It’s Gent – Wevelgem 1974, you’ve made it over the savage Kemmel climb twice with the lead group and survived hanging on the back of an Eddy Merckx [Belgium & Molteni] and Roger De Vlaeminck [Belgium & Brooklyn] driven purge on the run-in; there are 17 guys left, so maybe you would settle for a top ten?
Not if your name is Barry Hoban [Britain & GAN] and you feel that the ‘over-drive’ is in your legs.
Whittling Down The Field
Barry takes up the story; ‘The race was longer back then, [244 kilometres, current 205 kilometres] it went further north up towards Holland before it ran down the coast from Ostende to De Panne. The early stages of a classic are a softening-up process and when we turned inland away from the sea towards the climbs the echelons started [diagonal formations taken up by the riders to facilitate fast riding into a cross-wind].
It was very fast, a lot of guys were eliminated at this stage and the only place to be was at the front. I had problems on the Kemmel, my gears kept threatening to slip out of my 42×22 bottom ratio and I had to try and climb whilst holding the gear lever.’
Hoban in action, drilling it in a time trial.
Hoban was riding a six speed screw-on block, levers were on the down tube there was no ‘ratchet’ or ‘retro friction’ facility, never mind indexing.
The Pain Train Rolls To Wevelgem
He continues; ‘Once we were clear of the hills the road widened-out and Merckx, De Vlaeminck and Godefroot [Belgium & Carpenter, and yes Big Jan’s ex DS] went to the front and drove very hard for ten kilometres, guys were getting shelled-out all over the place. I was hanging on in the string behind them but eventually they eased up and I made it into the echelon. That was really the race decided, no one was going to get back up. I could feel that I had the “over-drive” in my legs. Merckx had it all the time, but mere mortals like me only felt it on occasion.
The attacks started and guys were going all over the place, Tino Tabak [Holland & Raleigh], Danguillaume [France & Peugeot] and Van Springel [Belgium and MIC] all tried to get away, when it’s like that you have to hold the wheel, you can’t let the gaps open.’
Hoban, on his day, was a man to be reckoned with.
I ask him about the fact that he had two GAN team mates in the break – Frenchmen Alain Santy and Raymond Poulidor, did they help him? ‘We weren’t that organised and in the classics we all tended to ride our own races but Raymond did close some gaps for me on the run-in.
Patience And Then Victory
I was boxed coming in to the finish behind Merckx, De Vlaeminck and Eric Leman [Belgium & MIC]. I was sitting there thinking about how I would get through, it always tends to fan-out towards the line and with about 150 metres to go a gap opened-up between Merckx and Leman – I went straight through it. I had great legs and won by a length from Merckx and De Vlaeminck.’ In photos of the finish you can almost see the ‘thinks bubbles’ coming from the two Belgians heads; “Where the hell did he come from?”
Hoban enjoying some sweet time on the podium.
Merckx, never a good loser was moaning at the finish that he hadn’t seen much of Hoban at the front, but the Yorkshire man was unconcerned; ‘I would have been at the front if I hadn’t been for the problems I had with my gears. Eddy was a winner by nature and didn’t like to be beaten.’
A Veritable Who’s Who
The riders that Hoban beat that April day in Wevelgem were the finest of the generation, Merckx is unquestionably the greatest ever with three world titles and, wait for it – two dozen classics; De Vlaeminck ‘s palmares are huge too but include four Paris-Roubaix and three Milan – San Remo; Santy was fourth; fifth was Leman who won the Tour of Flanders three times and sixth was double world champion and Vuelta winner Freddy Maertens.
In case you’re thinking it was slower back then – check the stats:
Gent-Wevelgem, 2005: winner Nico Mattan, 208 km @ 42.577 kph.
Gent-Wevelgem, 1974: winner Barry Hoban, 244km @ 44.383 kph.
‘I was a dangerous rider on my day’, concludes Hoban.
“Damn right Barry!