Greatest Spring Classics Riders – Rik van Steenbergen
June 8, 2020
Rider Type: Cobbles Specialist
Rik Van Steenbergen started his career as World War 2 was coming to an end. He had to use a forged ID card in order to turn professional in 1942. In 1944, aged just 20, he won the Tour of Flanders for the first time. 2 years later he won his 2nd Tour of Flanders.
Following the 2 year trend, he won Paris Roubaix in 1948 before breaking it to win the World Championships in 1949. He also won Flèche Wallonne and 2 stages of the Tour de France that year too. Never much of a Grand Tour specialist, 1951 saw him finish 2nd Overall with a pair of stage wins.
By this time Van Steenbergen was developing a reputation as a rider who would ride any race for money. It meant he would win big races and then earn a living doing all of the little races that paid the most. This tradition continues into modern cycling but riders are no longer dependent on that money to live.
The 1950s saw Van Steenbergen take an epic Paris Roubaix win in 1952. Milan San Remo was conquered in 1954 and a pair of World Championship wins in 1956/1957 means Van Steenbergen is the joint record holder. The final big win was Flèche Wallonne in 1958.
Rik Van Steenbergen died in 2003, aged 78.
Greatest Race Victory
1952 Paris Roubaix
An elite attack had gone up the road, including the legendary Fausto Coppi (looking for his second Paris Roubaix win) and 1950 Tour de France winner Ferdi Kübler in the rainbow bands as current World Champion.
Rik Van Steenbergen had to bridge the gap up to them on his own and once there the group dwindled down to just Van Steenbergen and Coppi. Coppi was at his best in 1952, winning the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia in the same year. Up against the stronger sprinter, Coppi attacked and attacked to try and reach the Roubaix Velodrome solo.
Van Steenbergen gamely hung on and the pair reached the velodrome together. The sprint went as predicted, the more explosive Van Steenbergen won by a few bike lengths. After the race, Van Steenbergen said that if Coppi had attacked just once more, he wouldn’t have been able to respond and that would have been that.