Category Archives: Memories

Attack On The Galibier


In 1954, Federico Bahamontes came to his first Tour de France. He was excited and all he wanted was to attack in the mountains. This was not without a reason. He showed in his first Tour de France that he was the best climber of the peloton. As soon as the riders started to climb, Bahamontes placed an attack and was gone. You would think that this would lead to a lot of stage wins, but that did not happen. Bahamontes was scared of the descents and would usually wait for the other riders as soon as he arrived on the top of a mountain. The Galibier was one of the last mountains to be climbed in this Tour de France. Bahamontes passed the top as the first rider, but waited. As always. Still, he had proven that he was the best climber and went home with the polka dot jersey.

How different it was ten years later. In the year 1964, Bahamontes was one of the most experienced riders in the peloton. In the ten years as a professional rider he had learned to descent, to think before he attacked and to take a chance whenever possible. He won multiple Tour stages and won the general classification in 1959 and became the first Spaniard to win the Tour de France. Still, he was in love with the mountains and was always pleased to ride in the Pyrenees. Nevertheless, on of his most impressive wins was in the Alps.

It was on the 29th of June, stage eight. Bahamontes placed an attack on the Col du Télégraphe. There were no other riders in his wheel. He was eager to win the mountain classification for the sixth time in his career and although he knew that there were young talents in the peloton (Simpson, Janssen, Altig, Poulidor), he also knew that he still had the legs to beat them. But he wasn’t completely sure of himself, so he went up the Col du Galibier really fast and on the top he had a difference of more than three minutes on the following group. He was safe and, unlike ten years before, he did not wait and went solo to the finish in Briançon. It is one of the great wins of Bahamontes. He won another stage in the Pyrenees and became first in the mountain classification. He took the polka dot jersey home for the sixth and last time. That record still stands until today.

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The Legends Of The Giro d’Italia

The Giro d’Italia takes place for the 100th time. It is hard to grasp that for over 108 years so many riders participated in this race and have ridden the roads in Italy. The first years were only covered in the newspapers, later it was broadcasted on the radio, today we watch the race on television and follow it through social media. There were heavy battles between riders, long sprints, scary descents and tragic moments  during all these years. Of course there are some memories that we should never forget and those memories are beautiful stories from 100 years of cycling in the Giro d’Italia.

The Giro started in the year 1909, when the owners of the local newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport thought that it was a good idea to promote their newspaper a bit more by organising a cycling race. In that first year, 115 riders took off for eight stages. Only 49 riders made it to the finish in Milano. The first winner of the Giro d’Italia was Luigi Ganna. Riding a bike was easy for him, because he worked as a bricklayer and to get to and from his job he had to ride almost 100 kilometres every day. The Italian fans called him the ‘the King of Mud’. In that time, Italy was a poor country and the roads were not paved yet. Luigi Ganna proved time after time that he managed to get over these roads fast, no matter how hard it rained or how dirty the roads were. Sadly enough he only won the Giro this one time.

Another more known legend of the Giro d’Italia was Alfredo Binda, who won the Giro five times. He dominated cycling in the twenties and thirties of the last century. Sometimes he was asked not to come to the start of a race. People were afraid that he would win again and that it would take all the excitement away. Alfredo Binda first worked as a plasterer, but he would spent his free time on the bike. Together with his brother they explored the roads around their town on their bikes. Binda started racing in the south of France, but soon returned to Italy. He won the Giro d’Italia for the first time in 1925 and the Italian fans soon called him ‘the Champion of the Champions’. He was an excellent climber, but also showed that he could ride a good time trial and had the power to beat the sprinters. He has won 41 stages in the Giro d’Italia. That is a lot, but he does not hold the record. His second win came in 1927, the third and fourth in 1928 and 1929. His last victory was in 1933. This was also the year that the Giro added a time trial to the race for the first time. Of course, Alfredo Binda won the time trial. He dominated the Giro again, wearing the pink jersey for thirteen out of the seventeen days. He did not manage to win the Giro again after this. Young boys were getting stronger and he was not getting any younger. He quit cycling in the year 1936 and became a cycling manager. He eventually was the manager of two other legends: Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali.

Just like Alfredo Binda, Fausto Coppi managed to win the Giro d’Italia five times. Coppi was born in the industrial north and worked as a delivery boy for a butcher. He was the one that delivered the meat to the customers and made a lot of kilometres on the bike. As soon as he started as a professional rider, he became very popular. In that day and age, he was a modern rider. He followed a strict diet and introduced the nowadays well-known training schedules. His first victory of the Giro was in 1940. He was only twenty years old. After this year, the Giro was not held until after the second World War. Some say that Fausto Coppi could have won a lot more races, if the War did not happen. Still, it did happen and after the War was over, Coppi made up for the lost years. He won the race again in 1947, 1949, 1952 and 1953. He has won 22 stages in the Giro d’Italia. He died tragically in 1960, the reason was an untreated malaria infection. In 1965 there was named a prize after him in the Giro, the ‘Cima Coppi’. It is the highest point of the Giro and the rider who will pass this point first, wins the prize. The prize still exists and is awarded every year. Fausto Coppi is also still the youngest rider to ever win a grand Tour.

His greatest rival during his career was Gino Bartali. It literally split Italy in two. While Fausto Coppi was a modern rider from the north, Gino Bartali was the catholic and conservative rider from the south, eating pasta for breakfast and racing every race he could. He first worked in a cycling shop and so he spent his days around bicycles. He has won the Giro three times, in 1936,  1937 and 1946. He has claimed 17 stage wins during his career in the Giro. Gino Bartali sometimes suffered from mental breakdowns and at those times he sometimes lost a lot of time on the other favorites. But he was a genius at times on the bike as well, leaving all the others behind and finishing solo. The rivalry with Fausto Coppi made him and Coppi better riders. During his career, he never trusted Coppi and even accused Coppi of cheating sometimes. In 1954 he ended his career and strangely enough, became good friends with Fausto Coppi.

We can call the Passo dello Stelvio also a legend. Fourty-eight corners, 2758 metres high, and the first introduction to this mountain in the Giro d’Italia took place on the first of June, 1953. The next day the race would finish in Milano. Hugo Koblet, Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali could still win the race and started to climb the Stelvio together. Coppi attacked and neither Koblet or Bartali could follow. Coppi won on the top of the Stelvio and took more than three minutes on Koblet. The next day Coppi claimed his fifth victory of the Giro. This year the Stelvio will be a part again of the Giro d’Italia.

Who would have thought that many years later a Belgium rider would dominate the Giro five times? It is Eddy Merckx. He has won the Giro in 1968, 1970, 1972, 1973 and 1974. Five times. Claiming 18 stage wins. He wore the pink jersey for 78 days in total and that record still stands.

Mario Cipollini is a sprint legend for the Italians. On and off the bike. It was almost impossible to beat him in the sprints. Until 2003, Alfredo Binda held the record for most stage wins in the Giro, but it was Mario Cipollini who took over that record, claiming 42 stages in total.

The Giro d’Italia. Some say it is the hardest race of the year. Some say it is too hard. Some say that they cannot live without it. All this is true, but the Giro is the Grand Tour with passion and excitement. It is the first big race of the year and we are always keen to see the ‘big’ riders work for a good classification, to see riders sprint for the first place and to discover a new talent and watch him grow during the race. The Giro isn’t just ‘good practice’ for the Tour de France. It became clear over the years that it is a unique race with beautiful climbs and fantastic views. No wonder the Italian people are so proud of having this race in their country. They should celebrate and they do this by covering every city and little town in pink and by going out into the streets to cheer the riders on. It shows that the Giro is in the heart of the Italians. And although most of us were not born in Italy, there is a little bit of Giro in our hearts too.

Postwar Champions: Ferdi Kübler


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

 

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)

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.

The First Win

It is the year 1969. It is the year of Neil Armstrong, who sets foot on the moon as the first human being. It is also the year in which the legendary music festival Woodstock takes place. Also, a Belgium ‘boy’ wins the Tour de France.

His name is Eddy Merckx. He is only 24 years old and wins his first Tour de France. Just a few weeks before, he was excluded from the Giro d’Italia. He was about to win this race for the second time, when he was tested positive after a doping control. Merckx was furious. The organisation saw no other option than to disqualify him. At first he was not allowed to start in the Tour de France, but there were doubts about the positive test and so the UCI said that he could start.

He won six stages. He wore the yellow jersey from day six until the end of the race. Not only was he the best in the general classification, he also managed to become the best in the points classification and the mountains classification. One of his most heroic stage wins in this Tour is stage 17. A stage through the Pyrenees. Merckx feels strong and attacks on the Tourmalet. There is no other rider that is able to follow him. In he following 140 kilometres to the finish Merckx is alone. He is alone on the Col de Soulor and the Col d’Aubisque. A solo finish with a difference of eight minutes on the other favorites. Today that is almost impossible. It was impressive and never to be seen again.