Hennes Junkermann is dead: mourning for cycling legend and best Tour de France rider

It was the small tragedy of a big career that instead of the impressive victories, Hennes Junkermann mostly lamented his most painful defeat. “If only I hadn’t mixed that fish up,” he lamented in his Rhineland homeland’s finest chant after food poisoning cost him victory on the circuit in 1962. A set for the eternity on a bike.

Junkermann died shortly before his 88th birthday, and together with the “boy from Krefeld”, one of the most influential figures in German cycling is leaving. Together with Rudi Altig, Karl-Heinz Kunde and Rolf Wolfshohl, the strong mountaineer with a nice round kick formed a legendary quartet in the golden 60s – of which the 83-year-old Wolfshohl still lives.

Junkermann’s professional career spanned 18 years and his record is impressive: in all three Grand Tours – Tour de France, Giro, Vuelta – he finished in the top ten, four times on the Tour. He won the Tour de Suisse twice (1959 and 1962), as well as the then immensely renowned championship in Zurich (1957) and around the Henninger Turm (1963).

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All that was missing was the resounding success that Altig achieved in 1966 with the world championship title at the Nürburgring (Junkermann exited at the time). “Poissons de Luchon” knocked him down.

Junkermann: Sabotage at Tour-Aus?

The morning after a fish dish at a hotel in the Pyrenees, Junkermann woke up with a high fever and a bruised stomach and, like various other sick professionals, gave up. There was a lot of noise around the episode, tour boss Jacques Goddet saw the drivers involved in the doping robbery, the hotelier threatened consequences due to damage to his reputation. Junkermann spoke of sabotage several years later: “They didn’t want a little German to win the tour.”

During his career, Junkermann’s critics complained that he could have won more with less hesitation and more self-confidence. “It’s nonsense, I had no chance, I was in their clutches,” said Junkermann, given the dominance of Belgian and Italian professionals at the time.

Junkermann: Godfather of Zabel & Co.

His career came to a bitter end: at the age of 38, Junkermann was persuaded to compete on the Dortmund Rokado team circuit. It ended with a positive doping control and a retirement due to bronchitis – this episode also remained without a definitive explanation.

After that, Junkermann became an excellent youth coach, and stars like Erik Zabel found their way into professional cycling thanks to him. “I brought Ete to Dortmund right after the turnaround,” Junkermann said.

He regularly sat in the saddle until old age, and even in his 80s he still covered more than 100 kilometers a day. It was only in the last two years of his life that he lost his strength.

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