vermarc Sport clothes amateur racing teams and cycling clubs throughout Europe, America and Asia. In 2006, we will produce over 4000 unique jerseys.
Founded in 1977 by Frans Verbeek, a legendary ex-pro racer from the Flanders region of Belgium. Frans had a desire to improve the conditions that riders faced during training and racing by improving the clothing they wore. That desire still fuels the company today.
Frans Verbeeck's stellar cycling career almost wasn't. The founder of the hugely successful vermarc Sport cycling apparel company was struggling to earn his place in the pro peleton when he decided to hang up his wheels and find a job which would allow him to support his wife and young son. Frans landed a job driving a milk delivery truck but, after only a year, his passion for the bike prompted his return to the ranks of professional cycling.
For "the Milkman", a name given him by his Belgian fans, it turned out to be a fortuitous move. Verbeeck notched a number of high-profile wins including the Fleche Wallone, Het Volk, Amstel Gold, and the 1973 Belgian National Championship beating the likes of Eddy Merckx in the process. The Milkman delivered 166 victories as a professional.
Frans retired for real at the end of the 1976 season. In 1977, he started his own company in a partnership with the legendary Italian clothing manufacturer Santini. In 1988, Frans, realizing the importance of his history, began producing cycling clothing under its own brand name, vermarc Sport, a combination of the Verbeeck surname and the first name of Franz's son Marc who followed his father's footsteps into the pro peloton and now acts as the company's president.
One of the companies most strategic business decisions was to focus on providing cycling apparel for racing teams and clubs rather than enter the mass market arena because with 57,000 licensed racers in Belgium alone, there was a great need for a supply of high quality custom clothing. Subsequently, vermarc Sport has provided team kit for a number of the leading professional teams including TVM, DAF Trucks and Greg Lemond's 1989 Tour de France winning team, ADR. Currently, they provide clothing for the Belgian powerhouse teams Quick Step-Davitomon and Lotto-Domo as well as Palmans/Collstrop, Vlaandaren 2000 and Landbouw Krediet professional cycling teams.
Below is an article about the racing career of Frans Verbeek courtesy of Cycle Sport Magazine. It describes the drive and passion of the man behind vermarc. The same passion that drives the company today.
In the Shadow of Merckx: FRANS VERBEECK
by Chris Sidwells - Cycle Sport Magazine - May 2002
Many bike riders in the Seventies had cause to curse Eddy Merckx; curse the fact that an accident of birth had condemned them to compete with the greatest cyclist ever. Imagine the frustration of knowing no matter what you did, no matter what sacrifice you made, when it came down to it, if he was on form, Eddy would beat you.
Of course, riders did beat him from time to time, that is what this series is about after all. However, to do so they often had to second-guess him tactically, take advantage of strong team-mates, or even go for races where they knew he wouldn't be quite on song. A brave few, though, tried to go head-to-head with him. They never quite accepted his superiority and almost sought conflict with him when he was at this best. One of the bravest of them all was a failed pro from the Sixties, who came back in the '70s to provide some of the most memorable battles we have ever seen in the spring Classics. He tried and tried to beat Eddy man-on-man, once coming so close that it needed a photograph to separate them, though he never did quite manage it.
In fact, he tried so hard, and his defeats scarred him so much, that some people close to him thought, in the end, that he developed a complex which actually prevented him from beating Merckx. He was the 'Flying Milkman of Wilsele,' one of the hardest Flandrians of all, Frans Verbeeck.
Wilsele is a small village just to the north of the old university town in Leuven, in the Brabant region of Belgium, and it was to there that a demoralised young pro from the Groene-Leeuw team returned after just six stages of the 1966 Vuelta, threw his bike in the back yard and brought a halt to his two-year pro career.
"I had had enough, I just wasn't making any money. After a few stages, I made up my mind to stop and said to my team manager: 'See you around, but never again at a bike race.'" That's how Verbeeck remembers his dramatic exit from the sport which, deep-down, he loved.
Today, it would have been a different story. Verbeeck Mark One got some good results, including second in the 1964 Henninger Turm race, ninth in Paris-Brussels and seventh in the 1966 Het Volk; good enough for the beginnings of a lucrative career today. In the feudal Sixties, though, race winners made a fortune and the rest got nothing, certainly not enough for a good standard of living.
That is what Verbeeck wanted, so he turned his back on the bike and began to work at the family milk delivery business, where he could earn far more money then he had on his bike, and for far less effort. But cycling is not an easy mistress to turn your back on and, by the end of the year, Verbeeck was back at the races; watching for pleasure at first, then taking up a part-time job as the assistant manager of the Goldor team.
For a young man with unfulfilled dreams, the seat of a team car proved too close to the saddle of a bike, and soon Verbeeck was training again. It was inevitable. "I saw many races, and many riders, and I thought: 'what they can do I can do,' only better," he remembers.
This time though, there would be no second chance and Verbeeck began the rigorous training regime that he eventually became famous for. All through the winter of 1968/69 he trained. "Once I even borrowed a postman's fat-tyred bike so that I could go out in deep snow. I never missed a day," he says with pride.
Verbeeck Mark Two was an instant success, top 10 placings in several Classics were crowned by second place in the 1969 Paris-Tours, and that winter the training continued. The following season saw him winning Het Volk, then, in 1971, the Amstel Gold Race, then Het Volk again in 1972. But always there was training.
The kilometres that passed under Verbeeck's wheels were becoming as legendary as his victories. He was one of the first to ride all winter. Few of those kilometres were done in balmy southern climates; when Verbeeck went down to the Cote d' Azur it was to race, and win. Much of his preparation was done on the roads around his Belgian home, in the rain and sleet of a Flemish winter.
And who did Verbeeck have to accompany him on these interminable bad weather rides? Some similarly tough, rock-hewn son of Flanders? No, it was an Englishman called Peter Head. "I was the token Englishman in Verbeeck's Watney team, I suppose," Head recalls. "Watney was an english brewer, and they had a team because they were opening up some English theme pubs in Belgium. I had to go and say a few words at the openings." English pubs in Belgium? It didn't work. The pubs were really tacky, with genuine plastic oak panelling, although you have to take your hat off to the optimistic marketing genuis who tried to launch an English beer in the land of Leffe.
Head is also being overly modest; he wasn't a token anything, he was a very classy rider; particularly good in a time trial. Tall, strong and able to soak up work, he was the ideal companion for Verbeeck in his punishing schedule, and the Belgian's family took Head under thier wing.
What was it like training with the world's hardest bike rider? "He was so strong, sometimes he would start halfwheeling us and the speed would creep up. Faster and faster until you were flat out. Then he would take his hands off the handlebars and just ride away from you. And he was fast. One time, I was a bit in front of him and a lorry came past. I jumped in behind it, thinking I could get an easier ride for a bit. Next thing I knew, he was there alongside me. He'd seen what I had done and sprinted after the lorry. No slip-stream, just powered up to it. They were a great family too, all hard workers. Even when Frans was really successful, his wife still carried on with the milk round." Head remembers his time in Wilsele with obvious warmth.
By the spring of 1973, Verbeeck had established himself as the biggest threat to Merckx in the spring Classics. That is saying something, because there was some incredible talent around. Also Verbeeck was a threat in any Classic, not just specialties like Paris-Roubaix. He dreamed of the day he would beat Merckx and seemed almost to seek out head-to-head confrontations with him. He would wait in a race for Merckx to move, then once he'd proved that he was the only one who could follow him, they would slug it out like two champion boxers.
One of the best examples was the Liege-Bastogne-Liege of 1973. Merckx, as usual, was in great form that spring. In the previous three weeks, he had beaten Verbeeck into second place in Ghent-Wevelgem and the Amstel Gold Race. Verbeeck was determined not to let it happen again.
In awful, wet conditions, they matched each other pedal stroke for pedal stroke. The rest were nowhere. Verbeeck planned his sprint on the Rocourt track meticulously, taking every advantage. At the line it was close, but he was sure that he had won, at last. He hadn't, the photo finish showed that Merckx had won by just two centimeters.
"I couldn't believe it," recalls Verbeeck. "I was sure I had won, it meant so much. And I remember Merckx must have sensed what it meant to me, because he actually came up to me and apologised. It was the third time that I had been beaten into second in a Classic that year, and each time by Merckx."
Scars like that don't heal, you can tell by the way he says it. Was he damaged by Merckx beating him, by taking the 'Cannibal' on, doing everything he could and still always being beaten? Peter Head thinks so: "I am surprised that Frans didn't win more than he did, actually. He was fast and he was intelligent. He won loads of races, but somehow he just couldn't beat Merckx."
In a sport that loves nicknames, the 'Flying Milkman' had become the 'Eternal Second'. Between 1970 and 1977, Verbeeck stood on the podium of a Classic 13 times, and only won twice, Amstel Gold in 1971 and Fleche Wallonne in 1974.
To his credit, Verbeeck never stopped trying to beat Merckx and, in 1975, the rivalry evolved into the ultimate showdown, and perhaps Verbeeck's most bruising defeat. The race they chose for their duel was, aptly, the Tour of Flanders, and once again Verbeeck based his entire race on Merckx.
By then, it was so important to him; he just had to beat Merckx, just once. In the end, Verbeeck had such form that day and, with better tactics, like somehow getting into a break where Merckx was absent, he had the legs to win the race. But it wasn't to be.
Merckx was easy for Verbeeck to mark, as reigning world champion his rainbow jersey shone like a beacon in the bunch. With 104 kilometres to go, Merckx attacked and immediately Verbeeck was after him. Once together, the strongest two in the race inexorably began to pull away from the rest.
From then on, there was no one else in it; they were both superb. Merckx, the better climber, led up every hill. On the flat though, Verbeeck was strong and took his turn, but it wasn't long before his efforts started to take their toll.
On the day, Merckx had superb form, and he knew it. Before the race he told the press: "The gap I will have on the peloton at the finish will not be 10 minutes perhaps, but it will be big." Only Merckx could get away with a statement like that. Verbeeck had chosen the wrong day to pick his fight, and soon the effort was showing on his face.
He still worked, fighting to keep alive his chance of victory. Then, with six kilometres to go, it was all over. Merckx went into another gear and, on a slight rise, simply rode away from Verbeeck. He didn't attack; he just rode him off his wheel, and there was nothing Verbeeck could do but trail in 30 seconds down. He was four and a half minutes in front of the next rider, but for Verbeeck it was the ultimate defeat. Merckx was better than him, and the 225 kilometres of the 1975 Tour of Flanders had finally proved it.
Shattered, and leaning on the podium after the race, all Verbeeck could say was: "He was just too fast, what can I say?" His face was a picture of fatigue and bitter acceptance. What could he say? Verbeeck could have been one of the best Classics riders of all time, in terms of victories, if it hadn't been for Eddy Merckx. And certainly he could have won more if he hadn't been obsessed with beating him head-to-head. But cycling would have been poorer, and Merckx's greatness diminished without rivals as brave and honest as Frans Verbeeck.