Cycling Where are you now, black-and-white cyclists?
A deep dive into faces of the past.
Thierry Marie has a trumpet.
Every so often, the photographer Cor Vos dumps a vast collection of vintage photos in a folder. The pictures themselves are seldom anything special – no Gruber-esque vibes, no Kramon-esque framing – but they’re evocative as hell, mostly because of the glimpse they provide of an era long before most of our journeys in cycling began. Accompanying these black and white snapshots is sparse metadata, usually little more than a rider name and sometimes not even that.
Divorced from a knowledge of who these people are or what they were good at back in a pre-colour era, one is left to guess – or, sometimes, Google. And half the time when you do that, you learn of bonkers lives or tragic ends.
I don’t know who many of these riders are, but I felt compelled to find out more about them; to fill in some notes under these faces of the past, to make a black and white photo mean something more. Maybe you’re the same.
This is the Dutch climber Steven Rooks, pictured at the 1988 Tour de France. I’d never heard of him, probably because I was one year old at the time this picture was taken, but he had a pretty staggering career, finishing second at that year’s Tour, winning two stages over the course of his 13-year-long stint as a pro, winning two Dutch championships, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Amstel Gold, and many many more races. As tends to be the case with riders of this era, many of those results were artificially boosted. He admitted after retirement to having used testosterone and amphetamines throughout his career, bolstering that heady blend with EPO from 1989. In slightly more charming news, the weirdly paparazzi-esque picture of him on Wikipedia is from 2010 and shows that he pootles around on a folding bike sometimes, which is a bit of a vibe. Also a vibe: how he seems to use his Instagram page as a kind of text-heavy newsletter. The cheeky younger man with a mullet is Gert Jakobs, the visibly annoyed older one is Ludo Peeters, and they are having a fun old time together at the 1987 Tour de France. Jakobs is pretty amped about the ‘Superconfex’ on the brim of the hat – a failed chain of clothing stores that went out of business in 2006. Peeters’ career began in 1974, and included – among 42 victories – three Tour de France stage wins and two victories apiece at Paris-Brussels and Paris-Tours. He started a cycling team under his own name in 2012, and I can’t find out much more about what he’s up to now, other than that he does not appear to be the ‘boudoir’ photographer (NSFW) of the same name on Instagram. Gert Jakobs is now extremely bald and shiny of head, and in 2020 was very proud of his son for giving an “injured wanderer” some chocolate, cans of soft drink, and cash. “The tramp was very thin, had a black eye and may have been beaten up. They just had to do something for him,” Jakobs told a newspaper at the time. As for what the former rider is up to now, he is a charismatic motivational speaker and analyst who will leave “your ears … ringing at all the fun facts and figures.” If this man reminds you of a famous face of today, you’re not wrong. It’s only bloody Mathieu and David van der Poel‘s dad, Adrie van der Poel, necking a sparkling water. Over his excellent career, Adrie laid a legacy that his youngest son would go on to stomp all over: a world championship in cyclocross, six classics, two stages of the Tour de France. He also tested positive for strychnine (!) in 1983, which he attributed to a contaminated pigeon pie that Raymond Poulidor had cooked for a family meal. Whew. Today, he’s good for a retweet in support of his son’s mattress sponsor. Here’s Canadian rider Steve Bauer. Bauer is now a director at Israel-Premier Tech, but during his racing career he was staggeringly prodigious. He finished as high as fourth at the Tour de France (1988) and scored a pair of 10th-place finishes in both the Giro and the Tour. I could not be a bigger fan of the La Vie Claire team car, even if it has taken a bit of a knock to the bumper. Luis Herrera was a Colombian climber, who, at the 1987 Vuelta a España, became the first South American to win a Grand Tour. He’s been described by Matt Rendell, the leading cycling journalist of all things Colombian and climber-related, as “a slender god [with] tiny, extruded glass limbs,” which more or less corresponds exactly with this visual. Before becoming a figurehead of Colombian cycling, he was a gardener, working on a flower plantation. He won the KOM classification in all three Grand Tours, before retiring in 1992. Post-retirement, he has popped up in the news in a couple of interesting ways. In 2000, he was kidnapped by guerillas and held captive for just under a day, before hiking for seven hours to safety. In 2017, meanwhile, he was diagnosed with skin cancer, attributing it to long hours in the saddle without sun protection. The glass-limbed god has lived a life. Laurent Fignon is perhaps best known for losing the 1989 Tour de France to Greg Lemond by just eight seconds on the final-day time trial, but that does a disservice to his palmares. He won the Tour de France twice (1983, 1984), the Giro d’Italia once (1989) and finished third in the Vuelta a España in 1987. In total, he had 10 top-10 Grand Tour finishes, wore lovely little glasses, had a big blonde ponytail, and sadly died of cancer at the age of 50. Gerrit Solleveld (centre; the human man) surrounded by dainty-wristed Michelin mascots (the ones that are Michelin mascots) at an unspecified Tour de France. Solleveld is a two-time Tour stage winner and also scooped up the now-discontinued intermediate sprints red jersey at the 1986 edition of the race. Where is he now? According to his Strava, he’s having a lovely holiday in Curaçao. This is the fantastically named Alfons (or, Fons) De Wolf, and he has a sore elbow. De Wolf burst into prominence at the 1979 Vuelta a España where he finished top 10 on GC, won five stages, and won the points classification; a year later he’d pick up his first monument (Il Lombardia) and a few months after that his second (Milan-San Remo). He was saddled with the impossible hype of being ‘the next Eddy Merckx’ and faded from the mid-’80s, retiring in 1990 and then – this is where my interest really peaks – becoming a car parts sales rep, a PR manager for Mapei, and then a funeral director at his wife’s funeral parlour. He currently describes himself on LinkedIn as ‘Interim VIP Chauffeur’ for the ASO, which doesn’t sound very interim seeing as he’s been doing it for 13 years. Frans Maassen eyes off Dag Otto Lauritzen’s fancy custom helmet. I mean, I’m calling him Frans Maassen, but his full and correct name is the spectacular ‘Franciscus Albertus Antonius Johannes Maassen’, which really has me questioning my own naming choices as a parent. He made winning the Tour of Luxembourg look cool four years before a little-known American took the honours, and is currently a coach at Jumbo-Visma. Dag Otto Lauritzen, meanwhile, is one of Norway’s finest-ever cyclists. He won the inaugural Tour de Trump, a bronze medal in the road race at the LA Olympics, and a stage at the Tour de France. Today, he is one of the pundits on Norwegian TV’s coverage of the Tour de France, which means that he drives around in a red Skoda with his own face on the side of it while being deeply tanned as only a Norwegian man of a certain age can be. His other two major claims to fame are that Alexander Kristoff once smashed a cake in his face, and he is the star of his own oddly militaristic reality TV show called ‘Kompani Lauritzen’ in which “12 young adults who are struggling to get their lives in order, get help to cope with adult life through Dag Otto’s special education”. We’ve covered Franciscus Albertus Antonius Johannes Maassen previously; the other guy is Gert-Jan Theunisse, a Dutchman who won the KOM classification in the 1989 Tour as well as the Alpe d’Huez stage. Theunisse has had an interesting life: he tested positive on three separate occasions, retired due to heart trouble in 1995, switched to mountain biking, and was hit by a car in 1997, leaving him unable to walk for six months and partially paraplegic thereafter. Two years later, he also had a heart attack. Despite all of this, he kept racing until 2005, despite constant pain and muscular spasms and difficulty walking. The expressive face and kissable lips of Freddy Maertens, the great contemporary and rival of Eddy Merckx. A two-time world champion, Maertens was particularly mercurial in form, but at his best was staggering – at one point he won 28 out of 60 Grand Tour stages he entered. But then came a string of troubles. In 1979, he dodged death in a plane crash – he heard ominous creakings during a flight, and after he disembarked, an engine fell off on the plane’s onward flight, killing 279 passengers. Also in the ’70s, he and his wife began falling into financial difficulty, with his wife saying that their bank accounts were “plundered” after being “sweet-talked” by associates. Maertens tested positive on several occasions, and also fell into alcoholism – apparently he drank champagne during races – and spent decades repaying unpaid taxes. As of 2017, he was volunteering at a couple of cycling museums in his native Flanders. Philippa York eyes off an icecream at a race that is not specified in the metadata. As Robert Millar, she finished in fourth overall at the 1984 Tour de France, won the KOM jersey, finished second at the 1985 Giro d’Italia, finished second at the Vuelta twice, and is now an excellent cycling journalist living as her most authentic self. You love to see it. This is Henri Manders, he has a sunflower and he doesn’t care who knows it. There’s nothing I can find about his life post-cycling, but he won a Tour de France stage in 1985 and he absolutely held a sunflower once and maybe that’s enough. Julián Gorospe Artabe at the 1986 Tour de France. Gorospe rode for Reynolds and Banesto until 1994, and post-retirement was an Euskaltel-Euskadi DS during the team’s most charismatic, most orange era. The magnetic stare of Thierry Marie, an innovative Frenchman who we had cause to write about just yesterday. In addition to having the most piercing gaze this side of Sauron, Marie won six Tour de France stages (among them three prologues), wearing the yellow jersey for a combined seven days. His most famous victory did not come from a time trial, however: at the 1991 Tour de France he was the lone breakaway rider on a 234 km, six-hour solo raid – the longest successful breakaway in the post-war era of the race. “I won six stages on the Tour de France but this one is legendary. I entered the memory of the Tour,” Marie reminisced in 2015.” I am told about it practically every day.” James Franco Joey McLoughlin of Liverpool, who apparently grew up on a housing estate and was the youngest of 11 children (the mind boggles). McLoughlin’s career included a GC win at the Tour of Britain and fourth at Amstel Gold, and he was on track for Tour de France selection before tendinitis forced his withdrawal. After a couple of years racing for Z Peugeot, he rode for British teams, retiring in 1991. He was popular enough to have his own signature line of bikes, and a few blokes in a retro forum reckon he went on to work as a sales rep in the cycling industry into the mid-2000s. The wounded face of 1982 Tour of Flanders winner René Marten. He retired in 1990, and has a local sportive named after him (Memorial René Marten, for those with an inclination to take a spin in Flanders in mid-August.) The fact that it’s a ‘memorial’ implies that he is no longer with us, but there is still someone on Strava of his name riding around, so your guess is as good as mine. The Dutchman Ger (Gerald) Mak. From context clues, this photo is from 1978, his first year as a pro. He died in 1985, at the far-too-young age of 31. Raymond Meijs takes a lovely little sip of something. The Limburger announced his potential as winner of the junior men’s road race world championship in 1985, hung up his cleats in 2003, and now is the owner of “a packaging company that offers a fulfilment solution for the end logistics process of customers” who recently put a “finishing touch” on an eau de toilette designed for the TV singing competition, The Voice. This is Jacques Van Meer, and I’m not sure if he’s happy or sad (maybe happy? The older gent seems happy? The loitering man in the anorak might also be happy? But who knows?). Van Meer was a Dutchman who became national champion in 1980, rode to 26th at the Vuelta a España, won Le Samyn once, and otherwise didn’t do a whole lot else of note. I thought I’d found him on LinkedIn, but alas, it was just a New Zealand academic of the same name who looked kinda similar if you were squinting. An entire outfit that is heavy on the vibes. This is German sprinter Olaf Ludwig at an unspecified race. Hailing from East Germany, he was an amateur until 1990 – but before then he won 38 stages of the Peace Race and Olympic gold in the men’s road race at the Seoul Olympics. Once he crossed over to the pro ranks with Panasonic, his best season was 1992 – in which he won the UCI Road World Cup overall, the Four Days of Dunkirk, Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, Amstel Gold, the Champs-Élysées stage of the Tour, and finished second in Paris-Roubaix. After a move to Team Telekom, he retired, became the team’s PR guy, and then eventually became principal team manager until 2006. After that he started organising cycling tours in Bulgaria, became an ambassador for Stevens Bikes (and later, Cube), and started importing wine. He describes himself as ‘King of the Cappucino Group’, and seems to be a happy man. Holding onto the back of an ambulance (?) here is a Dutchman with a very English name, Ron Mackay. His career was nothing particularly special but you might have heard of his daughter: the much-more-Dutch-sounding Floortje Mackaij. Before Marc Madiot was weepy and yelling in a Groupama-FDJ team car, he was a professional cyclist of some note. Madiot was a two-time winner of Paris-Roubaix, finished as high as eighth at the Tour de France, won a national road title and had a bunch of top-10 results in Classics, Monuments and stage races. He also, I have just learnt, had the racing nickname of ‘Mr 1000 Volts’, and launched the team now known as Groupama-FDJ in 1997. As for today, well, he’s bespectacled, paternalistic, wears his heart extremely on his sleeve, and has overseen the career of charismatic riders like Thibaut Pinot, Brad McGee, and the horned-up David Gaudu. Not a bad legacy to leave. Last but not least, this is the man behind the lens for all of these photos: the Dutch photographer Cor Vos, now 75 years of age. I’d love to know what was happening in this photo, but the metadata just tells us that this is “photographer Cor Vos during the debate”. What he’s debating and whether he’s outraged or enthused will remain a mystery. What did you think of this story?
😐Meh 😊️Solid 🤩Excellent