Prior to Eddy Merckx, Rik Van Looy won more classics than any professional cyclist ever. This was mainly due to his tremendous ability as a road sprinter, unmatched in the peloton at the time. Only the Grand Prix des Nations (a time trial) and the Bordeaux-Paris are missing from his list of victories in classics. Van Looy's lack of strength as a time trialist was his greatest weakness and cost him in the grand tours. He was not a great climber, though he was better than average. Van Looy also won 11 six-day races, nine of them with Peter Post. Van Looy is one of only three riders to have won all five monument races, the best known of the one-day classics, along with Merckx and Roger De Vlaeminck.
Van Looy was twice a winner at the World Championship road race, winning in 1960-61. In the grand tours, he won the points classification at the 1963 Tour de France and the 1959 and 1965 Vuelta a España, and the mountains classification at the 1960 Giro d'Italia. His major one-day victories were as follows: 1958 Milano-Sanremo; 1959, 1962 Ronde van Vlaanderen; 1955-57, 1962 Gent-Wevelgem; 1961-62, 1965 Paris-Roubaix; 1968 La Flèche Wallonne; 1961 Liège-Bastogne-Liège; 1956, 1958 Paris-Brussels; 1959, 1967 Paris-Tours; and 1959 Giro di Lombardia.