The DEVIL: PEZ-Clusive Interview!
The Man Behind the Fork – You’ve seen him roadside at the Tour for years, and a photo with him is a must-have for true fans. The Devil is perhap the most famous fan in sports – and PEZ caught up with him as he made ready for the 2004 Tour.
He’s crazy. He’s nuts. He’s German! You gotta love this guy! His real name is Didi Senft, and he’s from Storkow in Germany near Berlin. He drives all over Europe in his mini-mini-van, towing a huge bicycle and planting himself along the pro cycling race routes.
It’s contagious! Stand near the Devil and you’ll find
yourself yelling “allez allez allez!“
PCN: Didi, you are the maybe most famous cycling fan in all the land! You pop up at all the important races, wearing red tights, holding a pitch-fork, chasing riders and causing general comotion by the roadside. How did it all begin?
Didi: Well, I’ve been passionate for cycling for 30, 40 years. I was an amateur road racer, riding for different clubs in the former GDR and East-Berlin. Unfortunately, I never made it to the national team. But I wanted to be live at the most important race of this time, the Course de la Paix – so I went there every year as a fan to follow the different stages. Since 1993, I follow the races as “The Devil” as I felt that there was something missing among the fans. Someone who cheers them up, fans as well as riders, and who gives the races a certain, special surrounding. During the past 11 years, the Devil’s role definitely became a part of my personality.
PCN: It is said, that you’re a holder of several records, that you are listed in the Guinness Book of Records. What’s this all about?
DS: Yes, that’s true. I have built about 75 fun bikes. Among them is the world’s biggest bike. It’s 7.80 x 3.70 meters!
The Bike, the Devil, and the Pez – roadside at TDF2003.
PCN: Is this the bike that you take to the roads of the Tour de France, close to the Devil?
DS: No, that’s a different, a smaller bike. It’s a problem to transport it over the long distances and expecially through the mountains, so I use a smaller bike when at races or the TdF.
PCN: You are full of energy and enthusiasm at the races, and thousands of fans have met you chasing and shouting. Over a 3 week race like the TdF, for example, what hurts most, the muscles in your legs (from chasing riders), the muscles in your arm (from holding the fork) or the muscles in your face?
DS: To be honest, I don’t really have pain in my muscles. The biggest problem is my breath – it sometimes really hurts as I am running around and chasing for several hours a day.
PCN: How do you find the best place for your spectacle? It seems that it’s usually not the key point of a stage.
DS: Yes, this is true. I try to avoid those places, as there is usually too much of a crowd, which does not really suit my role for which I need some space. I usually arrive several hours before the riders, so I can install my bike and paint the road. For the TdF, I carry about 50 litres of white wallpaint with me and I draw forks and bicycles on the roads. I have never painted names on the road, but this year I will write “Vino” down there as it is really a pity that he’ll not be in the T-Mobile team at the TdF. When the advertising caravan arrives, I jump on all the vehicles, I chase the caravan girls and I scream at them. When the riders are passing by, I never afflict them. It’s a question of respect for them. I chase them for the media, only from behind and never too close. Of course, there are riders who change the side of the road when seeing me. I don’t know why they do so, but I take it as a sign not to chase them. Especially some riders of the female peloton do so.
Allez allez allez! Chasing Jan at the Tour of Germany.
PCN: How’s your relationship with the riders, the soigneurs and the race officials?
DS: All in all, the cycling community is a big family. Everyone knows everybody. So it happens that you have a cup of coffee together with the riders or a drink with the policemen who follow the TdF. This way, I usually get the race results of other day’s stage, as I don’t have a TV with me and as I don’t speak any other language than German… On the other hand, there has been some trouble with the police from the different departements as well as in the Giro d’Italia. When I was painting the road (which was brand-new, especially made for the Giro), they asked me to follow and I really had to insist not to be arrested. In the past, they have always been tolerant to the fans…
When I was travelling to the 2003 World Championships in Hamilton, I was nearly not let through the customs at the airport. They didn’t want to let me in as a tourist. I nearly had to travel back to Germany again. Well, it looked like they never had seen a passenger in a devil’s costume arriving by plane…
PCN: Do you have different costumes, fitting the races you are at? Or a warmer one for mountain and rain stages?
DS: Although having thought about changing my costume, I try to stay original and not to make changes in my outfit. When it is cold or raining, I wear warm clothes under the costume. And a polka-dot suit for mountain stages or a pink one for the Giro is definitely not planned…
PCN: On the other hand, you always adapt your fork to the different races with flags and different colours. Is it always the same fork? And which material is it made of?
DS: Yes, my fork always fits the event. In total, I have made about 20 different forks. My latest model is made of aluminium, which means it is not that safe. For races overseas, I have got a plastic model – it’s not as nice as the other ones, but I am allowed to take it into the plane.
The Devil catches a ride from his sponsor – German auto parts maker LuK.
PCN: You’ve been following pro races for decades now, what are some of the changes you have seen?
DS: Well, there are stage races which are definitely up and coming, like the Deutschland-Tour. The enthusiasm grows year by year. – On the other hand, the situation becomes worse in the Giro d’Italia. That’s what I noticed this year. There are fewer fans than in the past. This might be due to the riders’ personalities. When there still was a Marco Pantani, the Italian “tifosi” were enthusiastic. Now it has cooled down. I fear it’s due to the mentality of the Italian fans: they seem to cheer this rider up, who is actually wearing pink. So it’s no wonder that Pantani got depressed… For Damiano Cunego, I hope that he’ll have a strong personality which will not get affected too easily by the public, the fans and the media.
PCN: What do you expect from this year’s TdF? And who do you count on for the future?
DS: Well, I hope it will be again a very thrilling race! For me as a German, it would be great if Jan could win. But the chances that Lance will go for his 6th victory seem to be really good. – For the future, I count on Patrik Sinkewitz. He’s going to become one of the great champions!
PCN: What are the plans for the rest of your season?
DS: During the TdF, I am going to do some insights for German TV. A trip to the Olympics was planned, but I probably will not be able to go there as there is not enough sponsor money left. In addition to following two stage races in Germany, the Brandenburg-Rundfahrt and Hessen-Rundfahrt, and would like to head then to the World Championships in Verona.
PCN: Well, Didi, good luck for your further plans – and many thanks for the interview!