“I had these questions since I was born,” Björn Thurau says.
Axel Merckx and Nicolas Roche have had the same ones, Hervé Duclos-Lasalle too. They are destined to labour under inflated expectations and tiring comparisons to their fathers. As if being a cycling great's offspring should mean superiority conferred through DNA.
Dietrich Thurau was a blonde angel, a handsome Tour debutant whose star was launched sky-high when he won five stages and wore the yellow jersey for a fortnight in 1977.
Thurau won Liège-Bastogne-Liège and GP Zurich before the Seventies were out, but made mistakes and fell out of Heaven. He was caught for doping several times. Last year, he was fined 39,900 euros for embezzlement; he was also convicted of forgery and assaulting a taxi driver in the Nineties.
None of this seemed to blight Björn's beginnings. His first race was as a 10 year old in his home city of Frankfurt. "It was a nice thing to be doing. You had no stress, you could just ride," he recalls.
The other kids would mark the son of the famous cyclist in the early years, not that he minded much. Dietrich was in the background, pushing him to succeed.
“I think we’re a little bit different. I’m more easygoing. He’s stressed: when he was with me in small races in juniors, all the time he had a bit of stress.” Did Björn tell him to stop pushing? “Sometimes. But when you are a young rider, you cannot say much to your father. He’s your boss.” Now, Dietrich is a tennis coach, helping Björn’s younger brother Urs to succeed on the ATP Tour in the future.
Björn only had eyes for the professional ranks. Dietrich tried to stop him. It was too soon, he should learn a trade. And Dietrich knew what he would face: doping paraphernalia.
“I warned him ‘stay clear of it’,” he told Neue Westfalische last year.
Björn signed a contract with a UCI team in Switzerland in his first year as a senior. “I go my way, whether that’s the wrong way, I can’t know, that’s my life. We spoke a little bit about it. I can do what I want, eh?” he says now.
The next few years were a struggle. A supposed contract with Footon-Servetto evaporated into thin air in the winter of 2009. He spent two years scrapping to get back to the top tier with small German squads until Jean-René Bernaudeau offered him a contract with Europcar for 2012.
“I can make the next step, that’s important for me,” he says. Now 25 years old, the next step is pushing on in the small stage races and Classics. Björn is of a different cut to his father: a six foot four powerhouse passionate about the spring's cobbled one-day races.
Perhaps daddy “Didi” is a little out of touch with modern cycling too. “He doesn’t see the new cycling is different to old cycling. He can’t understand why I rode 100 kilometres on the front for another rider. I’m a team player and back then, there were very few of those. In modern cycling, you need a team.”
Björn has few results of which to speak yet. When we talk, he is sore about his recent bad luck at the Tour of Wallonia. He made the decisive breakaway and was sat fifth overall till a crash nine kilometres from the end of the last stage skittled him down the GC. It would probably have eased contract negotiations for 2014.
Part of the dichotomy between new and old cycling, does he find the treatment from the German media fair, that the current generation suffers for the mistakes of the past?
"It makes me angry because we are a new generation. We are not the same, they made the mistake. The problem of the German journalists is they focus just on cycling. It’s not fair to say cycling only has this problem with doping, it’s in all sports.”
The family name and father-son comparisons will stick, but this Thurau is happily doing it his own way, chasing his dream of victory in Paris-Roubaix.