During his incredible career, Eddy Merckx won all of the big one-day races bar one – Paris-Tours. Amongst his wins were seven victories in Milan-San Remo, both the Tour of Flanders and Tour of Lombardy twice, three wins in Paris-Roubaix and Liège–Bastogne–Liège five times.
However, he never managed to win the “Sprinters’ Classic” with his best performance being sixth in 1973. Merckx might have won the 1968 edition, if he had not decided to help his Faema team-mate Guido Reybrouck instead, for his help earlier in the season. Reybrouck outsprinted Walter Godefroot and Eric Leman for the win with Merckx finishing in eighth.
This gap in his palmares would later prompt another Belgian to outline: “Between Eddy Merckx and myself we won all the major one day races, I won Paris-Tours and he won everything else!”
That Belgian was Noel Vantyghem who had turned pro in 1969 with the small Pull Over Centrale – Tasmanie team. As an amateur, Vantyghem had some really good wins, including a stage of the Peace Race and a national title in 1968. He claimed a number of wins in kermesses in his first year in the paid ranks, but no really big wins. It was always going to be difficult though competing in an era which included so many talented Belgians – Merckx, Jean-Pierre Monseré and Eric Leman amongst others.
Vantyghem did take a win in Schaal Sels in 1972, by which time he had moved to another small-budget Belgian team – Novy Dubble Bubble. When he lined up in Paris-Tours later that season, nobody would have been expecting him to challenge for the win.
However, Vantyghem managed to get away with Jozef Huysmans and Willy de Geest. Huysmans was a team-mate of Merckx and had won a stage of the Tour de France that summer, whilst earlier that season de Geest had finished second in Amstel Gold behind Walter Planckaert.
Vantyghem was the least fancied of the three to take the win. Despite being chased by Roger de Vlaeminck, the trio did manage to stay away, and after seven hours of racing, it was Vantyghem who outsprinted his breakaway companions to take the biggest win of his career.
Despite a big move to the Flandria team, he managed just four more wins in his career. However, as he quite rightly said, between himself and Merckx they won everything.