28 April 2021 By Sjuul Bos History

Liège-Bastogne-Liège, known as La Doyenne among true cycling fans, is a cycling race that has been held since 1892. For a long time, this race has been considered the oldest cycling classic in Belgium. There have been many great victories at this race, such as 5 titles by the Cannibal. But still, one edition in particular remains very special...


De wielrenners Frans Schoubben (links) en Germain Derijcke, die samen de wielerklassieker Luik-Bastenaken-Luik van 1957 wonnen. België, voor 7 april 1959.
The two winners of Liege-Bastogne-Liege 1957.


The 43rd edition of La Doyenne took place on 5 May 1957. And although it was May, it looked like anything but spring. It was very cold that day, so cold that there was already an icy fog in the air in the morning. Due to the bad and cold weather conditions, more than half of the racers already decided not to participate. 135 riders stayed in their warm hotel, while the other 107 decided to cycle the course.

You had to be able to cope with this winter weather if you wanted to keep on cycling. When La Doyenne started, the riders spent the first few hours cycling in freezing rain, which then turned to snow. The riders thus ploughed through the white Ardennes. A beautiful view, but unfortunately they could not enjoy it. The snow made visibility worse and the finish felt more and more distant. The riders had little encouragement, as there was no one on the sidelines due to the cold weather. So they really had to cope on their own. For many, this became a difficult task and after La Roche, 51 riders had already dropped out of the race.


Germain Derycke was one of the lucky ones who did manage to keep up. Together with five other riders, he escaped from the peloton and they managed to form the leading group. Derycke was in the front of the group for a long time, with the idea of creating an even bigger lead on the next climb. Unfortunately, his plan was disrupted by a passing goods train. The barrier closed and suddenly Derycke had to slam on the brakes. While he was waiting, a number of his opponents passed him quickly. Three-time Tour winner Louison Bobet, Amateur champion Sante Ranucci, Brian Robin and Jef Lahaye jumped off their bikes and climbed over the track. And there Derycke was. He put so much effort into being in the lead and all of a sudden that position was gone. If he would wait for the train now, he would never make it back to being in first place. And although he knows damn well that in Belgium it is forbidden to ignore a closed barrier, there are no such rules in Italy and France... That is why he takes the gamble. And with great luck! Derycke is back on track in no time and can continue with his plan. He catches up with his opponents on the climb and stays ahead of them.


In the end, only 27 of the 107 riders finished this winter race. And Derycke was the first to cross the line. The second cyclist crossed the finish line 2.46 minutes behind Derycke. This rider was Frans Schoubben. And you may think that a distance of more than 2 minutes is nice, in the eyes of some it was a somewhat false victory. Schoubben also filed a complaint with the organisation because of the incident with the barrier. Schoubben and his fellow riders had to wait two minutes for that one train, which meant that he possibly could have won. After long deliberation - and Derycke's admission - the complaint was accepted. Everyone already knew that Derycke was the winner of this course, but since Christmas of 1957, Schoubben was also entitled to call himself the winner of La Doyenne. And I think everyone is jealous of that Christmas present! 😉

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