The sober one
„I will never become the winner of the Tour de France, but rather a millionaire” once said Rolf Goelz and he turned out to be right. He was one of the most successful German bicycle riders in 1980 as well as a classics specialist. After his career he remained successful as a businessman.
BY DIRK KUNZ (TEXT AND PHOTOS)
BAD WALDSEE ■ The 17th stage of the Tour de France is shown on TV in the spacious salesroom of the bicycle shop of Rolf Goelz in Bad Waldsee/Germany. The former professional cyclist and the two time Tour de France stage winner looks only briefly at the flat screen. “That was a long time ago.” During the day, he has no time to watch the race. In the evening he watches the run-down sometimes. But he is not very sentimental.
After his athletic career Goelz studied economics, a decision driven by reason. He didn’t dare to try studying Engineering (“Too much math”) and because he wanted to open a bicycle store it was appropriate to choose Business Studies. Furthermore the University of Applied Sciences Biberach was in his neighbourhood and he could continue living at home. After his studies he worked in his bike store, but selling bicycles and standing around in the salesroom was not quite, what he really wanted and so the offer by Hans-Michael Holczer in 2002 to work for him came at the right time. Untill 2006, he worked as the athletic director for the German Gerolsteiner professional team. After that, he worked as a manager for a local rental car company. Then Goelz recieved an offer to open an bicycle online store. He takes care of all commercial aspects of his store, while his partner Rolf Weggenmann is responsible for business operations. In his online shop he is the sole Managing Director.
Racingbikes with mudguards and a baggage carriers are not for sale in his shop. This type of bicyle was very common in the 1970th. Briefly before his communion such a bike was given to him by his step grandfather.
First race won
He used this type of bike in his first race. The local bike club was searching for talented riders: The course led across two miles (three kilometers) on a country lane from Bad Schussenried to Otterswang and back. Even today Goelz takes this path to work three times a week by bike. (Nowadays he rides approximately 1900 miles/3000 Kilometers per year.)
Really he should not be allowed to compete. He just got a smallpox vaccination and doctors discouraged him from engaging in strenuous physical activity. Goelz snuck into the race and won. The bike club gave him a real racingbike und he trained twice a week.
The results came early and nearly incidentally – typically for his career. He rode as a junior member of the men´s street team time trial and had to ride solo path at the German championship. He didn’t have a track bike, so he rented one, training twice on the track and becoming the national champion in 1980.
His track trainer from 1982 to 1984, Udo Hempel, still dreams about his graceful and astonishing physical abilities. Goelz would be absolutely focused on his sport, you had to slow him down. After a three hour high intensive training session you practically had to force him off the track. His self confidence was below his abilities. He said, it was all about proving to himself, what he was capable of. “His passion for bicycling combined with his intelligence made his class.” In 1982 he won the silver medal at the Track championship in Great Britain, one year later he got the Gold medal in the 4000 Meter team pursuit at the world championship in Zurich (Switzerland). At the Olympic Games 1984 in Los Angeles he won a silver and bronze medal on track.
An Upper Swabian in Italy
These important wins were a superb opportunities for scoring a professional contract. Goelz had previously contact to Ernesto Colnago. At a bike exhibition in Cologne the famous bike producer contacted Goelz and asked him to ride for the Team Del Tongo-Colnago and so the down to earth rider signed up for the Italian team.
The linguistically talented Upper Swabian was fully integrated into the team of Mediterranean riders and could communicate in French, English and Italian. And again he achieved good results immediately: The Tour of Andalusia was his first race as a professional and he won, beating Miguel Indurain, who finished second place.
Giuseppe Saronni was a distinguished rider of the Del Tongo-Team, but the 32 years old Italien had passed his zenith. When Goelz realized that Saronni was saturated and not very diligent and he couldn’t convert his team´s effort for him into victories, and so he rode more and more on his own.
In his second year he said that Saronni declared that Goelz shouldn´t start at the Giro d´ Italia. Goelz still had a contract for a third year but he asked Ernesto Colnago for termination of the contract. Even now, his relationship with Saronni is shattered. Goelz explains the fast results in the bare-knuckle professional business, that he rode bicycle in a complete different time: The riders stopped competing in October and started up again gradually around Christmas. The bicycle riders arrived at the first races poorly trained.
Goelz was really surprised; during the Tour of Andalusia in February, he said that, the professional athletes rode 90 Miles (150 Kilometers) on the little chain ring of his bikes and It was only in the last 18 miles (30 Kilometers) stretch that the real race started. The change from amateurs to professional cyclists was easy for him, because he always trained a lot in the winter months and was in a good condition in the spring time. After leaving the Saronni-Team, he attended the Team Super Confex of Jan Raas and after three years he rode for the Buckler-Colnago and by 1991/92 he had a contract with Ariostea, where Moreno Argentin and Bjarne Riis were also employed. After eight years of professional cycling Goelz retired as he had lost all motivation. The expectations of the media, the spectators and his employers burdened him. The pressure of winning all the time and the lack of appreciation of his results if he finished “only” second place took away his cycling pleasure.
Hartmut Boelts wanted to recruit him for the Mountainbike World Cup. He thought that Goelz could easily compete. But even early in the professionalization of the mountain bike sport it was not so easy to change from street racing to off-road racing. He won one race, but in this race he had to ride uphill on a gravel road, doing it with a mountain bike instead of a road bike. It wasn’t very technically challenging. At the World cup races, he quickly dropped out of the qualification round, not least because of the brutal downhill gradient. At the bottom of the valley he had such an over acidified musculature, that he wasn’t able to ride fast uphill anymore. But he doesn’t want to overlook this point: “The camaraderie was great!”
Even today he looks back fondly on his two stage wins from the Tour de France and the Championship of Zurich 1987 and one year later the victory of the Fleche Wallonne (the Walloon Arrow), a major men’s professional cycle road race held in April each year in Wallonia, Belgium. The father of two grown up sons enjoyed the classic cycle races: “I was good in riding little mountains uphill, a strong sprinter, I trained seriously in the winter months and I liked the cool weather.”
Goelz is a pragmatist. Money is important to him, he doesn’t want to count every Euro, but his father was a civil servant, and at home they had to save money. As a teenager, he also cycled to school every day by bike, because he could keep the money he saved for public transportation. During the Tour de France 1989 he said: “I will never become the winner of the Tour de France, but rater a millionaire.” He achieved this goal at least in “Deutsche Mark”-Times. The 52 years old remained down to earth and he doesn’t splurge. He drives a ten year old car; it is not a Porsche. He said that he could earn more money in his athletic career. He hardly ever rode in well-paid Six-day racings and he gave up 500.000 Marks (250.000 Euro), because he ended his career prematurely in 1992.
Of course Goelz realized that doping was prevalent during in his time as an athlete. Epo didn’t exist back then, but Human Growth Hormones (HGH), anabolic steroids, amphetamines and cortisone abounded. He said that there were always riders who had taken less or more. Every single rider had to choose for himself just how far he was willing to go to win.
“But I also know that it was possible on a good day to win without doping. I have proven it.” Later, with the advent of EPO, this was not possible anymore.That’s why Rolf Goelz doesn’t want to condemn riders who took part in doping and he can’t understand the public condemnation of Lance Armstrong.
He thinks back of the Tour de France 1987, the last one that was over 2500 miles (4000 Kilometers), one of his two stage victories, he won that year. In the last three stages all of the riders where totally exhausted. So they rode 100 Miles (160 kilometers) very slowly and Lord help the guy, who wanted to ride faster. Only during the last 18 miles (30 kilometers) did performance pick back up. He said it is possible to ride the Tour without doping, then the athletes just arrive at the finsih line a little bit later. But it´s human nature, to win at any costs. Goelz is a realist through and through.
Translation into the English language by Shellie Labell & Dirk KUNZ