30 August 2021 By Elien Kaes History

This week, La Vuelta comes to an end. The cycling race that started small and grew into a big classic race, also called the little brother of the Tour and Giro, was ridden for the first time in 1935. That year, the Belgian Gustaaf DeLoor brought home the title and in 1936 Gustaaf also finished first. Gustaaf's older brother Alfons DeLoor came in second, so it was a great year for the DeLoor brothers!  

Alfons en Gustaaf DeLoor op de Ronde van Spanje in Retro Wielershirts
The DeLoor brothers at the Tour of Catalonia (3rd and 4th from the left)

It happens often, brothers who cycle and are successful, just think of the Coppi brothers. In the 30s the Belgian brothers DeLoor formed a famous duo. Alfons was born in 1910 and was three years older than his brother Gustaaf DeLoor. From an early age, they dreamed of becoming cyclists and that dream came true. Their first highlight was in 1932 when Alfons finished second in the Tour of Flanders. His younger brother Gustaaf participated that year in the Tour of Flanders for young talents and finished in first place at the age of 18! 

In one-day races, the brothers were able to perform well, especially at Liege-Bastogne-Liege. In 1937 Gustaaf finished second, right behind Eloi Meulenberg, who became world champion later that year. The best performance, however, was by Alfons who took first place at Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 1938! The brothers also excelled in small stage races. They finished strong at the Tour of Belgium (1933: Alfons finished second, 1934: Alfons finished third and Gustaaf fourth) and Alfons also finished fourth at Paris-Nice. 

The victories of La Vuelta

The best results were not achieved on Flemish roads, but in Spain. They participated for the first time in a Spanish cycling race in 1934, namely the Volta Ciclista a Catalunva. This Spanish cycling race obviously was a great experience for them, because the next year they both started in the first edition of La Vuelta. This stage race of 4425km stretched over two weeks. At that time, La Vuelta was not yet so famous and few non-Spaniards would go there to cycle. This was partly because cycling was not yet very popular in Spain and the warm temperatures, the food and the language were all quite an adjustment for non-Spaniards. However, the weather at that first edition was bad and this certainly played to the advantage of the Belgians.  That year, the 22-year-old Gustaaf managed to take first place after an exciting duel with Spanish favourite Mariano Canardo! Alfons did not do badly either: he finished in sixth place. This experience left them wanting more and the following year they returned to the starting line of La Vuelta. Canardo had a bad crash during this race and therefore Gustaaf was dominant in this edition. In the end, Gustaaf won La Vuelta again and his brother Alfons finished second. These were great results for the DeLoor family! From 1937 onwards La Vuelta could unfortunately not take place due to the Spanish Civil War. Despite the fact that La Vuelta was a smaller cycling race in the 30s than it is now, these victories are certainly remarkable!

Gustaaf DeLoor op de Ronde van Spanje in Retro WielershirtsGustaaf DeLoor ( on the right) at La Vuelta

Cycling in Spain was certainly a positive experience for Gustaaf, who stated that the Spaniards simply lacked some experience at the time. They were excellent climbers, but they started to struggle on the descents. As a result, Gustaaf was always able to catch up easily. In addition, the Spaniards were easily distracted by theatres, parties and cinemas; they drank a lot and visited famous monuments. They filled their drinking cans with alcoholic drinks, while the Belgians drank goat's milk. Gustaaf himself described the Spanish cyclists as friendly guests who never turned against the Belgians, so they certainly felt welcome there.

The years after the Vuelta 

From 1937 the brothers could no longer participate in La Vuelta and therefore they participated in some major cycling races. That year Alfons participated in the Giro d'Italia, but he couldn't achieve more than a second place in the sixth stage. This could be explained by the fact that the Giro had been made much tougher in the mountains that year. In the end only 41 of the 93 starters arrived, of which only three foreigners. Altogether not a bad performance from Alfons!

That year Gustaaf took part in the Tour de France, where he won one stage in the sixth stage from Geneva to Aix-les-Bains. He started that year as an independent, yet he helped Sylvère Maes in the pursuit. For this Gustaaf received a time penalty because independents were not allowed to help other riders. In the end, Gustaaf still managed to finish in 16th place.

Not forgotten 

Their achievements are still remembered in their hometown through a street named after them, namely the 'Gebroeders De Loorplein'. Yet Gustaaf DeLoor is one of the only cycling champions about whom no book has been written in Belgium. However, a bibliography was written in Spain with the title 'Gustaaf Deloor: From the Vuelta to the Moon'. It tells the story of the relatively unknown Gustaaf DeLoor who won the Vuelta twice and whose career was interrupted by the Second World War. He fought for his country, was captured by the Nazis, survived a concentration camp and moved to the US. 

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