What's Cool In Road Cycling

Paris-Tours Retro: Jurgen Tschan Solo In ’70

Paris-Tours is the “Sprinters’ Classic”, that may well be, and whilst fast men, like Belgian Riks, Van Looy and Van Linden, Italian Nicola Minali and German Erik Zabel have all won for the specialist-sprinters, slipping-away from the pack is perfectly feasible. Just last year, wily old fox, ‘Fred’ Guesdon gave France a rare classic win after he and Kurt-Asle Arvesen kept the hounds at bay. Erik Dekker did the same in 2004; and in 1970 so did a 23 year-old West German in his first pro season, Jurgen Tschan.

His Peugeot team mate that day was a former carpenter from Glasgow, Billy Bilsland.

PEZ: What was the Peugeot game-plan that day, Billy?
BB: It wasn’t really like that at Peugeot, it wasn’t the best organised team in the world. We all just turned-up and sorted it out on the road.

PEZ: Were the parcours just the same, back then?
BB: Very similar, pan-flat with a couple of little hills coming in to Tours. It was very hot that day, I recall and it was a long shift at work, we were in the saddle for nearly seven hours (286 kilometres in 6-58).

You never had time to get bored though, you have to concentrate all the time, because the wind can change direction, an echelon can form and if you’re dreaming you’ll miss the split.

I knew the parcours pretty well because I had won the amateur version the year before, it was a bit shorter, at around 200 kilometres.

PEZ: What did you eat in a seven hour race, in the 70’s?
BB: Bananas were popular and a French company had just brought-out the first energy drinks and biscuits.

PEZ: What about your bike?
BB: Peugeot’s big selling point was that you could walk-into a bike shop and buy exactly the same bike as the team rode.

They weren’t amazing, but they were ok, Reynolds 531 steel tubing with Stronglight, Simplex and Mafac equipment.

Walter Godefroot

Walter Godefroot (later to become manager to ‘Big Jan’ at Telekom) was one of the stars in the team, he had a De Rosa specially-made and sprayed-up to look like a team bike. The DS, Gaston Plaud told him to get rid of it, or he would stop his salary, which was a 1,000 pounds per month – big money in 1970. Plaud said that people weren’t stupid and would recognise that it wasn’t a Peugeot.

PEZ: Tell us about the race.
BB: The break went at the feed, at around 160 k, Tschan and I both got with it and that was pretty-much that; a lot of guys climbed-off as soon as it became apparent that the break of the day had gone.

The classy Dutchman, Jan Janssen (1968 Tour winner and 1964 world pro road champion) escaped coming in to the finish and Tschan managed to go with him. Janssen was by-far the better sprinter, so he told Tschan that if he collaborated fully in the break then he would compensate him financially.

Jan Janssen must have many good memories from his career, but collapsing at Paris-Tours probably isn’t one of them.

The Dutchman, Rene Pijnen had slipped away from our group and was closing on them; Janssen didn’t want him to get-on because Pijnen had a good sprint. But as the finish approached, Janssen collapsed, he fell off his bike, the heat had got to him.

Plaud gave a rare bit of team direction at this stage, Tschan looked back at the car, as if to say; ‘what do I do?’ and Plaud shouted; ‘keep going!’ Tschan carried-on to win on his own and Pijnen was second.

Rene Pijnen put in a big effort to get across to Tschan at the end, but Tschan managed to hold him off.

Pez: Some people say that it might not have been just the heat that made Janssen collapse.
BB: *On this one, Billy just raises his eyebrows*

PEZ: Tell us about Tschan.
BB: I roomed with him and taught him French; so we used to chat away in ‘French’. One day, our French team mate, Jean Pierre Danguilaume, said to me; ‘I didn’t know you could speak German, Billy’ – Jean Pierre thought what we were speaking as French, was German!

Barry Hoban always says that; ‘Jurgen Tschan was the only German in Europe who spoke French with a Glasgow accent!’

Seriously, he was a good rider, he was German champion and made the podium in events as diverse as Henninger Turm and the Four days of Dunkirk; he went-on to have a good six-day career too (six wins).

In the spring of 1970, the weather in Belgium was terrible, wet and cold, Tschan didn’t like the bad weather, so we went back to his home in Mannheim to train. It was mild and there were good roads to train on; I got looked-after very well there too.

PEZ: You got 11th place that day.
BB: With the benefit of hindsight, I think I could have got 4th. I’d been doing a lot of work for Tschan, blocking moves and countering attacks, so I was a bit tired.

In those days the race did one lap of a kilometre finishing circuit, the Belgian, Guido Reybrouck (Paris-Tours winner in ’64, ’66 & ’68)) jumped-away at the start of the circuit to get third and I was on his wheel, he was so strong that I couldn’t hold him. That effort winded me for the sprint, I should have tried harder to stay with him or just let him go, to save myself for the finish.

PEZ: It was a good pay-day though, wasn’t it?
BB: My share of the winnings was around 500; that was a lot of money back then: a carpenter in Britain was paid 20 per week in those days.

I remember too that Poulidor (8 times Tour de France podium finisher, Raymond Poulidor of France) finished that day, despite missing the break, he didn’t like to ‘chuck-it’ and since there were prizes for the first 30, there was always a chance he would be in the prizes.

Changed days in, a world where some stars’ seasons now finish with the Tour and seven figure salaries are common.

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