And an end to Belgium’s 40-year grand tour drought

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Can you name the last Belgian to win a grand tour? We won’t blame you if the name doesn’t come readily to mind because it was 40 years ago.

The sun was setting on the Eddy Merckx era and Belgium seemed well set to win their fair share of major stage races with a generation of riders ready to pedal out of the long shadows cast by the Cannibal.

When Johan De Muynck won the 1978 Giro d’Italia few could have imagined it would signal the start of a drought lasting four decades and counting. And, while the Netherlands celebrates Tom Dumoulin, it’s fair to say neighbouring Belgium does not have a rider capable of matching him.

Lionel Birnie travelled to Belgium in search of the pink panther, as De Muynck was nicknamed, and on the way explores the reasons for the long barren spell. Can it really be that the cobbled classics killed the climbers?

Together with Het Nieuwsblad’s cycling correspondent Jan-Pieter de Vlieger, Lionel has a bizarre lunch with the charismatic Roger De Vlaeminck, one of three men to have won all five single-day monuments but who also came up short in the grand tours. De Vlaeminck has an opinion on almost everything but is curiously unforthcoming when it comes to the rivalry that De Muynck’s supporters say cost their man the 1976 Giro when the pair were team-mates.

Then it’s off to meet De Muynck and find out how he won the 1978 Giro…

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