Pro Cycling's Biggest Bad Asses Part 2

More ‘Biggest Bad Ass’: Ed Hood gave us the top thirteen ‘Bad Ass’ riders in the pro peloton recently, since then the list has grown. Twelve more of cycling’s ‘Bad Ass’ riders have made the cut – Tough as they come!

Not many riders beat Eddy Merckx during his reign – Walter GodeFroot did

A few weeks ago we ran a piece featuring, ‘Bad Ass’ riders – this was always going to be subjective; and sure enough not everyone agreed with our choices and pointed out notable omissions. What else could we do but run with ‘Bad Ass 2?’

Baensch showing his ‘track rash’

Ron Baensch:
Back in the days when track sprinting was much more of a contact sport, Australia’s Ron Baensch was one of the most physical. In those days the discipline was dominated by the Italians, as was the UCi. The late Ron was pretty damn quick – four time a Worlds medallist – so the Azzurri had their own means of dealing with this dangerous Aussie. When I interviewed him a few years back he told me:

“The UCI would fix the draw so that I’d come against the Italians’ third string sprinter in the early rounds. They’d tell him to rough me up, take me to the fence and stuff like that, they’d get away with that, but they were hoping I’d retaliate – which I often did – and they could disqualify me.” Sprinting as God intended; not the mega-gear drag racing of today. . .

Another tough Aussie

Danny Clark:
Yes, another Aussie – it’s no surprise that several of our fresh crop of hard men come from the Antipodes. In the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s there were no cheap flights, internet, Skype, FaceTime or ‘Mondialisation’ – aspiring champions usually arrived from ‘Down Under’ on a one way ticket, they’d worry about the return fare later. Clark’s international success began as a teenager when he took the silver medal in the individual pursuit at the 1970 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh. Demonstrating the versatility that was his hallmark, he took silver in the kilometre at the 1972 Munich Olympics. As a professional he would go on to win world titles in the keirin and behind the big motors and finish on the podium in the points race. He also won multiple European titles across omnium, Derny, motor paced and madison disciplines. But it’s a six day man that the man from ‘Tassie’ is best remembered, he’s a ‘recordman’ of the sixes for more than one reason:

# Longest career: along with compatriot Reg Arnold he was one of the very best ‘squirrels’ for some 26 years.
# Most six day starts: 235 with 221 finishes – 74 wins, 54 second places and 40 third places.
# The oldest winner of a six day at 49 years.
# The most number of different stadiums raced in – 29.
# Along with Bruno Risi he’s the winner of the most six days in one season in the post war era – nine; with two seasons where he won seven and two where he won six. ‘Bad Ass’ for sure.

Two Roubaix wins and Bordeaux–Paris – Gibus was no softy

Gilbert Duclos Lassalle:
37, the rules of good grammar dictate that one should never start a sentence with a number; but that was Gilbert Duclos Lassalle’s age when he won his first Paris-Roubaix in 1992. Most pros have long ridden their last cobbled classic by that age. As a younger man Duclos had stood on the Roubaix podium but knew he’d squandered his chances of winning by riding, ‘like an amateur.’ There were no mistakes in ’92, I can still see him on his solo charge to glory, tackling the twists and turns through the villages of Northern France on a huge gear, not bothering to change down as he brutalised the bike out of the corners, bumping up and down kerbs, the Rockshox working overtime. A year later and with Father Time on his coat tails it looked like the ‘double’ was impossible, his face betraying the effort of hanging on to rampaging bull, Franco Ballerini. The big Italian ignored team orders from Patrick Lefevere in the car that he should drop the Frenchman as he could be dangerous in the sprint, given his track experience as a six day man. But Ballerini had ‘diamonds in his legs’ and was sure that Duclos was done and the cobble stone would be his to raise over his head. However Ballerini had underestimated the temperature of the fire burning in Lasalle’s chest and history records that at 38 years and 230 days the man from Lembeye is the oldest ever winner of the Queen of the Classics.

Walter Godefroot: ‘hewn from a piece of solid mahogany then hit in the face with a shovel’

Walter Godefroot:
As a youngster I remember reading a piece from one of those old school 70’s journos who described Merckx’s domestiques as looking as if they’d been hewn from a piece of solid mahogany then hit in the face with a shovel. That description equally applied to Walter, one of a very few men who could trouble Merckx the Mighty over the cobbles. His nickname; ‘The Bulldog of Flanders’ says it all. He won the Ronde twice, Paris-Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Gent Wevelgem, not to mention 10 Tour de France stages. And if there was any doubt about his toughness he eliminated that with his two wins in Bordeaux-Paris, that’s over a mere 577 kilometres. There are few pictures of Walter looking ‘cool’ a la Roger De Vlaeminck or Merckx – but there are plenty images of him covered in mud bludgeoning his bike across the pave looking scarily hard. The man defines the word; ‘Flahute’.

We don’t know if Raas was a smoker, but three at a time is ‘bad ass’

Jan Raas:
The Dutchman was a product of arguably one of the greatest breeding grounds for amateur bike racing talent in history – The Netherlands during the 1970’s. Raas raced alongside the likes of Fedor Den Hertog, Cees Priem, Hennie Kuiper, Gerrie Knetemann and Johan Van Der Velde as an amateur. He turned pro with the mighty Raleigh team for 1975 but was let go by team boss Peter Post after two seasons. But a highly successful 1977 season with Frisol, which included a win in Milan-Sanremo made Post reconsider and Raas came back to Raleigh where he would become a mainstay of the team’s ‘Total Cycling’ philosophy through until 1983 when he left to join Kwantum. His role of honour is among the very best; national titles, a world title, the Primavera, de Ronde, Paris-Roubaix, Het Volk, Kuurne and of course, the Amstel Gold ‘Raas’ some five times. Raas was renowned for his tactical acumen and Dutch trait of knowing the value of a guilder; no shrinking violet he did what had to be done to win and if that included taking tows from team mates on the climbs and dumping frisky Italian Giovanni Battaglin on the deck in the finish straight en route his world title on home soil, well. . .

They breed them hard in Australia – Allan Peiper

Allan Peiper:
It was PEZ reader Kev Dakin who pointed out to us that before Allan Peiper – yes, another Aussie – raced with ACBB in the early 80’s, turning pro with Peugeot as the beginning of a decade long pro career which saw him ride for the mighty Panasonic team and Tulip Computers, there was a three year spell when he raced in Belgium as a junior and amateur in the 70’s. Illness ended that campaign and he returned to Australia before his second successful sojourn to Europe. But those years in Europe, much of it spent with the legendary Planckaert family there was little time for the decorum and etiquette of the professional world yet to come and money had to be made. If he was in a break and unhappy with the work rate of one of his companions, then they would be unceremoniously shown the barriers. During that time he accumulated a huge number of podium finishes but not so many winner’s bouquets – local heroes pay handsomely for those. . .

Bad ass rider and bad ass manager – Peter Post

Peter Post:
‘Classicer’ with the fastest Paris-Roubaix in history, stage race winner – the Tours of Belgium, Germany and The Netherlands all went his way – multiple national and European Champion on the track; but as with Dany Clark he’s best remembered as rider as, ‘The Kaiser’ of the sixes. Post won 65 ‘races to nowhere’ including 11 times in his home Antwerp race. When his career was shortened by injury he moved seamlessly into six day race direction, and – team management. He ruled his TI Raleigh and Panasonic teams with a fist of iron, his ‘Total Cycling’ philosophy guiding them to wins in every major race on the calendar. But not without reducing grown men to tears or leaving them to a long ride back to the team hotel after a race if he didn’t feel they’d given of their best. ‘Super Bad’.

‘Rambo,’ aka Niko Eeckhout:
A miserable late June Sunday in Antwerp, 2006. The Belgian Elite Road Race Championship on a treacherous, diesel slicked ‘crash fest’ urban circuit. Tornado Tom is in the break and has team mate Kevin Van Impe there too – it’s a formality. However, Vik, Dave and I aren’t so sure, that stocky, brick-built outhouse of a man, Eeckhout is there and we know that this is his kind of day – wet, cold, tough, a war of attrition. The cold and wet gets to Boonen, the young Phil Gil can do no better than silver and the man who has invested so much in the Belgian sunbed industry dons the red, yellow and black of national champion. Some 20 seasons a pro with 100 plus victories to his name, no wonder they christened him, ‘Rambo’.

Rikho Suun – A star behind the ‘Iron Curtain’

Rikho Suun:
If ever a race was misnamed it was the, ‘Peace Race’. As well as being viewed in the East as an ideological struggle against the decadent West there was the fact that the race was one of a very few arenas where countries under the Soviet yoke could express themselves. Poland and Czechoslovakia in particular were anything but content to be part of the Soviet Bloc and the Peace Race gave them an opportunity to bite back. Ironically, one of the men who was in the thick of the Peace Race battles as a ‘Soviet’ was actually from Tartu in Estonia. Rikho Suun rode the race on three occasions, winning five stages along the way despite, as a feared big finisher, attracted the attentions of his Polish and Czech sprint rivals. Getting ridden off the road and crashing was all part of the game with no bleating to commissars; pick yourself up, check the bike and ‘get on with it’, despite more road rash on your road rash. But Suun as well as being case hardened was no, ‘one race pony’, he won the national championships of Estonia and the Soviet Union, not to mention winning stages in the Tour de l’Avenir, Tour of Luxembourg – against the professionals, Tour of Slovakia, Tour of Yugoslavia, GP Tell, Tour of Sweden – also against the pros and Tour of Poland. Bizarrely, he chose to turn pro in Spain for Kelme once ‘the wall came down’.

‘Never trust a Dutchman’ – Adrie van der Poel

Adrie van der Poel:
VdP as well as being a Classic winner, world cyclo-cross champion and father of the phenomenon that is Mathieu was also the ‘Capo’, of the peloton. If a favour was required then Adrie was the man to ask. But ‘flick’ him at your peril. The story goes of a young rider who was leading his own national tour, he cut a deal with VdP for help during the remainder of the race, duly won the GC but failed to keep his part of the bargain and didn’t cough the guilders to the Dutchman. The man in question found life in the continental peloton very difficult thereafter, no one advised of hazards or would work with him in a breakaway. Best not to ‘flick’ Adrie. . .

Frans Verbeeck – Hard is an understatement

Frans Verbeeck:
The story goes that milkman turned pro bike rider turned back to milkman went to see a kermis with his dad. Unimpressed by what he witnessed he bleated on about it in the car on the way home; Verbeeck senior retorted that if he thought he could do better, then he should get back on his bike again. Frans did that very thing and became the archetypal disciple of the, ‘Classics are won in the winter’ philosophy. There were hours, more hours and interval training in the sand dunes. His problem was that his team mates didn’t share his bull rhino constitution and he needed a big pool of team mates as most were burned up by the end of April. He never landed a ‘Monument’ but was a prolific winner, taking the Belgian National Championship, Het Volk twice, the Flèche Wallonne, Amstel Gold, Scheldeprijs, Brabantse Pijl and GP E3 as part of a glorious palmarès.

Gary Wiggins – Not a man to get the wrong side of

Wiggins G:
No, no the shaved headed, bearded, tattoo-ed ex-Olympic and Tour de France champion turned EuroSport pundit, rather his father, Gary. Yet another Aussie who bought that one way ticket back in the early 70’s, initially to race for the London based Archer Road Club wish was sponsored by Cutty Sark whisky. The club’s supremo, Stuart Benstead regularly welcomed Aussies in to the fold and they repaid his faith with plenty of wins, raising the club’s profile and keeping the sponsor happy. But the Cutty Sark was but a stepping stone for Wiggins, he turned pro in the UK with Falcon in 1976 before crossing the Channel to Belgium where he embarked upon his quest to break into the world of the six days. Season 80/81 saw Wiggins rated 49th on the Six Day circuit, off three starts. By 83/84 he was 7th off 13 starts; if you observe that Hans Henrik Oersted was 8th, Tony Doyle 9th and Urs Freuler 10th – world champions all, then you realise the level the man was at. In 84/85 he was eighth in the rankings, again off 13 finishes. Season 85/86 saw him 11th off 10 starts; however in 86/87 he was a distant 53rd off seven starts and the end was nigh. But to come from the other side of the world and battle his way in to the highest levels of that milieu told you all you needed to know about Gary Wiggins. ‘Hard’ doesn’t do him justice.

Peter Post wasn’t shy of an argument with the UCI commissar

# If you think there are still hard men we need to mention – and I’ve just remembered ‘Ward’ Sels – then drop us a line, Bad Ass 3 might be coming. . .

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