Rider Type: Flandrian Specialist
There’s a story that Raymond Impanis was a foundling, taken in by the local baker. The story goes he was given the name Impanis from the Latin for a loaf of bread. The same story also gets credited to his father. In reality, Impanis was the actual son of the local baker Georges Impanis. Raymond himself believed his father was an orphan but that wasn’t the case. Even so, there’s quite a few different versions which include disowning and gaps in the family tree. The myth created Raymond Impanis’ nickname of the ‘Baker from Berg’ though.
Raymond Impanis turned pro with the French superteam Alycon-Dunlop in 1947, aged 22. Remarkable in itself considering he’d crashed into a telegraph pole during a wartime race and become around 80% paralysed in his right arm. The team had signed him on the strength of his performance in the 1946 Tour of Belgium. He won 3 stages and took the overall victory by over 20 minutes. His first season as a pro saw Impanis finish 2nd in Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Richard Depoorter was able to kick on in the final kilometre and take the win but Raymond Impanis won the sprint for 2nd.
He was also 4th in Paris Roubaix, just 16 seconds behind the winner Georges Claes. The same season, Impanis won the longest ever time trial stage in the Tour de France. Finishing nearly 5 minutes ahead of Jean Robic. He would finish that year’s Tour in 6th place at a time when young riders didn’t do as well in Grand Tours as they do now.
Impanis continued to impress, finishing 10th in the 1948 Tour de France before finishing 2nd again at Liège-Bastogne-Liège. There were more 4th places at the Tour of Flanders and Gent Wevelgem. The following year, he took his first Spring Classic win at Dwars Door Vlaanderen by finishing 2nd in both stages (it was a multi-day race back then). Yet another top-5 spot was earned at the Tour of Flanders, as Fiorenzo Magni took the win. 1950 saw Impanis take a distance 2nd place behind Fausto Coppi at Flèche Wallonne, 5 minutes back on the great Italian rider. It was a similar story in 1951, where despite another Dwars Door Vlaanderen victory, it was a set of top-10 finishes in the major classics. 3rd in Omloop het Nieuwsblad (het Volk at the time), 5th at Milan San Remo, 6th at Paris Roubaix and 7th at De Ronde.
Now firmly a perennial contender in the Spring Classics, 1952 started with a 2nd place at Omloop het Nieuwbslad, losing in the sprint to Ernest Sterckx before the next great victory in Impanis’ career. From a breakaway of 3 riders, Impanis was able to outsprint his companions to take his first Gent Wevelgem title. He’d go on to retain the title in 1954 with a solo victory that saw Rik Van Steenbergen finish 4th.
1954 would be a career year for Raymond Impanis. Becoming only the 4th rider to win both the Tour of Flanders and Paris Roubaix in the same season. A feat repeated only 8 times by just 6 riders in the 70+ years since. He only just missed out on becoming the first rider to win 3 monuments in a season by finishing 2nd in Liège Bastogne Liège. Eddie Merckx remains the only rider to achieve that feat (on 4 occasions no less!).
The Tour of Flanders win was all the more impressive as Impanis punctured and had to catch up to the leaders of the race. Once he’d re-joined the front group, Impanis attacked straight away and only Louison Bobet and François Mahé could match the attack. Bobet was soon dropped too for good measure. Impanis won the sprint against Mahé on the cobbles in Wetteren. Another late attack at Paris Roubaix with just 1.5km left to race saw Impanis take that race too.
Other classics contenders took the wins in 1955, with Impanis continuing to be consistent. Yet another runners-up spot at Liège Bastogne Liège, 3rd at Gent Wevelgem and 5th at Paris Roubaix. As the likes of Briek Schotte and Stan Ockers took the wins. His teammate Ockers won Liège Bastogne Liège despite a gentleman’s agreement between the pair. Ockers won Flèche Wallonne the day before and so the pair agreed Raymond Impanis could win. 1956 saw more success at Grand Tours. 3rd place Overall at the Vuelta a Espana ahead of legendary climber Federico Bahamontes and Impanis’ compatriot Rik van Steenbergen. The following year saw the last of Raymond Impanis’ big Spring Classic victories, taking the win at Flèche Wallonne. It was an impressive solo victory, finishing nearly a minute ahead of René Privat in 2nd and nearly 3 minutes ahead of the others.
He remained a consistent Classics contender though with top-10s at Milan San Remo, Paris Roubaix, Flèche Wallonne and Liège Bastogne Liège in 1958. Although his form did dip in the 1959 season. 1960 saw the final big win of his career. With a second victory at Paris Nice, beating François Mahé once more. He came close to another big victory in the 1961 Gent Wevelgem, only beaten by Frans Aerenhouts. As the next generation took over at the beginning of the 1960s and Rik van Looy began his dominance, Raymond Impanis began to fade and he retired at the end of the 1963 season.
A race was named after Impanis – the Grand Prix Raymond Impanis – which continues to this day (with some breaks) as the Primus Classic.
Raymond Impanis died, aged 85, on December 31st 2010.
Raymond Impanis’ Greatest Race Victory
1954 Tour of Flanders
The 1954 Tour of Flanders saw 230 racers begin the race. The race was flatter than we know it today, with just 5 named climbs included. The Kluisberg, the Oude Kwaremont, the Kruisberg, the Edelareberg and Kloosterstraat. The Muur van Geraardsbergen was on the route between 1950-1952. However, it was removed because of the chaos it caused. The Kloosterstraat is at the bottom of the Muur. It was cobbles but has tarmac covering it now, so quite a challenge in itself.
Raymond Impanis suffered a puncture before the Edelareberg, missing out on the washing machine prize offered to the first to crest its summit. As a consequence, he found himself well behind the lead group on the road. With no domestiques to guide him back to the front of the race as we’d see today, Impanis had to close the gap himself, which he ultimately did. Just after Kloosterstraat and with only 27km left to race, Impanis caught the small bunch. He immediately attacked and found that only François Mahé was able to match the acceleration and teammate Marcel Rijckaert was left in his wake. The two riders worked together and reached Wetteren with an advantage of around 30 seconds. Raymond Impanis had the stronger sprint though and took the victory. Only 37 riders finished, including legends like Louison Bobet (14th), Briek Schotte (21st) and Germain Derycke (31st).
Spring Classics Palmares
Tour of Flanders
Dwars Door Vlaanderen