In the passing of Rudi Altig from cancer on June 11th 2016 from cancer at 79 years-of-age, Germany and the sport of cycling have lost one of it’s giants.
He was a man who could win everything from his nation’s amateur national sprint championship to the Vuelta by way of the world professional pursuit and road race titles, Monuments and Six Day races.
Born in Mannheim in 1937 he followed his elder brother Willi (a pro for eight seasons and Giro stage winner) into the sport and won the German Junior road race Championships in 1953, however it was on the track that his initial major successes came.
Between 1957 and 1959 he won the German amateur sprint, pursuit, team pursuit and madison titles – topping things off with the world amateur four kilometre pursuit title in ’59.
Altig turned pro for season ’60 and duly won the world professional pursuit title, finding the step up to the five kilometre distance no obstacle, retaining it in 1961 – there were also German professional national titles in the pursuit and madison.
He broke several world records on the track; the amateur one and five kilometres plus the professional five kilometre record.
Throughout his road career he would also ride the winter boards and notched up 23 Six Day wins, 15 second places and 11 third places off just 79 starts; placing him third in the all time German ranking behind Kemper on 26 wins and Kappes on 24 wins.
The European omnium and madison titles are also on his palmares.
With his extrovert personality and good looks he was a hugely popular with the fans on the Six Day circuit and largely responsible for a ‘purple period’ in the fortunes of the German Sixes.
But it’s as a roadman he’s best remembered; his Grand Tour win came in 1962 when, instead of surrendering his amarillo leader’s jersey to his Saint-Raphael team leader and world’s finest ‘chronoman,’ Jacques Anquetil the German won the pivotal 82 kilometre time trial and went on to win the race overall.
He took another two stages along the way as well as two etapes in the le Tour that season where he would take the green points jersey.
Altig also won Giro stages to bring him membership of the exclusive club of riders who have won stages in all three Grand Tours.
He would eventually win eight stages in le Tour and hold the maillot jaune for a total of 18 days.
Outside of the Grand Tours he won stages in the Deutschland Tour, Paris-Nice, Tour of Belgium, Tirreno-Adriatico, Vuelta a Mallorca, Paris-Luxembourg and Ruta del Sol.
The 1962 season saw him dish out another major embarrassment to ‘Maitre Jacques’ Anquetil in that year’s Trofeo Baracchi, the famous but now defunct invitation two man team time trial held in Italy.
Paired with German, Anquetil suffered a ‘jour sans’ and Altig ended up pushing the French ace for much of the latter stages of the race – fortunately for Anquetil times were taken upon entering the stadium; the Frenchman was so ‘out of it’ he crashed as he turned in to the track but the duo still won.
And it wasn’t just Anquetil who was embarrassed against the watch by the powerful German; in the 1969 Tour de France prologue he beat none other than ‘chrono king’ Eddy Merckx into second spot.
The prestigious – but alas, also defunct – GP Lugano time trial also went to Altig in 1969.
Success then on the track, in Grand Tours, time trials; and his Monument performances cannot be over looked – winning the 1964 Tour of Flanders, 1968 Milan-Sanremo and taking third in Paris-Roubaix in 1967.
He was also German Professional Road race Champion in 1964 and 1970, was third in the 1966 Fleche Wallonne, won the Henninger Turm in 1970, Giro del Piemonte and Giro di Toscana in 1966 as well as the overall in short stage races such as the Ruta del Sol in 1964 and Paris-Luxembourg in 1963.
Criterium contracts formed a major part of a rider’s earnings in Altig’s era and he was a major winner – and earner – on the circuit.
Arguably his finest moment came in 1966 in Germany when he won the World Professional Road Race Championships on the Nurburgring motor racing circuit.
Altig had finished second to Britain’s Tom Simpson the previous year in Lasarte but made the title his own ahead of his former Capo, Anquetil on home tarmac.
This win would be instrumental in gaining him the award of Germany’s 1966 Sportsman of the Year.
His professional career lasted from 1959 until 1971, serving as sport director subsequently with Puch-Wolber and spending time as German national coach before moving into commentary with Eurosport.
In an age of riders increasingly focusing on one or two particular narrow time periods in a season, it’s safe to say we’ll never again see riders with the versatility and all round brilliance of Rudi Altig; may he rest in peace.