Luxembourgers have achieved admirable results in many sports, but it is in cycling that they have truly left their mark. An epic climb during a hailstorm, a broken frame in the middle of the race and two brothers showing exemplary loyalty - here are five stories of Luxembourg cyclists who have made (and still make) thousands dream, in the Grand Duchy and beyond. And because there are so many to choose from, we also included two honorary mentions.
Charly Gaul was a phenomenon and has given Luxembourg cycling some of its best memories. Born on 8 December 1932 in Luxembourg city, he was named best climber of the Tour de France in 1955 and 1956, a title he honoured in 1958 when he won the Tour. He was also victorious at the Giro d'Italia in 1956 and 1959. An incomparable climber, he caressed the pedal with fluidity and efficiency, and made light work of mountains and the hardest uphill climbs. The ease with which he overcame the hardest stages in the mountains earned him the nickname "Angel of the Mountains" in the 1950s.
He had his own rhythm - the sprocket on his bike had two teeth fewer than his fellow competitors' bikes - and rarely left the saddle; he seemed to be propelled by a force, a determination, an invisible stubbornness, which made him the winner of ascent after ascent, pass after pass.
The legend was born in 1956, during the Giro d'Italia. On 8 June, on the 12-km ascent of Monte Bondone, in weather conditions that can only be described as Dantesque with snow and temperatures falling to -10°C, Charly Gaul stuck to the race. Whereas several competitors preferred to stop cycling to take hot baths, he carried on climbing relentlessly, and ended the stage as the winner not only of the stage but also of the Giro d'Italia as a whole.
"On a bicycle, Charly Gaul was an enigma. A small man who thrived in the rain with a look in his eye like Buster Keaton, he loved nothing more than bad weather to accomplish his unequalled climbing feats."
- Eric Fottorino in his obituary which appeared in the Le Monde newspaper on 7 December 2005
Jean Asselborn has been Luxembourg's Minister of Foreign Relations since 2004. In his spare time, the head of Luxembourg's diplomatic corps is a passionate cyclist. Whether it is for an interview in Cologne or for his annual 'Tour de France', during which he rides more than 1,000 km, Jean Asselborn rides his bike regularly and is known for his solo rides in the region.
Initially attracted to athletics, Christine Majerus (*1987) is several times Luxembourg champion of the 400m and 800m. Her hopes are unfortunately thwarted by a foot injury. A blessing in disguise, one might say. Determined not to give up sport, Christine Majerus decided to devote herself to cycling. She won the Coupe de France in 2011 and became the Luxembourg cyclo-cross, time trial and road race champion the same year. Her passion for cycling makes her a versatile cyclist, who shines on both the roads and the cyclo-cross trails.
As a result, she regularly ranks among the best riders in the world, such as at the cyclo-cross world championships for the Boels Doelmans team. In 2012, she also participated in the London Olympic Games, followed by a participation in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
For her extraordinary achievements, she was voted Sportswoman of the Year in Luxembourg several times, and she was awarded the honour of carrying the flag for the Luxembourg athletes' entry into the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Ralph 'Dizzy' Diseviscourt
The ultra-distance cyclist Ralph Diseviscourt is adept at cycling races that seem impossible to complete: the Race Around Austria (2,200 km), the Race Around Switzerland (also known as the 'Tortour'), the Race Across France (2,500km) and the Race Across America (5,000 km). This Luxembourger is not afraid of a monumental challenge! In 2020, he sought a new challenge and beat the 24-hour cycling record.
915.39 km in 24 hours at an average speed of 39.1 km/h, that's what it takes to become the world record holder! Along the way, he beat nine other world distance or time records. Not satisfied with resting on his laurels, he surpassed his performance in August 2021 by clocking in 927,86 km! However, he was unable to remove the new record holder, the Austrian Christoph Strasser, from his throne.
Ralph "Dizzy" Diseviscourt was born in Wiltz on 3 July 1976. He discovered cycling relatively late in life at the age of 27, but quickly made up for lost time. Having had a first taste of ultra-distance cycling in 2011, he took the definitive leap of faith in 2014. He won the Race Across the Dolomites in 2014, the Tortour in 2015 and 2018, the Race Across Italy in 2016, 2018 and 2019 and finished third in the Race Across Austria in 2019. However, it was in the prestigious Race Across America where he managed to shine, finishing fourth in 2016 and second in 2018, after 9 days, 12 hours and 33 minutes of racing.
It was in 1928 that this Luxembourger wrote history in the Tour de France. From the very first stage, with the support of his team, he took the yellow jersey and never let it go. Everything seemed to be going smoothly up until the 19th stage from Metz to Charleville-Mézières. About a hundred kilometres from the finish line, the frame of his bicycle broke. However, luck was on his side and he borrowed a bike from a spectator. Even though the bike was far too small for him, he managed to reach the finish and defended the yellow jersey – a truly incredible feat!
Andy and Frank Schleck
Originally from Mondorf, the brothers and cyclists Frank (born 1980) and Andy Schleck (born 1985) inspired Schleck-Mania around 2010. The two brothers competed together in the Tour de France and left thousands of spectators around the globe in awe of their achievements.
From an early age, Frank and Andy Schleck took part in competitions and proved their talent nationally before joining the international circuit in 2003 and 2004 respectively. It wasn't long before the victories came thick and fast.
For pair, it is the stage of the Tour de France which took place on 25 July 2009 that will be forever etched in their memories. Andy picked up the pace several times on the climb up Mont Ventoux, showing exceptional tenacity and leaving the contenders behind him. He crossed the finishing line in first place! He successfully completed a legendary breakaway despite refusing to let go of his brother Frank for several kilometres.
In 2010, following a race that delivered a rollercoaster of emotions, Andy Schleck finished the Grande Boucle in second place behind Spain's Alberto Contador. Following Contador's disqualification for using illegal substances, Andy was awarded victory by the UCI in 2014.
In 2011, the brothers wrote one of the most beautiful chapters in the history of the Tour de France by finishing second (Andy) and third (Frank) respectively in the final general standings.
François Faber, nicknamed 'the giant of Colombes', holds a world record in cycling, a feat he achieved by winning five successive stages in the Tour de France in 1909. He ended up winning the yellow jersey that same year and became a national hero. In fact, as a Luxembourg national, he was the first foreigner to win the "Grande Boucle" (the Big Loop)!
François Faber was born in 1887 in Aulnay-sur-Iton in France; his mother was French and his father was Luxembourgish, from Wiltz. In 1904, he was hired as a docker at the port of Courbevoie, where his brother introduced him to the joys of cycling. The 1909 Tour de France turned him into a legend. He won five stages in a row, and then a sixth... Astonishingly, he led the field for a total of 580 kilometres, and finished in first place on the Champs-Elysées. He competed in the Tour de France from 1910 to 1914 and showed his worth, although he did not manage to win again.
In 1914, François Faber joined the French foreign legion. On 5 May 1915, near Mont-Saint-Eloi, he was told that his wife Eugénie had given birth to a daughter. On 9 May, François Faber died in the attack on the 'Ouvrages Blancs' trenches near Carency. His body was never found.