Der Rudi

On the 28th of August in 1966 the World Championship road race was held on the circuit of Nurburgring in West Germany. For once there were no motorbikes on the circuit, but just bikes. Without engines or helmets. Riders were just wearing a cap on their head to protect them against the sun. Nowadays it is hard to imagine a rider without a helmet. But it was quite normal back then.

It was dry that day, so a lot of spectators came out to see the riders. There was a lot of wind, which played a huge part and the circuit was not flat at all. At the start there were 74 professional riders, only 22 of them would finish. It shows that it was one tough race on the circuit of Nurburgring.

Of course, Jacques Anquetil was one of the favorites. He was riding for France along with Raymond Poulidor and Jean Stablinksi. Shay Elliot, an Irish rider, was also competing. He was a strong sprinter. And Gianni Motta participated for Italy. But during the race, some odd things happened. Gianni Motta was riding for Altig, instead for his own teammates of Italy. Also, it was said that Anquetil rather saw Altig take the win than his French teammate Poulidor. The Irish rider Elliot went for his own chance, but during the race he felt that he wasn’t good enough. He decided to help his old teammate Rudi Altig. When Anquetil and Poulidor went off together, it was with the help of Elliot that Altig could make the jump to the two Frenchmen.

In the sprint Rudi Altig beat Anquetil (second) and Poulidor (third), claiming his first and only World Championship victory ever. After already some great victories on his palmares (winning the Vuelta in 1962, green jersey in the Tour de France of 1962, Tour of Flanders in 1964), this victory was one of the best of his whole career. It was extra special, because the event took place in his own country and he made all the West Germans very proud. He became one of the cycling heroes in Germany and still remained a hero after he ended his career and became a television commentator. The cycling world in Germany was in shock after he passed away this summer at the age of 79. It would be quite something if, after exactly 50 years, another German rider would cross the finish line as the first one. Preferably a sprint. Rudi Altig would have been so proud.

simpson-anquetil-altig-merckx-stevetilford
Rudi Altig wearing his rainbow jersey. Sitting on the left is Tom Simpson, World Champion in 1965 and next to Altig is Jacques Anquetil. On the right of Altig is Eddy Merckx, World Champion in the year after Altig, in 1967. (copyright: http://www.stevetilford.com)

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