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Classic jerseys: No.14 Panasonic

In-depth
6 Aug 2019
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This article was originally published in issue 87 of Cyclist magazine

Words Giles Belbin Photography Danny Bird

The 1985 Tour of Flanders would live long in the memory of the 173 riders that rolled out from Sint-Niklaas that Sunday morning in early April.

Bound for Meerbeke, 271km away, it was to be a cruel day – one that started with icy winds blasting the peloton and ended with heavy rain, flooded roads and rivers of mud rendering the famous cobbled climbs all but impassable on a bicycle.

Riders were forced to shoulder their bikes and some even took off their shoes to better run up the hills.

‘A Flemish hell of slippery cobbles, vicious hills and muddied roads,’ was how the Dutch newspaper Leidsch Dagblad described the race, while journalist and author Rik Vanwalleghem said, ‘It was a legendary Ronde, one which wrote Sport with a capital S.’

Only 24 riders made it to the finish, five of them from the Panasonic squad. And if boasting one fifth of all the finishers wasn’t impressive enough, the Dutch team had other reasons to celebrate.

Eric Vanderaerden and Phil Anderson, teammates since Panasonic’s inception the previous year, dominated the latter stages of the race, crossing the line first and second respectively after having caught tiring Dutch rider Hennie Kuiper just before the murderously steep Muur de Geraardsbergen, 20km from the finish.

It was on the Muur that Vanderaerden made his attacking move. With Panasonic emblazoned across the front and back of his Belgian national champion’s jersey, he left Anderson and Kuiper behind, much to the delight of the cheering fans that crowded the famous climb with the chapel at its summit.

The 23-year-old held on in the rain to record a 41-second win over Anderson.

‘I became Belgian champion in a bunch sprint and then it was said that I had benefited from the work of my teammates,’ said Vanderaerden. ‘Now I have shown that it can be done differently.’

While the win was not without some controversy – Anderson felt he was the stronger rider and in 2015 said that he had been leading up the Muur when Vanderaerden had shouted at him to ease up in the moments before launching his attack – it was the perfect demonstration of Panasonic’s strength with authoritative Dutchman Peter Post at the helm.

‘Post is a guarantee for solid craftsmanship in a peloton full of teams who have thrown discipline overboard as if it is surplus ballast from a food bag in the run-up to a finale,’ was the verdict of Leidsch Dagblad.

Three days later Vanderaerden underlined Panasonic’s one-day superiority by winning Gent-Wevelgem, with Anderson again second.

From the ashes of Raleigh

The Panasonic team made its debut in 1984. A decade earlier Post, a Paris-Roubaix winner and one of the most successful six-day riders in history, had started his management career with Raleigh.

There he had introduced the concept of ‘total cycling’, giving his riders defined roles and objectives and nominating protected riders on a race-by-race basis rather than relying on one leader for results. Under his guidance Raleigh were hugely successful, winning many important one-day races and claiming the 1980 Tour de France.

By 1983 Raleigh had decided to end its title sponsorship, forcing Post to look elsewhere (Raleigh would remain as a co-sponsor until the end of 1985).

He agreed a deal with Panasonic but trouble in the camp meant the new set-up would endure a rocky introduction.

Firstly Jan Raas, a key rider for Post at Raleigh who had won two editions of the Tour of Flanders (1979 and 1983) as well as Paris-Roubaix (1982) and a host of other victories, announced that he was forming a rival Dutch team.

The two men had fallen out over the 1982/83 six-day season when Post, in his capacity as organiser of the Rotterdam Six-Day, had paired Patrick Sercu with Raas’s main rival, René Pijnen, after both Sercu’s and Pijnen’s partners had crashed out on the final day.

Raas and his partner Gert Frank had been leading well but ultimately lost to Sercu and Pijnen.

Raas felt betrayed by his road team boss, while Post said he was just following event rules.

So in May 1983 Raas confirmed he would not be joining Post for 1984, a situation that came to a head later that year when the Dutch rider attended the launch of his new Kwantum team instead of riding a kermesse for Raleigh.

Then Post’s attempts to sign former World Champion and Raleigh rider Gerrie Knetemann faltered over ancillary income rights, which led to an embarrassing U-turn as Knetemann had already been announced as a Panasonic rider. In the end Raas took six Raleigh teammates with him to Kwantum, including key men such as Cees Priem and Ludo Peeters, while Post retained the services of seven.

While the Raas fallout meant Panasonic’s first few months were controversial, normal service resumed once the racing started. Post had in fact recruited well – a mix of Belgian and Dutch (with one Australian in Anderson) – and had a strong combination of experience and youth.

The team wasted little time, with Eddy Planckaert claiming four stages and overall victory at February’s Etoile de Besseges. Wins at Het Volk, Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and Harelbeke quickly followed before Johan Lammerts soloed to the finish at the Tour of Flanders to bring the team its first major victory.

Panasonic remained title sponsors until 1992. As well as stage wins at all three Grand Tours, a Tour de France green jersey and Vanderaerden’s Flanders win in 1985, Panasonic riders secured three Paris-Roubaix victories (1987, 1989 and 1990) and Liège-Bastogne-Liège (1990).

Yet following the bitter feuds that blighted the first months of his team, it has been suggested that Post was sometimes thought to be happiest not when his Panasonic team won, but when Raas’s team lost.

This jersey is part of a collection on display at the Bike Experience Centre in Boom, Belgium. Visit deschorre.be/develodroom.html