Timing is Everything: Ole Ritter

Timing is Everything: Ole Ritter

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For Danish cycling, before Bjarne Riis, there was Rolf Sørensen*.  Before Rolf Sørensen, there was Ole Ritter. Ritter was a badass, a champion, rode Bianchis for Bianchi.  He had himself built the lightest bike available at the time, by a company that specialised in making the most badass handlebar tape in the history of this Great Sport. Good one, Ole.

He also raced at the same time as Eddy Merckx, Felice Gimondi, Francesco Moser.  Bad one, Ole.

There are a handful of riders who made their names not for the champions they were, but for the champions they raced against. These tragic heroes of our sport live through the ages and endure in our collective memories not for their victories, but for their valiant losses – their refusal to relent to the punishment handed down by the dominant champions of their day. Jan Ullrich was such a hero, in recent memory.  I am certain that Andy Schleck is not such a hero, but that remains to be seen. Raymond Poulidor at the legs first of Anquetil, then of Merckx. Joop Zoetemelk, first at the legs of Merckx, then of Hinault.  Graeme Obree at the legs of Boardman, then Indurain, (then Rominger and then Boardman again).

These are great riders who, had it not been for the misfortune of racing against the Great Legends of our sport, would have stood out as the heroes of their time. Instead, we learn of their records mostly through studying those of the champions, and at some point we take note of the names most often seen placing behind the winners.  Ole Ritter was such a racer. A master in the contre la montre, he had a magnificent stroke and beautiful position upon the bike; a perfect picture of grace and harmony while enduring relentless suffering at the hands of the superior riders of his time.

His greatest achievement is setting the Hour Record in 1968, a record which stood for 4 years before being handily beaten by his arch rival, Eddy Merckx.  Most riders confess after their attempts on this record that it is the most torturous hour they have ever experienced.  The first pedal stroke is the only one executed with full force. Every subsequent stroke breaks down the muscle fibers and results in reduced strength.  The rider remains seated on the machine, circling round and round the velodrome and, as the hour drags on, they are faced with the awful truth that they need to increase their speed (or at least maintain it) while every revolution of the track saps more speed from their legs.

While all but the most masochistic riders make one attempt at the record and vow never to subject themselves to it again, Ritter returned to the track to attempt to break Merckx’s mark in 1974, as documented by the fantastic film, The Impossible Hour.  He failed, of course, and was unable to regain the record.  Had he lived in another time, perhaps his record would have stood as the time to beat when Boardman set the new Athlete’s Hour in 2000.

Timing is everything, I’m afraid.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eiKACH4v9LU[/youtube]

And, one of my favorite clips, showing the routine prior to a TT of the 1973 Giro d’Italia, and then Ole’s sublime position on the bike and his Magnificent Stroke.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJllJcLU6b0[/youtube]

*Rolf is actually younger than Bjarne, but his stardom in the peloton came before Bjarne’s, therefore my statement that “before Bjarne, there was Rolf.”  Sorenson has slipped into relative anonymity since his retirement, while Bjarne continues to play a major role in cycling, piloting the best team at losing.

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  1. “Always the highest possible gear that can be maintained effortlessly.”

  2. Oh fuck yes! Frank: you just made my weekend. Thanks!

  3. That first video is fantastic. The wordsmithery of the commentator is almost better than the footage itself! My favorite: “a brilliant example of fluidly harmonic articulation (3:40)”. I don’t even know what that means, but fuck it sounds like it is something I wish I had.

    Frank can you please make a lexicon entry for this? Stealing more than a little of the language from that video:

    “Fluidly Harmonic Articulation”: when one is in the midst of one’s personal peak, this refers to the symbiotic relationship between oneself and one’s velo. It is characterised by an immovable torso combined with effortlessly gliding pedal rotations. A revelation of harmony and elegance (4:00) for you resulting in high doses of Rule #5 pain for your fellow riders.

    As in “I am currently peaking and am experiencing overwhelming levels of Fluidly Harmonic Articulation, both on and off the bike.”

    Or something like that?

  4. @Marcus
    I’m always reluctant to make a move like this on a Friday night after imbibing a bit of alkeehaul, but I’ll make an exception. That is one fine bit of plagiarism right there, and can’t be ignored.

    It has been added (and slightly edited.)

  5. Marcus :Frank can you please make a lexicon entry for this? Stealing more than a little of the language from that video:
    “Fluidly Harmonic Articulation”: when one is in the midst of one’s personal peak, this refers to the symbiotic relationship between oneself and one’s velo. It is characterised by an immovable torso combined with effortlessly gliding pedal rotations. A revelation of harmony and elegance (4:00) for you resulting in high doses of Rule #5 pain for your fellow riders.
    As in “I am currently peaking and am experiencing overwhelming levels of Fluidly Harmonic Articulation, both on and off the bike.”
    Or something like that?

    Or better yet: Flahute: “Fluidly Harmonic Articulation”

  6. @frank
    Crap! Talk about doing anything right on a Friday night. The above should read:

    Volupte: Fluidly Harmonic Articulation

  7. What a gorgeous pedalling action. That is what you get with riding fixed. Somehow there should be a rule about pedalling action, but it is so hard to distil into words

    Also how many of today’s PROs would/can fix their own bikes. Love the lack of health concerns as Ritter regularly rinses his hands in degreaser.

  8. Wow, those films are magnifique. The haunting music, the deadpan voiceover, the almost colourless photography. And of course the subject matter, I think I have a new favourite rider to add to the already extensive list.

    How sweet is the Benotto sweater worn by the motorpacer in the first film, and the Bianchi shirt worn by Ole in the second! And while I’ve never been a huge fan of Bianchi bikes, somehow I feel I need one now…

    “Pain is an Icon”. Beautiful.

    @Jarvis
    It’s not Ole’s hands, but his mechanics. Ole is doing a job on his steak though, a la RDV in A Sunday In Hell.

  9. @michael

    Always the highest possible gear that can be maintained effortlessly.

    Obviously, the commentator hasn’t ridden a time trial!

    @Steampunk

    Volupte: Fluidly Harmonic Articulation

    Brilliant!

    @Brett, @Jarvis
    Don’t tell me you didn’t know of those films? They are masterpieces…

  10. From that 1968 Hour Record:

    Check. the. suspenders.

    More here.

    Those films are fantastic – though one of my favorite TT sequences in films from that era (all of which are sublime) is this dope ass sequence from La Course en Tete:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MQAPyFtvVGU

    Next time you TT, you will hear that.

  11. @ben
    You are quite the master of turning up the odd photos.

    He’s doing absolutely nothing for his reputation there with the way he’s sporting that cap, though, is he? That picture looks like he’s trying to pose for the cover of Mad Magazine.

  12. frank :

    @ben

    That picture looks like he’s trying to pose for the cover of Mad Magazine.

    Such was the style at the time. I’ve often wondered about what they had to contend with, clothing-wise, back then.

  13. Fantastic film from both Frank and Ben there. I love the simplicity of racing then and the slightly washed out 60’s film colour too. Would love to see more of this sort of posting.

  14. After watching the videos last night I thought of Ole and achieved some moments of Fluidly Harmonic Articulation on my ride in this morning. Twas truly wonderful.

    In the 2nd video at around 8:20, when Ole overtakes the other rider, you can see one of the better side by side comparisons of how you should, and should not, pedal a bicycle.

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