Joop Zoetemelk

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Joop Zoetemelk
Joop Zoetemelk (1971).jpg
Zoetemelk in 1971
Personal information
Full nameHendrik Gerardus Joseph Zoetemelk
Born (1946-12-03) 3 December 1946 (age 73)
The Hague, Netherlands
Height1.73 m (5 ft 8 in)
Weight68 kg (150 lb; 10 st 10 lb)
Team information
Current teamRetired
Rider typeAll-round
Professional teams
Major wins
Grand Tours
Tour de France
General classification (1980)
Combination classification (1973)
10 individual stages
Vuelta a España
General classification (1979)
Mountains classification (1971)
3 individual stages

Stage Races

Paris–Nice (1974, 1975, 1979)
Tour de Romandie (1973)
Tirreno–Adriatico (1985)
Critérium International (1979)

One-day races and Classics

World Road Race Championships (1985)
National Road Race Championships (1971, 1973)
Amstel Gold Race (1987)
La Flèche Wallonne (1976)
Paris–Tours (1977, 1979)

Hendrik Gerardus Joseph "Joop" Zoetemelk (pronounced [ˈjoːp ˈsutəmɛlk];[1] born 3 December 1946) is a retired professional racing cyclist from the Netherlands. He started and finished the Tour de France 16 times, which were both records when he retired. He also holds the distance record in Tour de France history with 62,885 km ridden. He won the 1979 Vuelta a España and the 1980 Tour de France.

He finished the Tour in 8th, 5th, 4th (three times) and 2nd (six times) for a total of eleven top 5 finishes which is also a record.[2] He was the first rider to wear the Tour de France's Polka Dot Jersey as the King of the Mountains and even though he never won this classification in the Tour de France, he did win it in the 1971 Vuelta a España and was considered one of the best climbers of his generation.

He won the World Professional Road Championship in 1985 at the age of 38, with a late attack surprising the favorites of LeMond, Roche, Argentin and Millar. He completed a total of 16 World Championships which is notable considering more than half the field abandons nearly every World Championship and in addition to his win he has come in the top 10 seven other times. As of 2020, he is the oldest men's individual road race world champion.[3]

His record number of starts in the Tour de France was surpassed when George Hincapie started for the 17th time, but Hincapie was disqualified from three tours in October 2012, for doping offenses, giving the number of starts record back to Zoetemelk. Nobody other than Zoetemelk achieved sixteen Tour de France finishes until Sylvain Chavanel did so in the 2018 Tour de France. Currently, three riders have had more than 16 starts in the Tour de France, but no one has yet exceeded the record of finishing the event 16 times. He retired from the sport to run a hotel at Meaux, France.[4]

Early life and career[edit]

Zoetemelk was raised in Rijpwetering,[5] the son of Maria and Gerard Zoetemelk.[6] He started working as a carpenter. He became a speed-skater[7] and a regional champion before turning to cycling in 1964.[7] He joined the Swift club in Leiden and made a fast impression, winning youth races in his first season. He rode particularly well as a senior in multi-day races. He won the Tour of Yugoslavia, the Circuit des Mines, three stages and the mountains prize in the Tour of Austria, and the 1969 Tour de l'Avenir.[8] He also won a gold medal at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City in the 100 km team time-trial with Fedor den Hertog, Jan Krekels and René Pijnen.[9]

Professional career[edit]

Zoetemelk turned professional for Briek Schotte's Belgian Mars-Flandria team in 1970.[8][10] He came second to Eddy Merckx in that year's Tour de France.

He would wear the Yellow Jersey for the first time in the 1971 Tour de France and for the second time after winning the Prologue in the 1973 Tour de France, while also picking up another Stage win in that years edition.

Zoetemelk won Paris–Nice, the Semana Catalana and the Tour de Romandie in 1974 and then crashed heavily into a car left unattended at the finish of the Midi Libre in Valras-Plage, France. He cracked his skull and came close to dying.[11] He returned next season to win Paris–Nice again and then caught meningitis. He never fully recovered and the head injury reduced his sense of taste. He nevertheless won 20 races that season, including Paris–Nice, the Tour of Holland and the Dwars door Lausanne and a stage of the Tour de France. He also came fourth in the Tour de France.

During the 1975 Tour de France Zoetemelk won stage 15 and finished strongly overall, placing behind only Bernard Thevenet, Eddy Merckx and Lucien Van Impe in a Tour where the next closest contenders were close to 20:00 or more behind the winner. In the 1976 Tour de France he won stage 9 up Alp d’Huez by :03 in a hard fought climb where he and Van Impe dropped all other riders and were alone crossing the finish. In stage 10 Zoetemelk once again won the stage, this time beating Van Impe and Thevenet by just one second, in the process coming within just seven seconds of the Yellow Jersey. On stage 14 however, Van Impe attacked and for all intents and purposes won the tour. Zoetemelk would win again on Stage 20 but he remained more than 4:00 behind Van Impe as every other rider was more than 12:00 back.

In the 1977 Tour de France he would have the worst Tour placing of his career up to that point, which was partially because he was penalized ten minutes and had a stage win revoked. He still finished in the Top 10 overall.[12]

During the 1978 Tour de France he won stage 14 and took the Yellow Jersey on Alp d’Huez, which he would hold for 6 stages before losing it on the final ITT to Bernard Hinault. In the 1979 Tour de France he survived the ‘'hell of the north” cobbles of Roubaix on Stage 9, which is a notorious stage where several riders can get multiple flat tires and there are always many crashes. Zoetemelk survived with four other riders in the winning group, won 3:45 over the next finishers and moved into the yellow jersey, which he would hold for 6 stages. Following the stage 11 time trial it was a two way battle between him and Hinault and it was possible that he would win the Vuelta-Tour Double. In the end Hinault would take the lead and he and Zoetemelk finished nearly a half hour ahead of the rest of the field as Zoetemelk refused to give up and attacked on the final stage into Paris. It was not enough to break Hinault however as he took 2nd place on the podium for the 5th time.

The following year he was riding with a new team in TI-Raleigh, who was one of the strongest cycling teams in the world and they grew even stronger after signing Zoetemelk. At one point in this Tour TI-Raleigh won seven stages in a row, one of which was an ITT won by Zoetemelk where he gained 1:39 on Hinault and pulled within 0:21 of the overall lead prior to the first stages in the high mountains. Hinault withdrew and Zoetemelk remained the strongest rider in the Tour despite suffering a violent crash on Stage 16 which cut his arm and leg open. He would also claim another stage win during the final ITT winning the 1980 Tour de France by nearly 7:00 over Hennie Kuiper and Raymond Martin.

In 1981 he would finish 4th overall and he would finish 2nd for the 6th and final time during the 1982 Tour de France. While he was in his late 30s during his final Tours between 1982-1986 and was no longer a pre-race favorite he still remained the strongest GC general classification rider on his team and always had a respectable placing in the overall standings. Including in his final Tour, which he rode wearing the Rainbow Jersey as reigning World Champion and late in his career he was still good enough to win major races including the 1985 World Championship, Tirreno-Adriatico and the Amstel Gold Race.

Of one-day races he won La Flèche Wallonne in 1976, and the Grand Prix d'Automne in 1977 and 1979. He came in fourth in the World Championships of 1976 & 1982, and placed in the top 10 in 1972, 1973, 1975, 1978 and 1984 before winning in 1985.

Going into the 1985 World Championship the primary favorites were thought to include Bernard Hinault, Greg LeMond and being as it was thought the course could produce a sprint finish riders like Sean Kelly or even defending world champion Claude Criquielion. There were several early breakaways, but none of them included any riders considered threats to stay away and never extended their gap much beyond two minutes. There were two major crashes, both of which Zoetemelk managed to avoid but the second crash on lap 12 (of 18) allowed a breakaway to form with five riders including Jens Veggerby, Dominique Arnaud and Johan Van Der Velde. This group built up a gap of over two minutes before the surviving peloton began reeling them back in. Hinault had an off day, suffered a flat tire and abandoned the race, as did several other strong riders including Hennie Kuiper, Dietrich Thurau and Urs Freuler. By lap 17 the race had come back together and riders such as Moreno Argentin, Australian Michael Wilson and Criquielion had launched attacks but before long they had been brought back. By the final lap Zoetemelk had been all but invisible within the pack no different than many other riders, but he was still in the race as riders like Stephen Roche of Ireland and Kim Andersen of Denmark launched attacks that were eventually brought back. Following the final climb there were less than 20 riders still in contention,[13]but it was a very strong surviving group that was going to come down to a sprint finish with riders including former champs LeMond and Criquielion, as well as Andersen, Roche, Robert Millar, Marc Madiot, Italian riders Argentin and Claudio Corti, who finished 2nd the previous year, as well as three Dutch riders in Zoetemelk, Van Der Velde and Gerard Veldscholten. Knowing he would not win a sprint against the youngest, strongest riders in the world he launched an attack with over a kilometer to go. Going into the second to last turn Zoetemelk got to the front of the group, moved all the way to the outside of the road then swept back along the inside charging forward into the straightaway. Perhaps, as he was by far the oldest rider in the group and considered long past his prime, his attack caught the surviving contenders by surprise and he quickly opened a gap of fifty meters. His teammates in Van Der Velde and Veldscholten moved to the front of the group, but we're not actually chasing Zoetemelk down and were therefore slowing the chase group. As he went under the flamme rouge banner he had a gap of over 300 meters and was continuing to pull away from the best riders in the world. With 400 meters to go in the race he had a gap of 500 meters and Argentin was at the front of the pack trying to bring back Zoetemelk's attack but couldn't, so he actually put his arm in the air and waved for someone else to come forward and help. No one did, including LeMond who stated after the race that he just wasn't strong enough to bring back this final attack after chasing down the attacks of other riders all day long.[14] As the finish line approached he looked over his shoulder one final time and began celebrating. He crossed the line with his hands in the air and as his teammates Van Der Velde and Veldscholten crossed the line in 9th and 14th place, they too threw their hands in the air in celebration. As of 2020 Zoetemelk is still the oldest world champion in the history of this event[15] and of the other top 10 finishers in the 1985 race all of them were between 24 and 28 years old.[16]

Zoetemelk in 1979

Regarding his victory in the 1980 Tour de France, Peter Post, Directeur Sportif of the TI–Raleigh team in the Netherlands, approached Zoetemelk through his wife, Françoise, after the world championship in 1979.[17] Zoetemelk had long lived in France and ridden for French teams. His sponsor, the bicycle company Mercier, had ended its sponsorship and Zoetemelk was looking for a new team. The following year Zoetemelk won his – and TI–Raleigh's – only Tour de France. The pre-race favourite, Bernard Hinault had retired halfway due to knee-problems. Zoetemelk objected to claims that he had won only because Hinault had dropped out, saying: "Surely winning the Tour de France is a question of health and robustness. If Hinault doesn't have that health and robustness and I have, that makes me a valid winner."

Gerald O'Donovan, the TI–Raleigh director behind sponsorship of the team, said:

"We needed a winner and for 1980 signed Joop Zoetemelk, who had an outstanding record of places but had probably enjoyed less support than we could give him. We cleaned up the Tours of Belgium, Holland and Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré in preparation and waited for the big day. The big plan to control Bernard Hinault, who had won for the previous two years, came to fruition. The team attacked his every move; this was Panzer Group Post[18] at its most formidable. About halfway through the race he abandoned the lead to Zoetemelk and pulled out of the race. We arrived in Paris with the overall lead, 12 stage wins and the team prize, to say nothing of a whole bundle of francs. We had pounded away winning the battles for the previous four years; at last we had won the war."

In 18 years as a professional (1969–1987), Zoetemelk won the Tour de France in 1980, and in the Vuelta a España he won the King of the Mountains in 1971 and the General Classification in 1979. He came second in the Tour de France six times and came in the top 5 eleven times, both of them Tour de France records. He also finished the race sixteen times, a record that he shares with Sylvain Chavanel. He holds the record for total kilometers ridden and another record Zoetemelk held was for the most stages completed in TDF history with 365, a record that was not broken until 2018 by Chavanel.[19]


Zoetemelk was caught in drug tests during the Tour de France in 1977 and 1979. He also tested positive in 1983. At the time, blood doping was not considered a huge deal in road cycling and he mostly escaped punishment. He was not implicated during his Tour win in 1980.[20][21][22]


Zoetemelk is one of the most successful Tour riders of all time;[23] he finished second a record six times and won once. His career coincided with the rise and fall of both Eddy Merckx and Bernard Hinault, riders considered by many to be the #1 and #2 in all of Tour De France history. While Merckx was rivaled by Luis Ocana and Hinault by Laurent Fignon and Greg Lemond, by the end of most of their Tour victories it was Zoetemelk who proved to be the only rider in the entire field capable of keeping either one of them within striking distance. Specifically in Merckx's 1969 and 1970 Tour wins nobody was able to keep him within fifteen minutes in 1969 and in 1970 Zoetemelk was the only rider to do so. He also finished 2nd to Merckx in 1971 following Ocana's infamous crash on the Col de Mente, a crash in which Zoetemelk was involved but somehow managed to avoid injury. In fact, early in the 1971 Tour de France Zoetemelk wore the Yellow Jersey for the first time becoming the first GC contender to take the Yellow from Merckx. Then in the 1979 Hinault victory nearly the entire field finished a half hour or more behind him, but Zoetemelk was able to keep him within about three minutes to finish in second place, becoming the only rider in Tour history to challenge the Yellow Jersey on the final stage into Paris in the process. Zoetemelk finished second to Hinault in 1978 and 1979, before outlasting and defeating him in 1980, and again during his sixth and final second-place finish in 1982.

During his remarkable career Zoetemelk spent 22 days in the Yellow Jersey and won 10 individual stages in the Tour De France, was the overall winner of the Vuelta a Espana in 1979, the King of the Mountains in 1971, and won the World Championship in 1985.

A fellow Tour rider, Rini Wagtmans, said: "Joop Zoetemelk is the best rider that the Netherlands has ever known. There has never been a better one. But he could not give instructions. He was treated and helped with respect. But when Zoetemelk won the Tour, the instructions had to come from Gerrie Knetemann and Jan Raas."[24]

Peter Post said: "Joop would fit in any team. I've known only a few riders who were so easy. He followed the rules, he got on with people. That's the way he is. He never asked for domestiques. Joop never demanded anything."[25]

Personal life and retirement[edit]

Zoetemelk in 2008

After retiring, Zoetemelk became a directeur sportif with Superconfex, which became Rabobank in 1996. Zoetemelk stayed with Rabobank for 10 years, retiring as a directeur sportif and from the sport after the 2006 Vuelta a España.

Zoetemelk married Françoise Duchaussoy, daughter of the Tour de France executive, Jacques Duchaussoy. They owned and ran the Richemont hotel in Meaux, near Paris. Their son, Karl,[26] was a French mountain bike rider and champion.


Joop Zoetemelk was the second Dutch winner of the Tour de France after Jan Janssen. The Dutch cycling federation, the KNWU, named Zoetemelk the best Dutch rider of all time at a gala to mark its 75th anniversary. A statue of him at Rijpwetering, where he was born and grew up, was unveiled on 31 May 2005. He was named sportsman of the year in the Netherlands in 1980 and 1985. Between 1972 and 1985, he won the Gerrit Schulte Trophy nine times as best rider of the year, more than anybody else in Dutch professional racing.[27] The Joop Zoetemelk Classic, a cyclo-sportive over 45, 75 or 150 km, is held every March, organised by the Swift club of which Zoetemelk is a member. The course passes his statue.

Career achievements[edit]

Major results[edit]

1st Jersey yellow.svg Overall Ronde van Midden-Zeeland
1st Stage 1
1st Gold medal olympic.svg Team time trial, Olympic Games
1st Jersey yellow.svg Overall Circuit de Lorraine
1st Stage 1a
1st Jersey yellow.svg Overall Tour de l'Avenir
3rd Overall Tour of Austria
1st Stage 2b, 3 & 6
1st Stage 2b Paris–Luxembourg
2nd Overall Tour de France
1st MaillotHolanda.PNG Road race, National Road Championships
1st Stage 4b Tour de Luxembourg
2nd Overall Tour de France
6th Overall Vuelta a España
1st Jersey red.svg Mountains classification
1st Stage 16
1st Trophée des Grimpeurs
5th Overall Tour de France
1st MaillotHolanda.PNG Road race, National Road Championships
1st Jersey yellow.svg Overall Tour du Haut Var
2nd Overall Grand Prix du Midi Libre
1st Stage 1a & 2
3rd Overall Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré
1st Stage 2b
3rd Overall Paris–Nice
1st Stage 7b
4th Overall Tour de France
1st Jersey white.svg Combination classification
1st Prologue & Stage 4
1st Jersey white.svg Overall Paris–Nice
1st Stage 2, 6a & 7b
1st Jersey green.svg Overall Tour de Romandie
1st Stage 4
1st Jersey yellow.svg Overall Setmana Catalana de Ciclismo
1st Stage 5
1st Stage 2 Étoile de Bessèges
1st Jersey white.svg Overall Paris–Nice
1st Stage 6a & 7b
1st Jersey yellow.svg Overall Ronde van Nederland
1st Stage 4
1st Grand Prix d'Isbergues
4th Overall Tour de France
1st Stage 11
1st La Flèche Wallonne
1st Stage 3 Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré
1st Boucles de l'Aulne
2nd Overall Tour de France
1st Stage 9, 10 & 20
1st Paris–Tours
1st Grand Prix d'Isbergues
1st Stage 2a Tour de l'Aude
3rd Overall Volta a Catalunya
1st Stage 4a
1st Paris–Camembert
1st Stage 2 Critérium International
2nd Overall Tour de France
1st Stage 14
3rd Overall Paris–Nice
1st Stage 1 (victory shared with Gerrie Knetemann)
1st Jersey yellow.svg Overall Vuelta a España
1st Prologue & Stage 8b
1st Jersey white.svg Overall Paris–Nice
1st Stage 7b
1st Jersey yellow.svg Overall Critérium International
1st Stage 2
1st Jersey yellow.svg Overall Tour du Haut Var
1st Paris–Tours
1st Prologue Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré
1st Stage 3 Étoile de Bessèges
2nd Overall Tour de France
1st Stage 18
1st Jersey yellow.svg Overall Tour de France
1st Stage 1b (TTT), 7a (TTT), 11 & 20
1st Prologue Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré
1st Stage 5 Tour de Romandie
1st Grand Prix Pino Cerami
1st Escalada a Montjuich
1st Grand Prix Pino Cerami
4th Overall Tour de France
1st Stage 1b (TTT) & 4 (TTT)
1st Escalada a Montjuich
2nd Overall Tour de France
1st Jersey yellow.svg Overall Tour du Haut Var
1st Stage 2 (TTT) Tour de France
1st Jersey rainbow.svg Road race, UCI Road World Championships
1st MaillotEspaña.PNG Overall Tirreno–Adriatico
1st Stage 5
1st Veenendaal-Veenendaal
2nd Amstel Gold Race
1st Amstel Gold Race

Grand Tour results timeline[edit]

1970 1971 1972 1973 1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979 1980 1981 1982 1983 1984 1985 1986
Tour de France 2 2 5 4 DNE 4 2 8 2 2 1 4 2 23 30 12 24
Stages won 0 0 0 2 1 3 0 1 1 2 0 0 0 0 0 0
Mountains classification NR 2 5 6 3 3 5 3 4 5 NR NR NR NR NR NR
Points classification NR 5 3 2 9 8 NR 9 3 10 NR NR NR NR NR NR
Stages won
Mountains classification
Points classification
Stages won 1 2
Mountains classification 1 3
Points classification NR 3
World Championship 52 21 5 5 - 5 4 26 6 16 - 21 4 38 10 1 52[28]
1 Winner
2–3 Top three-finish
4–10 Top ten-finish
11– Other finish
DNE Did Not Enter
DNF-x Did Not Finish (retired on stage x)
DNS-x Did Not Start (no started on stage x)
HD Finished outside time limit (occurred on stage x)
DSQ Disqualified
N/A Race/classification not held
NR Not Ranked in this classification

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Surname in isolation: [ˈzutəmɛlk].
  2. ^ "Joop Zoetemelk dans le Tour de France". Archived from the original on 25 April 2009. Retrieved 2009-04-25.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link).
  3. ^ "Alejandro Valverde is 2nd Oldest Road Male Champion". NBC Sports/Associated Press. 30 September 2018.
  4. ^ Siebelink, Jan (2006) 'Pijn is genot, Thomas Rap (Netherlands), ISBN 90-6005-632-9, p. 93
  5. ^ "Joop Zoetemelk Classic 2009 (1)". Archived from the original on 24 March 2009. Retrieved 2009-03-24.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link).
  6. ^ Joop Zoetemelk. (1946-12-03). Retrieved on 2012-12-24.
  7. ^ a b '1980: Joop Zoetemelk' – [Alle Tourwinnaars] "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 18 October 2012. Retrieved 8 August 2018.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link). Retrieved on 2012-12-24.
  8. ^ a b [1][dead link]
  9. ^ "Joop Zoetemelk Olympic Results". Archived from the original on 18 April 2020. Retrieved 6 September 2014.
  10. ^ "Joop Zoetemelk". Archived from the original on 19 February 2009. Retrieved 2009-02-19.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link).
  11. ^ [2][dead link]
  12. ^ McGann, Bill; McGann, Carol (2008). The Story of the Tour De France: 1965-2007. Dog Ear Publishering. pp. 98–104. ISBN 978-1-59858-608-4. Retrieved 28 September 2009.
  13. ^ "1985 UCI World Championship Road Race". 17 October 2020.
  14. ^ "Dutch cyclist Edges Lemond". New York Times David Chauner. 2 September 1985.
  15. ^ "Alejandro Valverde is 2nd Oldest Road Male Champion". NBC Sports/Associated Press. 30 September 2018.
  16. ^ "World Championships Road Race 1985". 20 October 2020.
  17. ^ Opgescheept met een veteraan, Trouw, Netherlands (2005-06-28)
  18. ^ A reference to the strict management and team discipline imposed on the team by its manager, Peter Post.
  19. ^ "Tour de France 2019".
  20. ^ anabo. Retrieved on 2012-12-24.
  21. ^ Le dopage dans le tour de France. (1977-07-24). Retrieved on 2012-12-24.
  22. ^ "Magazine Sport & Vie : Sport & vie n° 79 (July 2003) – Tombés au champs d'honneur". Archived from the original on 13 December 2007. Retrieved 2015-12-07..
  23. ^ "Econometricians calculate 'Universal Tour Ranking'". University of Groningen. 23 October 2006. Retrieved 30 April 2011.
  24. ^ Cycling, UK, interview with Rini Wagtmans, undated cutting
  25. ^ Opgescheept met een veteraan, Trouw (Netherlands), 28 June 2005
  26. ^ Joop Zoetemelk at Cycling Archives
  27. ^ Velo-Club du Net: Coureurs Hollandais, Joop Zoetemelk Archived 5 December 2008 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved on 2012-12-24.
  28. ^ Zoetemelk also started and finished the World Championship in 1987 and finished 51st

External links[edit]

Sporting positions
Preceded by
Peter Kisner
Dutch National Road Race Champion
Succeeded by
Tino Tabak
Preceded by
Tino Tabak
Dutch National Road Race Champion
Succeeded by
Cees Priem
Preceded by
Jan Raas
Dutch Sportsman of the Year
Succeeded by
Hennie Stamsnijder
Preceded by
Stephan van den Berg
Dutch Sportsman of the Year
Succeeded by
Hein Vergeer