Belgian cyclist Constantin “Stan” Ockers (Right.) was another hero of my youth.
Born in 1920, Stan Ockers began his professional career in 1941 in occupied Europe at the height of WWII.
He was a sprinter and won many of his races that way; He won the Green Points Jersey in the Tour de France in 1955, and 1956.
However, he was a good climber too, which was unusual then and would be even more unusual today when the sprinters are usually the first ones dropped when the TDF reaches the mountain stages.
Ockers was 2nd in the 1950 tour de France behind Swiss rider Ferdi Kubler; and proof of his climbing ability he was also 2nd in the King of the Mountains category.
A young French cyclist Louison Bobet won the King of the Mountains Jersey that year, and was overall 3rdin the General Classification behind Ockers.
Bobet would go on to become the first rider to win three consecutive Tour de France titles in 1953, 1954 and 1955.
The picture above is from the 1952 Tour de France, the riders are seen climbing Mont Ventoux; one of the toughest climbs of the Tour. Gino Bartali leads Stan Ockers, followed by Jean Dotto, Raphaël Géminiani, Fausto Coppi, Antonio Gelabert and Wout Wagtmans.
To hold one’s own in the company of some of the world’s best climbers of that era, is the mark of a great all-round athlete. Stan Ockers was once again 2nd in the 1952 TDF behind one of the all time greats, Fausto Coppi.
(Above left to right.) Bernardo Ruiz, Gino Bartali, Stan Ockers and Fausto Coppi
(Above.) Federico Bahamontes leads Stan Ockers (In his World Champions Jersey.) and Roger Walkowiak in the 1956 TDF. Notice the condition of the roads on these mountain climbs during that era.
Stan Ockers actually improved as he aged; 1955 and 1956 when Stan was 35 and 36 years old, were in terms of wins, his best seasons. He won the World Road Championship in 1955 and was 4th the following year.
In 1955 his wins in the Classics included, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, La Flèche Wallonne, Liège, Weekend Ardennais. The following year 1956, Ockers was 1st overall Roma-Napoli-Roma, won the 19th stage tour de France, Saint-Etienne, and was again Points Winner in the TDF.
Like many great road sprinters, Stan Ockers rode the track during the winter season.
He often partnered the other great Belgian road sprinter Rik Van Steenbergen in Six Day events.
He won the Antwerp Six Day in 1956, and that same year set a new Derny Paced Hour Record. (Derny Paced pictured above right.)
Sadly 1956 was Stan Ockers last season. On September 29th 1956 he crashed during a race on the Antwerp track. He died from head injuries two days later.
Other riders, Nest Sterckx, Rik Van Looy and Gerrit Voorting, who along with Stan were involved in the seemingly ordinary fall, remained unhurt; a tragic end nobody had expected.
Crowds of people numbering in the tens of thousands paid their last respects as the funeral procession passed.(Picture left.)
There is a permanent monument built to honor Stan Ockers on the slope of Les Forges in the Belgian Ardennes. (Picture above.) He is placed number 58 in the Cycling Hall of Fame Top 100