Somehow Movember and Vajanuary have slipped out of our grasp without too much fanfare. It’s never too late to pay homage to a ‘stash and a rider such as Urs Freuler. Our trusty cycling historian @wiscot has once again stepped up and delivered, many thanks.
Yours in Cycling, Gianni
Rule #50 exists for a reason: facial hair and cycling are a dangerous combination, fraught with perilous decisions – and outcomes. Should I do full beard, goatee, moustache or designer stubble? Can I grow one quickly? Will it look good? Will I be the object of much ridicule? Will there be grey in there? Will it strike fear and terror into my opponents’ hearts and legs? In the days of yore before today’s seemingly ubiquitous stubble, few pro riders sported facial hair. (The Prophet was always smooth in more ways than one). In a sport where necessity demands identical kit and gear, it takes a brave man to step away from his peers and assert a degree of individuality and grow facial hair. Currently, and most obviously, Brad Wiggins asserts his personality with sideburns and unkempt mop, maintaining the grand English tradition of eccentricity, but often looks, well, like Shaggy from Scooby Doo. Certainly a look of questionable appeal.
Taking these variations into consideration, let’s review the hirsute options:
The sideburns. Currently owned and benchmaked by the first Brit to win the Tour. His career path has been unconventional in trajectory, yet strewn with success. All imitators will be judged by the Brad-standard. Exemption duly given.
The cyclo-beard is rarely seen; in fact the only bearded cyclist picture I’ve ever seen was 1982 Milan-San Remo winner Marc Gomez sporting full face fuzz during a winter cyclo-cross event in France. Off-season. Pick-up event in France. Exemption duly given.
Marco Pantani owns the cyclo-goatee. All others imitate him – and usually fail. Il Pirata was Italian and therefore possessed style genes unavailable to most of us. Exemption duly given.
The cyclo-stubble. Sported by many a rider, notably, and successfully by Mark Cavendish. 23 Tour wins permit indulgences. Exemption given. However, it must be meticulously maintained to avoid looking like Roberto Ferrari in this year’s Giro. The latter’s face fuzz just looked like a half-assed beard. No exemption given. Fail.
The cyclo-tash is a more common beast, but almost as rare as Lance Armstrong allowing a teammate to win and as tricky to pull off as a Ricco blood transfusion. Lech Piaseki, John Eustace, Luc Roosen, Dave Zabriskie, Steven Cozza, Tom Ritchey and Danny Clark all wore moustaches with varying degrees of aplomb. (Cozza and Zabriskie’s moustaches have been sporadic and often comedic; Clark’s and Richey’s were, however outstanding and matched their undisputed hard-man reputations). However, the undisputed king of the cyclo-tash was/is Swiss rider Urs Freuler, super-fast sprinter and trackman of the 80s, who not only rocked the crumb-catcher, but could generally be regarded as one of the cycling studs of his era. With a ‘tash that both Freddie Mercury and Tom Selleck would envy, he proudly wore it throughout his career, exuding an aura of movie-star good looks and ability that few matched then – or now. (Can you imagine being a neo-pro and lining up for a race next to Urs? That kit, that physique, that Swiss multi-linguistic ability, that ‘tash. Bingo, you’re instantly feeling inferior).
The facts to support the hypothesis that Urs owned the greatest cyclo-tash ever are many. To wit:
The name Urs: a studly name if ever there was one; with a manly name you can go where others fear. (Can you really imagine Andy Schleck or Alberto Contador with a ‘tash?)
The height: tall, tall, tall – clearly the ‘tash is not serving as compensation for being vertically-challenged; indeed, many of his bikes featured monstrous headtubes that extended above the crossbar in order to avoid flex and keep the frame somewhat stiff.
The multiple wins of high caliber: World Champion in the Points race 8 times, World Champion in the Keirin 2 times, 15 stages of the Giro d’Italia, the Points classification in the 1984 Giro d’Italia and 1 stage of the Tour de France. In all, 71 career victories.
The kit: his greatest victories were obtained in the splendid Atala gear of silver and blue stripes he wore from 1981-87.
Freuler was one of those rare cyclists who seemed to have it all and offers salutary lessons to all Velominati. You want evidence? Just look at pictures of the man: the sweet position, the perfect socks, the proper cap, the immaculate gear and the full Campagnolo gruppos on Italian steel. The stuff of desire and ill-fated emulation.
As if this wasn’t enough, he was fully Rule 5 and Rule 8 compliant: track in the 80s was way more competitive than today. In addition to the palmares listed above, he raced―and won―21 six day races with various partners against the likes of Patrick Sercu, Danny Clark, Tony Doyle, Rene Pijnen and other hardmen of the boards.
On the road he was a sprinter who, in his one and only Tour in 1981, was a mercenary for TI-Raleigh boss Peter Post who hired him to go for sprint wins; he also gave him full permission to quit before the mountains. On stage 7 into Bordeaux he won in awful conditions against stellar opposition such as Freddy Maertens and Eddy Plankaert; he duly quit the race before the mountains. Job done. Yet, in 1988, the year of the notorious Gavia stage of the Giro, he made it through the mountains to win Stage 21a, a feat that would have seen many other sprinters (and yes, I’m looking at you, Mario Cipollini) bail early. For a big sprinter to drag himself through that snowy hell, fixated on a late-race stage win, puts him in the Rules 5 and 9 Hall of Fame.
Freuler retired in 1995 and currently owns a bike shop in Zurich. If web-based evidence is anything to go by, he still rocks the cyclo-tash and is in such fine shape that he looks like he could swing the leg over and dish the V to riders half his age. Alas, today’s riders wear helmets and sunglasses which robs them of an opportunity to exert a measure of individuality. The 80s were really the last decade when riders were more clearly visible to the public and Freuler, with his moustache, asserted himself as a champion, looked like a man amongst boys, and singled himself out to an extent that we can only bow down in deference to his status of being one of the coolest riders ever.