Wunderkind 2.0?

Didi Thurau against the watch, 1977.
Those Colnago shoes were the best,
I had a pair in '79 myself!
Bjorn Thurau.  
Noticed today in cycling news that Didi Thurau's son Bjorn (website here) has just signed a pro contract with Europcar  (here).

Well, if the kid is half as good as his Dad, it should be plenty good enough to be a great pro.

God knows, he looks just like him.  Apples don't fall far from the tree, do they?

You don't see much written about Dietrich "Didi" Thurau in the cycling press these days.  D'ya know his da?   Let the ol' Flahute put him in perspective for ya.

Tour '77.  Thurau, Merckx, Kuiper, VanImpe, Zoetemelk,
Thevenet and Laurent. 
 In December of '73 in an East German town of Rostock a little Jan Ullrich came into the world (later to be not so little, but that's another story).   A few shorts months later, in Montreal, a tall blond, dare I say almost stereotypical German athlete took an Amateur World Championship in the team pursuit on the track.  Back in '74, Gustav Killian's West German teams dominated international track cycling, and the team pursuit was the showcase event.  They were as dominant then as the Brits are now.   On that squad, a young Frankfurt kid named Didi Thruau burst on the scene, with smooth style, fluid power.  It seemed his possibilities were limitless.    Before Ullrich was out of diapers, and coming on the heels of Rudi Altig, a new, more powerful German cycling wunderkind was about to blitz world cycling.    (Blitz.  Is it PC to say that anymore?  That's OK, my dad was a WWII vet.)
Beating Merckx for a Tour Pyrenees stage?   Priceless.  

Thurau's explosion on the pro scene came in 1977.  As a member of Peter Post's TI Raleigh squad in the Tour de France, he beat Eddy Merckx in the Prologue to take a maillot jaune he'd hold for 15 days into the Alps about two weeks later.   I'll remember his defense in the (early that year) Pyrenees stage over the Tourmalet into Pau, when he fought back to the top climbers like Thevenet, VanImpe, Agostinho and Zoetemelk to win a bunch sprint of 14 that was the definitive selection that year.   He beat an on form Merckx, who wanted that stage.   At the time, to most following the Tour, it seemed a new Merckx was bursting onto the scene.

Although he lost a little time in the Alps to the likes of Thevenet, Kuiper and Zoetemelk, Didi finished the Tour in 5th place, one spot ahead of Merckx.   Most thought he'd be back to dominate.

His shirt says the Little Ice Cream Man.
Nothing little about this beast.
But then, the wheels came off the wagon a bit.   Back in the days before the internet, 24/7 cycling news, and video, you hung on the reports from VeloNews and other delayed print sources.  And those sources that winter were starting to cite European scuttlebutt that were suggesting perhaps Thurau wouldn't live up to that promise of the 'summer of '77'.   First they talked about him riding a full complement of six day races, scarfing up the Deutchmarks.  For some reason, I seem to remember one account at the time wrote that his problem was a pair of 'greedy, avaricious parents'.  The general gist was that Didi was chasing the dough, and racing too much for a guy with serious grand Tour ambitions.

Second, there was the big transfer, for bigger dough again, away from Peter Post's Raleigh juggernaut to the Belgian Ijsboerke -Gios team.    Many questioned why mess with a good thing just for money.

The chickens came to roost in the '78 Giro d'Italia.   Thurau won the prologue, but soon lost rosa to Rik Van Linden , eventual winner Johan DeMuncyk.   Thurau later retired, battered by Baronchelli, DeMuncyk and Moser in the Dolomites.

...narrow loss to Moser.
Worlds, 1977....
Later that season in Cristobal, Venezuela at the World Championship road race, Thurau came close to salvaging the season, but lost a tight sprint to a hyper-motivated Francesco Moser, who wasn't going to lose another 2-up sprint for a rainbow jersey like he did to Freddy Maertens on home soil in Ostuni just 12 months before.

'79 was looking better for Thurau.  He won Liege Bastogne Liege in a solo victory, and seemed ready for the Tour.   In the middle, he was part of the breakaway to Roubaix that ripped the maillot jaune off the back of a tearful Bernard Hinault, and put it on the shoulders of Joop Zoetemelk.   But although he won a stage and came 10th overall, this wasn't the phenom of '77.    Didi finished a strong 10th, 44 minutes down on winner Hinault.  

Liege Bastonge Liege, 1979.   Nobody else in the photo.
 At the World's in Valkenburg in the Netherlands that year, with a finish on the Cauberg climb that today is the finish of the Amstel Gold, Thurau was 2nd again, this time behind hometown favorite Jan Raas.   During the final sprint, Raas and Thurau switched across the road sharply, taking down Italian Giovanni Battaglin.

(Do yourself a favor.  Don't ever go to Marostica and mention the name Thurau to Battaglin.  Trust me on this one.)

WM 1979, Valkenberg.  Jan Raas 1st.  D. Thurau 2nd. 
But all was tulips in the Netherlands that day.  The score was Holland 1, Germany 0, and there was no way the protest of the Azzurri was going to deflate that Heineken fueled balloon.   The party was a warm up to the Euro cup winning soccer celebration of 1988.  An Oranje Trui crossing the line ahead of a duitser is always a reason for a celebration in Holland.

From there it was a series of teams (Puch, Hoonved) and hopes, but no more performances like that magical summer of '77.   All the while, he was racing the six days on the track, and salting away the dough.    On the road, in summer, Thurau became a road captain de-luxe for Beppe Saronni at Del Tongo in  '83, helping Saronni to his 2nd Giro d'Italia victory.

Saronni's shepherd in the 1983 Giro.
His career kinda jumped the shark in the 1985 Tour de France.  Didi was penalized for allegedly drafting Charly Mottet in the 75km Time Trial stage in the Vosges.  The next day he assaulted a Tour official before the start - some reports saying he grabbed him around the throat - and was summarily sent packing back to Frankfurt.

There, he started a successful real estate business, and is probably very proud of his son Bjorn's success.

For a guy raised by and around WWII European theatre Vets, and in the biased bubble that represented, I have to confess that I always thought Didi Thurau looked like the embodiment of certain less than flattering German sterotypes, the kind reinforced by the war movies.   He was hard to support compared to other, seemingly more flawed heroes.   The press you'd read about him was often less than flattering.   But evaluation confined to still photos and 'no video' can do that to you.   They prevent humanization.

I think Didi Thurau accomplishments deserve a better legacy.   The guy was a total pro.  How can you condemn a guy for trying to make hay while the sun shines?  And who hasn't wanted to throttle an official in a suit at some point in their life?

Here's hoping his son Bjorn gets a better shake from the media, and the public.


  1. Didi Thurau, now there's a blast from the past - I had the Colnago shoes too :-)


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