I’ve been struggling to find any meaningful information pertaining to the Carlos ever since I first saw the bike advertised on Gumtree. The guys at the Vintage Bike Cave couldn't tell me much either, other than that the company originated from somewhere in north-east France. I like to think I'm fairly adept at sourcing intelligence on the world-wide-web, but all I could find was a discussion on Bike Forums (under a thread headed 'Classic & Vintage - Where are the Belgian Frames?') in which somebody had announced that, ‘Carlos was basically a French make, close to the Belgian border.’ I’d found this snippet of near worthless material – for it merely corroborated what the Vintage Bike Cave already told me – by typing something like ‘French bicycle Carlos 1980s manufacturer’ into my search-engine.
Once the bike was mine, and I could study it more closely, I’d employed the tack of adding various components to my search: Ofmega (shifters), Suntour and Triplex (derailleurs), Vetta Gel (saddle), Shimano 105 (headset), and Gian Roberts (chainring) – but still nothing. Frustrated, I widened my investigation even further by using Google France and writing in French (Belgique, bicyclette, Francais…). This reaped instant reward. I unearthed a thread on some French website that alluded to Carlos being a Belgian company (with amused references to the Venezuelan political terrorist Carlos the Jackal thrown in) and the fact that a few Belgian teams used to race their bikes during the seventies and eighties. This was progress of sorts, if only because it was my first indication that Carlos used to make half-decent bicycles.
Slightly obsessed, I started trawling through any cycling archive I could find, on the lookout for obscure pro-team names from the seventies and eighties. At first this proved futile, but did inadvertently direct me – via a brief overview of the 1982 Giro d’Italia on Wikipedia, and the Belgian rider Lucien Van Impe’s 4th place finish in it – to a comprehensive list of all the professional Belgian riders that have ever competitively ridden a bicycle and the teams they raced for. I was nearing the end of this inventory when I clicked on the name of a Belgian Cyclist called Eddy Vanhaerens who it transpired once raced for a team called Carlos-Galli-Alan! Running a search on Carlos-Galli-Alan led me in turn to a website called Cycling Archives, an old photograph of said team and the results garnered during their singular year in existence. It seems that a Mr Dirk Baert was actually Carlos-Galli-Alan’s most successful cyclist, with three placings compared to Vanhaerens’ one, and probably should have featured on Wikipedia’s list of professional Belgian cyclists too. Anyway, feeding the phrase ‘Dirk Baert Carlos’ into Google revealed not only a great vision of the man, but the fact that he had also ridden for Carlos Cycles in 1975, Carlos-Galli in 1976 and 1979, and a team called Carlos-Gipiemme in 1977. Dirk had been those teams’ star man as well.
(Dirk Baert - Courtesy: Guy Didieu)
Born in Zwevegem, Belgium, in 1949, Dirk had embarked on his vocation with a team called Hertekamp-Magniflex in May 1970. In 1971 he moved to the more well-known Flandria-Mars marquee and continued to change teams every year before moving to Carlos Cycles in 1975, and remaining with them – or a variation thereof – until 1979. A time-trial specialist, Cycling Archives attributes 87 victories to the man, most of them road-races and criteriums. But he did partake in a few tours, and in 1974, riding for MIC-Ludo-Gribaldy, he competed in his only Tour de France, finishing 93rd in the General Classification; along the way, he came in 5th in the prologue in Brest; 7th on Stage 6; 6th on stages 8, 14, 20, and 21 (part a); and 4th on Stage 21 (part b). Eddy Merckx won that year, and I hope that Dirk looks back on his own participation with some pride. (Do you think he does?)
So Dirk’s the main man as far as Carlos is concerned, although he’s brought me no closer to finding out anything about the bicycles Carlos built, let alone how old my Carlos actually is. It's an ambiguous issue anyway, because bikes are very often re-badged, or built in conjunction with other firms. From the pictures on Cycling Archives, for example, it's clear that Alan bikes were ridden by at least one of the permutations of the Carlos marque (as is evident from studying the picture above). Still, the ambiguous Franco-Belgian credentials of Carlos established, I now have a theme with which to inform my prospective team name. I will attend to this matter when that damned jersey shows up.
[Images courtesy of http://www.cyclingarchives.com/coureurs.php ]