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Tino Tabak – Dreams and Demons of a Kiwi Legend

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Kiwi’s in the peloton are no rarity these days; George Bennett, Shane Archbold, Paddy Bevin, Jack Bauer are all well-known figures on the World Tour but the spiritual Godfather of these men whilst as Kiwi as they come was actually born in The Netherlands; Mr. Tino Tabak is definitely old school 70’s and ‘tells it like it is.’

Tino won everything there was to win in New Zealand including the National Road Race Championship – the senior event whilst a junior – moved back to the land of his birth and won the National Professional Road Race Championship there in 1972; beating Tour de France and Worlds winner, Joop Zoetemelk into second place. 

His book, ‘Dreams & Demons of a New Zealand Cycling Legend’ is well worth a read, revealing the stark realities of 70’s continental professional bike racing.

Tino took time to speak to VeloVeritas recently…

You were born in The Netherlands but your family moved to New Zealand when you were a boy, Tino?

“That’s right, we emigrated in 1953.

“I got into cycling and won all there was to win in New Zealand; the Tour of the Southland, three times, the Tour of Manawatu twice and the Dulux Tour twice.

“I won all three in the same year, twice, in ’66 and ’67.

“I also won the National Senior Road Race Championship as a junior.”

Tino Tabak
Tino Tabak was Dutch National Champion in 1972.

Then back to the land of your birth in 1969?

“To learn how to race at a higher level.

“The Dutch Federation welcomed me back and I joined the Olympia Amsterdam club.

“There were pre-season training races and I won in them.

“I rode in Belgium too, Gent-Ypres where I was second to a Belgian rider, we were away together, he stopped coming through, saying he was tired and wouldn’t sprint – but of course, he did!

“I didn’t realise it at the time but rides like that were getting noticed – and lesson learned!”

Tino Tabak
Tino Tabak rode track and road when he was a youngster.

The following season, 1970 was a good one for you.

“I rode the Milk Race in England, won the Tour of North Holland, was in the Dutch team which took bronze in the Worlds TTT at Leicester then won a stage in the Tour de l’Avenir.

“Those rides started to get things moving for me.”

Tino Tabak
The Tino Tabak Mars-Flandria hero card.

And those kind of rides got you a contract with the legendary Flandria team for 1971.

“Mars were co-sponsors that year of the famous ‘Red Brigade,’ I had men like Joop Zoetemelk, Roger De Vlaeminck – who I got along well with – and the late, great Jean Pierre Monsere as team mates. 

“I got on fine with my team mates, I find Belgians to be easy going people.”

You rode the Classics, the Vuelta – which was in the spring back then – and Tour de France; a big programme for a neo pro.

“Riding the Tour was my downfall, I believe.

“It had always been my dream, the pinnacle for me and sub-consciously I think that being on the start line meant I had achieved my ambition and it affected my motivation. 

“I remember standing on the start line and saying to Joop Zoetemelk; ‘this is my dream come true.’

“In the early stages of the race I was in the break which shaped the final classement of the race but got sick and was DNF on Stage 10 to Grenoble.

“The following year I finished it though, in 18th place, they make a bit of a thing about that in New Zealand but in Europe people know it doesn’t mean much.”

Tino Tabak
Tino Tabak developed as a rider with Goudsmit.

Goudsmit Hoff for 1972.

“It was a Dutch team and I knew a lot of the guys, it was more to do with friendship than money.

“It was a good move, I started to develop there as a rider and won the Dutch Professional Road Race Championship; Joop Zoetemelk was second.”