The First World War brought most European cycling to a halt, and also ended the lives of many of ther great riders from before the conflict. By 1923 when Frantz turned professional, however, a new generation had arisen to take their place; riders such as Ottavio Bottecchia who won the Tour (the first Italian to do so and the first rider to have ever worn the maillot jaune from beginning to end) in 1924 and 1925. Frantz's first Tour was 1924 and he finished in second place, 35'36" behind Bottecchia but almost an hour ahead of Lucien Buysse. The following year Frantz was fourth, then second again in 1926.
During Stage 11 in 1927 a relatively unknown touriste-routier named Michele Gordini managed to secretly launch a solo breakaway and, in those days before race radio and team cars with Internet, it took the peloton so long to discover his absence that he built up a lead of 45 minutes before they gave chase. Had he have maintained it he'd have begun the next stage in the maillot jaune, but mechanical problems put him out of action and Frantz, who had led the efforts to catch him, won the stage and became race leader. By the end of Stage 16 his lead stood at over an hour; he would subsequently lose time to Maurice Dewaele but, with the mountains behind them, the race was his. In 1928, Frantz topped Bottecchia's 1924 achievement by starting in yellow and keeping the jersey all the way to finish. Disaster seemed about to rob him of victory in Stage 19 when his frame snapped on a railway crossing, but he borrowed a step-through bike from a woman watching the race and was assisted back to the peloton by his Alcyon team, continuing on it though it was too small for him until he could be supplied with a replacement Alcyon machine and went on to win his second Tour.
Among Frantz's other achievements were victory at the National Road Race Championships from 1923 to 1934 and at the Tour of the Basque Country in 1926.
|Raas at the Amstel Gold Race, 1977|
One of ten children raised on a farm at Heinkenszand, Raas is unusual among professional cyclists - especially those from the Low Countries - in that he had to interest whatsoever in bikes or bike racing until he was 16 - the age he got his first bike. He entered his first race perhaps simply as something to do more than for any other reason, but was immediately smitten - and on the 21st of July 1969, weeks after leaving school he started racing soon afterwards and, only months later on the 21st of July in 1969, he won for the first time. A successful amateur career followed, starting with one victory and several good results in 1971 and then a stage win at the Olympia's Tour, victory in the Zeeland Provincial Amateur Road Race Championships and two more wins in 1972. A year later he won five times, including his first General Classification (the Omloop van Zeeuws-Vlaanderen), and in 1974 he won a total of eight times including two stages at the Olympia's Tour and the Amateur National Championships. By the end of the season, Ti-Raleigh had offered him a contract - and so began his professional career.
That year, Raas managed three podium finishes at the Vuelta a Andalucia (two second, on third) and won a couple of races at home. Then, in 1976 - only his second year as a professional, remember - he won the National Championships, took second place on Stage 2 at Paris-Nice and, most impressively of all, was second behind Freddy Maertens at the Amstel Gold Race, the most important bike race in the Netherlands and which takes place on a notoriously tough, technical and dangerous parcours. Three top ten finishes including third place on Stage 2 at the Tour de France left nobody in any doubt at all that a major new talent was on the scene.
Feeling that he was ready to go for bigger things but knowing he wouldn't have the chance whilst Ti-Raleigh was home to Hennie Kuiper, Raas switched for the 1977 season to Frisol-Thirion-Gazelle, which was looking for a new potential Grand Tour winner to take over where Luis Ocana left off. He won Stage 1 at the Tour Méditerranéen, Milan-San Remo and the Amstel Gold Race at the start of the year, then came 13th at Liège-Bastogne-Liège before winning four Belgian and Dutch races in the run-up to the Tour de France where he finished top ten twice and won Stage 6 before abandoning after Stage 14, and would go on to win another three Dutch races before the season ended. Frisol ended sponsorship at the end of the year and the team closed; Peter Post, manager at Ti-Raleigh, reconsidered matters and, no doubt, persuaded his sponsors to provide a bigger salary offer - Raas, now joint-leader alongside Gerrie Knetemann, was back on the squad for 1978 and would remain until 1983.
In 1978, Raas won twelve races before the Amstel Gold Race, which took place on the 25th of March, then won that too by beating Francesco Moser by a minute and sixteen seconds. He was second at the E3 Harelbeke and third at both the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and the infamous Paris-Roubaix, and managed podium finishes in most of the other races he entered. In the summer he won Stage 3 at the Tour de Suisse as well as the Prologue - though he was not awarded the yellow jersey despite leading the race, a curious and unprecedented move by Tour director Felix Levitan who claimed that bad weather had made it impossible for the stage to be properly contested (Raas and Levitan had, it is said, argued over sponsors, which may have had something to do with it all) - and Stages 1a and 21 at the Tour de France, finishing top ten on six other stages including four podiums; he was 24th overall and fourth in the Points classification, and won four more races including Paris-Brussels and Paris-Tours before the season drew to an end. In 1979, an incredible year, he won the Prologue, Stage 2 and the General Classification at the Ronde van Nederland, the Prologue and Stage 5b at the Tour Méditerranéen, Stage 3 at Paris-Nice, the E3 Harelbeke, the Ronde van Vlaanderen and the Amstel Gold Race and seven other races before the Tour, where he won Stage 5 before again abandoning. Then, the next year, 25 races before the Tour, including Stage 3 at the Ronde van Nederland, the Prologue and Stages 2 and 3b at the Tour Méditerranéen, Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, the E3 and another Amstel Gold Race, also coming third at Milan-San Remo, the Dwars door Vlaanderen and the Ronde van Vlaanderen. At the Tour, he won Stages 1a, 1b, 7b and 9 and finished top ten on four others before again leaving the race.
Raas stayed away from the Tour in 1981, but won sixteen times at other races including the General Classification at the Etoile de Bessèges, Stage 3b at the Tour Méditerranéen, the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, the E3 Harelbeke, Gent-Wevelgem and Paris-Tours. By 1982 he was back to his usual self and won twelve races including the Dwars door Vlaanderen, Paris-Roubaix and Amstel Gold Race before making another assault on the Tour where he won Stage 6 (and the Team Time Trial, Stage 9a).
There were fourteen victories early in 1983, including Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, the Ronde van Vlaanderen and the National Championship, but an uncharacteristic third at the Amstel Gold Race suggested he might be beginning to approach the last years of his career - as seemed to be borne out at the Tour that year where he was 61st in the Prologue, 12th on Stage 1 and then 125th on Stage 3 before deciding to go home. What's more, it was widely known that Raas and manager Peter Post - who had a deserved reputation for being hard to get along with - had been arguing, and at the end of the season when each decided they'd had enough the team closed. Seven members chose to stay with Post and went with him to his new team, sponsored by Panasonic; six stayed with Raas and went with him to a new team sponsored by Kwantum. In 1984, Raas crashed hard at Milan-San Remo and damaged his back and internal organs so seriously that he was never able to regain the form he'd once had. Having won nine races that season, including another National Champion and (after the crash) Stage 9 at the Tour de France, he called time on his career as a cyclist.
A man with Raas' experience and skills was, however, too valuable to be lost to cycling, and he became Kwantum's directeur sportif. When Kwantum backed out of cycling, Raas proved himself to be a clever businessman too and secured new sponsors, managing to keep the team going for far longer than is normal: it became Superconfex, then Buckler, then WordPerfect, then Novell and then Rabobank, with whom Raas signed a contract in 1996 - by which time he was general manager rather than directeur sportif having decided he was unwilling to spend as much time away from his wife following an armed robbery at their home in 1994. Raas remained in this role up until 2003, when what were reported to be "insoluble differences" with Rabobank caused him to finally end his connection to the team. Rabobank, incidentally, continued to back the team right up until 2012; then, after a brief spell during which the bank honoured riders' contracts but didn't wish to be associated to the team, it became Blanco before Belkin took over - and Belkin is the name by which, at the end of the 2013 season, it is still known. Raas remained bitter about the split for many years, refusing to refer to the team as Rabobank in his column for the Algemeen Dagblad newspaper.
Raas' five victories in the Amstel Gold Race - which became known as the Amstel Gold Raas among fans - remains a record to this day; despite finishing the Tour only twice (in 1976 and 1978), he shares the record of stage wins by a Dutch rider with Gerrie Knetemann and Joop Zoetemelk.
Born in the USSR on this day in 1947, Vladislav Nelyubin competed in the road race at the 1968 Olympics but did not finish. In 1972, he came second in the Peace Race and in 1973 he was second overall and won the Points classification at the Tour of Austria. Nelyubin's son Dmitry was also an Olympian cyclist, but was murdered one New Year's Day 2005 by a man who claimed to have been attacked by neo-Nazi skinheads and to have mistaken him for one of them. Every year, Vladislav organises a memorial race in the city where his son died.
Luciano Dalla Bona, born in Pressano, Italy on this day in 1945, won silver in the Time Trial at the 1964 Olympics.
Gerald Mortag, who was born in Gera, East Germany on this day in 1958, won a silver medal in the Team Pursuit at the 1980 Olympics and gold at the World Track Championships in 1977, 1978 and 1979. The East German cyclists had been predicted to do well at the 1984 Olympics but were ultimately unable to compete due to the boycott of the Games by the USSR and Eastern Bloc nations; instead, they took part in the Friendship Games that were held as an alternative (and turned out to be an unexpected success when many of the countries sending athletes to the Olympics sent their B-teams - including, somewhat curiously as it had been their decision to boycott the 1980 Moscow Olympics in protest at the USSR's invasion of Afghanistan, the USA) and won gold.
More cyclists born on this day: Cláudia Carceroni-Saintagne (Brazil, 1962); Odd Berg (Norway, 1923); Brian Lyn (Antigua and Barbuda, 1961); Mike Cowley (Great Britain, 1941); Johnny Bairos (USA, 1977); Renzo Colzi (France 1937); Adler Capelli (Italy, 1973).