Saturday, December 9, 2023

Alex Zülle – The ‘Mr. Magoo’ of Biking


Rider Characteristic: Our guy in Spain, Alastair Hamilton, has been reminiscing over his Vuelta a España ‘Race Chasing’. He first noticed los angeles Vuelta 24 years in the past and recalls one of the vital large stars – Alex Zülle. Zülle: The quick-sighted bicycle owner with a large number of skill, no success, an intimacy with doping and with a propensity for crashing. Al seems to be at his biking profession, excellent and dangerous.

Vuelta’93 TT

Pondering again to the primary time I noticed the Spanish Grand Excursion ‘within the flesh’. I’d moved to Spain on the finish of 1999 and used to be taking a look ahead to the 2000 race passing close-by on level 6 from Benidorm to Valencia. A brief journey out to the Calpe coast street and discover a quiet spot and a few color from the August solar below a tree. The bunch used to be all in combination because the level used to be nonetheless in its first 20 kilometres. Zülle used to be within the chief’s gold jersey (because it used to be then) and using at the entrance. I used to be satisfied he seemed instantly at me, I now realise he will have been taking a look on the tree, the view, my motorcycle… or absolutely anything.

‘Mr. Magoo’ or in Spain; ‘Rompetechos’

All biking fanatics will be mindful Alex Zülle, particularly for his deficient imaginative and prescient, his numerous crashes and his horrible dangerous success. You are going to additionally be mindful this discreet and humble bicycle owner for being an odd time trialist, for by no means giving up and for status out within the Grand Excursions. He used to be an ideal rider who used to be excellent on any form of terrain, except for when it rained and his glasses had been fogged up, on the ones events he misplaced his imaginative and prescient and nerves, the mountain descents become a headache for him and his director, having to desert repeatedly because of crashes. Zülle wanted 4.5 dioptres in each and every eye (1 dioptre = 1 m-1), so on descents when it rained he had no selection however to hope and be guided via the braking of the opposite riders.

St. Brieuc Excursion prologue TT crash

Two times winner of the Excursion of the Basque Nation, the Vuelta a España two times and the time trial International champion in 1996. He additionally completed 2nd two times within the Excursion de France. He will have received larger races, however his dangerous success and the large contention that existed in the ones years with riders like Miguel Indurain, Lance Armstrong, Tony Rominger, Marco Pantani… and such a lot of others, avoided him.

Excursion’96 crash at the Cormet de Roselend

The Starting
His pastime for the motorcycle may just no longer come from anything however from a fall. Alex, like many Swiss athletes, sought after to dedicate himself to snowboarding, however an harm whilst competing avoided him. To toughen the rehabilitation he made up our minds to coach within the Netherlands. His father, Walter Zülle, purchased him all of the vital apparatus for biking, and bit by bit he would convince him to transport directly to this game.

Zülle needed to be rescued via a number of photographers from the trees

After a couple of years as a stand out novice, he made up our minds to transport as much as the pros. His first contract used to be signed with Manolo Saiz’s ONCE, however the sports activities director used to be no longer going to make it simple, since he would refuse to rent him in the beginning, for amongst different issues, as a result of Zülle wore ear-rings, one thing he didn’t permit any of his riders.

No ear-rings at ONCE

The Crashes
In Spain 1993, on Would possibly 14 the nineteenth Vuelta level used to be between Gijón and Alto del Naranco. By means of then Tony Rominger and Alex Zülle had been combating in combination for the overall victory of the Spanish Grand Excursion, after some sensational duels within the time trials and mountains. However this level used to be going to be the important thing for Rominger to take the overall victory. It used to be raining within the Asturian mountains, and after they hit L. a. Cobertoria, Zülle may just see handiest dust and water, and may just to not differentiate the curves from the straights. “Water… motorcycle, plants, ass, floor” that is how the unlucky Alex described his scenario. The climb of this mountain move is difficult, with an 8% slope, however the descent could be very bad. With 50 kilometres left to race, he misplaced regulate at the descent and went right into a ditch ripping up his shorts, and his likelihood of successful the Vuelta via shedding greater than a minute. Such used to be his melancholy and his deficient imaginative and prescient, what frightened him maximum on the time of the autumn used to be no longer discovering his motorcycle. Even along with his accidents, he attempted to near the distance, however it used to be an excessive amount of. He received the overall level 44.6 kilometre time trial to Santiago de Compostela, however it used to be no longer sufficient to take again the time he misplaced within the crash, and he may just no longer take his first victory in a Grand Excursion, simply but.

Excursion’96 level 7 – Les Arcs

Excursion de France, July 6, 1996, the Chambery to Les Arcs level 7. The day when Miguel Indurain used to be proven to be mortal. It used to be the primary main climb of the Alps and the 5 time Excursion winner misplaced greater than 4 mins on the end. That very same day used to be additionally going to be unlucky for Zülle, who fell two times at the descent of the Cormet de Roselend, a sophisticated descent that calls for a large number of method, persistence and… imaginative and prescient, one thing that the Swiss bicycle owner lacks. The second one fall used to be extra impressive, and he needed to be rescued via a number of photographers from the trees. This used to be the Excursion that Alex Zülle led for the primary two phases after a sensational prologue time trial, appearing that he used to be a significant candidate for the overall victory.

Vuelta’93 level 19 – Alto del Naranco

In 1997, in simply two weeks, he used to be going to have two different necessary falls. The primary within the Dauphiné Libéré that left his frame moderately bruised after a impressive crash. The second one within the Excursion of Switzerland, that used to be extra critical, since he needed to be operated on for a collar-bone fracture. Within the Excursion of that yr he suffered but every other fall, and had no selection however to go away as a result of his collar-bone pains had returned.

Zülle spent a large number of time chasing

Excursion of 1999, the primary of the seven Excursions that Lance Armstrong would win (yeah, I do know). In that version Alex Zülle would end 2nd at 7 mins 37 seconds down at the American. The important thing used to be level 2, and the Passage du Gois, a two-mile causeway which, relying at the tide, will also be below water. A rider got here down in the midst of the peloton, resulting in the crash that price pre-race favourites; Alex Zülle, Christophe Rinero and Michael Boogerd greater than 5 mins to the lead workforce. Alex no longer handiest misplaced his glasses, but additionally his possibilities of the overall total victory. Within the large crash he misplaced 6:03, along with his glasses, which he may just no longer to find at the street that connects the continent with the island of Noirmoutier.

Passage du Gois – Excursion’99

The Scandal
In 1998 he signed for the robust French Festina crew, however at the Excursion de France the scandal exploded, the entire crew used to be immersed in one of the vital greatest doping instances within the historical past of biking. Alex admitted to using EPO, which he stated he took to meet his sponsors. Outcome; expulsion from the Excursion and a suspension of seven months.

ONCE in Excursion crimson

“I’ve used EPO for approximately 4 years,” he advised the police. “The primary time used to be when I used to be using for the Spanish ONCE crew. I used the product for each necessary race, just like the Excursion de France, the Giro d’Italia and the Excursion of Spain, with two injections of EPO 2000 every week from 3 to 4 weeks sooner than the race, and all the way through the entire of the race.”

“For the 1998 Excursion, I started injecting myself with EPO 2000 in mid-June. Fernando Jimenez (crew physician) gave me the doses of EPO for the Giro at the beginning of the yr. He gave me 8 doses. That used to be all the way through a small race in Spain at the beginning of the season. Afterwards, all the way through the races, the crew equipped me with EPO. It used to be all the time Fernando who injected it into my arm. Now and again, with him supervising, I injected myself.”


Zülle used EPO whilst at ONCE, the crew he left to sign up for Festina. “EPO used to be utilized in the similar means, and I will say that about 20 riders took EPO below the supervision of the physician; Nico Terrados… I will’t end up it however I believe that these days EPO will also be present in all of the main biking groups,” he stated on the time in 1998.

Over right here, Alex

Zülle added that he had experimented with human expansion hormone for the primary time that yr, at his personal request. “That yr I such a lot sought after to win the Excursion. Dr. Rijkaert gave me a dose of human expansion hormone each two days all the way through the primary week of the Excursion, and I injected it myself. However I realized that it didn’t have the impact I anticipated.”

Zülle with fellow Swiss rider Fabian Jeker

After leaving the police station he complained as a result of he used to be handled like a prison. They left him totally bare, or even took his glasses, “My rings, ear-rings and glasses the place got rid of. They left me stark bare. They caught palms up my ass. They took blood, urine and hair roots to exams and they’re taking a look at my DNA, and so they interrogated me. In any case they advised me, ‘both you are saying that you’ve taken medication or you don’t go away right here’ I may just no longer see every other means out as opposed to to admit. What they have got completed to me I will not consider.”

Excursion’95 level 9 – L. a. Plagne

Alex Zülle used to be a rider who, in spite of being chased via dangerous success all the way through his lifestyles as a bicycle owner, has confirmed himself to be one of the vital very best and most precious cyclists of the 90s. Even if his doping takes the shine off his palmarès. On the time of Zülle’s ‘luck’ using EPO used to be rife, in keeping with many ‘a need’ to race ‘on a degree enjoying box’. That’s no excuse, however must be considered.

Again with a Spanish crew after Festina

Zülle retired from skilled biking in 2004, his remaining two seasons had been with the Phonak crew, his remaining win used to be the Excursion de Suisse in 2002, whilst using for Staff Coast. Zülle organised a celebration for his fanatics to rejoice his 14 yr profession of 66 skilled victories, 40 of them in time trials, plus back-to-back victories within the Vuelta a España in 1996 and 1997 and 2nd within the Excursion de France in 1995 and 1999. Since his retirement, no longer a lot has been heard of the fast sighted rider. I’ve requested round and nobody is aware of a lot about Zülle’s lifestyles after the motorcycle. He’s nonetheless using, and participated within the Marcha Cicloturista Arranca En Llanta in Valencia in September 2018.

He used to be a personality, that’s evidently.

Final days with Phonak

# Because of Jon Piorno for the reminder and the Dario Vasco and the Irish Occasions for the Zülle quotes. #

Like PEZ? Why no longer subscribe to our weekly publication to obtain updates and reminders on what is cool in street biking?


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Related Stories