Lucien Van Impe
Van Impe credits the start of his career to Spaniard Federico Bahamontes, a climber nicknamed The Eagle of Toledo and a former Tour de France winner. In 1968 van Impe was King of the Mountains in the Tour de l’Avenir. Bahamontes used his influence to get van Impe a contract as a professional. In 1969, Van Impe started his professional career with a 12th place finish at the 1969 Tour de France. In 1971, Van Impe won his first King of the Mountains classification at the Tour de France. A feat would repeat that five more times, a record then shared with Bahamontes. When Richard Virenque broke the record with a seventh victory in 2004, Van Impe criticized Virenque for being opportunistic rather than the best climber; he said he had himself refrained from breaking Bahamontes’ record himself out of reverence.
Van Impe’s Sonolor team fused with Gitane to become Gitane-Campagnolo in 1975. Former French champion Cyrille Guimard, who retired in early 1976, became directeur sportif in 1976. In that year Van Impe dueled several times with Zoetemelk in the mountains of the 1976 Tour de France. Guimard claims it was his order to attack Zoetemelk that won Van Impe the Tour, shouting at Van Impe that he’d run him off the road with the car if he didn’t attack. Van Impe has denied this. After 1976, Van Impe changed teams. In the 1977 Tour de France he started favorite but failed to take a lead in the mountains. He waited until the last mountain stage, to Alpe d’Huez, but forgot to eat, causing him to lose his lead. In that tour, he was caught by one of the accompanying cars and fell, another cause for his defeat by Bernard Thévenet.
After three less successful years, Van Impe made a comeback in 1981 with second place and first in the mountain classification. He won the mountain classification in the Giro d’Italia twice.
Single-day races were not his specialty and it was a surprise that he won the national championship in 1983.
Van Impe started 15 Tours de France and reached the finish in Paris every time (second most Tour finishes after Joop Zoetemelk, and tied with Viatcheslav Ekimov who did the same in 2006).
He is now head of a cycling team of professional riders, called Circus–Wanty Gobert.
Lucien Van Impe lives in Impe (his family name refers to that town) with his wife Rita, he has two grown children, a son, and a daughter. His house is called Alpe D’Huez, after the French mountain where he took the yellow jersey in 1976. When he came home that year, the bar where his supporters gathered every day to watch him win the Tour, was painted yellow entirely.