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Echoes' Cycling Biography #6: Ferdi Kübler
« on: November 05, 2013, 17:43 »

These comments posted on some Internet forum about Ferdi Kübler show how much disrespect the current generation have for oldtimers and how ignorant they are:

So he thinks that "todays easy routes" make it unbelievable that riders feel the "need to dope"?
What a tool...

Kubler didn't have to race against Americans, Australians, Brits, Russians, Kazakhs, Germans, Slovenians and Danes. He didn't even have to race against Spaniards (there were none in the 1950 Tour).

Milan-Turin 1956: 1 Ferdi Kübler … 17 Miguel Poblet (Spain)
GP des Nations (Free Zone) 1941: 3 Ferdi Kübler … 10 Joe Magnani (USA), 15 Antonio Prior (Spain)
World Championship Road Race 1951 : 1 Ferdi Kübler … 6 Heinrich Schwarzer (Germany)
Walloon Arrow 1952: 1 Ferdi Kübler … 31 John Beasley (Australia)

The burning of legend Ferdi Kübler by some young cycling fans came from an interview that he accepted for Basler Zeitung on June 10 2011 (aged 91): (in German) when he regretted the fact that the 2011 Tour of Switzerland had no mountains while he recalled that “we had 300km long stages and had to survive 8 or 9 passes”.

For these young modernists it meant that Ferdi considers everything easy nowadays and did not realize that these comments referred to the route of the 2011 Tour of Switzerland and nothing else! It’s an accepted fact that many observers in recent years complained about the Tour of Switzerland lacking mountains.
It’s true that when asked about being compared to current riders he answered “don’t insult me. We were much harder and more resistant than current pros”, “that it’s incomprehensible that the stars of the World leaders expire despite the ease of doping conditions”, that “cycling is ruined by doping and it saddens me”, all this not being wrong at all. He also claim he never doped himself. In 2003 Arte TV made a very good documentary about “Ferdy National” Kübler, in which he and Geminiani claim they never doped and that tablets of amphetamines did not exist, which is of course hard to believe – Gem did give anecdotes about doping cases in his time in his book, though. The collapse on Mount Ventoux is often brought back by some youngster who know cycling history only through the Tour of France and through doping history but all in all it might just be cherry-picking because building up a palmares like his is in any case impossible on amphetamines alone, if ever those are not counter-productive in the long run. Besides being still so healthy at age 93 (when these lines are written) is admirable !

Early years

Ferdinand Kübler was born on July 24 1919 in Marthalen, in the canton of Zurich, to a poor family. His father was a warder in an asylum. In the Arte documentary Ferdi remembered him as a nasty man. They lived in a farm of which Kübler sr rented the ground floor. Ferdi remembered that only the kitchen and the bathroom were heated up. They slept with the 6 of them in but one freezing cold bathroom.

As a teenager Ferdi was a postman. In the documentary he told us he often had to climb one pass by bike with his whole bag of mail on his back. He knew, he said, that once he would get rid of this heavy load he would ride much faster, which seems like a truth of Lapalisse. It should be remembered that from the 1920’s to the mid-fifties and to a lesser extend the mid-sixties the bike was a common means of transport for the everyman. Everybody rode the bike and if you seemed strong than you would easily be noticed and and get a contract as a bike racer. Most champions from that era had had a job as a delivery man. Kübler was no exception. Coppi was a delivery man. So was Van Steenbergen. So were Van Looy, Bobet, Impanis, Bartali, etc. No talent could go unnoticed. The continent was just a huge talent pool for cycling. In the mid-fifties the first vespas and scooters came to the market and it would be another story.

Cyclocross debut

Ferdi Kübler became a cycling rider in 1937 in the novice category. The following year he became a junior and win his first races: Baër GP and the Tour of Lake Leman but he will impress even more when in winter 1938/39 while at age 19 he was turning amateur (his only amateur year) he won his first cyclocross lapping many riders including some professionals. Claude Degauquier in “Ferdi Kübler : l’Aigle d’Adliswil” (Coups de pédales 1997) is sure that he couls have become a great cross specialist but the call of the road was stronger. Yet in 1945 he would become national champion ahead of Ernst Kuhn and Gottfried Weilenmann(future teammate, born in 1920 and still alive when these lines are written). He was already 3rd in 1940.

1940: Paul Egli’s archaic training methods

In 1940 Kübler discovers track cycling and the legendary Örlikon stadium in Zurich. Without any experience in track racing – his technique was awful – Kübler became national pursuit champion defeating among others famous Swiss riders such as Walter Diggelmann and Karl Litschi in the final. In the Örlikon stadium he met with with old Swiss star Paul Egli, former runner-up at the Worlds of Valkenburg in 1938, the best Swiss rider of the time. He saw in Kübler an up-and-coming talent and took him in his team because he would rather have him as his teammate than as an opponent. Egli would professionally organize Ferdi’s calendar which so far was a real mess and the training rides lasted for 5 or 6 hours. It was still the thirties and training was still very much considered in terms of volume alone. Every great rider would train that way. However the later years of his career would show some very fast development in terms of training towards more variety, making up for the lost time caused by the war, argued Geminiani (in Mes cinq géants du cyclisme). Coppi was a driving force behind these innovations and we can suspect that Ferdi did adapt to the new methods as will be demonstrated later on.

1940 & 1942: First meetings with Coppi at Zurich Örlikon and the Vigorelli

Kübler quickly becomes the crowd’s favourite on the track. He has now won a lot of pursuit contests in Switzerland but if we believe Jean-Paul Ollivier (in Fausto Coppi: la gloire et les larmes – Glénat 2006)[it needs verification, though], also outside of Switzerland. The promoters of the Örlikon are more and more thinking of a match of between future stars and national champions in the pursuit: Ferdi Kübler versus Fausto Coppi. Announced on December 8 1940 ! The two talents were aged 20, born the same year, at two months interval. Coppi’s reputation already crossed the borders with his surprised win in the Tour of Italy but he was a soldier and got permission to leave the country as long as it is not far away in Switzerland or in a befriended nation … Germany (on November 17 Coppi overtook Wengler in Berlin after 2670m)

Örlikon is an outside stadium. 333m. One of the most beautiful rings of the time, says Ollivier, and one of the first building in reinforced concrete. The stadium is sold out. The first laps were very tight when both riders each in turn gain or yield terrain on the other but suddenly Ferdi cracks and the Italian accelerates to catch Ferdi after 3750m. Coppi covered the 5km in 50.561km/h (in these good old days, a pursuit was still 5km). We are in the heat of the war, he was only aged 20 but this will remain Coppi’s fastest average speed ever on a pursuit, despite a track that is not record-prone compared to the Vigorelli. This fact shows how Kübler hounded him into a corner !

Coppi remembered: “Tragedy was happening to my eyes. The crowd was standing, mute and petrified. A frightening, absolute, freezing silence falls on the velodrome.”

What Ollivier did not say is that there was a second leg, which was a point race and Ferdi leveled the score. It stood already clear then that Coppi was the better time-trialist while Kübler had a sprint.

Coppi left Switzerland with these words: “We’ll meet again for the revenge at the Vigorelli, won’t we, Ferdinando?”

Due to the circumstances, it could only happened two year later in 1942. Kübler went to the Vigorelli in Milan, with Egli, determined to beat Coppi in the pursuit. The match was scheduled on April 26 but this time Coppi caught him after 3033m, with an average speed of 48.313kmh (also one of the fastest average speed of Coppi’s career). Coppi also won the individual race while Kübler would again contend with the point race.

The two champions would have a third meeting in pursuit. That was on January 5 1947 in Paris. Coppi won again but was unable to catch Ferdi, who was beaten by 80m.

Kübler evolved into a very decent track rider but he never really had Van Steenbergen’s sprinting skills. Rik 1 and Ferdi met 17 times for an omnium and Ferdi never won. He also never had COppi’s pursuit skills but he was good at both.

In an interview for Les Sports in 1954, Oscar Egg sais he considered Van Steenbergen as the most complete rider of the period because Coppi couldn’t be a dominant figure in the Six-Days, neither could Koblet in the classics, while … the one who was closest to Rik is Kübler, still according to Egg. It seems weird since Ferdi never won a Six either but he did have a sprint, which Coppi did not and hence was very complete.

It’s worth noting too that for a legend of the sport like Oscar Egg, what matters is versatility, first and foremost and versatility also meant some track skills !

1941: Invited at two GP des Nations in one year

In 1941 Swiss citizen Kübler received an offer to race some major classics in France. In the heat of the war, his country’s neutrality of course helped.

The GP des Nations was created in 1932 and died in 2004, because of the Pro Tour. It was some sort of a present-day ITT World Championship but on 120km, in them days.

Due to the “events” the race was cancelled in 1939 and 1940 but it already resumed in 1941 and was no longer interrupted since (until 2004).

In 1941 however the race was sort of duplicated. The reason is simple. When Marshal Pétain signed the Armistice with Hitler on June 22 1940 France was separated into two parts: the occupied zone (by the Wehrmacht), in the North and West and the ‘free’ (non-occupied) zone in the South/South-East, both separated by the “French Demarcation Line”. The French sovereignty ‘officially’ persisted throughout the whole territory but in the Occupied Zone the German Reich will exercise all rights of an occupying power. The Government was based in Vichy, in the ‘free’ zone, led by Pétain.
The newspaper L’auto would very much like to create a race that would cross the Line but that was not possible. In those troubled days they could organize races in both zones but not astride on them and hence they organized two GP des Nations, in each zone. In the free zone it would be between Condom and Toulouse and in the occupied zone, it would be around Paris. Both races were 120km and in both cases the winner’s average speed was around 38kmh.
Kübler first received an offer to race the ITT in the free zone, the one around Toulouse. The French didn’t know him but will learn to when they realize that he was in the lead at mid-race but again the youngster started too fast and ended agonizingly at the 3rd place. Jean Bobet (in Le vélo à l’heure allemande – Édition de la Table ronde, 2007; a book that tells about in cycling during WWII) would say that the big sensation was not that much the win by Jules Rossi [a very good Italian migrant to France] than the 3rd place by an unknown young Swiss aged 22 [actually 21] named Ferdinand Kübler. Fernand Mithouard was 2nd (see Opperman biography for further info on Mithouard) and Maurice Archambaud (still Hour record holder) was 9th and so 10th was the American living on the Riviera (of Italian descent) Joe Magnani.

Jean Bobet also tells us that Ferdi was invited to race the ‘occupied zone’ version of the Paris but did not have the required papers for it, ‘due to the circumstances’. But what are the ‘circumstances’, argues Bobet? A bit of everything, everywhere and all the time, but most of all the obsession of food supplies, a hard life for everybody. In such circumstances we have to admit that cycling races are pretty much unimportant. Bobet’s book insists very much on that fact, even though he informed us that racing continued, only the two ‘bombing periods’ of 1940 and 1944 caused it to really stop.

Ferdi came back to the free zone of France in 1942. This time that version of the GP des Nations was raced between Marseille and Avignon on a rather hilly route of 140km, hence the win for a climber Jean-Marie Goasmat. Ferdi finished 7th.

On November 8 1942 the Allied forces landed in Morocco (French Protectorate, belonging to Vichy, obviously not occupied), the so-called Operation Torch. As retaliation the German Reich would invade the free zone on November 11, the Operation Anton, variation on the Attila Plan. From then on France was totally occupied, no more Demarcation Line and in 1943 only one GP des Nations !

1942: Winner of an internationalized Tour of Switzerland in the heat of the war

1942 would be a rich year for cycling in wartime. In summer that year both the Tour of Spain and the Tour of Switzerland had an international field with some of the best Frenchmen and Luxembourger racing. The Tour of Spain was pretty chaotic for the foreigners, not well fed and too hot (race ended on July 19). The Tour of Switzerland started right afterwards by the end of July. The French like Victor Cosson or Pierre Cogan (the two only past away recently well in their 90’s !!) would rediscover the taste of good Swiss chocolate (says Bobet).

However Ferdi at age 23 was considered top favourite by the local press and did not disappoint. In 1941 the Swiss already organized a national tour that was actually reduced to two stages and he finished 3rd. This time it included 5 stages. Ferdi living in a neutral country had the power to train just like in peace time, which most certainly gave him an advantage on his opponents (250km rides everyday with Egli, with climbing finishes; still training in terms of volume!).

In stage 1 he lost 7’ due to too much eating the day before (3 steaks). However in stage 2 from Winterthur to Bellinzona over the San Bernardino Ferdi Kübler will make up for the lost time. He had only eaten one steak, some bread and fruits. On the climb he had to let Spaniard Fermin Trueba (not to be confused with the little climber Vicente, his brother) and the great Luxembourger Mathias Clemens flying on the first slopes but as a diesel he would come back overtaking many competitors including Egli and Trueba. Clemens is first on top ahead of him but for the first time Ferdi showed his descending skills and overtook Clemens who punctured. First the first time too we see the image of a Ferdi Kübler with a nodding head, braying like a horse, which gave his nickname the ‘pedalling madman.’ Egli was 2nd 34” behind and then Luxembourger Christophe Didier (no relation to Laurent or Lucien) 6’13” later. Egli was the leader but would soon be relegated to last in the GC due to car drafting and Ferdi is the new leader. He will survive the Saint-Gothard the next day (where Trueba made the show again!) to Luzern and win the overall. Italo-Frenchman Pierre Brambilla is the first foreigner: 4th, Cogan is the first French 6th, Didier was relegated to 10th place and fellow countrymen Clemens 12th (though 2nd in the mountain classification to Trueba).

Ferdi added two more wins in his national tour in 1948 and 1951.

“Kübler & Magni: more mental and physical talent” said Rik Van Steenbergen

Kübler and Magni became champions rather because of their mental fortitude, unlimited willpower and their fighting spirit than their intrinsic athletic strength. Bobet, said Rik I, had more physical talent and equally as much ambition and determination, which means he ranks Bobet higher, probably justice though. “I assess both very high”, said the Antwerper but when he saw him race in 1945/46/47 he would never dare to think that “Cooked Ferdi” would have got so high when grown old. “When Kübler once a great race had won he figured that he really had become a great one! He stimulated himself. Ferdi had great talent but was not the greatest talent. But his moral and his willpower drove him to the highest performances.”

How did Van Steenbergen illustrate his comment: 1949 World Championship in Lingby, Copenhagen, Denmark. The route was not particularly hard and so Binda – Italian Technical Director – complained. The riders were supposed to ride under a railway bridge but after Binda’s complaints, the organizers built up a small overpass and they were supposed to pass … above it. That’s how Coppi created the decisive escape, attacking on the viaduct every lap. Van Steenbergen and Kübler were a part of it (Dutch track legend Gerrit Schulte and Ferdi’s teammate Ernst Stettler accompanied them first but they eventually dropped).

During the last 50km, each time Coppi attacked Van Steenbergen countered said the latter, but Kübler would drop each time. 5 or 6 times. “Kübler was dead and Coppi was still fresh. Still the dead outsprinted the ‘alive and kicking’, for 2nd place” (meaning Kübler was 2nd to Van Steenbergen and Coppi 3rd).

1950: No fight for 2nd place

The headline for this chapter could actually very well describe the attitude shown by Stan Ockers during the last (mid-)mountainous stage of the 1950 Tour of France: Briançon – St-Étienne. Ockers was 2nd in the GC, Bobet was 3rd but Kübler was in the lead. Bobet attacked in the Lautaret early in the stage and had a 4’30 lead over Kübler in the Col de St-Nizier before starting the Col de la République, just before St-Étienne. That’s where Kübler will start a fantastic chase, enduring pain to the point of crying and never getting any help from his group mate. He explained in on Arte TV with Geminiani next to him. He understood that Gem could not chase after teammate Bobet (national teams, then!) but Ockers didn’t either while his 2nd place was threatened. Kübler reported Ockers’ view on this: “You are the yellow jersey. You’ve got to assume it.” Fortunately for Ferdi, Bobet was equally as exhausted after a long breakaway and Ferdi caught him and dropped him. Ockers finally took the lead but Gem took the stage, because it was all that he was left to do, he said. He hugely benefitted from Bobet’s work.

By one of the final stages Ockers came to congratulate Kübler on his overall win and also asked him to lead him out the sprint. Kübler reported that in the above mentioned documentary and he told us that he did lead out the sprint for Ockers but the Antwerper couldn’t catch the stage win.

1950: #1 at the Desgrange-Colombo Challenge

The Desgrange-Colombo Challenge was the first “multi-race” challenge ever organized, some sort of a forerunner to the World Tour (with much less strict rules). It was founded in 1948 and organized by the newspapers: L'Équipe, La Gazzetta dello Sport, Het Nieuwsblad-Sportwereld and Les Sports, which means the organizers of all the races that enters in it: Milan-Sanremo, Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, the Walloon Arrow, Paris-Brussels, Paris-Tours, the Tour of Italy, the Tour of France and the Tour of Lombardy. In 1949 the Tour of Switzerland was added. In 1951: Liège-Bastogne-Liège and in 1958 the Tour of Spain.

The undertaking was meant to re-internationalize the sport. Before WWI and shortly afterwards, most Belgians and French went regularly to Italy to compete in the two main Italian classics or to Belgium for the main Belgian races of that time but in the 1920’s Italy became very much isolationist (probably due to poverty) and races in Belgium did not really interest the French, so that in the end only French races had some sort of an international field on a regular basis. Cycling lost its internationalism of the previous era.

After WWII the Challenge really succeeded in bringing it back, the downside being more calculation from the leaders.

In 1950 Kübler had already secured his 1st place in the ranking before even starting the Tour of Lombardy. He also had just finished 3rd at the World Championship in Moorslede, Belgium, behind Brik Schotte and Albert Ramon but strangely enough, the World Championship did not count for the Challenge.

Italy was still very much protectionist in those days. In order to compete on Italian soil ‘stranieri’ had to be hired by local teams – until 1956. For Ferdi it will be the team Frejus.

He would finish 5th in that year’s Lombardy never really in contention for the win, 39” behind winner Soldani, Bevilacqua, Coppi and Zampini but for the honour he kept his main rival for the Challenge behind him, Fiorenzo Magni was 18 and last of the group. So that in the ranking Kübler really outclassed Magni, Koblet, Coppi and Bartali, in that order. Besides he also received the Edmond Gentil Trophy, along with Koblet, some sort of a Vélo d’Or equivalent.

1951: First Ardennes Double (in the same weekend)

In 1951 the two Ardennes classics were legs of the Desgrange-Colombo Challenge. The Arrow was the first to enter it, quite surprisingly. It was a relatively young race by then (created in 1936). The field was almost 100% Belgian until 1948. You can say that the Walloon Arrow was boosted by the Challenge, just like the Hamburg Cyclassic was boosted by the World Cup in the 90’s. Liège-Bastogne-Liège was created in 1892, though numerous editions were strictly reserved to amateurs or independants (which means amateurs who were entitled to race with the pros) and it only slightly internationalized in the 30’s but was not a classic before 1948 when the Arrow being a event of the Challenge some foreign stars profited from it to double up (like the tragic Camille Danguillaume).

The Flèche wallonne that year is a rather straight route (hence its name: ‘an arrow’) from Charleroi to Liège with only a loop to Spa to take some real Ardennes climbs like the Mont Theux, which in 2013 is on the Liège route. 220km – 148 riders. Kübler is first on the Côte de Hautregard (4.9km – 4.5% and 5.6% max. gr.) followed by Robic and Bobet. Robic attacked in the Côte de Malchamps, situated after Spa (6km – 5.3% - 5.6%) and climbs the Bouquette alone before Bartali and then Kübler and Bobet caught him. Magni, Kint and Impanis tried to counter but it was too late. Kübler outsprinted Bartali, Robic and Bobet (probably exhausted because he normally has a sprint) in that order in Liège.

Despite the promotion to Desgrange-Colombo Ch. Liège-Bastogne-Liège enjoyed less international prestige in those days than its sister. This will last up until 1966 when the disappearance of Paris-Brussels (before getting back in 1973 in autumn) and Paris-Tours’ move to autumn alleviated the spring calendar, thereby raising the interest for Liège (see the Poulidor biography, chapter dedicated to the 1963 Arrow).

Yet the 1951/52 editions were among the editions the race will see before long. In 1951 Magni and Van Steenbergen were about the two figures from the Arrow that did not double up.

In the Côte du Hornay (which is still in the route today) Germain Derycke (21 y.o.) drops Pierre Barbotin, his last mate from the morning breakaway but the wide descent to Liège Kübler attacks and catches Derycke with 1km to go and outsprints him, being the fresher. Bartali is 6th and Bobet 7th, Ockers 10th and Impanis 12th. Bobet said: “Kübler went like a rocket.”

1951: World Champion

For the World Championship in Varese, Italy, Kübler had to make peace with the other “K.ble.” about the choice for teammates. Actually there will be two for each: Croci-Torti (who passed away in 2013 at age 91; a man who after his career led the life of a Bohemian, with a passion for painting) and Rossi for Kübler, Weilenmann and Huber for Koblet.

The decisive escape happened really when 10 riders took the lead under heating weather: Dutchmen Faanhof, Voorting and Wout Wagtmans, Italians Minardi, Redolfi and Bevilacqua (who was just Pursuit World Champion), Belgian De Feyter, German Schwarzer and Croci-Torti and Kübler.

Only Fiorenzo Magni made the jump from behind but the Italians would rather race against each other. Fortunately for Ferdi who lost Croci-Torti who did a great job for him. Bevilacqua would try a km flight as a pursuit specialist which he is but Kübler reacts and in the end outsprinted Magni.

He is World Champion and celebrated it by … unloosing his toe-clip while crossing the line !!

1951: the Kübler-Bobet rivalry resumes in Lombardy

In the Tour of Lombardy both Kübler and Bobet were still in contention for the Desgrange-Colombo Challenge but this time the rivalry will be in the Breton’s favour and will actually last for one climb: the famous Madonna del Ghisallo, where as usual Ferdi gave it all. The Italians Volpi, Conterno and Astrua attacked first while Ferdi was watched out like his shadow by Bobet and Coppi. According to Jean-Paul Ollivier (in Louison Bobet, Éditions Palantines 2009), Bobet considered attacking but Ferdi pull the rug out from under his feet. He attacks and Bobet has troubled keeping his wheel. Bobet was still capable of taking the lead once or twice in pain but Ferdi in his rainbow jersey really did too much. Only three men were still with him: Bobet, Coppi and Minardi. Towards the end of the climb Coppi took the lead with an impressive gear ratio and Kübler pays the price for all his efforts. He drops. The trio caught the early mentioned quartet while Fornara came back from behind but the Frenchmen outsprinted the 7 Italians to get the win AND the Challenge. Ferdi was 11th on the line but would unfortunately be disqualified for an illegal bike change. Degauquier also said Ferdi punctured but does not say where or if that really had any effects on the race (Ollivier did not mention it because his book was an ode to Bobet, of course!). 

It should be remembered though that the Desgrange Colombo Challenge did not include the World Championship and the difference between Bobet and Kübler was but 1pt (Magni is 3rd ahead of Koblet and Bartali). Too few races entered into account for the classification for it to be credible. Early in the season Ferdi also won Rome-Naples-Rome, which was a sort of Tirreno equivalent, with the particularity that every stage finished with a Lambretta-paced part. So that there is a case for Kübler being n°1 rider of the season.

1951: Exhausting tour in Argentina

By the end of the year 1951 Kübler accepts an invitation for a long money-making tour in Argentina with among others Magni, Bartali, Bevilacqua and Bernardo Ruiz. His fame is crossing oceans as he had the pleasure to meet President Peron at a cocktail party. The 1950’s saw every year such partnership between Europe and South-America where cycling also is the most popular sport. However at age 32 Ferdi had better rest that winter at home. This tour was really exhaustive. They traveled by ship and according to Degauquier he would never be as powerful afterwards as he was until then. However we will show some great moments too.

1952: Witness of a royal duel in Paris-Roubaix

Kübler was a very good Paris-Roubaix rider. In 1951 Van Steenbergen (who finished 3rd) remembered that behind deserved winner Tonio Bevilacqua he had a formidable battle with Magni, Bobet, Impanis and Kübler who finished 10th (in De miljoenenfiets van Rik Van Steenbergen by Achille Van den Broeck, 1966).

But in 1952 he was even closer to the win. With 23km to go he was in the lead group with Coppi, Jacques Dupont and Jean Baldassari, soon out due to a puncture. Behind Van Steenbergen is having trouble dropping Bobet to join the lead group but he manages it. In Hem the Belgian had caught the group and responds to an attack by Coppi that isolated the two. The dual was so magnificent that Ferdi and Dupont would lose 1’01” in 4km, while André Mahé came back from behind to only 21”. Ferdi is a deserved 4th and Van Steenbergen won a Paris-Roubaix that went down in the history books.

1952: Second Ardennes Double

In 1952 the Italians kept away from the Ardennes classics, as they would often do for next decades (see the Poulidor biography – chapter about the 1972 Arrow).

On May 10 111 riders starts the Arrow, which will be reduced to a battle between French and Belgians, plus Ferdi. The Frenchman Varnajo instigated a 10-man escape with among others Ockers, Impanis, Decock and Robic but Robic punctures and Belgian Keteleer is dropped, so that in Liège, Kübler easily outsprinted a 10-man group, with Ockers being 2nd and Impanis 3rd.

The next day in Liège-Bastogne everything started in the first climb of the famous Ardennes trilogy, the Côte de Wanne with Henri ‘Kwick’ Van Kerckhove attacking alone. Kübler would again have to show some descending skills to catch him, with Robic in his wheel. Behind Bobet and Van Steenbergen punctured. According to Van den Broeck (Rik I’s biographer), Bobet took advantage of Rik’s puncture to attack him, as retaliation for some ‘supposed’ unethical move from Rik at Paris-Roubaix (remember the battle in the chase group behind Ferdi and Coppi). Kübler and Robic got few help from the obscure Van Kerckhove but yet consolidated the gap. Yet the Belgian attacked and surprised the Breton while Kübler was careful. He outsprinted him comfortably. Robic finished 12” behind and Bobet outsprinted the chase group 3’02” behind.

1952: Another stylish escape in Lombardy

Tour of Lombardy 1952 was a race of tremendous spectacle. Coppi punctures in the first kilometers and some thought it wise to capitalize on it. A group of about 20 riders were in front with a quick 2’15” lead ahead of Coppi and a furious Bartali. They are already beaten. In the climb of Villa Albese Kübler isolated 11 riders, with Astrua and Dupont among others. Behind Bobet and Defilippis are leading the chase, reducing the gap to 1’15” at the foot of the Ghisallo. On the climb Kübler dropped all his group mates one by one, Dupont was the last to keep up with him. The chasers were unable to reduced the gap on the climb, on the contrary they lost ground. At the top they trailed the Swiss by 1’50”, with Dupont still being 1’32” behind Kübler but not yet caught.

However this old Lombardy route showed no climb after the Ghisallo which was situated some 50km far from finish. In the early 50’s it was still possible to hold through because much of the road was still ‘strade bianche’ but in subsequent years the race would often finish in a sprint, inciting the organizers to change it completely in 1960.

For Ferdi this solitary effort would prove too hard. He first consolidated his lead up to 2’14”, capitalizing on some stalling in the peloton but with riders coming back from behind: 24 riders, with 40km to go. Kübler would then show signs of exhaustion and his pedaling becomes heavy. Yet he would enter Milan in the lead but is caught with 10km to go. Minardi wins. Kübler finishes 10th, just behind Bobet, both at 19”.

1953:  “Dead Man” wins Bordeaux-Paris

In the 1950’s Bordeaux-Paris is for long no longer the great classic that it used to be (see Opperman bio). It’s not even included in the Challenge Desgrange-Colombo. Yet it still enjoys some prestige from being the oldest of all races. Not surprisingly a man with guts and determined to give variety in his career like Ferdi Kübler wouldn’t hesitate to give it a try. He received an offer it from legend Francis Pélissier – from La Perle -, former specialist as a rider in the 1920’s but also as coach in the 1930’s. In 1931 Bordeaux-Paris had for the first time its last part motor-paced. Pélissier would then lead Fernand Mithouard and Jean Noret (in 1933 and 1934) to the win. They weren’t necessarily top riders but Pélissier was certainly the driving force behind their win. Since 1938 Bordeaux-Paris’ last section was derny-paced.

Two days before the event in 1953 Ferdi honoured a long planned contract racing an omnium in Zurich. Pélissier did not like it and told him: “Dear Kübler I want fresh people at the start of Bordeaux-Paris, no dead!” He refuses him for the “Derby” and Kübler was left to find support from his own historic Swiss “Tebag” to race it. In the last part he would be derny-paced by the tragic Fernand Wambst (who lost his life after the Blois accident in 1969 with Merckx).

The race was a battle between him and Dutchman Wim Van Est, one of the greatest specialist of the time. In the Chevreuse Valley the Swiss lost one minute after a puncture and a mechanical but after a long battle he overtook him and quickly built a 40” lead but he forgot to feed up and there’s the raging hunger. Van Est gets back but the Zuricher still found the strength to win the sprint. Pélissier may have regrets.

1954: Ghent-Wevelgem takes off with Ferdi Kübler

Ghent-Wevelgem was created in 1934 and was inspired by the successes of Belgian cyclist Gaston Rebry, who won Paris-Roubaix three times, and both the Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris - Nice once. "Den Breier" (The Knitter; his mother and sister ran a succesful knitting business) lived in Wevelgem, and his neighbours wanted to see him win a race in his own hometown: a race from Ghent to Wevelgem. ( )

The field remained very much local in the first years. Bartali took a 9th place in 1947 but it’s well known that climber Bartali isn’t solid enough to compete with the ‘Flahutes’ on their home soil. The same can’t be said about Ferdi Kübler who decided to prepare for the spring classics in Ghent-Wevelgem. He was accompanied by countrymen Marcel Huber and ITT specialist Rolf Graf for the 235km long race. Kübler is one of the main animators of the race along with André Rosseel but he’s too much watched for. He’s got a label behind his back. That’s how he cleverly invited Graf to attack and he would disturb the chase behind. Graf wins solo and Kübler is second, very much amused at fooling the Belgians at home.

Kübler next raced the Tour of Flanders for the first time, finishing 20th, 45” behind winner Impanis. In 1955 he came back to Ghent-Wevelgem (232km!), along with Graf but that time he couldn’t catch a phenixed Brik Schotte. He finished 5th. Ghent-Wevelgem never was a part of the Desgrange-Colombo but slowly but gradually it internationalized and Kübler is for a part in it. In 1959 the Superprestige replaced the C.D.C. The race was a part of it and became a genuine classic.

1954: Exhaustive chase in Paris-Roubaix

The 1954 Paris-Roubaix saw the talented Raymond Impanis make the double. Kübler in his old days tried very hard to chase him despite the head wind but failed and in the streets of Roubaix he would be caught by a chasing group that was outsprinted by Ockers. The exhausted Swiss could of course not fully defend his chances in the sprint for 2nd. He’s normally faster than Ockers but at least he again showed his panache and still manage to get 4th.

1954: Dirty Weekend for Kübler

This is the title that Hervé Paturle & Guillaume Rebière (Un siècle de cyclisme, Calmann-Levy) gave in their chapter dealing with Kübler’s attempt for a third Ardennes double in 1954. In the Arrow 28 riders sprinted for the win, previously unseen on such a hard route. The Zuricher pinned Germain Derycke to the barriers and crossed the line first but was relegated to 2nd place due to irregular sprinting. The picture clearly showed a contact between the two riders and for Degauquier – one of his biographer – the decision was justified.

The next day in Liège-Bastogne-Liège Kübler and Impanis kept a sharp eye on each other for the whole day and the Luxembourger Marcel Ernzer capitalized on it to attack on theHautregard and solo to victory for 34km. Impanis would attack in the Hornay for 2nd place and Kübler, as usual in the descent for 3rd.

After being second to Bobet in the Tour of France consistent Ferdi Kübler gets a 3rd #1 rank in the Desgrange-Colombo but like in 1952 where Coppi was probably better, Bobet should probably be considered #1 in 1954, considering the fact he was World Champion and that did not count for the ranking.

1955: “Ferdi, great champion. Also not like any other!”

The scene happened a few kilometers South of Mount Ventoux, stage 18 of the Tour of France: Marseille-Avignon. The peloton is attacking the desolated climb under extremely hot weather. Old Kübler takes the lead. Geminiani remembers: “He was making an ITT. So I came and told him: ‘Ferdi, beware! Mount Ventoux is not like any other climb’ and his response in poor French was: ‘Ferdi, great champion. Also not like any other.’” Gem would always tell the anecdote with great fun. However the documentary by Arte showed Kübler denying ever having said what his “friend Gem” believed he said but after all as Jacques Augendre said in the same documentary, whether it is a legend or not, we’d rather believe in it for it’s too good.

Of course on the climb he was on the verge to collapse but he still summit it and made it to Avignon before retiring the next day. The modern observer would only remember his comment the evening: “Ferdi too loaded, Ferdi will explode.” The word ‘loaded’ (‘chargé’ in French) is often replaced by ‘doped’, which of course is not the same thing at all. It’s not the purpose of this text to question the idea that Kübler might have doped that day. Chances are but it’s not backed up by evidence.

1955 to 1957: end of career

Kübler handled his decline very well. For a season and a half he would rather come up in criteriums and track events in order to get easy money for a golden retirement rather than insisting on the major races. He still won a last semi-classic, Milan-Turin in 1956 as mentioned above.

Bartali argued that Coppi should have followed his steps (as quoted by Ollivier in Fausto Coppi: La gloire et les larmes, Glenat 2007):
“Coppi would certainly have been wiser to stop on September 5 last year, the day after his win – with Baldini – in the Baracchi Trophy [the 1958 edition, e.d.]; or at least he should have retired from road racing from then on, and focus on criteriums and track contests for one more year, like Ferdi Kübler did two years ago.”

Coppi’s passion is respectable but sometimes you’ll have to be able to stop. Kübler understood that the post-cycling life is normally longer than the life of a cyclist and he had to prepare for it.

Post Cycling Career

Kübler’s reconversion was a genuine success. In the Arte documentary he seemed to be proud to have made the right choices and to have found an occupation very quickly and said he’d seen riders who were unable to do it. Without mentioning his name we can guess he was thinking of Koblet who died in a mysterious car crash in 1964 (probably a suicide).

Ferdi invested in buildings and a flower’s shop. He’s been a skiing instructor in Davos, many companies would use him as PR and pose for ads (not the most laudable thing he did but consumerism had started).

In 1983 he was elected Swiss athlete of the past 50 years.

In 2008 Sporza commentator Michel Wuyts had the pleasure to meet with Ferdi during the Tour of Romandy and was admired to see how “fit & healthy” he was (using the English words). Wuyts’ assistant André Meeganck only learnt that Kübler at age 88 had to return his driving licence due to age, as the law applies in Switzerland.

In early 2009 Kübler at age 89 – soon to be 90 – could be seen yodeling on the TSR – the Romandian broadcaster – and saying in French (which is not his 1st language) “I’m no longer that young but I still have the most beautiful legs of the peloton.”

In 2011 (aged 91/92) besides accepting the interview mentioned above for Basler Zeitung Ferdi Kübler accepted to be a guest in the docu-fiction TV-programme by the RTS about Hugo Koblet, which was scheduled to be broadcast on December 26. Also a guest was Gottfried Weilenmann, himself aged 90/91.

Re-assessment of Kübler’s career

Louis Caput was a former very good opponent to Ferdi Kübler. In 1969 he became team manager of Mercier, which gave him a very good position to assess how cycling had evolved between his or Kübler’s active days and the period when he was a manager, dominated by Merckx. He told L’Équipe in 1971:
“The race is faster and faster and the escape harder. […] Anquetil won a Tour of France against [Marcel] Janssens and I believe [Gösta] Pettersson and Zoetemelk are better riders than Janssens. Today Kübler and Magni would probably not win the Tour of France. In my era only three or four riders did the job. The others did not, including myself, out of ignorance. Today, with care and diet, many good riders are doing their job very well. They have to deal with the greatest rider of all time. […]”
(quoted Marc Jeuniau in Mes carnets de route de la saison 1971, Arts & voyages, collaboration with Merckx)
[see also the Poulidor biography where these same comments were posted]

From these comments we understand that the Merckx era was much more modern than the Kübler era, with a lot of riders being really competitive but we may also imply that Kübler was one of the three or four guys whose professionalism, seriousness and intensity helped putting the sport to a new level and hence influenced further generations.

For these reasons, may he here be thanked !


The famous Walloon Arrow sprint with Germain Derycke for which Kübler was relegated to 2nd place despite crossing the line first. Anyone is entitled to his opinion based on this picture:

Interview in French from December 1954 on the TSR, interviewed by Humbert-Louis Bonardelly and also with Hans Nötzli, his Six-Days partner then. Ferdi among other things said that he was the only rider who had raced each of the 7 Tour of Romandy that were held until that time and that he was scheduled to race in Tripoli on February 13 1955 with Nötzli and Rolf Graf. It's a priceless document !

We may also post again the link with video to the Basler Zeitung interview from 2011, mentioned in the introduction (in German):
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  • « Last Edit: July 24, 2016, 21:08 by Echoes »
    "Paris-Roubaix is the biggest cycling race in the world, bigger than the Tour de France, bigger than any other bike race" (Sir Bradley Wiggins)


    • Road Captain
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    Happy 97th birthday, young man (24th of July).
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  • M Gee

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    • The user formerly known as hiero
    Beautiful. TY.
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  • . . .He had the bit between his teeth, and he loiked the taste, mate . . .


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