Fred de Bruyne is a name that might not ring a bell. He was born in Belgium in 1930 and rode during the 1950s. Unlike previous entry on this list, Robbie McEwen, Fred did not have a long career. In fact, it spanned just nine years, from 1953-1961. Additionally, most of his results came in only two years: 1956 and 1957. At first glance, this does not seem like the career of a top cyclist of all-time.
What I haven’t mentioned, though, are his victories. And those make all the difference. De Bruyne won four monuments, six different times. The one that eluded him, Il Lombardia, he finished second, in 1955. More important, though, are the ones he won: Paris-Roubaix (1957), Tour of Flanders (1957), Milano-Sanremo (1956), and Liége-Bastogne-Liége (1956, 1958 and 1959).
Essentially, he came as close as you can get can to winning all five monuments without actually doing it. However, since only three riders have won all five (Rik Van Looy, Eddy Merckx, and Roger De Vlaeminck), I won’t hold this against him. As a curiosity, Van Looy was De Bruyne’s contemporary. His company in the four-monument club is as prestigious as it gets: Sean Kelly, Hennie Kuiper, Louison Bobet, Germain Derycke and Philippe Gilbert.
In addition to his “monumental” victories, Fred also got three second places in cycling’s most important classics: Il Lombardia (1955), Paris-Roubaix (1956), Milano-Sanremo (1957).
Outside of the classics, the Belgian won six stages in the Tour de France (three each in 1954 and 1956), two yellow jerseys in the Paris-Nice (1956, 1958) and the Paris-Tours (1957), among other races.
All these victories during the 50s meant that, unsurprisingly, De Bruyne placed first three consecutive times on the Challenge Desgrange-Colombo. This was the end-of-year ranking of the time, measuring the riders’ results in qualifying races during the season.
After his career as a pro cyclist, Fred became a commentator for BRT, a Belgian TV station, from 1961 to 1977. He was a highly esteemed cycling reporter in Belgium during this period. He also published the biographies of two of his contemporaries and competitors, Rik Van Steenbergen and Rik Van Looy, as well as those of Belgian track legend Patrick Sercu and Dutch Paris-Roubaix winner Peter Post.
De Bruyne later became a team manager of the Flandria team which, at the time, had riders like Freddy Maertens, Sean Kelly and Joaquim Agostinho.
In 1979 he moved to a smaller team, Daf Trucks, where he had some success in the 1979 Tour de France with Dutch rider Jo Maas. De Bruyne had legend Roger De Vlaeminck on the team in 1980, who achieved a few wins during his tenure. Still, 1981 was by far his most successful season as a team manager. That year he led Dutchman Hennie Kuiper to victories in the Tour de Flanders and Il Lombardia and De Vlaeminck to first places in La Flèche Brabançonne, Paris-Bruxelles and the Belgian championship. Also in 1981, Belgian rider René Martens won a stage in th Tour de France wearing Daf Trucks’ outfit.
It is unclear whether he was the one to lead Kuiper to a 9th place in the Tour de France in 1982. A year later De Bruyne and Kuiper both moved to the Jacky Aernoudt Meubelen team. They would again enjoy some success with a 5th place in the Vuelta. Yet, the team’s superstar in 1983 was Belgian rider Eric Vanderaerden who won a stage in the Tour and two in the Vuelta.
De Bruyne was born in the town of Berlare, East Flanders, but, according to a CyclingNews’ article, would spend his final days in the French region of Provence. He passed away in the town of Seillans on February 4, 1994, aged 64. This was also the town of fellow former pro cyclist Raphaël Géminiani, an accomplished Grand Tour rider of the 1950s. It is reported that the two maintained a friendly relationship.
As proof of the Belgian’s valued contributions to the world of cycling, he currently lends his name to a cycling route in his home town of Berlare, and to the Memorial Fred de Bruyne race. Fittingly, the rider with the most wins in his race is fellow Flandrian Oliver Naesen.
Fred used to advocate looking at riders’ feet to assess how comfortable they were on the bike during a race. He said that riders can mask the suffering on their face but if their tank is empty, the stiffness of their feet will give it away. Looking at his career, it doesn’t seem like his rivals saw stiffness in De Bruyne’s feet very often.