Less than a month after the death of Peter Post, Dutch cycling has lost another of its ‘Greats’ with the news that Fedor Den Hertog succumbed on Saturday 12th February, after a long battle with illness.
For anyone involved in cycle sport in the late 60’s and early 70’s, amateur Den Hertog’s name was as well known as any of the top professionals.
Born to a Dutch father and Ukrainian mother in Utrecht on 20th April 1946 he made a name for himself in the hard school of Holland’s amateur cycling and by 1966 was the national military champion.
The following year the progression continued with stage victories in the Tour de l’Avenir and amateur Tour of Belgium; but a bad crash prematurely ended his season and very nearly, his career.
Den Hertog’s comeback in 1968, which saw him take the Dutch pursuit title and GC in the Circuit des Mines stage race in France, was capped with a gold medal in the Mexico Olympics.
Partnered by riders who would soon become household names — Rene Pijnen and Joop Zoetemelk — backed by the less well known but very strong Jan Krekels, he became Olympic champion in the 100 kilometre team time trial.
In 1969 he again took stages in the l’Avenir and Tour of Belgium not to mention his first win in the tough amateur Tour of Britain ‘Milk Race’ — a feat he would repeat in 1971.
The year of his second Milk Race triumph also saw him second on GC in the Tour de l’Avenir to the classy Frenchman Regis Ovion — but in 1972 Den Hertog made good the gap in his palmares by winning the race overall from Swiss, Ivan Schmid.
His domination of the World’s best amateur stage races continued into 1973 with his winning his ‘home’ Olympia Tour of Holland despite his being heavily marked.
He was also a stylish and effective ‘chrono man’ with wins in the Grands Prix de France and des Nations.
Den Hertog’s philosophy was unlike most riders of his – and indeed the current — era in that he did not want to turn professional.
In those pre-Mondialisation days he revelled in the world travel being on a top amateur team afforded — his palmarès include GC podium finishes in races as diverse as the Tours of Morocco and Mexico.
In 1969 he said in an interview with the British ‘Cycling Weekly’ magazine;
“I don’t want to turn pro because I don’t think I have the mentality for it.
“If you’re a pro, you have to do well when your boss expects you to.
“It’s a case of, ‘you do well, or else’; you have to take an injection, and I don’t want that.”
At the end of 1973, backed by his Frisol Oil team sponsors, he fought a successful battle against the Dutch Federation which was trying to enforce a ruling that amateurs over the age of 25 could not sign a contract with a sponsored club but must ride as individuals.
Despite the success of his action he did indeed turn pro for 1974, saying that he was sick of the wrangling with the Federation and as a recently engaged man needed to think more about financial matters.
Despite the pundits saying that he never realised his true potential as a pro he nevertheless built palmares which most riders would be more than happy with, including stages in the Tours of France, Holland, the Mediterranean and Spain; he took a stage in Paris-Nice; stood on the GC podium in the Tour of Romandie and in 1977 took the Dutch pro road race championships for Frisoil in a year when Raleigh’s ‘total cycling machine’ was consuming all before it.
He was with Frisoil for four years, Lejeune and Ijsboerke one season each; with his final two years as a pro spent with Vermeer.
A complex man, not consumed with lust for the riches the sport can confer he was as liable to spend a little time in a bar or disco the evening before an important stage as he was to pay a visit to the local church.
After his pro career he opened a bike shop but that did not meet with success, nor was his personal life straightforward.
But to those who remember Fedor astride his red all Campagnolo RIH sport machine, he was the very epitome of how a man should look on a racing bicycle.
Fedor Den Hertog, amateur colossus and successful pro, rest in peace.