Van Looy's career was sandwiched between two Belgium greats, Rik Van Steenbergen and Eddy Merckx. Van Looy, a Flemish working class lad, used to be teased as he rode around on his heavy bicycle delivering newspapers because of his name being so close to that of the star of the time, Rik Van Steenbergen. This taunting spurned him on to ride competitively.
Van Looy became the first cyclist to win five of the most prestigious 1 day classics, Paris-Roubaix (won 3 times), Milan-San Remo (won once), Tour of Flanders (won twice), Liege-Bastogne-Liege (won once) and Giro di Lombardia (won once). This is a feat only 2 other cyclists have ever achieved and both also happen to be Belgians: Roger De Vlaeminck and Eddy Merckx. Van Looy was also World Champion twice and won Paris-Tours once. Phenomenal!
There has been much discussion over the years as to who is the greatest ever classics cyclist and most would agree it to be Eddy Merckx with a staggering 22 classics victories. Van Looy, arguably, follows in second place with a massive 11 classics victories. The other candidate for second place is De Vlaeminck. Known as Mr Paris-Roubaix for his unequalled 4 Paris-Roubaix victories De Vlaeminck can only imagine how many victories he would have collected had Merckx not crossed his path. Fausto Coppi and Sean Kelly follow in 3rd and 4th respectively when only considering the classics. It is clear Van Looy's palmares holds up against some of the greatest cyclists the world has ever seen.
Away from the Classics races Van Looy also achieved a high level of success in the Grand Tours. He won the points jersey in 1963 and the mountains jersey in the 1960 Giro d'Italia. In the Vuelta a Espana, Van Looy was 3rd in 1959 and again in 1965. He also won the points jersey in those years as well.
In addition to Van Looy's achievements on the road he also often raced 6 day events during the winter months adding victories on the track to his palmares.
Van Looy's career spanned an immense 18 seasons. Starting at the age of 19 in 1953 he retired in 1970 aged 36. In total he racked up 379 professional road victories. Van Looy is the definition of a flahute, a true hard man of the road.