Happy birthday to Johan van der Velde, who was born on this day in 1956 in Rijsbergen, Netherlands.
The Dutch cyclist is best known for winning the maillot blanc in the 1980 Tour de France for being the best young rider under 25, also placing 12th overall that year’s French Grand Tour.
During next year’s Tour, van der Velde won two stages, and again finished 12th in the overall classification.
Van der Velde stood out in the peloton for his lean, long-legged appearance, his smooth pedaling style and his long hair. He rode in support of riders such as Joop Zoetemelk, whom he could pace over mountains at impressive speed, but he was also capable of winning on his own. Success came to him early and, he said in an interview with the author Jan Siebelink (“Pijn is genot”) that he had trouble coping when that success began to dry up. Van der Velde said he remembered shivering at the start of an Italian race, the skin of his arms wrinkled in goosebumps, because of the amphetamine he had taken just to start.
An addiction to amphetamines and a lifelong habit of petty theft, which he said came from seeing his father bring home things he had stolen from work, brought him into trouble with the law. He was caught stealing lawnmowers and breaking into post office stamp machines to raise money to cover his addiction and his gambling. The jail sentence and the loss of all he had won forced him and his Belgian wife, Josée, to sell the villa they had owned. They moved into a series of anonymous houses and apartments. Van der Velde began hospital treatment for his addiction and became deeply religious. He began work on building sites, rarely saying who he was or what he had been, to rebuild his self-esteem. For many years he tried to keep his address and his identity secret.
Nowadays, van der Velde is now often seen at junior races, where he accompanies his son, who is also a racer. He took part in a celebrity edition of the Big Brother television series in 2000 and has worked in public relations for the Quickstep team, driving its guests at races. It was announced that van der Velde would join the new Roompot Orange Cycling Team as a driver for 2015.
His manager at Ti-Raleigh, Peter Post, said he had always considered van der Velde the son that he had never had.
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