Adieu to Tuur the Toro.

Arthur 'Tuur' Decabooter.  1936-2012.
(photo from the book Groene Leeuw, De Wielerploeg
die de Keizer uitdaagde, de Eecloonaar, 2008)
Sadly, another cycling great was lost a few days ago.

His is not a name many know this side of the Atlantic.   But hey, global name recognition doesn't equate to 'greatness'.   For this was a man with the strength of a bull, the heart of a true lion of Flanders, and the resume to back it up.

Sadly, he was 75 years young.  Out last Saturday on his bike, riding lang de vaart.. alongside the canal.   A nice, flat ride.   Somebody up there must have looked down, and decided it was time to call home the 'Toro'.   His ticker gave out, for he'd had a history of heart problems.   There was nothing the rescue squad could do.  And sadly, this giant of Flanders was no more.

Arthur "Tuur" Decabooter.   His name is etched into history of the Ronde VanVlaanderen by winning it in 1960.  Awhile ago, I know.  Heck, it was a few months before I was born, 52 years ago.

Tuur was a star of the 'other' Flemish armada of the sixties:  Groene Leeuw... the 'Green Lion' brand.   Like Flandria, this Belgian bicycle brand was one of the big teams of the day.   Had a bunch of cosponsors, most famously the Wiels brewery.   Briek Schotte rode for them after World War II.   You can still buy a replica jersey here.  And the full long sleeved wool one here.

Decabooter exploded onto the pro scene with Groene Leeuw in 1959, already with some big references.  Like winning the Ronde Van Vlaanderen for Liefhebbers in 1955.  And winning again in Independents (onafhankelijke) version in 1958.

Winning the 'big' Ronde for beroesprenners in his second year as a pro?  Well, it just continued the progression.   I think Tuur's the only guy who can lay claim to that feat!

Tour of Flanders, 1960.  
His Ronde win was taken like a true bull, leading out a sprint from the front.  In the final 5k, a select group had just reeled in Shay Elliott.   Then Jacques Anquetil tried.  No go, pulled back too.    But just as Willy Schroeders was getting set to lead out his captain Rik Van Looy,  Decabooter went for it with over 200 meters to the line.   He won, somewhat surprised, with as they say, 'two fingers up the nose'.  Neither 'Popov' Jean Graczyk nor Rik Van Looy could come around him.

In that spring of 1960 Decabooter was transformed into Toro-Tuur, a terror.  While a flat tire may prevented a win in Roubaix, he did win the Dwars door Belgie, took two stages of the Vuelta as well as the points classification, a stage of the Tour of Belgium, and the championship of East Flanders.   In '61, he took the Het Volk and another Vuelta stage.   It was those three victories in Spain, rather than his solid constitution, which gave him his nickname of 'Toro'.

El Toro left the green lion for greener pastures, riding with two different squads over the next three year (Liberia and Solo).   It's probable that the appeal of - ahem - 'bulling' the way for Rik Van Looy likely faded, so he returned home to Groene Leeuw for 3 more years in the peloton.  In 1967, Decabooter managed three wins before a final adieu to the peloton.  An exit followed two years later by the Groene Leeuw team.

He retired to live in Asper-Gavere, right smack between Gent and Oudenaarde.   It's the heart of Flanders.  You probably have heard of the town as the venue of the annual Superprestige cyclocross race.   Tuur would still show up on the television, or the races as a elder VIP from time to time.    From what I could see, he seemed a quiet modest and friendly guy, the type who'd rather let his legs do the talking.   A gentleman, from a different generation.  One who grew up in Flanders in the war years, with hard working parents of modest means.   Parents who, seeking a better life for this children, sacrificed to buy Tuur that  first bike so he could ride to attend a Walloon school, in distant Bergen.  He seemed like a guy with his head screwed on straight, and his feet on the ground.

Tuur's cafe.  Still in the family.
 (David Stockman photo, from DeStaandard)
Tuur remained was incredibly popular in his home town.  The Sportpaleis cafe in the town square of Zingem was run from 1958-1960 by Tuur's parents, and is still in the family, run by Tuur's nephew Eric Ronsse.  Article here.   The walls  are covered with dozens of photos and memories remembering 'El Toro'.  Tuur would often visit to mingle with patrons, or play a game of cards.   "He was still incredibly popular," says Ronsse.  "The cheapest cycling cafe in Flanders" is their slogan.  I especially love that.  Sounds like my kind of place.  If you're ever over there cafesupporters, go have a beer there, and consider that when Tuur was in there in his racing days, he's famously abstain.  "Our team manager Berten De Kimpe would have grabbed the pint and poured over our heads," said Tuur in an interview years later.

The council has put in a mourning hall, where everyone register their feelings about the passing of Tuur.  This coming Saturday, Decabooter will be laid to rest at St. Martin in Asper. 

Tuur in the Sportpaleis Cafe with his nephew.
(Photo courtesy DeStaandard, Guy Van Den Bossch)   
This Monday, while Gavere was mourning the loss of one of it's greatest sons, the same town coincidentally hosted a press conference to welcome home Thomas DeGendt from his Giro performance.  A first grand tour podium for a Belgian in 17 years.  There's a lot of the old school in DeGendt.   Decabooter had said a few years ago that he considered Tom Boonen to be the only flandrien left nowadays.   I wonder if after his escapade on the Stelvio if he would have considered adding DeGendt to his shortlist?

The wheel turns full circle in life too.  Particularly in East Flanders, where thanks be to God, there's always another flahute stepping up to continue the tradition.

RIP Tuur Decabooter.  Check out some sporza tribute video to the man here.

Comments

  1. Nice article Eddy - R.I.P Arthur Decabooter!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Another one of the great hard men gone. You mention Seamus Elliott, another legend. Remembered by a race in his name. Maybe they could do the same with Arthur? Amazing how much he looks like a double of John Arne Riise (of Fulham FC) in that picture...

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    Replies
    1. jean-marie schepensOctober 5, 2012 at 2:26 PM

      An article which is incredible as it is written by an American who seems to have absorbed the true heart and soul of Flemish cycling in his epitome of Arthur El Toro. The text went through me as a needle, and it struck me as if Eddy had dwelt here for a long time. Arthur was my youth idol. We used to watch all the classics and yell in front of the tv-set. Ach, and years later, 2006, I found myself lobbying to make Gavere Dorp van the Ronde van Vlaanderen and my frontman was the threefold winner and idol Arthur. I wrote a book about him: Arthur 'El Toro' Decabooter, een flandrien uit de sixties. It turned out be a success and we got to be the Dorp of the Ronde in 2007. I also wrote a theatre play about cycling and Arthur winning his own Grand Prix. In fact, in the performance for 50 years of café Sportpaleis he acted himself and as the winner of the race he was interviewed, but grabbed the mike and opportunity to address all his former suporters and give them some wisdoms of life to such an extent that people stood up and gave him a spontaneous standing ovation. Chicken goose skin! A truly Great Flandrien has gone now. If you ever come over to Belgium, we must visit the place where it happened, but also his dear wife Nicole.
      P.S. There's a picture in the book which makes him rather look like his contemporary, JFK. Any thoughts to share (you have a great blog), mail me: schepensjeanmarie@gmail.com
      I've just finished a book on 35 years of cyclocross in Gavere and Asper, an ode to our blind president, Etienne Gevaert. We thought of him when inserting 42 QR-codes which when scanned by a smartphone can be listened to (all the race winners plus many others including Jonathan Page from the US). Coming out 18 October.

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