During the second World War, not many cycling races were held and most of them even got cancelled. After the second World War the roads got restored and most of the races were held again after one or two years. Who could have thought that the years after the second World War would become the ‘golden age’ of cycling? One of the riders responsible for this was Ferdi Kübler. He was born on the 24th of July, 1919. He lived and grew up in Marthalen, in the countryside near Zurich, Switzerland. The family was poor; they had to feed him and four other siblings and there wasn’t much money. When he was in his teenage years, he ran away from home and started to work for a bakery as a delivery boy. He became a professional cyclist in 1940, but due to the war, there were not many races in those years and he only raced in neutral Switzerland. After the war, international races were held again, including the Tour de France. In 1947, he participated for the first time in the Tour and immediately became the first rider to wear the yellow jersey after the war. He did not finish it that year though, because he did not meet the time limit in one of the stages.
Kübler in the Tour de France of 1949 / © STF-AFP
In 1949 he already started as one of the favorites for the win, but he got unlucky that year. In one of the mountain stages in the Alps, he punctured three times and ran out of spare tyres. Unfortunately, the service car broke down too, so they were unable to help him. He stood along the road, waiting for help, and all the other favorites passed him by, one by one. He screamed and there were tears in his eyes, but there was nothing he could do.
A year later his dream finally came true and he won the Tour de France. With this win he became very popular in Switzerland, but they also gave him the nickname ‘the pedalling madman’. That was for two reasons. Kübler talked to himself on the road, to keep himself going and to keep himself motivated. But he also was a bit reckless and sometimes he went too fast in the descents.
In 1951 he showed that he was not only a man for the Grand Tours, but also for the classics. He won the races La Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, reapeating this a year later. In 1951 he also won the World Championships. He was never able to win the Tour de France again; there were too many good riders in those years. Still, there was a place on the podium for him in the year 1954.
He ended his career in 1957, because he thought he was too old for the job and saw that his ‘golden years’ were over. He died on the 29th of December, 2016. For a long time he was the oldest living winner of the Tour de France. Not any longer though. Ferdi Kübler became 97 years old.
Kübler after his Tour de France victory in 1950 / © ladepeche.fr