What's Cool In Road Cycling

Interview: Klaus-Peter Looks Back & Lives Ahead

In our indepth interview with the 1970/80’s pro, maillot jaune, and former World Cyclocross champ Klaus-Peter Thaler, he graciously answered all our questions, and then some… In today’s last of 3 parts, he shares stories of his successes in ‘cross, the business world, giving to worthy causes, why he’d never coach again, and the Pickwick Bicycle Club…

Seeing that we had pretty well covered much of his road racing, it was about time to pick up on his amazing successes with cyclocross. His domination of the sport, having won 16 German championships to add to the two amateur and two professional world championships in the sport, is still talked about among German cyclocrossers today.

Klaus-Peter loved cyclocross, and won the 1985 ’cross world championship after he retired from the road.

PEZ: You raced and were very successful in both road racing and cyclocross; which discipline did you prefer?

K-P Thaler: [Laughs]…both.
At the end of the cyclocross season, I would look forward to the road racing. I would have a nice new bike that was all clean, and wouldn’t have to ride the wide cyclocross tires. Also, starting the first races in the south of France was always welcomed. Likewise, at the end of the long season on the road, tired of the long stages and the training sessions, I was looking forward to be racing through woods and fields, with shorter distances and a bit of “walking” in between. It was always a welcomed change. This renewal of interest every season was also my motivation for doing both, even though it was anything but easy.

There were only a few riders during my active days who would race both, and later it almost never happened. Like me, Roger de Vlaeminck did both very successfully, and became cyclocross world champion as well as performed well as a road racer. There were a few others. But after that, this generation of “double-starters” became extinct, you can almost say. It was no longer possible to combine both in this way. In the “old days”, cyclocross had been a good way to train for the road racers. So after the cyclocross world championships in February you could go straight to the first smaller road races. But now the racing season begins in January, which means that if you are a cyclocross participant you can not build up enough form to ride these early road races and still be competitive. In some cases I would ride the cyclocross world championships and then after a week or even three days I would ride a road race and still win it outright. That is something you would not be able to do in this way anymore today.

PEZ: You have also mentioned your coaching of the German Cycling Team at the 1984 Olympics. Would you ever consider going back to coaching for a national team?

K-P Thaler: No, never again. In those days, working with amateurs in particular, it was very nice. It helped that I have a degree as a qualified trainer for cycling from the Trainer Academy of Cologne (Ed: the highest trainer license you can get in Germany). But I do not think that I will ever work again as a trainer. Actually, what I would have liked to do instead of being a trainer, is to work as “Directeur Sportif” for a team.

Things are different now than they were in the mid-1980s because as a federal coach, I never knew how the riders were training at home. I picked them for the team during championships, normal races or the Olympic games without ever quite knowing exactly how good their form was. Nevertheless, my success as a trainer was directly connected with their success as racers. When they would not do well, I was the bad coach.

But I didn’t have the leeway at that time to take proper care of the riders, at least not in the way that you can as a coach in team sports like football or as Directeur Sportif in cycling today. And if you cannot do that, then it makes little sense. In the eighties there was unfortunately no professional team who would have taken me on as their Directeur Sportif because, at the time, Germany did not have it’s own professional cycling team. And to get your foot in the door as a Directeur Sportif of a team abroad was very hard. Each country had is own retired racers and qualified trainers who could supply the teams with effective Directeur Sportifs. That’s basically why I had next to no chance of continuing as a coach in professional cycling.

Thaler takes a stage of the Tour of Germany c. 1977.

PEZ: Now, about your victory at the 1985 WM Cyclocross, you won, as you say, after only several weeks of training, then boycotted the 1986 edition, and didn’t defend your title. Can you tell us about the circumstances around that?

K-P Thaler: Well, I have always been a proponent spectator-friendly cyclocross. But the choice of race course often was the problem with many championships. You had to be a good “runner” in order to win. That meant that cycling, and technically good cycling – the power required for cycling – were not decisive factors. Instead, it was more important to have long legs and be able to run fast. I never liked that. I always advocated that courses should be hard, but also “rideable”.

However, after my 1985 victory, the following year had a course in Belgium which made no sense at all. There was a proper path but instead of being able to use that, we had to run along side that path in the field. It had rained for weeks and the prescribed track was totally unrideable. Consequently, I protested against being made to ride in such conditions and on such a poor track.

The other riders, of course, did not follow my actions. But in retrospect I was vindicated by one of them, namely Roland Liboton. He too had been world champion about 4 or five times, the top Belgian ‘crosser of the era. He started 1986 the race, but quit half way through and said that none of them should have agreed to ride the race. That was a PR disaster for the Belgians, since this was their top rider claiming the course was unridable. Interestingly, the race officials sat in a well heated climatized truck and did not even have traces of mud on their shoes, while we had to muck in right behind this truck and carry our bikes for hundreds of meters. That for me does not qualify as racing.

It is part of the sport to run with you bike, but if the cyclocross world championships, the most important race of the season, are being held on such an unridable track, then I do not believe this to be worthy of the world championships. What you have to realise is that some teams would arrive a week in advance, then train on the course, causing the quality of the course to get worse and worse. Then the junior riders would race it, then the amateurs and finally us, the professional racers. This is bad for the sport: there were so many unhelpful pictures in the press only showing mud-encrusted riders carrying their bikes on their shoulders. However, cyclocross is a really beautiful sport where you have, for the most part, very fast and picturesque races. Excitingly, there have been some great races in the past few years with lead groups and break away attempts, similar to a road race criterium – all this despite being on an off road course in difficult terrain. This is what I believe, cyclocross should be.

PEZ: Since retiring in 1988, you have become a very successful businessman, with your company Thaler Sports (https://www.thalersports.de/). What gave you the inspiration you needed to be successful outside of cycling?

K-P Thaler: My worry was, and my wife’s worry, too, was what to do when I would not be cycling professionally anymore. I knew that I could not very well go back to being a teacher. I had never completed the teacher’s training course, in particular the teaching practice at a school, which is part of the programme. I had completed the university course but had no practical experience and I did not want to go back to teaching in any case. And to work as a trainer was also not an option.

So while still actively racing in 1985/86, I tried to obtain a licence to distribute Adidas cycling shoes. A few years before this time I had organized this for the manufacturer of my racing bikes. I went back to ask the head of the company whether they would turn this particular part of the business back for me to handle, which is what happened. I started out with Adidas shoes, while still taking part in some races, but on my free time, went to sell the shoes to retailers myself. Those were the beginnings of what would later become Thaler Sports.

In addition, we would manufacture our own line of clothing, “Tricot Thaler”. Adidas saw how we did our own clothing, and gave us the license to produce Adidas cycling textiles. We also had the distribution license for their cycling shoes. This was at the beginning of the nineties, selling it nationally as well as in a few countries surrounding Germany. We supplied the Team Telekom clothing in their first two years of sponsorship with Adidas. Then we added the helmet brand “Met”, an established Italian brand – now used by Gerolsteiner. Unfortunately, the Adidas distribution licence ran out two years ago. Adidas decided to do it themselves believing to be able to do a more successful job than we did. And luckily, just as I was left to find myself some new business, the brand “Protective” was being offered for sale. So we went into Protective cycle clothing as well ski- and snowboard clothing. What is new for us is our work with “Lake”, the mountain bike and racing shoe brand from America.

PEZ: Yeah, I used to ride with Lake. They were my first cycling shoe, Andy Hampsten raced with them, so I had to too.

K-P Thaler: Yeah, well I am friends with the owner of Lake, Lee Katz. And I will be meeting up with him tomorrow. I am a member of the oldest bicycle club in the world. It is called the Pickwick Bicycle club and it was established in 1870, or something like that. It’s a club in London and as a member, I can invite some guests to join me. So I asked Lee to come along. It is a traditionally conservative dinner in a very large room with around 600 guests. But the number of members to the club is actually limited because everyone has to take a name from the book by Charles Dickens called the Pickwick Papers, so when somebody dies, then a new member can be invited into the club.

I have been a member for around four years; I was invited by a British bike rider who asked me to come to London to join. I told him that I like this kind of style, a real man’s club, they really celebrate their dinner, and so I very much wanted to join. He asked the other club members if they would take a foreigner into the club. They agreed, and thought it would be good to have a German in the team, so now I have the name Tom Smart. And though this club isn’t exactly made up of real cyclists, some people are actually involved in the cycling industry, while some members have nothing to do with cycling. But it is the oldest bicycle club in the world.

There will be a garden party, and they are always celebrating in the first week of December. It’s very nice. Lee Katz was invited for the first time last year and he was so excited about that, and he said it was unbelievable.

PEZ: How fantastic. Well, that certainly ranks you as one of the Elder Statesmen of international cycling, one of the most honoured, with something like that

K-P Thaler: Yeah, yeah.

Menschen fьr Kinder – FOR A GOOD CAUSE
PEZ: Something else that you have been recently very active in is the Cancer foundation – Menschen fьr Kinder. What spurred you to help with that foundation?

K-P Thaler: I have been supporting this cause since 1983. I had been approached by the founders of the Tour der Guten Hoffnung (ed: the Tour of Good Hope). Professor Lampert from the German town of GieЯen asked if I could participate in the tour – as the only professional cyclist. It was at the time when I was still national coach. So I took off a few days and agreed to join. I have two healthy kids and to do something for sick children is certainly a worthy cause. From thereon it developed into a continuous commitment. I have worked a lot for the organisation. And it has been a lot of fun to get closely involved with a large group of people and go cycling for one week every year. Our latest fund raising record was Ђ 905.000 which does allow you to do a lot and help many people.

We are of course trying to attract new prominent riders and my dream would be to have Lance Armstrong on one of the tours, because he also is involved in the cause to help cancer patients. But naturally at the moment he is still so involved in his own professional cycling that he is currently unable to join us. But Eric Zabel has already ridden a portion of the tour with us, and other prominent sports personalities, cyclists and people from completely different disciplines, have joined. That is what makes the tour so enjoyable.

And we can really claim that out of every Euro that is donated, 100% go straight towards the cause. The costs of running the organisation are being paid for through other means. And everyone who comes to take part in the tour pays for his own travel. The whole event has developed into something very special. This has landed me with one of Germany’s highest awards, the bundesverdienstreuz (similar to an English MBE). I am not a great fan of these honours for their own sake, but the fact that this award is greatly covered by the media, it helps to open doors for any future “tours” because of the exposure received. So that is “the tour of hope” on the one hand, and then there is charity “Menschen fьr Kinder”, a regional sub-organisation, that cooperates closely with the Tour der Hoffnung, and of which I am a founding member. This organisation also donates money from its own tour which we ride together. Funds often reach around Ђ 80-90.000, which is raise independently for the cause. So I often participate in this tour, too.

PEZ: You have had such success on so many different levels. What is it that you do now which fulfils the competitive spirit that your racing obviously tapped into?

K-P Thaler: I am still racing – car racing. This is important to me because I am still taking part in competitions. This is not at a very high level, more of an amateur’s level, but I have had some successes. I became champion of the German endurance series and I race on the Nьrburgring in long distance races with two drivers in one car. My partner and I have won the race once and many times took second. And this is very important to me because I still need the spirit and thrill of competition. When I am at the start I feel the rush of adrenalin and it takes me back to the sporting experiences of my professional days.

And I ski for my own pleasure, but I still try to push as hard as possible, which still gives me great satisfaction.

PEZ: How did you get started in motor racing?

K-P Thaler: When I won the world championships in 1985, I was asked by the automobile industry to take part in secure driving training and the guests would normally be journalists. But they asked me if I were interested in taking part in a car race. I said “of course”, since though my first car was a Mini Cooper an ex factory car, I was always interested in motor sport. So this was the start of my time as a driver for one of the cars in the Nьrburg ring race series. The Nьrburg ring I knew well from my 1978 time time at the world championships at

PEZ: There seems little you haven’t done, and certainly everything you have attempted you seem to have been very successful at. It has been a great pleasure talking with you about your career, and I hope we can do it again, maybe meet up for a coffee.

K-P Thaler: Yeah, why not. I hope so too.

And so there you have it. With answers as full as this, you may want to read over a few of his responses again. But if you still are clamouring for more, you can check the websites of the various businesses and organizations we have been talking about:

Read Part 1 of our Klaus-Peter Thaler Interview here.

Read Part 2 of the Klaus-Peter Thaler Interview here.

Check out Klaus-Peter’s links – and test your German!



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