. Do you know what that would mean today? That is more than even the best teams can do today.
VN: If you die and come back as another person, who would that be?
RDV: Eddy Merckx!
VN: What is your most treasured material possession?
RDV: Well there is a painting in my house of Eddy and me in Paris-Roubaix that I really love. That is very special for me.
VN: Who is your favorite fictional character or actor?
RDV: Charles Bronson. I always loved him. He was just so tough, so cool. James Bond was always kissing women but Bronson actually played in one move with his wife and they never kissed.
VN: What is your greatest regret?
RDV: That there was no Strade Bianche when I was racing. I would have loved that race. I can’t tell you how many times I would have won that race, but I would have won it a lot. It would have been a perfect race for me!