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Hennie Kuiper surprising himself in Trouée

Awesome Dutch Dudes: Hennie Kuiper

by frank / Jan 25 2012 / 68 posts

We’re an under-appreciated people, the Dutch. As a society, we have led the European standard of civilization. Always ahead of our time in terms of accepting new ways of doing things, we have long paved the way in areas such as social and economic reasoning, or in how long you can reasonably expect to resist an invading army before surrendering (not very long).

The list of gifts we’ve given the world is endless: the stock market is our invention, as is its corruption. Almost in tandem to inventing money, we invented New York City before happily handing it over to the English on the strict condition that they not kill us in exchange.

Linguistically, the term “Yankee” is Dutch in origin; people coming to visit New York City found a “Jan Kees” on every street corner. “Jan Kees” is a typical Dutch name pronounced, “yan-kay-se”. Give a few Americans room to breathe in the space of Dutch Pronunciation and you end up with a word like “Yankees” before long. We also gave America the term “boss”, which originated from the Dutch word for manager, baas. Not to mention Santa Claus.

The Dutch are a tough and ingenious people, out of necessity. This is a windy, highly populated land which lies largely at or below Sea Level. In the States, when you live at elevation, we generally think of people who live at two or three thousand meters. I have family in Dutchland who also live “at elevation”. They live at four meters. If you’re thinking “Civil Engineering”, then you’re right; this is a country for which keeping the sea out figures significantly in both Political and Social Science. In about 1100 A.D., the Dutch came up with the idea of building dikes to block off the sea and to leverage the abundant power of the wind to keep the water out. Since then, the principle that keeps The Netherlands dry has been largely unchanged.

A country this Awesome is bound to produce some seriously badass cyclists, and this new series is devoted to them. I also don’t really expect the other Keepers to contribute many articles to it, though I have occasionally been wrong before, so it’s possible I’m wrong now.

As a Sport, I think we’ve lost sight of the versatility of a cyclist. These days, we seem preoccupied with what we’re not. Classics riders aren’t climbers; climbers aren’t for the classics. Sprinteurs can’t climb, and rouleurs can’t sprint.

Hennie Kuiper disagreed. He believed that riding a bike involved pushing on his pedals and making his go faster than the others could make theirs go. Over cobbles, up hills, in sprints, or Grand Tours. Kuiper took Olympic Gold in the 1972 Road Race. He became World Champion in 1975. He claimed the most prized of mountain-top finishes by winning l’Alpe d’Huez in 1977 and 1978 (after the disqualification of Michel Pollentier).He won sprint finishes, and he finished in the top five in the Tour de France four times, including second twice behind admitted dopers (one of them a Dutch guy, the other French).

For me, his greatest example of being an Awesome Dutch Dude came in his 1983 win at Paris-Roubaix. Here we have a rider who is in the lead of the Queen of the Classics, within arm’s reach of the finish when he destroyed his back wheel to avoid a spectator. For anyone not paying attention, we call that kind of thing “a massive bummer”.

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My best effort at a translation of the video:

It wasn’t such a bad sector, actually; it laid in there quite nicely. It’s nice and smooth, when you look at it from down low. It actually rides well. And what I did…actually, every bit of 500m, I zig-zag a bit and criss-cross from the asphalt to here, there, and back until I got to the turn and I get to a supporter – who wants to make a photo of the leader in the race – and I think, ‘well, he’ll step aside or he’ll let me through’, but he’s looking through his camera, so he stood still…and so I had to make a very unusual movement.

Kuiper collides with the rider and destroys his back wheel. Leading Paris-Roubaix, he has to wait for a new bike or a new wheel at least. There’s no going on with what he’s got.

It was 30 seconds, but it felt like hours. Hours, seconds, minutes, hours. Its all the same. {indecipherable} But still I won. It was my eleventh Paris-Roubaix and I really wanted to win it eventually, so I trained very, very hard and then it still almost goes awry, but yet you win. Only afterwards do you understand what meaning that holds for you.

It is something that radiates from me and from Cycling: that with hard, hard work, you can win Paris-Roubaix and you can achieve something in Cycling. And if you look at it like that, mine is one of the nicest victories.

I can’t think of many other riders from the post-war era who won a mountaintop finish in the Tour as well as a cobbled classic; let alone the stage to l’Alpe d’Huez and Paris-Roubiax. Awesome Dutch Dude, indeed.

More shots of Kuiper, in General Badassedness.

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// Awesome Dutch Guys

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