Friday, May 27, 2022
HomeOtherEditorialHarm Ottenbros

Harm Ottenbros

-

Rest in Peace, Dutchman Harm Ottenbros who died recently at 78 years-of-age.

The man was best known for his world professional road race championship title in 1969; but sadly his win has been added to the list of ‘unworthy’ world champions along with the likes of Benoni Beheyt, Luc Leblanc and Laurent Brochard.

It has escaped most folks notice that the mere fact that the man was in the biggest one day race in the world, on the Dutch team along with the likes of Gerben Karstens, Rene Pijnen and Rini Wagtmans means that he was a ‘quality boy’, as we say in Scotland.

The Dutch selectors got it absolutely right that day, choosing him for a circuit perfectly suited to his characteristics. 

Harm Ottenbros (r) wins the 1969 World Championship Road Race in a two-up sprint from Julien Stevens. Photo©Getty

He came up through the Dutch amateur ranks riding races like the super-fast Olympia’s Tour and was a regular podium finisher resulting in a pro contract with Willem 11 Gazelle for 1967, winning a stage in the Tour de Suisse that year, he also took three podium finishes Giro stages in the company of big finishers like Dino Zandegu and Michele Dancelli.

He remained with the Dutch squad for five years, Willem 11 dropped out after four years and for 1971 the team was Gazelle. 

In 1968 he won another stage in the Tour de Suisse and was second in the Dutch Nationals to former Amateur World Champion, Evert Dolman.

The year he won the Worlds, 1969 saw him take two podiums in Vuelta stages and twice finish second in Tour de France stages, beaten in one by Britain’s Barry Hoban.

That year also saw the 5’ 6” former interior decorator who was born in Alkmaar in The Netherlands but lived in Hoogerheide confirm his reputation as a ‘Crit and Kermis King’ with a raft of podiums.

After his win an interviewer asked what he was going to do with all the money he’d make as champion of the world?

“Give most of it to the taxman.”

– came the quick-as-a-flash reply. 

He was pragmatic about his success, later he said;

“It was an odd feeling.

“The nearer the finish line came, the more I had to tell myself I was just in a kermis, although with a few more spectators than usual. 

“I had to forget that I was riding for a world title because if I’d realised that, I’d never have won.”

Harm Ottenbros
World Pro Road Champion, Harm Ottenbros. Photo©Getty

Season 1970 started well with third on GC in Ruta del Sol but crash in de Ronde, where he broke his wrist compromised the Classics season for him, albeit there was a Tour of Luxembourg stage win in June.

He rode le Tour and had three top 10 stage placings before defending his world title in England, at Leicester where he finished in 20th place. 

The loss of his right to wear the rainbow jersey caused him no sorrow;

“Believe me, I wasn’t in the slightest bit sorry when my year as world champion was over and I didn’t have to wear that jersey any more. 

“I could just go back to being the unknown rider in village criteriums. 

“But the old feeling never came back. 

“I was never happy again.”

In 1971 he enjoyed his perennial better than average share of crit and kermis podiums but no big results.

The 1972 season saw him with low budget Wybert Lakerol but he enjoyed some big criterium wins, including the GP Stad Vilvoorde and GP Stad Antwerpen.

The name on the jersey for 1973 was Kela Tapijt and the crit and kermis podiums continued to pile up.

For 1974 he was a back on a top line team with Frisol, alongside the likes of Fedor Den Hertog, Leo Duyndam, Cees Priem and Theo Smit – all big Dutch stars of the 70’s.

There was the usual rash of crit and kermis podiums and he stayed with the team for 1975 when it became Frisol GBC. 

That year, former Olympic Champion, Hennie Kuiper joined the squad and would go on win the world title that year.

Ottenbros and Kuiper’s team mate at Frisol, Vuelta stage winner and Six Day star, Australia’s Don Allan told us that Kuiper rated Ottenbros highly as a team player.

But Kuiper moved on to TI Raleigh for 1976 and it was back to low budget Ormas Sharp for Ottenbros.

It goes without saying that the crit and kermis podiums continued but ’76 was his last season.  

Don Allan gave us his remembrances of a man he was proud to call his team mate;

“Harm was a great guy, quiet and a deep thinker. 

“After winning the world title in 1969 he was criticised and even ridiculed and some called him “The Eagle of Hoogerheide”. 

[A reference to his lack of flair for climbing and the pan flat landscape where he lived, ed.]

“He won that world title fair and square taking advantage of the rivalry between Van Looy and Merckx. 

“After cycling he went through a dark period where he was unrecognizable in appearance and behaviour, even to those close to him. 

“To his credit he made a decision to come back to a normal life, which he did. 

“I last saw Harm at the Frisol team reunion in 2007 and he was fine, friendly and chatty. 

“I did call him after that as he was involved in a serious accident and I rang to check on his health. 

He appreciated the call. 

“The last I heard he had recovered and was cycling regularly with a group enjoying their company and his companions enjoying his company. 

“They say Harm was a reluctant world champion even though he beat a damn good bike rider in Julien Stevens. 

“I don’t think he coped well with the pressure and what was expected from him being world champion.

“Sad news and yet another phone number I won’t need anymore. 

“Rest In Peace, Harm.

Harm Ottenbros was still riding into his vintage years. Photo©supplied

Amen to that, Don” we say – how many of those critics and sceptics who mocked him ever earned the right to wear that beautiful rainbow jersey?

Ed Hood
Ed Hood
Ed's been involved in cycling for over 47 years. In that time he's been a successful time triallist, a team manager, and a sponsor of several teams and clubs. He's also a respected and successful coach and during the winter months can often be found working in the cabins at the Six Days for some of the world's top riders. Ed remains a massive fan of the sport and couples his extensive contacts with an inexhaustable enthusiasm for the minutiae and the history of our sport.

Related Articles

Steve Beech remembers Grant Thomas

Steve Beech sent us in his memories of his friend Grant Thomas and his ‘Golden Era’, the 70’s. Whilst he’s perhaps best remembered for winning the British Championship, his greatest triumphs came in The Netherlands – on road and track.

Frank Vandenbroucke

"RIP VDB" said the text from John Stollery, waiting for me, when I woke up; there were others too, from Dave and Stevie all expressing sadness - for all his faults, he was a hard man to dislike.

Grant Thomas Tribute, Part Two; “The most stylish bike rider, a gent”

Perhaps VeloVeritas sage and mentor, Viktor summed it up best; ‘he was the coolest – nobody looked better on a bike than Grant Thomas, he was everything I wanted to be in a cyclist.’ We thought that we should share more of the tributes which have been paid to the man.

Michele Scarponi

Michele Scarponi took fourth on GC at the Tour of the Alps this week and it was a shock to all when word came of his being fatally struck by an Iveco van on an early morning training ride just one kilometre from his home in Filottrano. To Michele Scarponi’s wife, Anna and twin boys Giacomo and Tomamaso, his extended family, friends, fans and team mates we extend our deepest sympathies. Rest in peace, Michele we’re going to miss you.

Jocelyn Lovell

It’s with much sadness that VeloVeritas reports the passing of Canadian Cycling Legend, Jocelyn Lovell on June 3rd at 65 years of age. ‘Controversial,’ ‘outspoken,’ ‘colourful,’ are all adjectives which have been used to describe the sleek, blond kilometre specialist but for me he’ll always simply be, ‘one of the coolest.’ Always immaculate, slim and long limbed; astride a track bike with that beautiful pale blue with white sleeves and maple leaves Canadian national jersey on his back he looked like he’d been born to perform the role.

The VV View: In the Bleak MidWinter

Brexit, Covid, desperate weather, it’s been a long hard winter and we're still in what might be termed the Bleak Mid-Winter, made even worse by the sad news that former Scottish cyclo-cross, grass track and MTB Champion Craig Hardie has lost his fight with cancer. VeloVeritas offers deepest condolences to his friends, supporters and family.

At Random

The VV View: the Tour de Trossachs, the Comic, and oh, Sammy!

The Tour de Trossachs: when the alarm blasts at 06:30 on a Sunday morning the question is; ‘do I really have to go all the way to Aberfoyle?’ But once you’re breathing that sweet fern scented air on The Duke’s Pass then driving along lovely Loch Achray side you remember why you love this race. Great history, wonderful scenery, a course which challenges your abilities as a bike rider. So why do entries drop every year?

Bert Roesems and Rab Wardell #2 – Two Tales from the Rás

We last spoke to our two men inside the Ras after stage three on Tuesday evening; with the toughest stage of the race to come the next day. It was Friday when we spoke again; we hadn't had a chance to check the results for the day, so that was our first question.

La Vuelta a España, Stage 15: Solares – Lagos de Covadonga Preview

'Why do you want to go further, nothing is there?' the cute park ranger asks us; she's guarding the last section of the fabled climb. We're beside Lago Enol, one of the beautiful Lagos de Covadonga and we need to drive the finale to complete our mission for the day. 'Two minutes?' we plead with her - 'you have ten and then I come looking for you!' she smiles. She's right, low cloud, grass, rock and no lightweight climbers - just a lone Asturian cow...

Ian Field Blog: My World Cup Campaign Kicks Off

Ian Field Blog. Hey, my lack of blogs and reports are due to me being a busy bike rider over the past few days! I'll start at the beginning...

Podium Number 1 of the season and a chance meeting with Kurt Asle Arvesen!

On the 28th March my Asfra Racing Team (and support club) headed to Montreuil sur Mer in France. The race had the mixed characteristics of a race in France, a Belgium kermesse and almost like a criterium in the UK. 23 laps of a 3.8km circuit was the order for the day... oh, and I met Kurt Asle Arvesen...

Dan Patton Blog – Getting Back On It

So I thought it was about time I posted another Dan Patton Blog update, I've been rather quiet of late and the reason being quite simply there's not been much to talk about. I've been plagued by misfortune after misfortune this winter which ironically gave me lots more time to update the blog, yet I was short of anything really interesting to say - until now that is...