Flanders Flashback: Gianni Bugno beats Johan Museeuw by millimetres at 1994 Ronde

Italian wins by smallest ever margin in race's history

This year marks the 100th edition of the Tour of Flanders and the Belgian Classic has enjoyed a long and storied history thanks to its iconic cobbled climbs, and the heroic images the Koppenberg, Oude Kwaremont and Muur conjure.

Merckx, Van Looy, Raas, Simpson, Museeuw, Leman, Boonen, Cancellara… the race has been won by some of the biggest names in cycling. And some of the toughest riders.

Gianni Bugno celebrates the narrowest ever Tour of Flanders victory (Pic: Sirotti)

But of the 99 editions raced so far, none were as close as the 1994 showdown – won by Gianni Bugno by just millimetres ahead of the ‘Lion of Flanders’ himself, Johan Museeuw, who ended his career with three Ronde victories (1993, 1995, 1998).

We’ve delved back into the archives to relive the race.

Setting the scene: Museeuw the defending champion

Johan Museeuw went into the 1994 Tour of Flanders as defending champion, having sealed his first victory the previous year at the age of 28.

Turning into a formidable Classics rider under the tutelage of team manager Patrick Lefevere, now boss of the Etixx-QuickStep team, the MG-GB rider had already won Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne in 1994 and was enjoying another strong spring campaign.

Johan Museeuw rolled out as defending champion for the 1994 Tour of Flanders having won his first Ronde title a year earlier (Pic: Sirotti)

The Italian-sponsored Gewiss team had already given an indication of things to come, however, with Giorgio Furlan winning Milan-San Remo.

With Michele Ferrari as team doctor, Gewiss would go on to dominate the spring – including (now infamously) finishing first, second and third at La Fleche Wallonne.

At Flanders, the second race of the UCI Road World Cup, Museeuw’s former team-mate, Soviet-born Belgian Andrei Tchmil, was also among the favourites, having won E3 Harelbeke.

Two-time former world champion Gianni Bugno, riding for Team Polti, had won the UCI Road World Cup in 1990 (the same year he also won the Giro d’Italia) but was not known as a cobbled Classics rider, finishing 43rd at Flanders the previous year.

The reigning world champion in 1994, incidentally, was a certain Lance Armstrong after his victory in Oslo the previous August

The route: Muur and Bosberg finale

The race, which took place on Sunday April 3, covered a 268km course with 16 climbs in all.

Rolling out of St.Niklaas, after a flat opening 125km the Tiegemberg was the first ascent, with other climbs including the Oude Kwaremont and the Paterberg – then featuring much earlier in the race than on the modern route and therefore proving less decisive (though the Kwaremont was to still to play a big part in 1994).

The race heads up Oude Kwaremont, though the pivotal climb back in 1994 was the Muur (pic: Sirotti)

The key climb would be the penultimate berg, the iconic Muur van Geraardsbergen, boasting a 9.3 per cent average gradient and more than double that at its steepest point. A fierce ascent which was a pivotal part of the Ronde from 1988 to 2011, before it was removed from the race after the finish moved from Meerbeke to Oudenaarde. As was tradition at the time, the Bosberg was the race’s final climb.

The Koppenberg may be a major part of the Ronde today but in 1994 it hadn’t been used since 1987, when Danish rider Jesper Skibby was knocked off his bike by the commissaire’s car, which then ran over his back wheel. The famed climb was re-introduced in 2002, having been widened and re-paved.

How the race unfolded

Having started in cold, wet and, at times, snowy conditions, the sun was out when the race burst into life on the Oude Kwaremont, with Johan Capiot accelerating away from the peloton.

Just behind him, at the same time, Olaf Ludwig crashed and the ensuing pile-up – which also saw Belgian champion Alain van den Bossche hit the deck hard, his injuries curtailing his season before he was forced to retire the following year – held up much of the peloton.

Museeuw was among those delayed but ordered his team to chase, and chase they did for some half an hour before their man was back in the front group.

Johan Capiot, hidden by the TV moto, leads the way onto the Oude Kwaremont. Olaf Ludwig (second wheel, Telekom jersey) caused a crash moments later, holding up much of the peloton (Pic: Sirotti)

The attacks continued at the front, gradually whittling the group down, particularly when the pace was upped on the Taaienberg, with 85km to race.

Tchmil also had to chase back to the front group, an elite selection which included the previous year’s top four: Museeuw, Frans Maassen, Dario Bottaro and Marc Sergeant.

The Gewiss team had strength in numbers, thanks to Bottaro, Guido Bontempi and Bruno Cenghialta but still the front group continued to be cut in size.

Another injection of pace on the run-in to the paved Berendries ascent, and then again on the climb, meant only five remained in the lead group by the time they hit the Muur.

Johan Museeuw’s team-mate’s chased for nearly half an hour to get him back in the front group (Pic: Sirotti)

Museeuw, Bugno, Tchmil, Capiot and Franco Ballerini were the quintet before Capiot was distanced as they hit the cobbled part of the climb.

Ballerini set the pace on the steepest sections but could not distance his rivals – the four remaining leaders holding a 50-second advantage over the main chasing group as they approached the Bosberg.

Bugno hit the front on the climb and all four took turns to pull on the run-in, stretching their lead over the chasing group to more than a minute.

The leaders stayed together over the final climb and the cat-and-mouse started among the quartet with more than three kilometres still to race.

The quartet came into the final straight as one, and Bugno led the sprint out from the front with 250m to race, catching out Museeuw, who couldn’t respond, desperately trying to get around the Italian.

Gianni Bugno celebrated prematurely at the 1994 Tour of Flanders but held on for victory by just 7mm ahead of Johan Museeuw (Pic: Sirotti)

Bugno, sensing victory, raised his arms prematurely, however, and a monster bike throw from Museeuw – the effort of which nearly caused both men to crash – almost spoiled the party.

The official judgement, however, was that the Italian had prevailed – the winning margin later measured at just 7mm.

Tour of Flanders 1994 – result

1) Gianni Bugno (ITA) – Polti – 6.45.20hrs
2) Johann Museeuw (BEL) – MG-GB – ST
3) Andrei Tchmil (BEL) – Lotto
4) Franco Ballerini (ITA) – Mapei-Clas
5) Johan Capiot (BEL) – TVM +1.11
6) Fabio Baldato (ITA) – MG-GB +1.54
7) Guido Bontempi (ITA) – Gewiss – ST
8) Marc Sergeant (BEL) – Histor-Novemail
9) Edwig van Hooydonck (BEL) – WordPerfect
10) Frank Corvers (BEL) – Collstrop

Aftermath: the ‘Sorrow of Flanders’

“Museeuw has made the mistake of his life here!” commentator Phil Liggett screamed into his microphone as it became apparent Bugno had outfoxed him in the sprint.

The Belgian press dubbed it the “Sorrow of Flanders”, with a photo of the finish accompanying their headline.

Museeuw, of course, roared back – winning the Amstel Gold Race later that spring before reclaiming his Flanders title the following year and becoming world champion in 1996.

Museeuw reflects on what Phil Liggett called ‘the mistake of his life’ – but the Lion of Flanders roared back the following year (Pic: Sirotti)

The Lion of Flanders won his record-equaling third Ronde van Vlaanderen in 1998, and also has three Paris-Roubaix titles to his name.

Ultimately, he finished his career with eight podium finishes at the Tour of Flanders, and six at Paris-Roubaix, also winning the now defunct UCI Road World Cup twice (including, uniquely, in the same year he became world champion).

Bugno’s best years, meanwhile, were already behind him, though he won a stage of the Giro d’Italia later in 1994.

He now serves as president of the CPA (the Professional Cyclists Association), and most recently has been in the headlines calling for improved safety in the peloton.

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