In 1961, Tom Simpson became the first and to-date the only British winner of the Tour of Flanders when he outsprinted Nino Defilippis in a two-man sprint in Wetteren. It also marked the first Monument win for the Briton.
The 45th edition of the race started in Ghent and the riders faced six categorised climbs along the 255-kilometre route before finishing in Wetteren in East Flanders. The climbs the riders faced were the Oude Kwaremont, Kruisberg, Edelareberg, Valkenberg, Kasteelstraat and Grotenberge.
Simpson had shown good form early that season when he led Paris-Nice before going on to finish 5th overall. However, going into Flanders, it was World Champion Rik Van Looy (Faema) who was the favourite.
A strong break went clear which included amongst others, Simpson’s Rapha-Gitane-Dunlop team-mate Jo De Haan, Arthur De Cabooter (Carpano) and Van Looy. Sensing the danger, the Briton along with Italian rider Nino Defilippis (Carpano) jumped across to the leaders. Unfortunately for Emperor Rik, he pulled out of the race after crashing on the Kruisberg and injuring his wrist.
With eight kilometres left, Simpson attacked with Defilippis the only rider to stay with him. The Italian champion was the stronger sprinter and would have been expected to win. With one kilometre remaining, Simpson attacked again but was reeled back in by Defilippis with three hundred metres remaining. However, the Italian began to freewheel allowing Simpson to catch and overtake him for the win.
Simpson later explained in his autobiography Cycling is my Life what had happened in the closing kilometre.
“With some 300 metres to go I feigned that I had blown up and slowed slightly. Immediately the Italian took a flyer off my wheel and passed me on my right, going like a train for the line.”
Simpson predicted correctly that Defilippis would look back to his left to see what the gap was to his rival. This allowed Simpson to sneak back up on the right-hand side of the road to the Italian’s wheel and overtake him.
“In the split second it took him to turn his head to the opposite side, I went past him,” Simpson explained.
Defilippis explained afterwards that he hadn’t known where the finish line was after the banner had been blown over in strong winds. He asked for the race to be declared a tie but Simpson rejected this proposal.
“They told me that an Italian had not won a classic since 1953, but I replied that an Englishman had not won one since 1896,” Simpson wrote. “It was my victory and I had won it and no-one was going to share the honour. By Gum! I was not going to let anyone take away my first classic win.”
De Haan took the final podium place finishing 11″ behind the leading pair. The Flanders win was the first of three Monument wins for the Briton who went on to win Milan–San Remo in 1964 and the Giro di Lombardia the following year.
Below is some footage from the race: