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Freddy Maertens Takes the Proust Questionnaire

From issue 92; questions posed by James Startt; image by James Startt.

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When it comes to legends in the sport of cycling, Freddy Maertens is considered nothing less than a giant. A charismatic rider, Maertens could time trial as well as sprint and was one of the most feared classics riders in his generation. Such versatility allowed him to win the rainbow jersey of the world champion on two occasions, the green points jersey in the Tour de France on three occasions, nine different classics and even the coveted Grand Prix des Nations time trial [essentially, the precursor to today’s world TT championship]. Recently retired from his work at the Centrum Ronde van Vlaanderen in Oudenaarde, the amiable Maertens, 68, still lives in Roeselare, where he grew up. And he was only too happy to be Peloton’s guest on the timeless Proust questionnaire.


What is your idea of perfect happiness? To be married to the woman you love and spend your life with her until separated by death. Carine.

What is your greatest fear? Well, I am not afraid of dying. My greatest fear for the moment is when my granddaughter Anna-Nina rides her bike to school when it is dark. She insists on riding the bike to school, even when it’s dark. She doesn’t want to go by car, even when it is raining, but it really scares me!

What is the trait you most deplore in others? Dishonesty.

Which living person do you most admire? My wife.

What is your greatest extravagance? I have too many bicycles, maybe 20. Most of them are my old bikes, but still that is a lot.

What is your current state of mind? Frustration about the political situation in the world.

On what occasion do you lie? Well, I don’t lie in life, but I sometimes did when I was racing and faked being on the edge of dying.

What do you most dislike about your appearance? My nose and my ears—but I didn’t have much choice in those matters.

Which living person do you most despise? Roger De Vlaeminck.

He still owes me 150,000 Belgian francs for the 1977 Tour of Flanders!

What is the quality you most like in a man? Someone who works hard and works with their heart.

What is the quality you most like in a woman? When you need her that she is near.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse? Dammit!

What or who is the greatest love of your life? My wife.

When and where were you happiest? The second time when I won the world championships in Prague in 1981. Nobody thought I could win there; a lot of journalists were even criticizing my selection to the team. And I won!

Which talent would you most like to have? I can’t handle a hammer. I’m not good at fixing things at home.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? Now, it is too late to change anything. But in life I could never say no. I said yes too much.

What do you consider your greatest achievement? Winning the Grand Prix des Nations time trial in 1976 and the world championships in 1981.

If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be? A horse. They embody beauty and strength.

Where would you most like to live? Italy. They know how to live. They understand the art of living.

What is your most treasured possession? My medals, especially of the world championships.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? Poverty.

What is your favorite occupation? I love being a tour guide in the Flanders museum and doing the meet and greeting. It’s a great way to stay in touch with people and the sport.

What is your most marked characteristic? I am too good for people!

Who is your favorite protagonist in a book or film? I like George Clooney in the “Oceans” films. He is so cool and can arrange everything.

Who are your heroes in real life? There are no heroes.

How would you like to die? Like a normal person, easily and without pain. In my sleep would be fine.

What is your motto? Do what you have to do today. Don’t wait.

What historical figure do you most admire? Napoleon. He was a little guy with a lot of brains.

What are your favorite names? Oh names come and go.

What do you dislike the most? Dishonest people.

What is your greatest regret? That I didn’t sprint for first place in the world championships in Barcelona when [Felice] Gimondi won in 1973. I was looking back for Eddy [Merckx] after launching the sprint, but Eddy was gapped and then Gimondi came over on me and elbowed me in the final meters and that was it.

What is the most over-rated virtue? Donald Trump!

From issue 92