As this season’s Classics generate new legends and define careers, spare a thought for many fantastic riders whose careers fell between the cracks. Riders whose fame relied on results and team-issue postcards rather than press-officer curated Instagram and Twitter accounts.
Born too soon to have their deeds streamed live, snapped on mobile phones, spaces invaded by selfie-seekers, they raced when Fleche Wallonne wasn’t finished till 253 kilometres had been covered and the final one was still up the Mur of Huy.
Spare a thought, precisely, for a rider like Rolf Gölz, a German whose career included Olympic and World pursuit medals, Classic wins and podiums and the odd minor Tour. At a time when Germany was still split between East and West and bereft of big stars or teams, the Schwabian star came and went without the fanfare he deserved in a brief eight-year career.
After winning a silver-medal behind (oh irony of sport) a blood-doped Steve Hegg at the Los Angeles Olympic pursuit in 1984 and a bronze behind some of the similarly-prepared US pursuit squad, Gölz turned pro for the Del Tongo Colnago team. Having moved to Lake Garda to share an apartment with Czeslaw Lang and, later, Lech Piasecki, Golz started his pro career with a bang, winning the Ruta del Sol.
“I used to train a lot in the winter and always went well in the early season,” he recalls. “It was a big surprise to me – everyone was surprised – in Spain the stages were 180km and we rode at 30kph for 150 kilometres then 40 to 50kpm in the finale. Of course it was perfect for me, I hadn’t so much endurance, but I had speed from the track.”
But if Gölz’ early career results thrilled him, fading star and team leader Giuseppe Saronni was less impressed. “In the 1986 Sicilian Week, I attacked up a hill on the final stage and after the finish Saronni said I shouldn’t be in the team for the Giro.”
There were, in Gölz’ words, “some problems” with the erstwhile superstar. So Gölz spoke to Ernesto Colnago, telling him he needed out and Colnago found a berth at the SuperConfex team, led by Jan Raas, also sponsored by Colnago.
“I had never raced much in Belgium. With Del Tongo we raced mostly in Italy and Spain, so I had real problems at the start, though I got a bit better with experience.
“I preferred the Ardennes, the Basque Country and Asturias, I was quite good on shorter, steeper hills, where I could use power. But when the hills were longer – like the Alps and the Pyrenees – the power wasn’t enough, I didn’t have the…uh… souplesse,” laughs Gölz.
Arguably Gölz’ best result was his win in the 1988 Fleche Wallonne, in front of Claude Criquielion, Moreno Argentin, Jean-Claude Leclerq and Englishman Paul Watson, riding for Lycra-Halfords.
“The first time I rode I finished 15th, then 11th, then third in 1987 and then [I won in] 1988.
“Criquielion and Argentin were looking at each other a little bit, so I attacked on the penultimate climb, Ben Ahin, and then, when I got a gap I committed. I was worried when I got to the foot of Huy because I had been riding flat-out for maybe nine kilometres and I thought they would come past me but…no!”
For some reason Gölz never managed to repeat the aptitude he’d repeatedly show at Fleche in Liege-Bastogne-Liege four days later. Thirty years after his win in Huy, Gölz still sounds a little perplexed. “I don’t know why, but it was just never the same in Liege, although the Fleche Wallonne wasn’t much easier or shorter,” reflects Gölz.
“I think a little of the pressure got to me. When I won the Fleche Wallonne, that made me one of the favourites and I never rode well under pressure. Jan Raas was a strict guy who didn’t say much and I always got my best results when his assistant was in the car, Hilaire Van der Schueren.”
Gölz is quick to recognise the irony of his next move. In ‘escaping’ Raas, Gölz moved to Ariostea under Giancarlo Ferretti. He laughs: “Yes! He was worse! A very hard man.
“I was living in Monte Carlo – back then there was only Moreno Argentin, Tony Rominger and me – and Moreno suggested I come to the team.”
But the sport was changing.
“I think from 1988 everyone started training much more in winter and then teams started demanding results in every race, because they needed points to get into the Tour.
“Every race there was more pressure on everyone,” recalls Gölz “and I liked to enjoy racing. It wasn’t so fun anymore.
“We would go to races and be expected to get points. It used to be that you could win, or do well, then take it a little bit easy in the next race. But no more. So, after the Classics we had to go straight to the Tour of Romandie and keep going. The generation of Saronni, that style of racing and not training in winter, was finished.”
Also, inevitably, EPO arrived at the dawn of the 1990s and Gölz wasn’t willing to participate. Talking today, his otherwise free-flowing recollections become slightly more hesitant.
“Yeah…that period was bad. That was also one of the reasons I decided I didn’t want to go on. And at the same time, everyone was getting serious, but if you did not get results then you didn’t get a contract.”
You can see how ‘being serious’ quickly collapsed into the need to use EPO. And if you weren’t using EPO, then a team manager could suggest that you weren’t ‘being serious’ enough.
Gölz started the 1992 Tour, suffered like a dog and was thrown off the race for taking a tow in the Alps, the day Claudio Chiappucci put in his extra-terrestrial performance to win at Sestriere. He sighs. It was a sad end.
“I told Ferretti to cancel my contract. Argentin called me in the winter and asked me to reconsider, but my heart would not have been in it.”
Instead he went back to university to study economics and business.
Currently, Gölz runs an impressive bike shop with an old colleague in Bad Waldsee near his home town, although it sells many more mountain bikes than race bikes.
Fun Fact! Gölz rode all his pro wins on Colnagos since all the teams he raced for in Italy and Holland were sponsored by Ernesto, though he doesn’t sell the brand in his shop.
“I’d say 50 per cent sales are in ebikes now. They’re great, I’ll climb Mont Ventoux when I’m 70!”
Even if cycling’s historians haven’t been overly generous to him, he’s a man at ease with the part he played in writing cycling’s back pages.