Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Roy Schuiten Revisited – ace pursuiter of the ’70’s


HomeInterviewsRoy Schuiten Revisited - ace pursuiter of the '70's

We recently ran or tribute to the late, great ‘Big Bert’ Oosterbosch. It was so well received by our readers that we thought we should re-run a piece from a few years ago which pays tribute to another Dutch chrono and pursuit king – the late, great Roy Schuiten.

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This article first ran on 25th March, 2016

With the London Track Worlds fading into the distance as the classics season gets underway, we thought we’d run a few pieces which harp back to the ‘golden days’ of pursuiting – when all the participants didn’t ‘look the same’ and 5,000 metres was the blue riband distance for the professional greats.

Cycle Sport magazine run an article a few months ago, ‘The 25 Most Stylish Riders of all Time’ – Giovanni Battaglin, Roger De Vlaeminck, Francesco Moser, all fair enough.

But Tafi? Lizzie Armitstead? Cancellara?

And there were some glaring omissions, Tom Simpson, Ferdi Bracke, Ole Ritter and – Roy Schuiten.

In 1971 the big blond Dutchman took silver in The Netherlands amateur pursuit championships, a year later it was gold and there was a third place in the amateur Grand Prix des Nations.

He retained his Netherlands amateur title in 1973 and took bronze at The Worlds in the same discipline.

Roy Schuiten
Roy Schuiten was one of the classiest bikes riders of the 1970’s. Photo©John Pierce / PhotoSport International UK USA Asia

But it was 1974 when he truly exploded onto the scene, winning the Olympia Tour in Holland and the Milk Race as an amateur before turning pro for the mighty TI-Raleigh team.

He won the World Professional Pursuit Championship, the Grand Prix des Nations and the Baracchi Trophy with Francesco Moser – a fabulous debut.

Roy Schuiten
Roy Schuiten in TI Raleigh colours takes takes the Baracchi Trophy with Francesco Moser in 1974.

The following season his meteoric progress continued with another world pro pursuit title, the GP Frankfurt, the GP des Nations, the GP Lugano TT. The world was at his feet and we held our breath as Schuiten boarded a plane for Mexico to attack Merck’s Hour Record.

And things were never the same again…

The record attempt was a disaster; despite great form going into the attempt and Raleigh’s ace mechanic Jan Le Grand having built him a super light gem of a machine.

He got up on the track three times in pursuit of the record but at no time did he manage to match Merckx’s pace – albeit the Belgian did start at a prodigious rate.

TI Raleigh manager, Peter Post was a man who abhorred failure and his already deteriorating relationship with Schuiten was over.

Schuiten headed off to France to Lejeune – the team who bought out the last year of his TI Raleigh contract – then to Italy and SCiC and whilst there were other big wins, he was never quite the same rider again.

He was second in the Worlds pro pursuit, Nations and Baracchi in 1976 with a win in the Tour of the Med the highlight.

In his second year with the French team there was a win in the TT stage at Dunkerque, beating Thurau but only fourth in The Baracchi.

Roy Schuiten
Roy Schuiten was perfectly at home on the road or in a madison chase, as here, with Leo Duyndam. Photo©John Pierce / PhotoSport International UK USA Asia

With SCiC in 1978 he was again second in the Worlds pursuit, this time behind Braun and won the Baracchi with Norwegian powerhouse, Knut Knudsen.

Roy Schuiten
Roy Schuiten with Knut Knudsen in the Baracchi Trophy in 1978.

In 1979 he won the GP Forli TT and was fourth in the Nations, but his best was behind him.

The name on the jersey was Inoxpran for 1980, Kotler in ’81; his last pro year was with the Spanish Kelme team in 1982.

He had a brief tenure as DS with PDM in 1986 and then opened a restaurant in Portugal, where lived until September 2006 when he died tragically young at just 55 years old from a stomach haemorrhage in Praia de Carvoeiro.

We caught up with Schuiten’s son, Rob to ask about his father, surely one of the most elegant men ever to grace a bicycle.

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Rob was born as his father’s career wound down so never got the chance to see him at his brilliant best on the track or against the watch but he collects memorabilia from his father’s career and is always on the lookout for trophies, equipment and photos from his father’s ‘golden years.’

“Two years ago I met an old friend of my father’s; he had a box of treasure – trophies, ribbons, medals, sashes from my father’s career.

“My father wasn’t a man to collect stuff like that; when he was an amateur he didn’t pay much attention to that side of things and it was my late grandfather who used to look after the trophies.

“He’s the only rider ever to win the Olympia Tour and Milk Race in the same season.”

Roy Schuiten
One of Roy Schuiten’s Raleigh “Hour” track bikes, built by ace mechanic Legrand. Photo©Rob Schuiten

But Schuiten’s pro career nearly didn’t happen; his father was involved in a fatal car accident in 1973 and the young track star quit racing to help his mother look after the family off licence.

Rob explains;

“Yes, he took a year out to help run the family liquor store with my grandmother after my grandfather died but the national coaches, Harry Jansen and Frans Maan talked him back into getting on his bike.”

Schuiten’s 1974 pro debut was stunning, as Rob says;

“His first year was his best – there were The Worlds, The Nations, The Baracchi on top of his amateur successes.”

Roy Schuiten
World Champion Roy Schuiten demonstrates the perfect track position. Photo©John Pierce / PhotoSport International UK USA Asia

His success against the watch and mano a mano on the track give a clue to his character, a man who could be fiercely independent; Roy relates an anecdote which illustrates this part of his nature;

“He rode the big criterium at Chaam but became so fed up with being told who would do what and when in the race – and who would win that he decided to show them and just rode his own race.

“But the promoters had the last laugh and they stopped giving him contracts for the criteriums – that cost him a lot of money.”

Any article about Schuiten has to mention The Hour Record, those 60 minutes which can launch a career, cement greatness – or break a man.

Roy Schuiten
Roy Schuiten won the World Championships at a young age. Photo©John Pierce / PhotoSport International UK USA Asia

The cycling press of the day was abuzz with details of the bike, the schedule and Schuiten’s glittering palmares to date. But there’s little doubt that Schuiten and Post underestimated the enormity of clearing a bar which had been calibrated by Eddy Merckx.

And there was none of the special training which Merckx did to simulate riding at altitude. The impression was that taking the record was a formality, Rob elaborates;

“There’s no doubt that his material was top of the bill for the era – the bike, the clothing, it was all perfect.

“But things between my father and Post weren’t the best any more, in 1974 he’d been ‘his boy’ but now he had more stars on the team and my father felt that Post wasn’t so supportive any more, he felt abandoned even?

“And there were commercial interest at play; Post had sold the TV rights to a Dutch broadcaster and to get the satellite link he had to start at THIS time.

“Merckx didn’t have that handicap, his start time wasn’t set for him – the wind is a factor on an outdoor track like in Mexico and you should ride to suit the weather conditions not just for maximum publicity or satellite link.

“People talked as if it was going to be easy but it was a Merckx record; my dad was only 23 years old – a rookie, and if you look at the guys who took the record in that era, mostly it was towards the end of their career.”

Roy Schuiten
Roy Schuiten celebrating taking the World title with legendary mechanic Jan Legrand. Photo©John Pierce / PhotoSport International UK USA Asia

Legendary soigneur, Gus Naessens who accompanied Schuiten on the trip to Mexico said that once Schuiten had a Grand Tour or two under his belt and had learned how to really suffer then it would be a different story.

But Schuiten would never again attempt the record.

Many fel