I once had an absurd moment in a bar on the outskirts of Bergen-op-Zoom. The name can only be a Dutch joke because while the op Zoom is accurate enough in that the town is on Holland’s edge, Bergen means hills. The area is flat enough to see the curvature of the earth.
I was a weary, unfit and no longer young trimmer, the word Dutch people use for keep-fit riders. And I’d stopped for a coffee.
I was just leaving when a man asked if he had “seen me at work” in Antwerp, which was just across the border in Belgium. I was surprised but I agreed that he may have done so because that was indeed where I went to work every day.
He nodded knowingly and gave a conspiratorial smile.
“I thought so,” he said, as though we and only we shared a secret kept from the rest of the bar. “Keihard, die Post, nee?”, he winked.
I realised with a rush of embarrassment and conceit that he had mistaken me for one of Peter Post’s riders in the Raleigh team. He thought he’d seen me riding the six-day which had just finished on the big leaky track outside Antwerp. But by then it was too late.
Keihardmeans “as hard as nails.” That was Peter Post’s reputation. And now he’s dead.
Peter Post was the most successful team manager there has ever been. From just 1976 to 1983 he amassed two world road championships (Knetemann 1978, Raas 1979), the 1980 Tour de France (Zoetemelk), the Amstel Gold Race in 1978, 1979 and 1980, the Tour of Flanders in 1979 and Ghent-Wevelgem in 1980. Plus 15 world championships, five World Cups, 77 Tour stages, the Giro d’Italia, 37 classics and 55 national championships.
Marcel Bidot produced more Tour de France winners and Johan Bruyneel won more Tours. But Bruyneel did it with just one exceptional rider and Bidot never managed teams in the classics. Post did it all. He also rode 155 sixes and won 65 of them, including London, which he won every year from 1968 to 1971. He also won Paris-Roubaix at 45.131kmh in 1964, a record speed that stood for 11 years.
Allan Peiper said: “He had a very powerful character and most of us were frightened of him. He had this thing when we were eating where he would pick someone to sit next to, and if he sat next to you, you were in for it. We used to say that he had picked a victim. He would sit and ask you questions that there was no right answer to. If your answer was white, the correct one would have been black. If you said black, it would have been white. Then when you’d given the wrong answer, he had you. I don’t know why he did it. Maybe he thought it motivated you.”
The funny thing is that I met Post several times, including once at his house on the edge of Amsterdam, and I found him nothing but charming. I spent an hour interviewing him and at the end he said he had enjoyed it so much that he insisted on calling his friends to ask if I could go round to see them as well.
I wasn’t a rider, of course. And I wasn’t one of his employees, as he saw his teams. But I think there was more than just wanting to be nice to a journalist. I had ridden 100km on a loaded bike and against a headwind to see him. I hadn’t realised how much he would appreciate the effort, how much he admired people who went the extra step.
The other was that I could talk to him in Dutch. That, too, I found counted for a lot. Post spoke English with no trouble but I hadn’t asked him to. I happened to speak Dutch and I’d had to learn it. How much that mattered to him I realised only when I went back over the stories of the British riders he had been forced to take when Raleigh, a British company, employed him.
One by one the Brits came home. The last to survive was the least talented – but Bob Carey had taken the trouble to learn Dutch. The British moaned how they were given the worst bikes, used as cannon-fodder, kicked because they weren’t Dutch.
Hennie Kuiper won the world championship with Raleigh and he said the team was the most remarkable he’d known. “Raleigh won 56 stages in the Tour, I think. Unbelievable. In one year they won 11 stages. Incredible. That was a real team, with a real team spirit. Everybody worked for everybody else. If somebody got away, the others protected him. It was great.”
But when I asked about Post’s management style, he chose his words and said: “My character and Peter Post’s are totally different. I was still a youngster. And when you’re young and you have some sort of problem, you need to discuss it. But that was almost impossible. In the end I said I wanted out.”
1Gerald O’Donovan, the executive at Raleigh who supervised the venture, said: “More than once Peter let riders leave who had an inflated view of their own worth, rather than spoil the balance of the rest of the team. Usually these riders learned that without the depth of team support, life was not easy. I remember him telling one Australian rider: ‘You want me to pay you nice Australian tennis money? You go play tennis.’”
O’Donovan smiled as he remembered that Joop Zoetemelk, who had just won the Tourde France, had arrived for a meal one day without a tie – and was sent back to put one on. Not necessarily a loveable man, therefore, although hugely respected.
The French magazineVélo named Raleigh its top team in history and said it “imposed its astonishing collective force from the moment the team was created”, adding that Post “maintained great cohesion in a team rich with individual strengths.” But the cost grew too high for Raleigh and it backed out. Post ran other teams and then retired. Raleigh sold its factory in job lots in December 1999, 109 years after it started, and began importing bikes imported from Bangladesh and Vietnam.
And now, after a long illness, Peter Post too has gone. An era has passed.