Hendrik "Rik" Van Steenbergen (9 September 1924 – 15 May 2003) was a Belgian racing cyclist, considered to be one of the best among the great number of successful Belgian cyclists.

Rik Van Steenbergen
Van Steenbergen in 1967
Personal information
Full nameRik Van Steenbergen
NicknameRik I (Rik II is Rik Van Looy)
The Boss
BornConstant Hendrik Van Steenbergen
(1924-09-09)9 September 1924
Arendonk, Belgium
Died15 May 2003(2003-05-15) (aged 78)
Antwerp, Belgium
Team information
Rider typeClassics specialist, sprinter
Professional teams
1943Alcyon / Europe-Dunlop
1948Mercier / Bristol
1950-51Mercier / Girardengo-Ursus
1952Mercier / Girardengo-Clement
1953Mercier / Girardengo-Hutchinson
1954Mercier / Girardengo-Eldorado
1955Girardengo-Eldorado / Elvé-Peugeot
1956Girardengo-Icep / Elvé-Peugeot
1957Peugeot-BP-Dunlop / Cora-Elvé
1961-62Solo-Van Steenbergen
1963Solo-Terrot-Van Steenbergen
Major wins
Grand Tours
Tour de France
4 individual stages (1949, 1952, 1955)
Giro d'Italia
Sprints classification (1954, 1957)
15 individual stages (1951, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1957, 1957)
Vuelta a España
Points classification (1956)
6 individual stages (1956)

Stage races

Tour de l'Ouest (1951)
Vuelta a la Argentina (1952)

One-day races and Classics

World Road Race Championships (1949, 1956, 1957)
National Road Race Championships (1943, 1945, 1954)
Tour of Flanders (1944, 1946)
Dwars door Vlaanderen (1945)
Paris–Roubaix (1948, 1952)
La Flèche Wallonne (1949, 1958)
Paris–Brussels (1950)
Milan–San Remo (1954)


Ruban Jaune (1948->1955)
Critérium des As (1948, 1952, 1955, 1957, 1958)

Track Championships

National Track Championships
Madison (1955, 1961)
Omnium (1944, 1955, 1961, 1963)
Men's Individual Pursuit (1944)
Derny (1961, 1962, 1963, 1964)
European Track Championships
Madison (1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1963)
Omnium (1959)
Medal record
Representing  Belgium
Men's road bicycle racing
World Championships
Gold medal – first place 1949 Copenhagen Professional Road Race
Gold medal – first place 1956 Copenhagen Professional Road Race
Gold medal – first place 1957 Waregem Professional Road Race
Bronze medal – third place 1946 Zürich Professional Road Race
Men's track cycling
European Championships
Gold medal – first place 1958 Kopenhagen Madison
Gold medal – first place 1959 Dortmund Omnium
Gold medal – first place 1959 Zürich Madison
Gold medal – first place 1960 Antwerp Madison
Gold medal – first place 1961 Köln Madison
Gold medal – first place 1963 Brussels Madison
Silver medal – second place 1962 Dortmund Omnium
Silver medal – second place 1963 Antwerp Derny
Silver medal – second place 1964 Antwerp Derny
Silver medal – second place 1965 Bremen Madison
Silver medal – second place 1966 Brussels Madison
Silver medal – second place 1966 Köln Omnium
Bronze medal – third place 1956 Zürich Omnium
Bronze medal – third place 1961 Kopenhagen Omnium
Bronze medal – third place 1962 Zürich Madison
Bronze medal – third place 1963 Köln Omnium

Early life edit

Van Steenbergen was born in Arendonk into a poor family. As a fledgling teenager, he worked successively as cigar-roller in a factory, as errand boy and as bicycle mechanic.[1] Dreaming of a cycling career like that of his idol Karel Kaers, the tall youngster started his first street race in Morkhoven on April 4, 1939, and won it. He eventually became one of Belgium's best juniors from 1939 to 1942, winning 52 road races.[2]

Career edit

Van Steenbergen was considered a "medical marvel" due to the exceptional large heart he had.

He started cycling as a professional during World War II in 1942, after being an amateur since he was 14. Although the official age limit was 21, it was decided that he could enter the professional circuit directly at the age of 18.[3] The next year, he won his first important races, and became Belgian road cycling champion. In 1944, he won the Tour of Flanders classic, which he won again two years later.

Rik Van Steenbergen winning the inaugural Dwars Door België in 1945

During his career, which lasted until 1966, Van Steenbergen won several more classics: Paris–Roubaix, Paris–Brussels and Milan–San Remo. He also won the World Road Cycling Championships three times (1949 Copenhagen, 1956 Copenhagen and 1957 Waregem), equaling the (still standing) record of Alfredo Binda. His last world title, a year after his second, was won in front of a home crowd. In addition, he placed third in the first post-war world championships in 1946. He held the Ruban Jaune for seven years for winning the 1948 Paris-Roubaix in a record average speed for a professional race, covering the 246 km at an average of 43.612 km per hour.

Van Steenbergen in an El Gráfico edition of 1953

His sporting achievements, combined with his physical appearance and natural authority made him a rider who was looked up to in the peloton, with or without fear. It earned him nicknames like The Boss or El Rey (the king).

"The biggest phenomenon I have encountered on my way."

Fausto Coppi on Van Steenbergen [4]

Van Steenbergen also excelled on the track. He won 40 Six-day events, 276 Omniums and improved two world records. His track capabilities made him an excellent road sprinter. However, due to his size, he usually had difficulty climbing, which prevented him from winning major stage races. He nevertheless placed 2nd in the 1951 Giro d'Italia. Between 1949 and 1957 he won four stages in the Tour de France and wore the yellow jersey for two days. In the same period he won fifteen stages in the Giro d'Italia and rode in the leader's pink jersey for nine days. In the Vuelta a España, he achieved six stage victories and the points classification and wore the amarillo jersey for one day. In 1951 he won the Tour of the West in France. The following year he won the Tour of Argentina.[5] It is widely believed that he could have competed for victory in Grand Tours and other stage races had he concentrated on them, instead of racing almost every race he could enter.

Remarkable is a 48-hour spell in 1957, when Van Steenbergen raced in the Belgian Congo, Copenhagen, Paris and Liège, winning all four events.

After his career, a newspaper calculated that Van Steenbergen rode more than 1 million kilometers on a bike, the equivalent of 25 tours around the world.

In total, he won no less than 1,645 races, of which 331 road races and 1,314 track races.[6]

Riding style edit

The muscular Van Steenbergen was known for his sprints and final jumps at finishes.

Van Steenbergen did not allow himself to be forced into a straitjacket. Nor did he want to surround himself too much with helpers. That gave him too much responsibility to have to win.

He preferred to go his own way, like a free bird in the peloton. On the road, he single-handedly arranged what needed to be done. That usually depended on his fitness, because Van Steenbergen never knew whether he was going to ride well or not, it only became apparent in the race. In that respect, he thrived on impulses.[7]

Motivation edit

His big drive was his addiction to cycling. Van Steenbergen really enjoyed the atmosphere and competition in races and was noticed whistling on his bicycle on several occasions.

Van Steenbergen after winning a stage in the 1958 Tour of the Netherlands

Another important aspect was the money that could be earned. His background as the child of a poor family, combined with the situation in post-war Belgium undoubtedly contributed to this. After Van Steenbergen won a classic, he rode numerous other races. And only when the starting money started to decrease, he began aiming on another classic.

From 1960, he also focused more on track cycling. The bigger contracts in this sport and the stifling rivalry with Rik Van Looy were the main drivers of that conscious choice.

At the time he stopped cycling, Van Steenbergen owned several properties and flats in Belgium and Sardinia.[8]

Retirement edit

At the age of 42, Van Steenbergen ended his career in a packed Brussels Sports Palace.

Unprepaired for the life without cycling, he entered a dark period afterwards.

"It wasn't easy to get into mainstream society when they've been kissing your shoes for twenty years." Van Steenbergen later said.

He was named in connection with many unsavory practices. He had a gambling addiction and was suspected of drug trafficking, conspiracy and incitement to debauchery.[9] During this period, in 1968, he also starred in the Belgian adult movie Pandore as the character Dimitri. In the context of that era the film was a sensational, provocative, scandal movie,[9] although nowadays it wouldn't be labeled as an adult movie at all.[10]

Van Steenbergen also ended up in jail for a while. He came close to prison for smuggling a suspect package over the Dutch border.[11] But his marriage with the British Doreen Hewitt saved him from ruin and he got his life back on track.[12]

Despite the many side issues, he maintained his popularity among the cycling public. Later in life he became a welcome guest at sports evenings, competitions and television debates.

Death and commemoration edit

Rik Van Steenbergen died in Antwerp after a prolonged sickness, at the age of 78. The funeral was in the Sint Pauluskerk of Westmalle, attended by about 2000 people, including Eddy Merckx, Rik Van Looy, Roger De Vlaeminck, Walter Godefroot, Johan De Muynck, Lucien Van Impe, Freddy Maertens and Briek Schotte. The UCI president Hein Verbruggen and Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt also attended.

The following year, a statue was erected in his honour on the Wampenberg in Arendonk.

Career achievements edit

Highlights edit

Records edit

Awards and honours edit

Bust of Van Steenbergen

Books edit

  • Rik Van Steenbergen: Het kind der goden by Peter Woeti in 1957. Hidawa, 80 p. (Dutch)
  • Rik van Steenbergen by Fred De Bruyne in 1963. G. Kolff, 41 p. (Dutch)
  • De Miljoenenfiets van Rik Van Steenbergen by Achille Van Den Broeck in 1966. De Brauwere, 391 p. (Dutch)
  • Rik I van Steenbergen by René Vermeiren, Hugo De Meyer in 1999. De Eecloonaar, 272 p. ISBN 9789074128568 (Dutch, French, English, Italian, Spanish)
  • Rik I Memorial (1924 - 2003) by René Vermeiren in 2003. De Eecloonaar, 56 p. ISBN 9789074128957 (Dutch)
  • Rik Van Steenbergen. Das Ass der Asse by Walter Rottiers. Bielefeld in 2005, Covadonga-Verlag, 144 p. ISBN 9783936973150 (German)

See also edit

References edit

  1. ^ The Bicycle, UK, 31 May 1950, p. 4
  2. ^ a b Vanysacker, Dries (2011). "Kop 23 - Rik Van Steenbergen (1924-2003): Voor alles broodrenner". Vlaamse Wielerkoppen (in Dutch). Davidsfonds. pp. 197–201. ISBN 9789058268181.
  3. ^ ""Op een oude fiets moet je het leren". Over de West-Vlaamse inwijdingsperiode van Rik Van Steenbergen" (in Dutch). servicekoers.be. 31 August 2022.
  4. ^ "De bedrieger bedrogen" (in Dutch). De Volkskrant. 9 October 1999.
  5. ^ "De bedrieger bedrogen" (in Dutch). De Volkskrant. 9 October 1999.
  6. ^ "Een wielercarrière van ongeveer één miljoen kilometers". De Volkskrant (in Dutch). Retrieved 16 May 2003.
  7. ^ Sys, Jacques (2020). "Rik Van Steenbergen - The Boss". Top 1000 van de Belgische wielrenners (in Dutch). Lanoo. pp. 167–1971. ISBN 9789401467254.
  8. ^ "The Cash Machine- Rik Van Steenbergen". cyclinglegends.co.uk.
  9. ^ a b Piedfort, Dominique (8 September 2010). "Wielerlegende Rik Van Steenbergen duikt op in seksfilm" [Cycling legend Rik Van Steenbergen appears in adult movie]. Gazet van Antwerpen (in Dutch).
  10. ^ "Pandore (1968)". Internet Movie Database.
  11. ^ Fotheringham, William (24 May 2003). "Obituary: Henri Van Steenbergen". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 6 January 2020.
  12. ^ maj (8 September 2010). "Bioscoop speelt seksfilm met Rik Van Steenbergen" [Cinema plays adult movie with Rik Van Steenbergen]. De Standaard (in Dutch).
  13. ^ "World Professional (Elite) Road Cycling Championship".
  14. ^ "Palmarès de Rik van Steenbergen".
  15. ^ "2017 AIOCC TROPHY".
  16. ^ "Memorial Rik Van Steenbergen start en komt aan in 'zijn' Arendonk: "Het moeten niet altijd de grootsteden zijn"" (in Dutch). Het Laatste Nieuws. 29 September 2022.
  17. ^ "Top Ride: The Rik Van Steenbergen Classic". pezcyclingnews.com. Retrieved 12 March 2015.
  18. ^ "Achiel Bruneel en Rik Van Steenbergen". kempenskarakter (in Dutch).
  19. ^ "Arendonk onthult standbeeld Rik Van Steenbergen". De Standaard (in Dutch). 5 October 2004.

External links edit