koblet and kubler

A Special Swiss Pair from the Fifties

Kübler and Koblet

Ferdi Kübler and Hugo Koblet, both of Switzerland,  won the Tour de France in consecutive years – 1950 and 1951.  They were both tremendous stars but were perhaps overshadowed by the great Italian Fausto Coppi and Frenchman Louison Bobet.

They were contrasting characters, Kübler the fierce competitor and possessor of much brute strength, and Koblet (you pronounce the “t”) the original “Pédaleur de Charme” for reasons that will be explained.

Ferdi Kübler

Ferdi was undoubtedly one of the all-time greats of the sport and quite a character.  His early career was hampered by the Second World War but it culminated in a Tour de France win in 1950, followed by Flèche Wallonne and Liège–Bastogne–Liège both in 1951 and 1952.  Note that in those days these two classic races were held on the SAME weekend!

He was also World Road Race Champion in 1951 and was fourth once and third twice in the Giro in these years, and also won Bordeaux-Paris in 1953.

In the 1954 Tour, Kübler won the points jersey and came second behind Louison Bobet.

Kübler has been described as “a high-spirited and impulsive rider sometimes given to strategically unwise attacks” out of exuberance and competitive drive.   A  cautionary tale (and much-quoted, by Graeme Fyfe and Les Woodland inter alia) is of  Stage 11 of the 1955 Tour de France (Monday 18 July) from Marseilles to Avignon, 198 km… by way of the awesome Mont Ventoux, on a searing hot day.

At  the start of the 22 km climb after Bédoin, Louison Bobet let Ferdi escape with Rafaël Géminiani while he himself chose to ascend at a measured pace.  The escapees made good time, but the metronomic and disciplined Bobet then started catching them up.

Bobet and Kübler

Then (10 km from the summit!) Kübler launched a crazy attack.  He’d never ridden the mountain before, and Gém called after him “Careful Ferdi, Ventoux is no ordinary col”… to which Kübler responded in his broken French “Ferdi aussi coureur pas comme les autres.  Ferdi grand champion gagner à Avignon” (Ferdi also rider not like others…  Ferdi win in Avignon).  But he soon cracked, became delirious, started weaving… He asked Brian Robinson for a push as he went by…  and had numerous crashes on the descent.  He got to Avignon but he was finished and did not start the next day.  Bobet won the stage.

Kübler died in Zurich on 29 December 2016 at the age of 97.  He was the oldest living Tour de France winner.

Hugo Koblet

Koblet was handsome and suave, and all the ladies loved him.  And he had the most elegant smooth-pedalling style which resulted in his nickname the “Pédaleur de Charme”.  As if this wasn’t enough, he  always carried a comb with him, and a small sponge and a little bottle of Eau de Cologne.

Koblet won the 1950 Swiss road championship and the Giro d’Italia (the first non-Italian to do so).  However, Koblet’s year was 1951.  He beat Fausto Coppi to win the Grand Prix des Nations, generally regarded as the de facto individual time trial world championship, and then went on to win the Tour de France in the most dramatic fashion. Here’s the story.

On the 7th stage time trial (85 km) Koblet beat Bobet and Coppi by a minute, Magni by three, Bartali by five and Géminiani by six.  (Kübler did not compete this year.)

The 11th stage (Brive-Agen) has gone down as one of the greatest exploits in cycling history.  After 42 km but with 135 to go, Koblet attacked on his own and held off Coppi, Bobet, Bartali, Magni, Géminiani and Robic to win by three and a half minutes.  As he approached the line he nonchalantly took his hands off the bars and combed his hair.

He won the 14th stage over the Tourmalet, Aspin and Peyresourde, beating Coppi on the line and leaving Bartali at two minutes, Géminiani at six and Bobet at nine.

He also won the 16th stage when part of a five-man breakaway including Géminiani, before winning the 22nd stage, the 97 km time trial (Aix-les-Bains to Geneva) by nearly five minutes.

Then Koblet faded somewhat.  He continued to finish well up in the Giro through the mid 1950s but won nothing of note, and his career declined, for reasons unknown.  And he died young.

About Tony Varey

Tony Varey took up cycling at school in the 1960s and became an avid follower of the sport. Struggling to understand the rapidfire RTL race commentaries on a transistor radio certainly helped his French! He then left it behind and followed a career in the oil business including time in Latin America and the Middle East before returning to cycling in his fifties. His enthusiasm has recently been invigorated by the rediscovery of the joys of riding vintage steel-framed bikes around the lanes of West Sussex.

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