Pretty Boy

It is exactly 65 years ago. A Sunday in the Tour de France of 1951. Stage 15. A very hot day and the riders were facing a distance of 177 kilometers. A short stage for that time. It led them from Brive la Gaillarde to Agen. Riders were hoping for a slow day, as they knew the Pyrenees were yet to come in the following days. A young man, 26 years old, attacked with 135 kilometres to go. It was hopeless, everyone thought. The heat would break him up, for sure. They thought wrong. A week before this rider already won the time trial. The classification riders should have known better. Riders like Coppi, Bartali, Robic and Bobet started chasing him when it was already too late. They were all working together to bring back that fine-looking young man. He crossed the finish line solo, more than two minutes before all the favorites. A few hundred metres before the finish he combed his hair, to show that it had been ‘an easy ride’. The French press gave him the nickname ‘le pédaleur de charme’ from this day on. His name? Hugo Koblet.

Hugo was born in 1925 in Switzerland. He grew up with his parents and his elder brother. His father died when he was only 9 years old. His older brother took over the bakery from his parents. ‘Hugi’, as his mother called him often, worked there until he was seventeen. His job was to deliver bread and cakes at the houses of people. By bike, of course. At the age of 18, he was discovered by a former rider, Leo Amberg. Amberg became his coach and was like a father towards Hugo. It was through him that he became a professional rider in 1946. His first great win came in 1950. He won the Giro d’Italia and he was the first non-Italian rider to win it. A few weeks later he was also the winner of the Tour de Suisse. People in Switzerland saw him as one of the greatest talents of that time. He was meant to do some great things in his upcoming cycling career.

The decline came sooner than expected. His best years were in 1950 and 1951. After those two years, it slowly went downhill with his career. Koblet was a man who could not say no. If they asked him to race, he would do it. He would not give himself some rest. He also had a great heart. If he could help other people, he would do it. He gave away his team shirts, his bikes, even his money, to people who needed it more than him. He stated to a friend that he had to spent his money, because he would not live forever.

He ended his career in 1958. After that he spent his money even more. In 1964 he had so many debts, that he did not know what to do anymore. On top of that, his wife asked for a divorce. On the second day of November, Hugo drove around with his Alfa Romeo and crashed with his car into a tree. Four days later he died due to the multiple injuries caused by the accident. It was said in that time that it was an accident. Suicide was not even mentioned, for in the sixties it was a taboo to talk about this. For about ten years ago Sepp Renggli publiced a book about Koblet, in which was said that Hugo had left a note to his family and friends. Big money problems and his wife leaving him were the reasons to end his life. He was only 39 years old and he left the people in Switzerland in shock.

He kept his promise though. In 1951 he won the Tour de France. He claimed four stage wins. Two time trials, a mountain stage and the heroic solo ride of 135 kilometres. People remember him as a fine man. He would never go out cycling without his comb and a bottle of perfume. He blew kisses at girls before and after the race,  he waved at the older women and he shook hands with the men. He always did this with a smile on his face. His death was tragic and sad, but we will remember him as the pretty boy of the peloton.

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