Since it was first staged in 1933, the Tour de Suisse has been the setting for innumerable stories. Passion, hope, disappointment, pride, humiliation and joy have all played a part in the dramas and tales of heroism written on the Tour de Suisse route. Here are some of the highlights of the last 80 years:
1933: Bulla came, saw and conquered
It was just one hour before the start of the first stage that Max Bulla arrived in Zurich. The Austrian had taken advantage of racing opportunities in Antwerp (Belgium) and Troyes (France) beforehand, and travelled up on the overnight train. This didn’t stop Bulla from putting his own stamp on the first Tour de Suisse in 1933, winning with two stage victories and a final lead of 9:01 minutes over Albert Büchi. Bulla was one of the most successful Austrian professional racing cyclists and was also winner of the Zurich championship in 1931.
The 1940s: decider in the Hallenstadion
During World War II it was only possible to hold the Swiss tour twice. In 1942 Ferdi Kübler was a rising star who stole the overall lead from his mentor Paul Egli after the second stage in Bellinzona. Egli was given a time penalty for allegedly riding in the slipstream of a car. Kübler then brought home overall victory safely over the three remaining daily stages. 1941 saw 44 professional cyclists come together for only three stages. After 606 km Sepp Wagner and Werner Buchwalder were neck-and-neck. A track sprint was set to decide the winner. Due to heavy rain and with darkness setting in, the race was moved from the open-air track at Oerlikon to the Hallenstadion. The winner: Sepp Wagner.
The “campionissimi” Bartali and Coppi
Among the Italian fans (tifosi) were the followers of Gino Bartali and Fausto Coppi. In 1947 the Swiss franc lured the two Italians to our country. Coppi acquitted himself well with a triumph in the time trial from Lausanne to Geneva (60 km), but in the mountains Bartali totally outclassed all his opponents.
He celebrated his second resounding victory after totally dominating the tour a year earlier and never relinquishing the overall lead.
Coppi competed in the Tour de Suisse again in 1954 and came fifth.
The duel of the two “Ks”
The Tour de Suisse enjoyed a peak in popularity in the 1950s with the duels between Ferdi Kübler and Hugo Koblet. Three overall wins, one second place, 11 stage victories and 14 days in the golden jersey were the final tally of the “workhorse” Kübler and the “pédaleur de charme” Koblet. The only difference: Kübler competed eight times, Koblet just seven times. Kübler’s spectacular attacks and retreats gave the fans plenty to talk about, as did Koblet’s dominance in the time trials.
Pasquale Fornara: the record winner
In 1952 Pasquale Fornara set out on his third Tour de Suisse as support rider to Hugo Koblet. In the time trial from Monthey to Crans-Montana, the Italian won the leader’s jersey and robbed Ferdi Kübler of the chance to achieve a turnaround on the penultimate day in Arosa. Fornara repeated his success in 1954 when both Kübler and Koblet failed to take part in the Tour de Suisse. With additional triumphs in 1957 and 1958, light-footed Fornara became the cyclist with the most wins of the Tour de Suisse – a record that still stands today.
“The Cannibal” Merckx sweeps the board
Competition from the FIFA World Cup hosted in Germany forced tour organiser Sepp Voegeli to stage a coup. He persuaded Eddy Merckx to join the Tour de Suisse for the first time in 1974 by offering a generous fee. The most successful professional cyclist of all time (racking up 525 wins) showed no signs of tiredness a few days after his fifth win at the Giro d’Italia: he wore the leader’s jersey from prologue to finish, won three stages, and came first in the King of the Mountains competition, the points and the combination classification. Merckx took part in the Swiss tour again in 1974 (second) and 1977 (12th).
Beat Breu and his quips
Thanks to his quirky sayings, Beat Breu enjoyed huge popularity. In 1981 the mountain specialist conquered the Solothurn – Balmberg climb time trial to win the leader’s jersey. He had to surrender what he called the “Sagg” (rag) two days later, however, to his team colleague Gottfried “Godi” Schmutz, who had misinterpreted a team order. Breu commented: “Gottfried is dead to me now.” Later, in the mountain time trial on Monte Bre in Lugano, Breu was able to rectify the situation. And eight years later, in his 11th Tour de Suisse, Breu celebrated his second win, saying: “Nothing compares to a success on Swiss roads.”
Sepp Voegeli, Monsieur Tour de Suisse
An unpaid bill for 92,000 Swiss francs, a small bundle of files and a single contract with a stage organiser – this was what Sepp Voegeli inherited when he took over the Tour de Suisse in 1967. The man from the canton of Aargau turned the ailing tour into an event that had the masses flocking back to the road race and the fans glued to their TV screens. In 1991, 25 years after his debut, Voegeli presided over “his” Tour de Suisse for the last time. Less than a year later, he died at the age of 69 following an operation.
Armstrong und Ullrich – two dubious superstars
In 2001 the then two-times winner of the Tour de France Lance Armstrong wanted to prepare for his third Tour by racing in Switzerland – without any ambitions, as he said. The American was so strong in the time trial from Sitten to Crans-Montana that ultimately his overall victory was sealed. Jan Ullrich also saw the Swiss Tour as excellent preparation for the Tour de France.
In 2004 the German snatched overall victory from Fabian Jeker in the final time trial in Lugano by a mere second. Two years later, the trial saw Ullrich once again take the lead in the overall competition. This triumph was later withdrawn from Ullrich and also the achievements of Armstrong were tarnished by his subsequent doping confession.