Peter Post: Adieu hardman.

Another cycling legend - Peter Post - passed away in Amsterdam a few days ago after a long illness.  Post was the tall, definitive Dutch hardman:  King of the winter six-day track in the sixties, winner of Paris Roubaix 1964 for this cafe's beloved Flandria team, and perhaps best known as director and manager of the Raleigh and Panasonic juggernauts of the 70's/80's/90's.

I was surprised to see so many of the news site obituaries just posting the bare, basic facts about his career.  Little context about the man.   Surprising because there was so much more to the legend of Peter Post than a list of race results and accomplishments.   There's a great video overview of his career here.   And a documentary on the reign of Post's ('Post train') teams here.

His Paris-Roubaix achieved the record average speed for a classic - the 'blue riband' - which lasted for years afterward.  An incredible 28mph average.  Video of the race here.  Maybe the course was a bit easier in those years before Stablinski re-routed it toward Wallers and Mons, but there was still plenty of pave, and the weather wasn't that great either.   In the '64 finale, it was a good old knock down, drag out 2 v 2 derby between the two Flemish powerteams of the day:  Post's Romeo-Flandria vs. World Champion Benoni Beheyt's Wiels-Groene Leeuw.   Simpson, Van Looy, Janssen and Darrigade among others had already been distanced.  Both Post and Beheyt had a teammate in the 4 man break doing the dirty work.  Flandria's Willy Bocklant led onto the track, providing the perfect lead out for Post, who pulled away from the stunned, superfast Beheyt to win the cobblestone trophy and, perhaps more important, increase his asking price for his priority, the winter track races.

And on the track Post won plenty of guilders in the six-days.  65 wins in total, an amount only eclipsed by Sercu, Pijnen and Clark.  Unlike those three, he won over 40% of the sixes he entered.   Enough to earn a nice life for himself and his family.  And everything Post earned was the hard, traditional way.  The old Dutch guild masters would have approved of the way Post and co. arranged the sixes, managing the guilder distribution in a 20th century guild doing its own form of 'controlled trade' inside smoky winter halls in old Hanseatic league cites.   And beyond - his first six was won in Chicago, way back in 1957.

Post will be remembered as the definitive reference for the autocratic ploegleider:  He just might have invented the concept of the hyper-professional superteam, one built around multiple leaders.  He took over the TI Raleigh squad in 1974, and immediately leveraged his quite imposing personality to build the dominant Netherlands based team of the era.  His squads dominated the team time trials in major stage races, were a blitzkrieg phlanx at the front of the classics, and could fight for Tour GC glory as well.   For under Post, total domination was expected, and often nearly attained.  And if it wasn't, well, there was hell to pay back at the hotel.  

During that period he was sportdirector for most of the top names in Dutch speaking cycling:  He directed four men who at one time or another were World Champions:  Raas, Knetemann, Kuiper, Zoetemelk.   He stocked his teams with super strong, long and lean roulers:  VanDeVelde, VanVliet, Pronk, Priem, Oosterbosch, Lubberding, Wellens, Rooks.  And he'd spice it up with a few fast punchers like Phil Anderson, the Planckaerts and Karstens. If you grew up with a windmill within a 5k radius of your home, and you had the ability to turn pro, chances are you either rode for Post at one time or another, or went out of your way to seek other pastures.   One thing's for certain, Peter Post probably had considered you.

If you accepted a place on his team, you toed the line.   He was notorious for strictness.  Everybody in same kit, on and off the bike.  Puntuality for meals, for training.  Sporza today has a TV interview here where Eddy Planckaert talks about how Post even forced riders to sit up straight at the dinner table 'West Point Plebe' style (and you don't need to understand Flemish to get the gist!)  And there was no shirking pulls or doing your share of dog-work on the road for the team.  On Post's teams you did what you were told, or else.  Sport?  Serious business.   No fun, but you can't argue the method didn't produce results.   You don't see a lot of riders laughing in the old Raleigh team photos though.  No surprise that Slava Ekimov went there after the iron curtain fell, and I wonder if he found life as hard under Post as it was with Kapitanov's Soviet system? An interesting thought to ponder.  

The summit was 1980, when he talked eternal Tour runner up Joop Zoetemelk into coming back from France to join his TI Raleigh team.   The powerhouse squad took a load of stages, shepherding Joop to a long coveted Tour de France victory.   Zoetemelk stayed only one more year with Raleigh under Post, who forced a tough Belgian spring classics program on the Tour champion for commercial reasons in 1981.   Joop liked quieter, more gradual preparations for the Tour, and so, confident in his methods and marketability, it was back to Mercier for him in '82.  

Peter Post man-management stories abound, and are legend.   Read Allan Peiper's great book, A Peiper's Tale for a good perspective: He gave his best years to Post, but toward the end, Post started purring the pressure on as only he could do.  He could use leverage like nobody's business.   And wasn't shy about it.

Bob Roll once told me a story that Post was interested in having him come over to his team.  Apparently, he'd heard the story of how Bobke had gone to Switzerland as as amateur on a shoestring, camping out in a tent and riding to races, racing for his daily bread.  Life on the edge of the abyss.  This kind of hardman commitment piqued Post's interest, so in true Godfather fashion, he sent one his emissaries - maybe Theo DeRooy, I forget - to talk to Bob to see if he was interested.  Well installed in Motorola at the time, Bobke passed on the invite.   Later, when Motorola dropped his contract, he went to Post to see if there might be a place for him on Panasonic. Post just looked at him dryly and said: "I only ask once."


I'd also heard that he once crossed swords with American Jack Simes on the tracks in the sixties when Simes went over to seek out a pro career on the track.  At the time, all it took to kill a budding six-day career was to cross Peter Post.   Simes and Post crashed during the London six.  Post blamed Simes, who took a swing at the Godfather, who then blackballed the young American.

He also famously shelled most of the Nottigham HQ installed UK riders out of his early TI Raleigh team, an event quoted in the book: This-Island-Race-Inside-135-Years-of-British-Bike-racing:


"Post was a good rider but his business ventures hadn’t been startling. Or rather, they had: his bowling alley in Amstelveen had caught fire and failed. O’Donovan said he was no good at budgets until Raleigh’s advertising manager, Sidney Woods, taught him how to do it. The disciple then became the maestro. ‘Riders even needed a receipt in triplicate if they bought a bottle of Coke on expenses,’ O’Donovan said. Such was the discipline that riders changed TI-Raleigh’s abbreviation of TI-RGroup to Ti r - g r u p p e, which meant firing squad."

The first team was registered in Britain and, under the rules of the time, had to have British riders.  But one by one they came home – Brian Jolly, Dave Lloyd, Phil Bayton, Bob Carey – with tales bitter or discreet about getting the worst bikes, being used as cannon-fodder, metaphorically kicked because they weren’t Dutch. Lloyd recalled: ‘Post mellowed later but he was a swine to the British riders. He always made sure the team had the best food and stayed in the best rooms, but he certainly had a down on the British, I was always last on the massage table.’

O’Donovan said:  "I will confess that in the beginning even I thought that there was some Dutch chauvinism in this. The truth was that few British riders thrive off their own island and there were certainly far too few to make up the major team we needed. We registered in Holland in 1975.   More than once Peter let riders leave who had an inflated view of their own worth, rather than spoil the balance of the rest of the team. Usually these riders learned that without the depth of team support, life was not easy. I remember him telling one Australian rider: ‘You want me to pay you nice Australian tennis money? You go play tennis.’ "



But the best is the story of Robert Millar and the creme caramel dessert, told in the book, Searching for Robert Millar.   Apparantly, Post had bought the team a creme caramel dessert, but Robert Millar didn't like it, nor want the calories, so he stood up from the table, and headed up to his room.  Post started yelling, which had the predictable outcome when applied to the indpendent minded, dogged Scot.  The elevator doors closed on Millar to the sound of Post yelling across the hotel to come back an finish his creme caramel.  Classic.  Can't you just picture it?

But as always, there's likely two sides to every story.  Bike riders can be self centered prima-donnas after all. Les Woodland once did an interview with Post where he reported that Post wasn't a bastard at all, but a polite, serious man who only as hard on his riders as he was on himself.

I have huge respect for Post's cycling accomplishments and his character...but at the risk of showing lack of respect for the departed based on what I've read, heard and seen, I kinda have a hard time admiring Peter Post the manager.

As a leader, Post was an iron-forger, not a sculptor.  He took the best raw materials, melted down any resistance, and cold-pressured it into a hard manufactured product.  Post believed that to get anything, to get results, you have to have a little pressure, heat, and conflict.  I'm not sure I agree with the philosophy.   The end doesn't always justify the means.   Read Dave Lloyd's account of his time at Raleigh here and tell me where you net out on that.  

No, my personal leadership preferences always lean toward 'sculptors', to those who patiently motivate, who work with and tease maximum performance out of the individual.  Leaders who lean to positive reinforcement as a motivator, and to teaching.  A la Riis, Echavarri, Pezzi.  Their riders win plenty too.

But all that is commentary from the cheap seats and water under the bridge now.  This weekend, we should primarily remember the good things about a fallen champion.  The fact is that cycling has sadly lost another great man this week.   Adieu Peter Post.  The Flandria supporterswereld is in mourning.  You gave a lot of joy and excitement to many cycling fans.   RIP.

Comments

  1. Plenty of pave in '64? There was just a little more than 20k...like one of the lowest amounts ever in the race.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Good point Chris, I stand duly corrected! 20k may be plenty for me, but not for L'Enfer du Nord. Thanks for weighing in and keeping me accurate.

    Eddy

    ReplyDelete
  3. Great homage to Peter Post! I Grew up in Holland in the late sixties, seventies. Listening to Theo Komen on radio Tour de France. Peter Post and the Raleigh team were part of my youth. Post-race interviews with “de Kneet” were absolutely hilarious. These were the good old days. Peter Post knew how to squeeze the best out of his riders. I doubt Raas, de Kneet, Zoetemelk or Kuiper would have had the same success without him. Peter Post is part of a gone era in cycling. There is no place for Post’s managing style in this age of “Prima Donna’s”. If Peter Post was managing Contador he would have ridden him of the road with his team car when he did not follow team directions in the 2009 Tour. Oh how I miss those times

    ReplyDelete
  4. I wanted to let you know that I had previously seen this post earlier in the year, but was not able to comment.

    I think that this is one of the nicest pieces put together for Peter Post! Peter is my husband's uncle. My husband speaks very highly about him, and is still very close to Peter's first wife. My husband (and his dad, Fons) was able to see him shortly before his passing in Holland (we all live in Colorado).

    Thank you so much, and I really appreciate and respect your genuine interest in cycling!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Dawn, thanks so much for reading and for your very kind words, it made my day! My personal condolences to your and the Post family. I was a big fan of Peter Post's Raleigh team as a teenaged American kid wishing he was good enough to ride with Post's team...

    For me, in a sport of hard men, Peter Post will always be the reference for "Tough" and for "Character". The voice in your head that accepts no excuses.

    John Wayne was only an actor. Peter Post - now he was the real deal.

    ReplyDelete

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