How Hoban won Ghent-Wevelgem in 1974

It is 35 years since a British rider won a northern Spring Classic. That was Barry Hoban, who beat Eddy Merckx in a sprint finish at Ghent-Wevelgem.

With 2009 Milan-San Remo winner Mark Cavendish leading the Columbia challenge and Roger Hammond going well for Cervelo, there is a chance of a British win for the first time since that Tuesday in April 1974.

To put it in perspective, Hammond was just a couple of months old when Hoban won in Wevelgem. Cavendish wasn’t born for another 12 years.

So, we have delved in to Cycling Weekly archives to reproduce the report published at the time. We revisit April 13, 1974 to see how Hoban won his classic.


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Superb timing gave Barry Hoban victory in Ghent-Wevelgem on Tuesday of last week, the 34-year-old Belgium-based Yorkshireman nipping through a gap in the seventeen-man sprint to end a decade’s wait for a classic win.

He outfoxed the world’s fastest finishers, beating Eddy Merckx into second place by more than a wheel. It was the Gan team’s fourth big win of the season, following Zoetemelk’s victories in Paris-Nice and the Catalan Week, and Bal’s Tour of Flanders win.

This time Hoban was backed by the rest of the team, as the man with the best sprint for such a finsih.

As the sprint wound up, Merckx and fellow Belgian Eric Leman were at the front, but at the vital moment they each took to a different side of the road and Hoban went through the middle to win.

The race was active from the start, with brilliant weather and little wind pointing to a good event. The first break came after 27 kilometres, at Kaprijke, when the Dutch-German pair of De Vlam and Tischler went away.

They stayed in front until Ostend (97km), as the race followed the coast road before turning inland again at De Panne. It was mainly thanks to Merckx’s Molteni team-mates that these two were brought back.

As the 160-strong field began to tackle the hills, Cees Bal (Gan) and Patrick Sercu (Brooklyn) were active on the front, but their efforts came to nothing as the bunch realised the danger.

On the first climb of the Kemmel Merckx and Roger Swerts (Ijsboerke) tried to get away, but again the rest acted too quickly, with Roger De Vlaeminck (Brooklyn) eventually topping the climb first.

Then it was the turn of Watney’s Frans Verbeeck. He succeeded in getting a 20-second lead, which looked promising until the second climb of the Kemmel, when the chasers, led by Merckx, caught him.

But on the other side of the hill the decision was made. Verbeeck was caught by 16 riders, and these were to be the men who were to decide the outcome. As Hoban later commented, “This was where the sprint started.”

Everybody who counted was there – Verbeeck, Hoban, Merckx, De Vlaeminck, Leman and Van Springel (MIC), Danguillaume, Esclassan, Rouxel (Peugeot), Swerts (Ijsboerke), De Geest (Rokado), Planckaert (Watney), Poulidor and Santy (Gan), Godefroot and Maertens (Carpenter) and Raleigh’s Tino Tabak.

There was a big chase behind, with five men – including Sercu – launching a counter-attack, but this was doomed to failure as the leaders piled on the pressure with under 30 kilometres left.

As the race entered the outskirts of Wevelgem, near the French border, Tabak raised British and Dutch hopes by jumping away to a lone lead, taking 60 metres advantage in no time.

The Raleigh man looked to have a good chance, but as the riders behind began to wind up the pace, so his lead shrank. He was caught with four kilometres left.

Then Swerts went, but Tabak brought up the rest, and Merckx and Leman now became prominent figures. As they went on to their separate sides of the road nearing the line, Hoban rocketed through the middle for what even the Belgian supporters admitted was a great win.

Footnote Although Hoban won the 1966 Henninger Turm race, which counts towards the World Cup, Ghent-Wevelgem was his first victory in a race acknowledged universally as a classic.


1 Barry Hoban (Great Britain) Gan-Mercier 244km in 5-30-00

2 Merckx (B)

3 De Vlaeminck (B)

4 Santy (F)

5 Leman (B)

6 Maertens (B)

7 Planckaert (B)

8 Godefroot (B)

9 Verbeeck (B)

10 Swerts (B) all same time

Hoban on page 3.


Barry Hoban’s pleasant personality came over well in the TV interviews after the race, when he gave the Belgians an object lesson in courtesy.

He speaks both Belgian languages perfectly, and so he replied in Flemish to questions from commentator Fred De Bruyne and in French to those from Theo Mathy. It was an example to the viewers whose country is split by the bitter quarrels between the two languages; for a Flemish rider would have been unable to reply correctly to an interview in French, while a Walloon would not generally speak a word of Flemish.

But to the race. How did Barry achieve such a magnificent victory?

“You must understand, I’m not usually in form so early in the season,” he said. “I’m at my best most years in the summer, to be exact at Tour de France time; but this year I am going well, much better than in the other years.

“In the Catalan Week I worked hard for Bal and Zoetemelk, as they can tell you, and on the Sunday, in the Tour of Flanders, I would probably have been in the leading group if I had not punctured.

“Still I suffered during this one, I can tell you, because I’m not yet in top form. On the climbs, especially on the Kemmel, it was like being on the end of a piece of elastic.

“I was dropped, got back on, dropped and back on, and so it went on.

“Fortunately there were no mad attacks at the time. The pace was certainly fast, but any attempts were soon sat on. If anyone had been able to go it alone I would probably have been left.”

As it was he was able to fight back on and then joined in the 17-strong break near the end, the only really important attack of the day. How did he see his sprint victory?

“It was just the kind of sprint I like, 15 to 20 strong. I hate big bunch sprints. Remember, I have three children at home.

“Swerts started it with 500 metres to go, jumping hard, and Tabak went after him like a rocket. Behind them Leman and Merckx looked likely winners, flat out side by side, and I was behind them.

“I was wondering how I could get by them when suddenly, goodness knows why, they separated, the door was open for me and I went through.”


What else was in Cycling on April 13, 1974.

?Vern Hanaray of New Zealand wins the Pernod Grand Prix – or Archer Grand Prix as it was also known

?Victoria Pendleton’s dad Max won the 50-mile Archer Spring road race, which supported the Pernod GP

?Roger De Vlaeminck wins Paris-Roubaix

?Alf Engers wins the Crabwood ’25’ on a road bike

?There was a competition to win a Peugeot Priol road bike worth £95

?The Plympton bypass near Plymouth was completed – ready to host a stage of the 1974 Tour de France

?Girvan organiser George Miller hit out at Glasgow riders saying: “They seem to want money in their hands before the race, because they know they can’t win it.”

?Pat McQuaid, now UCI president, won the Dillon Memorial road race in County Wicklow

?There were big plans for an indoor velodrome in Birmingham which would form part of a bid for the Commonwealth Games

?And there was a long, virtually unreadable piece about time trialling printed in extremely small type


The Big Preview: 2009 Ghent-Wevelgem