Stuff Someone Said: Claude Criquielion...

"It's not necessary to win Liege-Bastogne-Liege on la Redoute, but it's where most of the riders lose." 

Criqui walks across the line in protest following his collision
with Steve Bauer at the 1984 World Championships

Claude Criquielion never won Liege-Bastogne-Liege, though many say he should have been victorious in 1987. If racers are made for certain races, "Criqui" was made for L-B-L. Maybe not in the way that Eddy Merckx was. But still. Affectionately known as "la Doyene", "the Oldest", the 2014 edition of the race will be its Centennial, one hundred times a champion has been crowned. Between now and April 27 I have no doubt there will be much written and shared about the history of this great race, including a string of a few posts here. For now, though, a little more about a champion who never won:

In picking my favorite athletes, I have always favored those who are just off the pinnacle. Like Roman Gabriel. Like Manny Mota. Like Guillermo Vilas. Or, like Claude Criquileon. No one can deny their impact on their respective sports, their accomplishments, their victories. Each can be counted amongst the best of their generation, but if there were a ballot for the absolute best, how many votes would any of those men receive.

Criquielion was World Road Race Champion in 1984, two-time victor at Flèche Wallonne (1985, 1989), winner of Brabantse Pijl, Clasica San Sebastian, the GP Eddy Merckx, Tour of Romandie, GP du Midi Libre, Ronde van Vlaanderen, the Memorial Smyn, and Criterium des As. Additionally, "Criqui" had podium finishes at Liege-Bastogne-Liege (1985, 1987, 1991), Flèche Wallonne (1986, 1987, 1991), Amstel Gold Race (1988, 1989), Tour du Haut Var (1990). He won the Belgian National Championship in 1990, and filled out his palmares with a wide variety of top ten placings in the biggest races on the calendar. Most of those placings came during one-day events, the classics and semi-classics, but included amongst those are an additional five general classification top-ten's at the Tour de France between 1979 and 1990.

For all that, however, Criquielion will also be forever remembered for two races that slipped away. The first of those was the World Road Race Championship of 1988, held in his home nation, Belgium. During the final run to the finish line, three riders were in contention for the victory - Criquielion, Steve Bauer, and Maurizio Fondriest. Fondriest claimed the win after Criquielion and Bauer tangled in the sprint and came to grief on the pavement. Though Bauer had managed to stay upright, crossing the line second, officials disqualified him for "actions deliberately unsportsmanlike and dangerous." (NY Times, 14 March 1992) In one of the more unusual twists of sport, Criquielion sued Bauer following the incident for damages ($1.5 million) - the case lasted three years before the judge decided in Bauer's favor.

The second race was the 1987 edition of Liege-Bastogne-Liege. The winner of this race should have been either Criquielion or Stephen Roche. The two men had an insurmountable gap approaching the final few kilometers, but as often happens in similar situations, the two began to play a cat and mouse game even with the finish line in sight. Both men were stunned and surprised when Moreno Argentin bolted past them to win the champions jersey. A good account of the race is at CycleSportOnline.


Criquielion and Roche

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