What's Cool In Road Cycling

Dieter Kemper – Book Translation

Lance Armstrong, Jan Ullrich, Alberto Contador, Marco Pantani: Heroes of modern cycling, who attracted millions of people to the TVs and the streets. Above all, they deserve the honor of having taken cycling from a niche and stylized it into a mass phenomenon. They have been the winners of numerous Tour de France and World Cup victories, but all of them have fallen a long way because of years of doping abuse. But these are not the heroes that interest me, not the heroes I want to talk about here …

My true cycling heroes are men of days gone by. They drove at a time before blood doping and million-dollar contracts. Cyclist with heart and fighting spirit. Heroes of paved streets and wooden tracks. Duels at some crazy pace without crumple zone. Faces, truly drawn by extreme effort and pain. The unleashed man, dissolved in total agony and irrepressible joy. They are the war children and their fathers. They had little but gave everything. One of them was my Dad …

The world needs heroes and role models. Personalities who impress us and whom we want to emulate. We gain motivation from their achievements and we would like to match our icons. Their power. Their charisma. There is a fire burning in them. You cannot see it, but you can feel it. They have that certain something we want to own. They inspire us, because we also want to feel it, this intoxication of victory. We want to be like them. When the heart has long left healthy frequency ranges and tirelessly tries to pump fresh oxygen into the leached body. When the legs are getting heavier and heavier, but still carried by a stoic monotony that drives the driver further and further towards the finish line, then in cycling the “giants” make their appearance. Few can break this imaginary wall of clumsiness and exhaustion. Their names are well known – Eddy Merckx, called the “cannibal”, Jacques Anquetil, the “Cool” or Fausto Coppi nicknamed “World Champion of the World Champions”. My father did not have a nickname, but for me he was the “fighter”. How so? Because his career started with a crash and ended in a crash. Because he has fallen more often than he has won. And yet he always got up again, fought like a lion (as his sign of the zodiac – Leo). Even if he did not win, his dynamic driving style has always impressed viewers. Or, stop! He had an official nickname, if only for a short time: During the Tour de France in 1961 on the leg to Roubaix – he was 23 – there was a crash on the cobblestones, my father in the middle of it. He suffered a severe laceration on his forehead and had to drive the next two days with a white head bandage. The French newspapers called him “L’Ange Blanc”, the “white angel”. After the sixth stage he had to give up exhausted, the blood loss was too much, and the white angel fell into oblivion.

These men were cyclists of the old school and role models of millions at the same time. They achieved incredible success – won stages and achieved overall victories in the big Tours. They dominated roads and tracks. They shaped generations of young, up-and-coming drivers who wanted to follow in their footsteps. They stood for the perfect and consummate athletes of their sport. They always redefined the limit of the possible. Sporting role models that inspired or inspired people to such an extent did not exist many.

Defied by many but defeated by only a few.

So, I want to tell you about my cycling hero of the 50s, 60s and 70s. He was a club driver from a modest family and was my father: Dieter Kemper. He was very good on the road and later even better on the track. He too has won many titles and prizes, he too was in the spotlight of the public. Young and hungry for success, always loved sports, that is how he described himself when asked about his youth. Honestly, I did not know many of the legendary names and faces until I got my hands on some of my dad’s old photo albums.

Side by side photos with different but fantastic perspectives on their suffering in the mountains. Their faces are marked by pain, sweat and exhaustion. Simply unbelievable. Through my father, I got to know them all – the giants of cycling: Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, Rudi Altig, Felice Gimondi, Francesco Moser, Charly Gaul, Federico Bahamontes or Hennes Junkermann. It was like meeting Pele or Muhammad Ali. And my dad was one of them! In the circle of his former opponents, colleagues and friends, I saw him with different eyes, because so far, I knew him simply as my father, not as the “cycling world champion”. When he finished his career, I was just five years old. Too young to understand what my old man really did professionally. At the grammar school my teachers asked me: “Kemper – Dieter Kemper? Is your father THE famous cycle hero?” The stories of my parents’ friends about my father’s career fascinated me, but it was as if they were talking about another person. I just could not imagine: My dad, who taught me swimming and told me anecdotes about Australia and America, my Dad who was wearing a toupee – should he be this daring athlete? I was happy, but I took it that way, without any deeper thoughts. Only much later did I understand his ability, his achievements, his strength. Today I feel pride and awe when I think of my father. But what interested me most was not just his successes or victories, but above all his anecdotes about cycling. For hours I could listen to these stories, was spellbound like a little boy at the campfire with exciting adventurous stories …

From today’s point of view, for many the technology on the bike is more important than many a race or even its preparation. Much works today; often only expensive frames, shiny chains, shimmering spokes or shaved calves count. Championships, medals and trophies are the biggest in the world anyway. Because only trophies are apparently the evidence of a hero of the sport.
I thought so for a long time, but now I know I was wrong. Trophies are not the sole accomplishment by which success should be measured. This is not just about titles, but also – and most of all – the circumstances in which they had to be achieved. I was always most shocked – and still am today, how often it was cheated in cycling! Races were “postponed” or manipulated, competitors were sold or bribed, etc. Especially the pacemakers in the stayer race seemed to ride well only for extra pay. The pacemakers were the “pulse generator” and tactics in the stayer races. The cyclists could not do much more than drive behind. So, if a pacemaker made a mistake, the cyclist could do almost nothing to iron it out. Consequently, the cyclists were at their mercy. Since my father was always a good soul, he was unfortunately very often victim of dubious bribery. The result: Many races he could have won because of his skills, but he lost. Either because he had not “smeared/bribed” his pacemaker or because his pacemaker was bought by a competitor. The dubious situation with the pacemakers at that time denounced a German newspaper for the 1970 World Cup in Leicester / England openly:

“It’s primarily a scramble for the pacemakers. They represent a very idiosyncratic guild who often open their hands for earning potential. They are mainly Dutch, because in Amsterdam there are lots of regular races on a weekly basis. And it is mainly the Belgian Meuleman who likes to see himself as the conductor of the rattling orchestra. Being a pacemaker is not just determined by sincerity. On a racetrack you can hit your opponent as you drive slower and wait for him to catch him in the attack, give him a sharp gust of wind and drive him off the reel. Of course, the best pacemaker can do nothing, if he has a bad athlete behind him. But even the best cyclist cannot do anything if the pacemaker does not drive at the pace he could drive, or if he drives at such an absurd pace or speeds up so stupidly that his man loses the protective role. In earlier times, pacemakers and cyclists were mostly a team that had joined together for better and for worse.

There were enough capable people in both divisions, and there were plenty of events and earning opportunities. Today, the few clever pacemakers are negotiated, and what happens on the racetrack is determined much more by the pacemakers than the cyclist.”

My father told me: „On winter tracks/seasons I was almost unbeatable because I had good pacemakers. They were paid by Otto Weckerling, the former boss of the Dortmunder Westfalenhalle. But during summer time – when all the world cups took place – I had to pay the pacemakers on my own. I couldn’t afford a good pacemaker, so I ended up getting 3rd class people – and lost many races that I could’ve won otherwise. Maybe I could have won more races or titles. But in my strongest years, I was an all-rounder, I drove stayer races, pursuit races, 6-day races and road races alternately. With this constant change from the track to the road, from the stayer back to the normal track race, from flat to mountain, you cannot specialize enough, and the preparation times are much too short” my father said without regret.

Best German cyclist 1960 (Amateurs)
Yellow Jersey at „4 Days of Dunkerque“ 1st stage
Winner of the prologue and Yellow Jersey at „Tour de Suisse“, winner of the Green Jersey
Particpiant „Tour de France“ (he was also invited to the Tour in 1968 and 1972 but since he had already signed contracts for other races, he had to decline)
7 * German Champion
7 * European Champion (2 * Team with Oldenburg and Bugdahl, 5 * Stayer)
3 * Bronze medals at World Cups (2 pursuit, 1 Stayer)
2 * World Cup winner of the Stayer (Weltpokal)
5 * Winner of the Great Stayer Christmas Price
1 * World Champion Stayers
26 * wins at Madisons
2 * Athlete of the year (from Dortmund) 1973, 1975

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