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[History Thread] Albert Zweifel's Career Presented by Echoes


When Belgian commentators start discussing the nagging question of who the best/greatest cyclocross rider of all time was, they think of Sven Nys, Erik De Vlaeminck or Roland Liboton. All of them are definitely worthy champions who dominated their era for a shorter or longer period. It all stops there. Obviously all three are Belgians. They forgot about the Swiss mudman who dominated the field in the late seventies on sometimes insanely hard routes: Albert Zweifel. Perhaps De Vlaeminck has one more World title but he had a hard time, competing against the Swiss, to his own admission (a forum poster argues on Wielerarchieven). Perhaps Liboton dominated Zweifel more often than not when they were competing together but the Swiss was already 30 when the Brabander came up. So this is a reminder of the Zweifel fabulous career in cyclocross and to some extent on the road too.

Early Years & Training Methods

Albert Zweifel was born in Rüti, close to Zurich on June 7 1949. According to an interview that he gave to laliberte.ch (visited on February 26 2006) His father, Albert sr, owned a small farm but also worked in a factory for 50 years. The poverty which he’s grown up in affected his character, as he explained. Television only came up when he was 18. Sport was their only leisure. “Now youngsters have many opportunities.” Such environment enhanced his mental toughness, which forced the respect of his fellow colleagues and observers. He could endure pain more than the average riders of his time. He even added to it that “cyclocross is 80% of willpower and 20% of talent.” His own son Roger was an amateur cyclist in the nineties and Albert claimed he had as much talent as him but did not have his willpower. Jérôme Gachet – the interviewer – thinks it’s a bit over the top, though.

His father was not interested in sport and Albert jr was initiated to cycling by his own brother and started racing in 1965 at age 15. He is trained as a coachbuilder.

Zweifel remained an amateur rider until the age of 23. In his early days as a racer the Swiss cyclocross was very amateurish, he says. “When I started racing with [Hermann] Gretener and [Peter] Frischknecht […] we were playing cards and having a drink after training. Along came the Belgians, in particular the De Vlaeminck brothers. They beat us because they were better prepared than us. I then set out to professionalise and to care for every detail.”

We know from Michel Wuyts in the book “De Flandriens van het veld” (Borgerhoff & Lamberigts, 2012) that already when they were amateurs, the De Vlaeminck trained with a physician Georges Debbauts who was well aware of the most advanced training methods of the time; “an intensive and diversified programme” with interval, fitness, endurance, etc. which thus influenced other riders like Zweifel, as he says himself.

The journalist from “La Liberté” further claims that Zweifel was always one step ahead in terms of training methods. For example, he was one of the first to specifically train for running which was then unthinkable. However, Michel Wuyts (in the above mentioned book) reports a comment by Erik De Vlaeminck that the latter also specifically trained “uphill running” … in Switzerland (because Swiss and Germans did that very well, so in the Sixties) under advice by Firmin Van Kerrebroeck who was the best Belgian cyclocrosser in the 1950’s. This being said, Zweifel made the most of this specific training as his running skills in particular made him the champion that is now.

Besides that aspect, he also changed diet “Before the race, it was rice and steak but since meat was of no use, I stopped eating it. Since I won, the others copied me. You sometimes have that kind of fashion. Then we took omelette up until the moment somebody told us it was wrong. Hence everybody started eating pastas.”

His first pro season, 1973/74 was quite disappointing, not a single win. To La Liberté, he humbly acknowledged that he had made a lot of mistakes back then but that his performances were also impaired by the fact that he wore glasses. “After a moment I no longer saw anything and I systematically crashed on roots. Along came lenses. That saved me.”

Liboton: "He Could Dig Incredibly Deep"

Roland Liboton often said the Swiss was not his best friend. He however admired the rider Albert Zweifel for his competitiveness, fighting spirit and mental fortitude. His biographer Noël Truyers (in “Roland Liboton: ik ben de grootste”, BMP 2004) [Truyers is now a PR for the Telenet-Fidea Team] described Albert as a calm, taciturn and introvert person who “perhaps missed the true, raw talent but he was an unbelievable power man.” Liboton added: “There was pure power in his long legs. He could dig incredibly deep [“in het rood gaan”, “get into the red” in Eng.]. Albert could blow up but wouldn’t give up. Never! He could push insanely high gears. Thanks to him I earned a lot of money because they constantly played us against each other. With Stamsnijder as the third man in the mix! I think that Hennie [Stamsnijder] and I were the only ones could keep up with this Zweifel.”

Liboton’s and Truyers’ seem to confirm the conclusions from the article on La Liberté.

"On the Road I would Have Been a Good Domestique"

Gachet says in his article that the idea of a focus on the road crossed Albert’s mind at some point but he quickly realised it would have been a bad idea. “On the road I was everywhere average. I would have been a good domestique. While in cyclocross, I was the boss. I was watched out for.”

This being said Zweifel raced a lot of high profile road races, mainly stage races, which fits with the characteristics of a crosser who is usually more lightweight than a classics rider. He started the Tour of Switzerland 16 times (from 1973 to 1988) and finished it 14 times, which is still … a record! Four times, he entered the top10. His best result was a 6th place in 1977 only 3’34” behind winner Michel Pollentier, while he left Dietrich Thurau (7th), Johan De Muynck (8th), Eddy Merckx (12th), Paco Galdos (13th) and Hennie Kuiper (14th) behind him. He also finished 10th in 1978, 7th in 1980 and 8th in 1981. A 3rd place in the now defunct Subita a Arrate – Spanish climb race – in 1978 to Faustino Fernandez and Vicente Belda are among his most notable places on the road, along with a very good 9th place at the 1977 Championship of Zurich won by Francesco Moser.

1974/1975: "Erik De Vlaeminck Was Still Chasing With Zweifel"

During the 1975 Cyclocross World Championship in Melchnau, Switzerland, before 20,000 spectators, Roger De Vlaeminck was a solid leader when his brother Erik, broke away, from the chase group that he formed with Zweifel and Peter Frischknecht and was about to join him. We are in the 3rd round. The initial plan for Roger was to take an early and pave the way for his brother’s win as Erik was his come-back after two very hard years with a lot of personal problems and during which he sunk into recreative drug problems. According to Dirk Van de Gejuchte and Pascal Sergent (in “La gloire dans les labours, grandes & petites histories du championnat du monde de cyclocross”, De Eecloonaar 1996), the brothers’ physical trainer Georges Debbaut encouraged Roger to keep a solid pace because Erik was still in the chase group with Zweifel and Frischknecht. The authors of the book claimed tha he broke away (which is right) but that the gap was still not big enough with the two Swiss. In 2012, for the TV-Show “De Flandriens van het veld” (on Canvas, Dutch-speaking Belgian broadcaster) Erik De Vlaeminck claimed that Debbaut would rather Roger won because it made him more publicity.

Zweifel made a very good race right from the first lap. André Blancke said in the Belgian newspaper Het Volk on January 27 1975: “The Swiss (plural) rode with more determination than ever before” and he talked about an “admirable” Zweifel (source: “Roger De Vlaeminck : Top60: Mens & Renner” – Dries Vanysacker & Roger De Maertelaere, De Eecloonaar, 2007), which shows how the new training methods that he’s adopted paid off. He was in the lead group with Berten Van Damme and Erik De Vlaeminck who set the pace while Roger had a crash earlier on on the road section with the French road climber Mariano Martinez but the Gipsy quickly got back to the lead by the end of lap 1, with his brother, Albert ‘Berten’ Van Damme and Zweifel, while Frischknecht was just hanging 10” behind.

Roger got clear in lap 2 by the end of which Zweifel and Erik De Vlaeminck were alone in the chase 16” behind, with Frischknecht hanging 4” behind the duo. It’s only in the 3rd and the 4th lap that Erik got clear to chase his brother alone and so under his coach’s advice, the younger brother did not wait and anyway E. De Vlaeminck crashed and lost a dental implant. Zweifel caught him and the two ended the lap 38” behind Roger. Zweifel then got clear and ended 2nd, 31” behind Roger De Vlaeminck.

Highlights of the race can be found on this link (in German) with also some footage of the Swiss riders in training.
1975/1976: The Start of the Reign

In the winter of 1975/1976 Albert was flying over the cyclocross world in an insolent manner. 25 wins and 7 2nd places, one was in Overijse, Belgium, again to Roger De Vlaeminck. Overijse is one of the Belgian courses that he liked best, due to its hilly aspect, so Swiss-like as he says. Zweifel liked the harder routes better since he was a lesser sprinter than many of hisrivals.

A Notable performance was his hat-trick between December 26 and 28, three wins in three days. The first one was in Dagmarsellen (a cross that still exists). Then in Oberdiessbach, he dropped all his opponents with two laps to go and beat Peter Frischknecht by 18”, Klaus-Peter Thaler was 3rd, Robert Vermeire was 4th and on December 28 he wins in Cheyres on a slightly snowy but not very hard route, despite a crash in the first of 11 lap. He broke away in the 4th of 11 laps and outclassed the Czechoslovakian Vojtek Cervinek by 59” (let us remember that cyclocrosses are traditionally “open” for professionals and amateurs, which means that Eastern riders in the 70’s often mixed it up with the best Westerners, World Championship aside). Peter Frischknect was 3rd (+1’06”), Thaler was 4th (+1’14”) and Vermeire was 5th (+3’20”).

The Feuille d’avis de Neuchâtel mentioned the victory in Cheyres in its front page on Monday the 29th of December.

1975/1976: The First World Title in Chazay d'Azergues

1976 was the year of Zweifel’s first world crown, which he was obviously the top favourite for after this overwhelming dominance over the season. Yet the Belgians rather noted the absence of their top riders: the De Vlaeminck brothers, while Berten Van Damme was slowly but surely getting past his prime. A pyrrhic victory in a way! “In the Kingdom of the Blind, the One-Eyed is King.” Roger’s absence for his title defence was especially surprising. Several reasons have been evoked for it afterwards and it also had nasty consequences for him as the federation – who did not appreciate his decision to pull on – decided not to select him for the road championship in Ostuni later that year. For the cyclocross championship, De Vlaeminck explained in 2012 (“Roger De Vlaeminck: mijn memoires, onverbloemd”, Borgerhoff & Lamberigts) that he wanted to race the Nationals but forgot to subscribed, which until then wasn’t mandatory but they suddenly changed the rules so that he was kept from it and decided to boycott the Worlds for that reason. According to Stefaan Van Laere (op. cit.), however, he explained at the time of the event that the Worlds did not fit in his calendar anyway.

The route was hilly and muddy after the heavy rains of the previous days. Zweifel attacked in the very first lap along with Frischknecht, Marc De Block and the two Frenchmen Cyrille Guimard and André Wilhelm. Guimard and De Block dropped in the second lap and Wilhelm in the 3rd one. The rest is an outrageous dominance by the two Swiss with Zweifel making his decisive move with three laps to go and finished with a 1’30” lead over his compatriot.

1975/1976: Late Season Duels with Roger De Vlaeminck

The reason why Roger De Vlaeminck did not defend his World title remains fairly unknown. Yet he was still keen to defy his successor on the latter’s home soil twice in the same following weekend: February 1 in Tecknau (close to Basel) and 2 in Hägendorf (close to Soloturn). The snowy course of Tecknau was the setting for a massive success by the Gipsy, finishing with a 1’15” advantage over Zweifel, 2nd. De Vlaeminck capitalised on Zweifel’s crash in the first lap the start a first attack. On top of of that, Zweifel was hindered by spectators during the race which did not stop him from closing the gap by the 5th lap but the Gipsy consolidated his lead in the last part, despite a fall and a mechanical as well. Gretener and Vermeire had to call it quit due to sickness during the race. The Belgian was back the following day, though. Frischknecht was 3rd (+2’54”). Willi Lienhard was 4th (+3’11”). Thaler was 5th (+3’39”). 7,000 spectators were present.

In Hägendorf – before 8,000 spectators -, the battle was fiercer. Zweifel, Frischknecht and De Vlaeminck were the leaders from the very beginning of the race. In the 6th lap, Albert dropped and even trailed by 8” behind the leader but got back in the following lap. In the 9th lap, De Vlaeminck dropped due to a mechanical and in the end Zweifel won with a 13” lead over De Vlaeminck. Whatever happened to Frischknecht remains unclear but he ended 3rd, 31” behind Zweifel. Vermeire was 4th (+1’45”). Thaler was 10th (+4’51). Worth noting is the presence of road rider Willy De Geest in both events 10th in Tecknau, and 14th in Hägendorf (+5’51”) (Source: Stefan Van Laere – “Robert ‘Bertje’ Vermeire: kampioen van het volk”, Bola edition 2013).

1976: The Tour of Switzerland Where Everything Could Be Over

It happened during the 6th stage of the 1976 Tour of Switerland. A mountain stage from Locarno to Mörer-Riederalp over the Gothard and the Furka. Spanish all-rounder Jose Pesarrodona won. In the feed zone Albert Zweifel violently knocked a soigneur. The ambulance came to take him to hospital but left him on the road (he told Jérome Gachet of La Liberté.ch). He mounted his bike back and finished the stage. He learned the following day in the newspapers that his first reaction after crossing the line was to know how much time he had lost (for he quickly lost consciousness and didn’t remember anything). The answer was 10’13”, amazing in such circumstances. As a matter of fact, Zweifel raced 25km with a skull trauma! The “Impartial” of June 16 said Zweifel was taken to hospital in emergency right after crossing the line and that his injury was more serious than expected. They feared a skull break.

At the start of the stage and at the finish Zweifel was the best Swiss in the race. In Riederalp, the gap between France’s André Romero (the leader who was expected to give away his leadership to Kuiper) and him was merely was 12’44” (15th place) despite the terrible mishap. Given the fact that Romero finished 57” behind Pesarrodona, we may estimate the loss to the leader at 9’16” and hence a lead for the Frenchman over the Swiss at 3’28” at the start of the stage (needs verification, though). In any case, we may certainly assume that Zweifel was easily in contention for a top10 ranking in that Tour of Switzerland.

After that stage, only 3 days of racing remained, one hard stage to Lausanne (but which did not decide over the final ranking) and an ITT which gave the final victory to World Champion Hennie Kuiper. Albert was doing very well until then as he classified 9th in the mountainous stage 3 to Vaduz, 1’46” behind winner Kuiper and 29” behind Pollentier while preceding Maertens (10th) by 1’01” and also 9th in the other mountain stage Lenzerheide - Locarno Monti, the 186.5km long 5th stage won by Thurau. Though he lost 3’32” to the German, he managed to keep the gap with Kuiper (6th in the stage) to 17”. In the 4th stage from Vaduz to Lenzerheide (breakaway stage), Zweifel classified as 6th, in a group that battled for 2nd, 50” behind Pollentier. http://www.dewielersite.net/db2/wielersite/voorloopfiche.php?wedstrijdvoorloopid=2294

Provisional Ranking after Stage 6:
1. André Romero (Fr) 27 h. 16'51
2. Hennie Kuiper (Ned) + 9"
3. José Martins (Por) + 22"
4. Michel Pollentier (Be) + l'08
5. José Pesarrodona (Sp) + l'10
6. Bert Pronk (Ned) +l'23
7. Freddy Maertens (Be) +4'52
8. Ferdinand Julien (Fr) +6'19
9. Dietrich Thurau (Deu) +8'00
10. Enrique Martinez (Sp) +11'24
11. Remo Rocchia (It) +11'33
12. Karl-Heinz Kuster (Deu) +11'34
13. Marcel Boishardy (Fr) +11’52
14. Lieven Malfait (Be) +12'10
15. Albert Zweifel (Suisse) +12' 44

1976/1977: Beating Erik De Vlaeminck for Title Defence

The 1977 Cyclocross World Championship happened in Hannover on January 30. The route is not that hard and the many obstacles are artificial, which suited Erik De Vlaeminck perfectly. The 7-time World Champion had just come back the previous road season and on such route, he is considered a favourite but he was already 31. Zweifel set the pace for the first two laps and ended the second one with a handful of seconds ahead of E. De Vlaeminck and Thaler. The rest was classified about 20” later. Frischknecht came back from behind. By the 5th lap (out of 8), De Vlaeminck realized just after passing the pit lane that he had punctured. He kept on but Zweifel eventually noticed it and broke away from the group. De Vlaeminck lost 20” but in the last lap, he also had to let Frischknecht go for silver while Thaler completely dropped to 9th place.

Zweifel showed with this victory that he was also able to win against the best Belgians and that he also can win on fast and technical routes.
1977: The European Superstars

The “European Superstars” was a doesn’t-mean-anything all sport competition and TV-show presented by the BBC but imported from the USA based on an idea by former figure-skating champion Richard Button.

Contenders were to participate in a range of different sports and were awarded points like in a decathlon. The contenders were athletes from various sports too.

Zweifel took part in the 1977 edition. According to L’impartial from February 15, he participated in the “Night of the Superstars” in early February 1977 but the competition definitely was aired on December 21 in Madrid. He was in Heat 5 along with French pole-vaulter François Tracanelli, British rower Tim Crooks, Spanish basketball player Gonzalo Sagi-Vela, Belgian volleyball player Roger Maes, Spanish track cyclist/stayer Bartolome Caldentey, Danish badminton player Flemming Delfs and road cyclist Hennie Kuiper.

Zweifel finished 4th in this heat, winning the crossbow event, establishing a score of 47pts which was the record of the show. He also was 2nd to Tracanelli at the gym test / squat thrust. Oddly enough this 4th place was sufficient for him to qualify for the final. This is probably explained by the numerous forced retirement as for many competitors, the show was in scheduling conflict with their sporting career. Maes who was 5th in the Madrid heat, behind Zweifel also got through to the final.

The final was set in Rotterdam, aired on December 28 [when was it held?]. Beside Maes, Tracanelli and Zweifel, the competitors were Dutch hockey player Ties Kruize, Britain’s rugby player Keith Fielding, French judoka Jean-Paul Coche, Dutch speed skater Hans van Helden and Spanish canoe rower Herminio Menendez.

The whole event can be seen on Youtube, via ESPN. Zweifel was rather disappointing in the final, even though many events were not really made for him. After the first four legs – 100m, kayak, weightlifting and swimming – he was yet to score a point. Fortunately, the crossbow came after that but even then he disappointed compared to his performance in the heat. He first scored an 8, then a 10, then a 9 (which was very close to 10 as it seems!), then another 9 (also close to 10) and then an 8 (which this time was close to 7, very poor shot), for a total 44, whereby he equaled Tracanelli [On YT, his performance at the crossbow can be seen from 16’20” to 18’31”]. Only van Helden improved their mark to 47, the Dutchman equaling Zweifel’s mark in the heat. Fielding came 2nd and Zweifel was 3rd, ex aequo with Tracanelli. So he scored 3 points in the Challenge. The next event was held the following day. It’s the gym test consisting first of dips on parallel bars and then of squat thrust. Zweifel scored 20 dips and 70 squat thrusts which placed him 4th (ex aequo with Maes who scored 27 dips and 57 ST – less overall and still equal – and van Helden who scored 18 dips and 71 ST – less overall too !!), much less than judoka Jean-Paul Coche (40; 77), who has much more strength in his arms of course. Then after the football event was the obstacle race in which he was 7th. The obstacle race was again an American invention copied by the British and it included parallel bars, weight carrying and a rope climbing, all obstacles that required a lot of arm strength which is definitely not suited for a cyclist. He was 7th while up against Tracanelli who was the winner of that event.

The following event was the cycling part but Zweifel was kept from it, being a cyclist (all competitors had to opt out of 2 events but for Zweifel, cycling was automatically one of them, which means he’s a bit screwed). The surprise in the cycling part came from Fielding who beat van Helden, while so far in the Superstars, cycling was the protected domain of the speed skaters, as it’s part of their training.

And in the final 600m steeple chase, Zweifel disappointed finishing dead last of the race and then last as well of the whole contest. It was a win for Dutch hockey player Ties Kruize, ahead of Keith Fielding and Jean-Paul Coche. Despite the disappointment and the fact that this event was just an entertaining TV show (much for the rich), at least Zweifel got the recognition of his peers, which was good for cyclocross.


1977/1978: Hat-Trick in Three Days at the Turn of the Year

Between December 31 1977 and January 2 1978, Albert Zweifel won his 12th to 14th crosses of the season in a span of only three days (like he did in the 1975/1976 season). That was quite an amazing achievement considering the time of the year it was made. The first of these wins occurred in Lyss, near Bern. Zweifel escaped in the 2nd of the 8 laps and was never challenged again. He preceded Vermeire by 1’20”. The talented Czechoslovakian Milos Fisera was 5th (+2’15”) and Thaler was 6th (+2’22”). The following day, Zweifel won in Cheyres again, this time, under a bright sunny day and escaped in the 7th of 11 laps for a 36” lead over Willi Lienhard.

The win in Muntelier (close to Fribourg) is more amazing since the route was pretty fast and hence much better suited to faster sprinters like Thaler or Lienhard. Zweifel made a first attempt at mid-race and took Fisera and Thaler with him. But none of them could threaten him and the Czechoslovakian ended second to Zweifel trailing by 18”. Thaler was 3rd (+24”). W. Lienhard was 4th (+31”). Vermeire was 5th (+43”). Worth noting was the presence of road champion Michel Pollentier in Muntelier. He ended 11th, 2’03” behind Zweifel.

The Czechoslovakian Milos Fisera was a rider who on his best days could easily challenge the best Western riders on such open cyclocross, even already at a very young age. He got one amateur World title, and was still competing in the eighties at the Superprestige first, and finally at the pro Worlds, but much too late unfortunately. A decent forerunner for Stybar!

1977/1978: The Third Crown under Pouring Basque Rains

The third week of January 1978, in Amorebieta, was abnormally rainy, even for Basque standard, which speaks volume about the weather conditions that the contenders for the year’s Cyclocross World Championship would have to face. Training on the route the days before was out of question. Roger De Vlaeminck who was present caught bronchitis and had to pull out of the race the day before.

15,000 spectators were present despite the rain. During the first three laps, only fellow Swiss Frischknecht and W. Lienhard, and the German, Thaler, could follow Zweifel. But Lienhard crashed in the 2nd lap. Thaler dared to attack and took a 50m lead but Zweifel caught him and the German surrendered, exhausted. Zweifel only needed one more lap to drop his long time rival Frischknecht and steadily increased his lead to finish with 54” lead over his compatriot. Thaler was 3rd, 2’32”

The Golden Age of Swiss Cyclocross

In the late 70’s but also in the eighties and even still in the early nineties, Switzerland was the epicenter of cyclocross in terms of race organization, like Belgium is nowadays. It often accounted for very hard hilly routes (though not always: Zurich-Waid, Muntelier or Cheyres were rather flat) compared to the Belgian modern ones. For riders from all Europe, and Belgian ones in particular, going to Switzerland was almost an imperative. Besides the blend of Swiss talents was then at an all-time high in cyclocross. Beside Zweifel, you had Frischknecht and the Lienhard brothers (Willi and Erwin). “They were the present-day Belgians”, says Liboton to Michel Wuyts (in De Flandriens van het Veld, Canvas 2012). Van de Gejuchte & Sergent (op. cit.) said that for the 1978 World Championship the Swiss fed organised an “idyllic” in Mürten (canton of Friburg).
Robert Vermeire was a regular figure in those Swiss crosses in the late Seventies. He was and still is a popular character in Belgium, known for his amateur career that lasted until the age of 35 (1979) - during which he could regularly beat the best pros on good days -, extended by a 7-year pro career.

The East-Fleming from Beernem explained (in Stefaan Van Laere; op. cit.) that the depth of the Swiss field in the late Seventies accounted for the fact that he went lesser and lesser to Helvetia by the early eighties as they no longer wanted to pay his price. The Swiss riders pressured on the budget.

1978/1979: The Saccolongo Quagmire

Saccolongo is a small Italian town near Padova. In 1979 it was the setting for the cyclocross World Championship… though it could as well be classified as a cross country running event! Torrential rains have flooded the course so that the contenders were forced to run for 2km of a 2.6km circuit! Several tons of gravel have been routed on the course but that did not change a lot. Mechanics are trying to make the bikes as light as possible. R. De Vlaeminck even removed his front brakes. “It would be of no use, anyway”, he said. Rolf Wolfshohl – Thaler’s coach – considered not letting his protégé start. “For which result?” The Belgian team considered a dispute as well (said Robert Vermeire in his biography by Stefaan Van Laere, op. cit.). The technical commission decided it was too late to change the course but they did drop one passage in a wheat field, which was a swimming pool.

Zweifel was obviously in his element. During the season he was as dominant as ever. He won in Winthertur ahead of old rival Frischknecht (+6”), E. Lienhard (+1’13”), Vermeire (+1’23”). Dutch rising star Stamsnijder was 7th (+2’24”). He should also have won Muntelier, outsprinting Frischknecht but was eventually disqualified for an illegal bike change, so that Frischknecht outclassed Vermeire (+30”) and Fisera (+44”). In the Christmas period, he also 8 victories in a row, all of which were ahead of Peter Frischknecht, last one being Cheyres on January 1.

In Saccolongo, Given the circumstances, he could hardly have been beaten. He attacked with Frischknecht in the first lap. They already had 1’ lead after two laps. Frischknecht seemed to go for silver again but in the aforelast lap he retired due to a sprain. Another Swiss Gilles Blaser (Romandian) took second and Vermeire – who had finally turned pro – was 3rd, after more than 8 minutes! Vermeire is a former accomplished cross-country runner (!) but he could only follow Zweifel and Frischknecht for one lap (he was 34, was he a little younger, he could have been a serious contender of course). Unfortunately for him he was later disqualified for doping. This was a dubious case which the Belgian federation took the flaw. The federation’s doctor prescribed him Rhinamide without knowing that there was ephedrine in it. The federation paid the 17,000 frank to the UCI. Vermeire was eventually re-instated and could keep his bronze medal (in Stefaan Van Laere, op. cit.)

Zweifel’s win also had a lot to do with a new pair of shoes adapted to running in such condition that he had from a shoemaker friend of his. A pair of brown shoes with a curved sole and some weird shells underneath. He explained to La Liberté.ch in 2003.

1979/1980: Albert's Fair-Play & Changing of the Guard

In the approach of the 1980 World Championship in his own Wetzikon, 30 year old Zweifel seemed to be a little past it, and so was Frischknecht (aged 33 now). Belgian rookie and new prodigy Roland Liboton even claimed “I didn’t believe in a moment in Zweifel’s chances and I didn’t see Frischknecht playing a role at all. I had raced against Zweifel a few times before and he didn’t seem fresh to me anymore. He was not the Zweifel of the first months. His eyes were dimmer, the punch wasn’t there, he raced with flannel legs. The power and panache were gone. You could see it when he climbed. He was much less smooth in dismounting and remounting his bike. At the start of the season he clearly raced with more sharpness and flair. I was convinced that he was past his peak”(in Truyers; op. cit.). The young Belgian had a big ego but since we know that he was the eventual champion, we may believe him.

Wetzikon was known as a very hard route. It long remained a true classic, until the mid noughties when it was the last World Cup event, one week before the World Championship (badly placed, for such a hard route).

For the 1980 World Championship, the course was slightly snowy, the snow had smelted a bit. Frischknecht took a bad start, which “worried Zweifel”, said Liboton. Albert set the pace but Liboton, Thaler and Stamsnijder were not surprised. Zweifel took a lot of risks, in the descents in particular and crashed twice. The 2nd in lap 7 occurred in a dangerous dive. Liboton praised Albert for his fair-play as he straight took his bike away otherwise he would have been involved in it as well. That way he could just go on straight while Thaler had to pull the brakes a little and Frischknect got a hip sweep. Zweifel was actually quick to remount but not enough to catch Liboton and Thaler back. With one lap to go, Liboton was 9” ahead of Stamsnijder and 13” ahead of Thaler while Zweifel crossed the line with 20” but “the red head Swiss did not want to give in”, says Truyers. In a minimum of time he caught Thaler who had already caught Stamsnijder. Unfortunately, Albert’s effort was too brutal, it seemed and Thaler still had the strength for a late attack for second, 19” behind Liboton. Zweifel finished 4th, trailing by 22” behind Liboton, along with Stamsnijder who was 3rd.

Was it a swan song for the Swiss master? The future will rather show the opposite, even though Liboton (in his biography by Truyers; in 2004) remembered that Zweifel and Frischknecht were already “greyed” in the field.

1980/1981: Liboton's Accusations

Albert Zweifel has never been a fast course specialist and against the very fast sprinting Roland Liboton, the mission was almost impossible. Zurich-Waid is one such fast course. The day before the Waidquer, Zweifel was already outsprinted by the Belgian amateur Paul De Brauwer in Frauenfeld. De Brauwer might just have been an amateur but he went on to be one of the best Belgian riders of the following decade.

Liboton told about that edition of the “Waidquer” (in his biography by Truyer; op. cit.): “I still remember that we crossed against each other in Zurich-Waid. I was 19 then [sic]. He came to tell me ‘I win today’. He had spied me for a few laps. He was almost dying on his bike but in order to make an offer to me, he could still talk. ‘No, you won’t win today. The best will’, I said. Albert would have loved to regulate something. He wanted to buy the race but eventually he sprinted for the win and I won.”

Obviously Liboton could not have been 19 at that time. At age 19 he was still an amateur and seldomly raced with the pros, certainly not outside of Belgium. He was 23.

Even though the Belgian admired Albert as a rider and champion (see above) he did not like the man whom he considered “a bit arrogant, a big neck, a very special person. He didn’t have a lot of sympathy for the other rider. He gave no gift.” It seems ironic coming from the guy who claimed “he was the greatest” (in 2004, mind you). “I’ve never been in his villa but I once saw it. He had earned his bread. Those Swiss had their own little clique. They isolated themselves from the rest.” Truyers added: “Albert Zweifel and Peter Frischknecht were not really popular in our country. They were too and cold. They were both sober pragmatic and boring semi hermits but definitely tough guys.”

7 years after telling that story to Truyers, Liboton was invited by Michel Wuyts for the TV-series + book “De Flandriens van het veld” and he repeated all exactly the same, still claiming he was just 19. He added a story that he wasn’t allowed to enter the shower while he was amateur World champion (sic). He actually was the pro champion. “I was so angry about that. I thought: ‘I’m going to show you who belongs in that shower and who not.’ Beware! Zweifel was the real big man, there. Before the race, they were bringing his bikes with a helicopter. Really a lot of show! It also stood clear that he had to win.” On the show, he called him a “disgusting man”. He did not seem to have a lot of respect for his rival.

He brought more details about how the race unfolded. Zweifel, Stamsnijder and he were leading but Stamsnijder dropped in the aforelast lap. “Raoul, don’t drop”, said Hennie Stamsnijder to Liboton, according to the latter. Actually Stamsnijder was 6th, 1’26” behind Liboton. It seems very unlikely that Stamsnijder lost so much time and places in just two laps, on such a fast course! He also added that he won with a 45” lead over Zweifel while he just outsprinted him.

1980/1981: Zweifel Crushes Liboton Three Times in a Row

Between December 5 and 7 Zweifel showed Liboton that he still had to reckon with him. Earlier in the season he already beat him in Steinmaur, which was a much harder route than the Waidquer. On December 5, at the cross of Safenwil in the canton of Aargau, Liboton actually had to retire and Zweifel comfortably beat old rival Frischknecht with a minute and 10” lead. Note that he covered the 17.6km of the route in 1h 14’18”, which says a lot about the route’s hardness. Besides, in that era, crosses still could easily exceed the present-day mandatory one hour duration. The road climber – and very good cross – Beat Breu was 4th (+2’19”).
The next day, Zweifel won the cross of Lyss again, before 5,000 spectators. Stamsnijder took an early lead and isolated a group of three with Zweifel and Carlo Lafranchi. Liboton was chasing behind with Thaler and E. Lienhard among others and relatively close behind at some point but eventually dropped to finish at a disappointing 18th place. Zweifel placed his decisive attack with 2 laps to go and Stammie finished 38” behind.

Liboton would sort of surface back the next day in Marly, close to Fribourg. He and Zweifel countered an attack by Lafranchi in lap 1. Stamsnijder joined them on his own but he later crashed and retired. Again Zweifel waited for the aforelast lap to place his decisive attack in a short but steep climb. Beat Breu was 11th (+3’11”). That season Zweifel just won 23 crosses, like in the good old days!

1980/1981: Zweifel Against a Liboton/Stamsnijder Alliance?

At the World Championship in Tolosa, Spain (Basque Country), Liboton was still so angry at Zweifel that he would rather let his good friend Stamsnijder get the title rather the Swiss. At least so he told Michel Wuyts (op. cit.). “We don’t ride after each other”. That was the deal. Stammie attacked first and Liboton sucked Zweifel’s wheel. Hence the Swiss also refused to chase and Stammie flew off. At least a bit later when he discussed the edition of the following year (1982 in Lanarvily) Liboton admitted that in Tolosa he did not have the legs for the win and tried to play it smartly.

The weather conditions in the Basque country changed rapidly. One week before the start of the race, it was pretty beautiful weather, perfect for Liboton. On the Thursday, the snow started falling and it looked like a perfect scenario for Klaus-Peter Thaler, the German iceman but on Sunday morning, it rained cats and dogs, which was perfect conditions for Zweifel and Stamsnijder.

The way Dirk Van de Gejuchte & Pascal Sergent (“La gloire dans les labours: grandes et petites histories du championnat du monde de cyclocross”) are describing their version of the race does not fit with Liboton’s version.

In the first of eight laps, the top favourites were already ahead: Zweifel, Stamsnijder, Liboton and Thaler. Stammie attacked on lap 3 and Zweifel remained at a small distance while Thaler and Liboton were dropped. Stammie increased his lead in the following lap and the chasers are only fighting for silver. In the 6th lap Zweifel was still ahead but he was caught by Liboton and Frischknecht the Belgian outsprinted him. Frischknecht was 4th. Where is the alliance?

1981: The Cobbled Nightmare

In 1981 Zweifel raced the Dauphiné libéré but unfortunately caught bronchitis which did not prevent him from starting the Tour of Switzerland thereafter where he finished 8th, 5’56” behind winner Beat Breu. He was also 4th in the prologue and 13th in the last stage.

The 1981 Tour of France had a cobbled stage in the middle of it. The 12th stage from Compiègne to Roubaix, which means the same start and finish as for the Queen of the Classics Paris-Roubaix. The stage was … 245km long, which is just a dozen kilometer shorter than the classic and 27.1km on cobbles (!), including the fearsome Carrefour de l’Arbre (added to Paris-Roubaix, 3 years before) which is half as shorter a cobbled distance as present-day Paris-Roubaix.

This was the time when Felix Lévitan and Jacques Goddet bombastically believed that their Tour of France should consist of 21 classics, without ever caring for the health of the rider.

Albert Zweifel started the race. As a matter of fact, the four best crossers of the moment were a part of it: Zweifel, Thaler, Stamsnijder and even Liboton who was actually the only one not to finish it; he retired at the 16th stage, not out of fatigue but out of lack of ambition, he said. Vintage Liboton.

As a cyclocrosser, Zweifel was considered by many as a possible contender for the win but he crashed before crossing the first cobbled section, he said for La Liberté. He was all alone and hoped he would finish out of time limit but despite crossing the line 45 minutes behind winner Daniel Willems, he was still in the race. Duclos-Lassalle was 2nd of the stage and Agostinho 3rd.

Zweifel finished that Tour of France at the 109th place, 2h44’22” behind Hinault. Thaler was 49th and Stamsnijder 80th.

This stage shows pretty well that cyclocross and Paris-Roubaix are two radically different efforts. Paris-Roubaix favours heavyweight riders while cyclocross favours lightweight riders. Some riders were able to do both because they were perfect balance between the two but Zweifel was 64kg in his best form for 173cm of height. It’s too light for Paris-Roubaix. It’s no surprise then that his best results on the road are in the climbing events, like many crossers.

1981/1982: A Calculating Liboton with Zweifel as Top Figure

This is how Noël Truyers (op. cit.) described the 1982 World Championship in Lanarvily, France (Brittany) before 30,000 spectators. The Belgian rider admitted to Michel Wuyts (op. cit.) that Zweifel was as good as he was that day. Coming from him, it means a lot!

Lanarvily is a very isolated village in Brittany but still a classic in French cyclocross. “270 inhabitants, 20 farms, a café, a church with 100 chairs but not sport halls or party halls. […] The route was designed by Jean Le Hir who was the biggest farmer of the village”, says Truyers. But for this championship, there came 30,000 spectators, about 10 times the number of inhabitants.

This short Youtube clip brings back some old footage of the race (first Stamsnijder leading Liboton, Zweifel and Thaler and then the sprint between Liboton and Zweifel) with the comments by an old Breton, speaking in Breton. “It rained, it rained! I’ve never been that cold in my life than that day. And I’ve never seen as many people in the village either. All the houses were full! There were no hotel in Lanarvily but the houses were full. The mass was postponed to the following Sunday” (Truyers argued that the priest did the mass the previous Saturday evening!).

The four above mentioned riders rapidly broke away and would contend for victory. Surprisingly, Liboton stayed in the wheels while Zweifel picked up the tempo and in lap 3, Thaler dropped. So did Stamsnijder a bit later. Stammie was a stakhanovist who raced too much during the season and paid the price for it. But even then, Liboton never lost Zweifel’s wheel and just relied on his sprinting skills. He was sure of his win the moment Stammie dropped, he explained to Truyers but the style was not there. He also noticed that unlike two years before, Zweifel took no more risks in the descents. He was more hesitant. The Belgian capitalized on the final climb on the road section to drop Zweifel in the sprint for the win of a race he did not shine in. Zweifel did.

1982/1983: The Loss to Stamsnijder in Asper-Gavere

1982/1983 is a turning point in cyclocross history as the season of the first ever Superprestige ranking, from December to February. That year the Superprestige was totally Belgian (Diegem – still SP today - , Zillebeke, Asper-Gavere & Overijse, which is now traditionally a lone cross) but the following year, Zurich-Waid was added, where Adri Van der Poel beat Zweifel.

In those days, Belgians already organized a cross in honour of their best rider on New Year’s Day. So on January 1, a cross was held in Liboton’s own Rillaar. But that year Liboton was sick and hence Vermeire won Rillaar ahead of R. De Vlaeminck, Zweifel, Frischknecht and Johan Ghyllebert (Pieter’s father). Zweifel also claimed that Rillaar was some sort of a Swiss parcours that he appreciated but the race did not survive Liboton’s career and we might wonder whether Baal will survive Nys’ one. The Brabander was still sick for the Superprestige event of Asper-Gavere and hence lost all chance of the final ranking (Source: Stefaan Van Laere, op. cit.)

Asper-Gavere was a regular event since the 1950’s but since 1983, was held every year as a Superprestige event (the organizer – the blind man and former masseur Etienne Gevaert was one of the driving forces behind the creation of the Superprestige) and quickly became a true classic, a monument of the cyclocross season. One that every top crosser wants to win, says Stybar. In the eighties, the parcours was situated in Asper (1978-1992). Only in 1993 did they move to the military domain of “Kasteel Grenier” in Gavere with the impressive down and up climbing.

In the 1983 edition Zweifel was in the lead for the win with Stamsnijder but it seems that during the last lap his mechanic could not provide him a clean bike in time and therefore Albert was dropped. His mechanic was a Dutchman who only partnered him for that occasion. That is at least what a former on Wielerflits argued and it needs verification: http://veldrijden.startpagina.nl/prikbord/13097594/13098316/re-niel

[http://www.dewielersite.net/db2/wielersite/ritfiche.php?ritid=42806]Zweifel[/url] ended 25” after Stamsnijder and a 1’ before Ghyllebert who was 3rd.

Zweifel never won any Superprestige event in his career. 1983/1984 was his best season in that ranking. After the loss to Van der Poel in the Waidquer, he was 3rd to Liboton and Stamsnijder in both Diegem and Asper-Gavere and 2nd to Liboton in Overijse, for a 3rd place overall to Stamsnijder and Rein Groenendaal (Richard’s father).
1982/1983: Runner-up at the World Championship in Birmingham

Truyers reported a comment by Roland Liboton that dates from pre-race interviews about the Worlds in Birmingham, UK. “Why should I fear Zweifel? For the whole season I already have the feeling that Albert is sagging. One more convulsion and it’s done with him!” The rider who considered Zweifel as an arrogant person seemed to belittle his opponents in a very unbearable way. Albert was getting old but the Belgian couldn’t know that he would still be competitive for another 5 years.

The course in Birmingham was a turning one. A typical park course, said Liboton to Truyers. It seemed to require a lot of technique. The road section at the start was 800m. That was unusual. The weather conditions were also perfect.

This time, Liboton dominated the event from start to finish. After lap 3 he was 20” ahead of Stamsnijder but the Dutchman punctured and Zweifel and Thaler could battle for silver. Eventually Zweifel got back to a mere 9” behind Liboton but that is mainly due to the latter’s control of the race. In the smugness that characterised him, he would tell Truyers: “For the rest it was mainly making sure that Thaler does not come back because he could outsprint me. Zweifel couldn’t.” Thaler was surprised by Zweifel for 2nd and finish one second behind him.

1983/1984: "He Could Peak, Die & Resurrect"

This was how Truyers still described Zweifel as a possible threat for Liboton in the Worlds of Oss in 1984. Oss is a Dutch town between Nijmegen and s’Hertogenbosch, in Stamsnijder’s backyard. The circuit was designed on a cleaned up waste dump, just like the present-day race in Zonhoven.

Liboton was on his way to crushing the field again but suddenly some crazy Dutch spectators gave him two punches: one in the stomach and one on the shoulder. That is how he decided to let himself caught by the chasers: Stamsnijder and Zweifel. Then Liboton had a mechanical and Stammie capitalised on it to break away but Liboton caught him with Zweifel on his wheel.

Liboton admitted to Truyers that he was not strong enough to drop his two opponents and had to deal with them in the sprint, which is an easy task for him. Zweifel however made him shiver when he suddenly felt him alongside him but Albert could never have outsprinted him in 10 attempts. He was 3rd to Liboton and Stamsnijder. The new World champion was booed on the podium for never pulling in the last lap leaving Zweifel and Stammie do the job. This was a consequence of the punch.

1985/1986: The Return of the "Mud King"

Who would have bet one kopek on 36 year old Albert Zweifel for World champion in 1986? Probably nobody! Until was discovered that the circuit of Lembeek, Belgium (close to Halle in the outskirts of Brussels) was just transformed into a quagmire that was comparable to that of Saccolongo, 7 years before! It had rained for 14 days and the circuit was impassable.

This Youtube Clip about the junior event gives pretty good idea of what the circuit looked like. Obviously it would be unthinkable in 2015 and was very much unrelated to cyclocross.

It’s also a sad side of the story that Albert last notable win was linked with a big money story. The Belgian federation – which were given permission by the UCI in 1984 to organize the 1986 Worlds – first intended to give the conferment to Etienne Gevaert’s Asper-Gavere because of the reliability of the field but at the end of the day the big money promised by the organizers “De Lustige Pedaalridders” (Paul Debast) of Lembeek decided the fed (after a judicial conflict!).

Liboton was top favourite. He won the Superprestige and the Belgian Nats. The Dutchmen Van der Poel, Groenendaal and Stamsnijder were supposed to be his closest challengers but nobody gave Zweifel, at best a contender for podium. The only win that Dewielersite.net inventories for Zweifel in the 1985/1986 season before Lembeek was Igorre. A Basque/Spanish cross that became famous afterwards as a World Cup event until 2010 but in 1985, the field was pretty low. He beat his compatriot Russenberg there and made a solo for 4 laps of 2.250km. Notable mention is the presence of road puncher/climber Federico Echave who finished 10th, 6’10” behind Albert.

In Lembeek, Thaler decided not to start considering this route as unworthy of a World championship route. Liboton retired early (lap 2). In order to make things even worse, the rain started pouring again shortly after the start of the race. Zweifel attacked early and was followed by the young future roadie Pascal Richard (21 years of age) who had already beaten him 14 times during the season but under such conditions, the young Romandian does not have enough body yet to compete with his senior in this race which can be considered a cross-country running event (with a bike on the shoulder). Hennie Stamsnijder could follow the two Swiss’ wheels until the 6th lap but he too couldn’t keep up under these conditions. Richard set the pace for most of the race, disgusting his opponents but Zweifel dropped his young compatriot in the final lap to get his 5th World title with a 38” lead. This title came 7 years after his last one, in pretty much the same peculiar circumstances. The crowning achievement of an outstanding career!

The “Feuille d’avis de Neuchâtel” on Monday January 27 1986 headlined Zweifel’s win with the title “Maître Zweifel”.

For Lembeek, Zweifel even took back his shoes from Saccolongo. “For seven years they remained at home in the cupboard. I have fond memories of them because I used them to get the title in Saccolongo. The last weeks, I had the information from Belgium that Lembeek was a giant mudbath just like Saccolongo was. Out of precaution, I took these special shoes with me and did use them. They showed their efficiency again.”

The irony is that Italian Vito Di Tano was the amateur champion, just like 7 years before in Saccolongo too.

Richard showed his astonishment after Zweifel’s performance: “In the aforelast lap I really tried everything to drop him but Albert was still in my wheel. With one lap to go, I still believed in it but I couldn’t do anything when Zweifel attacked. Besides, I started to have cramps.”

1. Albert Zweifel 1h 16' 33";
2. Pascal Richard + 38"
3. Hennie Stamsnijder +1’ 15"
4. Reinier Groenendaal +3' 16"
5. Martial Gayant +3' 44"
6. Paul de Brauwer +4' 10"
7. Beat Breu +4' 29"

What is very interesting is that in 1986 the duration of a cyclocross race was not yet fixed at an hour. Van de Gejuchte & Sergent argued that it started after the Worlds in Birmingham (1984).

By 2011, the Debast family was still proud of the schandalous Championship that they organised 25 years before. They celebrated the anniversary of it in grand fashion: http://www.editiepajot.com/regios/7/articles/16587 (in Dutch), with a blue umbrella that they are showing up during each World championship event (since 1988 at least). After all with Zweifel, Richard and Stamsnijder on the podium, you could say that the best were in front, they argue.
1987/1988: Zweifel against Roadies in the Mud

In 1987, in Mlada Boleslav (Czechoslovakia, present-day Czech Republic), Zweifel still got a decent 8th place in a race that was won by other veteran Klaus-Peter Thaler. That winter, Zweifel kept his win in Igorre, this time against an already much bigger field, judging by the podium: 2nd Richard and 3rd De Brauwer.

In 1988 the World championship in Hägendorf proved really muddy again. Guimard who was Christophe Lavainne’s DS even argued that “this route hardly had anything to do with cyclocross.”

Yet when we see the full footage on Youtube we don’t really have the feeling that the riders had to run for the most part of the circuit, as in Saccolongo or Lembeek.

Zweifel no longer belongs to the top favourite of the race. He had only won twice during the season, up to Hägendorf. He starts it on the second line. Lavainne was the first to enter the field with Richard in his wheel but then Liboton accelerated (who was no longer the rider he once was but still fearsome) and isolated a group of three with Richard and Breu after one lap, while Zweifel chased 9” behind with Van der Poel and Hansrüdi Buchi. Van der Poel was the first to bridge the gap in lap 2, while Stamsnijder and Lavainne caught Zweifel and Buchi at the end of lap 2, the gap had already increased to 30” between both groups.

In lap 3 Zweifel managed to break away from the group he was in and only Lavainne followed him but already 50” behind the lead group from which Liboton dropped (+18”). In lap 5 Zweifel managed to drop Lavainne and ended only 14” behind his old rival Liboton who suffered a massive knock from the man with the hammer as he lost 1’21” to Richard who had attacked. The gaps are suddenly very huge. Only Van der Poel and Breu were still in contention, three roadies in the first three positions. By the end of lap 6 the Belgian was caught, only Zweifel was already 2’12” behind Richard. The gap was stabilized at the end of lap 7 (Two remaining), while Zweifel and Liboton were still together. Zweifel only dropped his former rival in the 8th lap but ended it 4’ behind Richard. Ultimately, Zweifel trailed Richard roughly by 4’10”, Van der Poel was 2nd (+1’39”) and Breu 3rd (+1’51”). Lavainne was 5th (+5’01”) and Liboton was 6th (+5’46”).

23 years after the event, Roland Liboton told Michel Wuyts (op. cit.) was still bitter that roadies like Pascal Richard and Adrie Van der Poel came up in cyclocross strictly for the World Championship, with just a dozen crosses in the legs as preps. This can’t be said of Beat Breu though who despite his road abilities as a pocket climber won 8 crosses that season. These roadies were fresh while the cross specialists were tired after a long and exhausting season. He thinks that a rider should at least race 20 crosses during the season in order to be allowed to the Worlds. The case of Stybar in 2014 is pretty much similar. One would remember the same observation made by Sanne Cant at the end of the 2015 edition of the World Championship when Pauline Ferrand-Prévost and Marianne Vos shined in these Worlds after a shortened cross season due to their road ambitions.

In any case, if we consider these data, it can only highlight the tremendous performance by Albert Zweifel at 38 years of age against very fresh road specialists. Also Lavainne was a good road racer.

1988/1989: Sad Farewell to the World Championship

The cyclocross of Igorre truly became Zweifel’s protected domain. In his very last season on December 8 1988, Albert Zweifel – who would be 40 later that year – got back his win in the Basque Country, this time beating his other Romandian compatriot Laurent Dufaux (+31”) and Adri Van der Poel (+42”).

He also took part at his last World Championship in Pontchâteau, France. The route was fast and furious. Pontchâteau is still a classic cross in the Challenge national and these World Championships announced a new era in cycling. The race for the Swiss would be very short. He was involved in a massive crash at the very start and taken to hospital, as the main victim. It seems kind of symbolical that the rider who made a name for himself on these old “wild” muddy courses, had to be knocked out at the very start of a new kind of cyclocross in which riders stayed on their bikes for 99% of the route – including hillock climbs – and rather were to show their acrobatic skills than their stamina. The winner of the race – Danny De Bie – was himself the embodiment of this new era. He was the first rider to stay on the bike while crossing planks (but did not really jump, different technique than present-day rider) and was mainly known for his technique. Organizers sure had to find a way to avoid the Saccolongo or Lembeek farces. Is it a reason to promote those sanitized kind of circuits? In Belgium, Erik De Vlaeminck and Berten Van Damme were appointed by the fed as inspectors for cyclocross routes. It was apparent that the two disagreed. The two De Vlaeminck’s hated the mud while Van Damme loved it. Van Damme was more of a Zweifel type. De Vlaeminck persuaded the fed to reach his opinion. That is how many cyclocross in Belgium nowadays look really flat, easy and nicely set out compared to the crosses of old.

Post Cycling Career

Albert Zweifel put an end to his career in 1989. He told La liberté in 2003 that he did not have any trouble to stop. He still liked competition but in training when he saw younger riders were riding with much more ease than him. It gave him food for thought. He’s also grateful to the media that are still interested in him. It gives him the feeling that he’s not forgotten.

Albert Zweifel is hiring bikes to tourists for Bicycle Holidays on Mallorca now (since 1989). At the beginning he also accompanied the rides but now he focuses on hiring, selling and repairs. Only when he is in Switzerland he sometimes still rides the bike - but not cross.

Zweifel also discovered mountainbike.

On August 28 1989 he won the Verbier Mountainbike GP, covering the 37km in an hour 31’48”55 and in September 1990 he was 2nd to Patrice Thévenard in the senior MTB Cross Country World Championship. Thévenard was himself a former cyclocrosser in the eighties, 5 years Albert’s junior.

In August 1994 he took part in the MTB “Grand raid” Verbiers-Grimentz (131km) with other former cyclocrosser Andre Honegger and more than 4,000 participants.

Albert couldn’t know it at that time but he had just discovered the sport that tolled the bell of Swiss cyclocross. In the early nineties, Thomas Frischknecht – Peter’s son – was still mixing it up with the best crossers of the moment, like Beat Wabel and to some extent Dieter Runkel but Thomas chose mountainbike in the midst of the decade. Erik De Vlaeminck thought he had missed a great cyclocross career because of mountainbike (though he can be proud of his mountainbike career, probably) and De Vlaeminck rather seemed to scorn mountainbike as a pretty commercial circus (Source: Van de Gejuchte & Sergent, op. cit.).

By 2013, Zweifel was sad to see that there were “only 10 cross races a year in Switzerland anymore instead of 30 and, according to him, it’s because most people prefer to ride mountain bike instead now.

We may wonder if the likes of Christoph Sauser, Ralf Näf or Nino Schurter could also have been great cyclocrosser. It might be. At least in recent years the Swiss still seemed to dominate mountainbike the way their elders dominated cyclocross. Only cycling has diversified, which might be positive. Switzerland is still the land of off-road cycling.


Picture of Albert Zweifel winning the cyclocross of Cheyres in December 1975 from the front page of the Feuille d’avis de Neuchâtel (December 29 1975), the oldest Francophone newspaper

Zweifel (on the right) with Dutch speed skater Hans van Helzen during the European Superstars: watching rugby player Keith Fielding doing the crossbow event


Albert Zweifel in 2012

Interesting read. I didn't actually know of this rider until you wrote about him. The Belgian commentators are kimd of partial to the Belgian riders (and sometimes the Dutch) so I think thet actually forget about riders like him. As you say swiss cyclocross has really dropped off with riders like Taramarcaz and and Wildhaber bearly visable in races. In race terms there was a new three event series called the EKZ tour in switzerland. They have also been holding the World Masters CX champs in Aigle/Gossau and the Redbull Velodux. However the Redbull event isn't really a proper cross. Its just afun thing organised bye Redbull with their millions of pounds of cash.
Thanks Lemon.

I heard a bit about the EKZ tour. I think Italy also has its tour. The Swiss still have their classics too. Mourey won a lot there. In Dagmersellen, he's 2nd in the record, to Zweifel.

Also I forgot to thank Search for tranlating this article to me, from German. I'm annoyed with myself for not having done it earlier.
Nice report. I raced with those guys in the Veteran World Championship in Durango CO in 1990. And by "raced with" I mean I was on the same track at the same time and could even see what was happening at the front in parts of the course where it doubled back within a few minutes. Those guys were fast! One slight inaccuracy though, Frischknecht didn't wait until the mid 90's for MTB, he was there in Durango and finished second to Ned Overend in the Pro WC. He was still a crosser though as he was spotted running a couple of steep pitches that the Lung stayed on his bike for.
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