Younger readers may not know much about Eric Vanderaerden’s career as he seldom features in “best ever” reviews or Top Twenty lists as he doesn’t have a truly outstanding palmares.
Those of us old enough to recall Eric’s miracle week in April 1985 see things differently. It started with perhaps the greatest ever win in Ronde Van Vlaanderen. As I have watched the video a hundred times I can recall every pedal stroke. It rained throughout the seven hours and as the bunch approached the rain soaked Koppenberg Sean Kelly was near the front but as the climb steepened he just toppled over into the grass bank unable to maintain forward momentum. Greg Lemond was also attacking (remember when Grand Tour contenders were competitive on the cobbles in April) as was Van de Poel. Hennie Kuiper ran up with his bike on his shoulder stopping only to smack a spectator who was pushing a rival, described as “Slappen” in the Flemish commentary.
Eventually among the running stragglers Eric appeared still riding and weaving his way through the melee. He had punctured just as the whole bunch, anxious to be first to the foot of the Koppenberg, really started to motor.
At the top Vanderaerden was well behind but he reeled in rider after rider until only Eric, his Panasonic team mate Phil Anderson and Kuiper were together at the front. He launched one final attack on the Muur at Geraardsbergen and rode alone to victory at Ninove. In winning he became the only person to win the Tour of Flanders at Junior, Amateur and Pro level.
Three days later he won a Gent – Wevelgem in which Joey McLaughlin had featured in a long break and the following Sunday Eric started Paris-Roubaix looking capable of doing the dream treble. When he broke away alone it seemed possible but he then faded and was caught by the chasers, including Kelly and Lemond, from which Marc Madiot emerged to win alone. Eric had to wait until 1987 before winning the Hell of the North.
There were few more wins of this magnitude and Eric’s career never recovered from his sacking from the Wordperfect team in 1993 by Jan Raas when he was discovered raiding the hotel fridge at midnight. It was also alleged that he was in possession of porn mags! All in all a talent wasted but I am sure that like me Eric Vanderearden will never forget that wet, wonderful Sunday in Flanders.