BY DIRK KUNZ
BY DIRK KUNZ
NUREMBERG ■ Heinrich Trumheller, 42 years old, former professional road cyclist, speaks little and takes a lot of time between the words. He speaks quietly and even after 20 years in Germany you realize that Russian is his first language. He remembers his beginnings as an athlete in the Sovjetunion. He didn’t attend a residential school like so many physically gifted children. His father trained him at home. Home, that was Nalchik, today´s capital city of the Kabardino-Balkar Republic, Russia. Peter Trumheller wanted his son to become a proper apprentice and to attend school regularly. In the residential sport schools of the old days, he says, that they trained too much and learned to little.
In the afternoon after school Heinrich Trumheller rode his bicycle with his father for two or three hours almost every day. On Mondays and Thursdays he took the day off. 8.000 miles at the age of eleven, one year later approximately 11.000 miles, and everything on a bike with a “Diamant” frame from GDR-Production. “Very large, very heavy, but much better than anything that you could buy in the Soviet Union”, says Trumheller.
Altogether he says that in the Soviet Union they trained harder, everything was more professionally organized and the enormous numbers of high performance riders were impressive.
With this advance he came to Germany in the midyear 1990. His father was a successful bicycle rider in the Sovjetunion and drove in the CCCP-National Team. He belongs to the ethnic group of the so called Volga Germans and he moves with his wife and his two sons Heinrich and Harry to Donaueschingen/Germany, because some of their relatives lived there already.
Friends and other relatives were left behind, that was difficult for the older brother Heinrich, but regarded from the sportman’s point of view the change was no problem.
In 1991 Trumheller won the Tour of Slovakia and also the traditional German race “Cologne-Schuld-Frechen”. One year later as a rider for the Swiss professional cycling team “Helvetia” he reached the 6th place at the Tour de Suisse overall standing, only 29 seconds behind Greg LeMond, his big role model, who ended up in third place. At the 7th stage of the Tour, in a very hard final and because of a tactical mistake, he was beaten by Sean Kelly and came in second. In this impressive shape he came to the German bicycle championship to the “Sachenring”, a racing circuit located near Chemnitz, Saxony. The weather was hot, Trumheller liked that. So he became the German National Road Race Champion in 1992.
As his Helvetia Team dissolved at the end of the year, he had free choice and a lot of job offers from other teams. He went to the French “Castorama”-Team. Retrospectively probably not the best choice.
“Probably I could have better developed my abilities better in Italy”, says Trumheller. Now he realised what he had lost with the old team. He says that the Helvetia Team was very well organized with a smart tactic during the races, maybe a kind of surrogate family for Heinrich Trumheller.
The trainer legend Paul Köchli, the sporting director of Helvetia always made sure that each rider could find himself in a situation in which e can develop best and tried to improve the natural development of the athlete. At “Castorama” in contrast, every member drove selfishly only for his own benefit, it was a frosty climate in the French team. Trumheller says, that Cyrille Guimard, the directeur sportif was to blame because he even enforced selfish riding. To Trumheller Guimard appeared indifferent and unmotivated.
After two years, in 1995, he joined to the German Team Telekom and besides him the Team contracted Jan Ullrich, Cycling World Amateur Road Champion from 1993. Trumheller says in that year Ullrich was outdistanced in the races as often as him.
But in 1996 Ullrich finished second at the Tour de France and one year later, he won the most important and toughest bicycle race in the world superiorly. At that time, Trumheller already rides in the second class Team “Schauff-Öschelbronn”.
In 1989, at the Junior World Road Championship in Moscow, he outdistanced Lance Armstrong, four years later the US-American became UCI Road World Champion in Oslo, Norway. At the end of Trumhellers career the Texan started to win the Tour de France seven times in a row. Trumheller says Ullrich and Armstrong were great talents, so was Trumheller.
“After that I rode one or two years in the good old times”, he said slightly melancholy. In the professional races the first 50 miles were ridden slowly and only then the race went off.
Aliens on bikes
But what happened then, it makes him shake his head in disbelief even today. He says he was astonished how the other athletes rode all of a sudden. They passed him like motorcyclists, he says, whole teams speeded as if they would come from another planet. Trumheller laughs quietly. He often laughs during the conversation, when he talks about the incredible performance difference between the riders. It is a laughter which is fed by resignation.
It was simply completely impossible to hold their pace. He wanted to become a good cycling professional, that´s what he says at the beginning of his career in 1992. “I haven´t succeeded. I didn’t have good results”, he said today self-critically. “I achieved my biggest victories clean and a long time I rode only with bread and water (undoped).”
He knew which performances he was capable of, and then below-average riders flew past him, who in former times he had only seen at the start of a race and after it in the shower. Huge and heavy riders passed him when climbing the mountain, that was very depressing, he says.
As he tried to explain to his father that the huge performance differences in the rider’s field had to do with doping, he didn´t believe his son: “You don’t exercise hard enough”, his father said, but the differences were so massive, that you could exercise as much as you wanted, without any effect.
In the years 1998/1999, at the end of his career, he tried doping himself. He says, he took EPO, but it was miles away from a medicated doping that the other riders did, he didn’t have the connections. His father taught him fairplay and honesty, but he was desperate.
With 21 years he saw a team-mate giving himself an EPO-shot. Later another team-mate, an assistant of a former Tour de France winner, appeared at breakfast and lunch each time with ten pills. For this rider the daily intake in public was not a big problem.
Nowadays, Trumheller, the married head of a family, rides his bike only occasionally. For ten years he hasn’t been back to his Russian homeland. He doesn’t stand a chance beating his father on bike, who became this fall men´s time trial world champion for the athletes over 70 years. Today, he sells delicacies from Eastern Europe in his grocery store in Nuremberg/Germany. He hardly watches bicycle races on TV, to his former colleagues he has no contact anymore.
BY DIRK KUNZ
Heinrich Trumheller was difficult to find. Even in the brave new world of the internet. There is an article from 2001 in a German-Russian newspaper. Back then he ran a grocery store in Nuremberg. His store doesn’t exist anymore. There is still a store under this address, but the recent manager doesn’t know Trumheller.
A few years ago he changed to a rival store, where he sold “Russian chocolate, Ukrainian cucumber and polish vodka against east European homesickness”, that is written in an article of the local newspaper. His former boss hasn’t had any contact to him for three years. There is one entry of this family name (with a female first name) in the phone book of Nuremberg. But no one picks up the phone. The number leads to an apartment building in a Nuremberg suburb. The other residents don’t know the name, don’t want to know or hang up the phone.
The chairman of a local bike club is very polite and he wants to ask around in Nuremberg: The bicycle scene is very well connected, he said. I should call him again in the middle of the week. So I call him back a few days later. He regrets: No, he couldn’t help me, he talked to some bike veterans and yes, they knew the name, but not more. But there were two other bicycle clubs in the city. I should try it there.
The press spokesman of another club gives me the phone number of a bicycle shop owner, who was sporting and executive director of the professional bike team “Team Nuremberger”. Yes, he knew Heinrich. Two years ago he was invited to a party at Trumheller´s grocery store, unfortunately he hadn’t his cell phone number. But to this party Dr. Albert Guessbacher was also invited. Guessbacher was the former medical supervisor of the German National Bicycle Team for Amateurs. “Guessi” might know, what Heinrich Trumheller is doing now.
Dr. Guessbacher has known Heinrich Trumheller since he lives in Nuremberg. A few years ago Trumheller invited him to his store to eat shashlik. The doctor gives me three cell phone numbers of Trumheller, two of them are already given to other cell phone costumers, who have no relation to Trumheller whatsoever, the third number doesn’t exist. Dr. Guessbacher describes Trumheller as a very silent, shy and humble athlete. It is difficult to gain acceptance in the cycling business for such a person, he said.
Guessbacher gives me the address of the store, where he was invited for dinner, but in this street with this street number there is no store recorded on the internet. A phone call at a butcher’s shop with the same street number doesn’t help. No, the butchery shop assistant knows nothing about a grocery store with this address.
On eBay I found something. Someone with a different first and a similar looking family name is selling bicycles in the Nuremberg area. The costumers, which want to buy a bike, are requested to look at the bikes at this implied address. I register on eBay and get the cell phone number of the seller. Yes, Heinrich Trumheller was his brother, the person on the phone told me, and that he could give me his cell phone number. The shy former professional cyclist Heinrich Trumheller affirms an appointment. In the Interview he is honest and open but also reserved. After the interview, I sent Trumheller some further questions. Staying in contact with the former bicycle rider is still difficult. Maybe he doesn´t like to talk so much.