Rudi Altig feature: Clown prince of cycling

As an amateur Rudi Altig was better known for his feats of gymnastics than his cycling. It didn't...

As an amateur Rudi Altig was better known for his feats of gymnastics than his cycling. It didn't take him long to make a successful switch from track to road, becoming one of the superstars of his new discipline. Les Woodland looks back on the career of the controversial German sprinter.

It's not every day that bikies stand on their heads at races and so, when it happens, such a fact ought to be mentioned.

It was through his yoga tricks at track centres that Rudi Altig first came to be noticed. If a little relaxation was required, up he'd go, feet first, and he'd stay there until he felt ready to come back down again. Better than that, in La Rochelle he once walked out of a restaurant on his hands, a trick that others tried to copy but they succeeded only in crashing into other diners' tables and having all the loose change tumble out of their pockets.

Right now, with all this Jan Ullrich business, Rudi Altig must be wondering if he is still standing on his head. But first, some background…

Many nations have stereotypes and Altig fitted his well, the perfect image of the chunky German with fair hair and a square head. He was not only the country's big star of the 1960s but pretty much its only star. He held the yellow jersey for 18 days in four Tours de France and won 18 stages of the three grande tours.

As an unknown amateur, he rode a track meeting at Herne Hill in London in 1956 and, in the words of the organiser, "slaughtered a top-class field of international riders, with all our best home lads." Riding the summer track, though, had neither the glory nor, more importantly, the money that came from the road and so Altig rode the classics and stage races of Summer and then the six-day events of Winter. He moved to the road so smoothly that in 1962, as a sideline to helping Jacques Anquetil win overall, he took the green jersey and won three stages in the Tour. And he won the Vuelta.

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