Ex rider interview: In Part Two of the Tim Mountford story we find out more about his experiences behind the ‘big motors’ and he tells us about some of the secrets to securing race contracts in the European Six Days, his favorite memories of top level track racing, some of the characters he conspired with, deciding to retire and open a chain of bike shops in Silicon Valley, and his induction into the US Cycling Hall of Fame.
Tim Mountford at the European Motorpace Championship in 1973 in Dortmund
PEZ: The big motors – how did you get into that? A long ways from sprinting. . .
Tim Mountford: By my second winter season in ’72-‘73 my Stars and Stripes American jersey was becoming a hot commodity with the promotors and I my agent Jan Dirksen was calling me almost every week. That winter I first heard of a possible stayer ride with Dutch pacer Bertus de Graaf from my friend and European Stayer Champ Dieter Kemper. I believe the idea started amongst the stayer drivers wanting to spice up the show. That winter I took fifth place in both the Euro Sprint and the Euro Stayer championships. In the finals of the Euro Stayer championships at Dortmund I was running in fourth place with my eye on Dutchman Piet de Wit who was holding in third.
Verschueren and Kemper were racing for first and second at two laps ahead of Piet and myself. My pacer De Graaf agreed to take me to third place if my legs held up against de Wit and Stam. Forty minutes into the race my legs were fine and Stam was a lap back in fifth. It was my “butt” that was killing me. My saddle was not a problem in the earlier qualifying race, but in the final race it proved to be unforgiving with the G force pressure in the turns of a 200 meter track at a high speed. The pain was so great that I raised my hand to signal to the judges that I had a mechanical and to my mechanic Charlie Ludiwick who knew to have a deflated front wheel in his hand to show the track judge so I wouldn’t get disqualified or lose a lap. I was off the bike too long, lost a lap, and finished behind Cees Stam in fifth place. Another opportunity slipped away. The following two years I rode many stayer races on both indoor and outdoor tracks in Holland, Belgium and Germany. A stayer contract paid more money than a sprint contract although I continued to receive sprint contracts even though crits and motor races were affecting my leg speed in the sprints.
My most exciting stayer race was in the 1973 World Championships Revenge match behind the big 2200cc motors on the huge 500 meter track in Amsterdam. The speed and the sound from those motors is so exciting and dramatic. When passing another motor you can feel the heat on your legs and see the flames from the short 20 cm engine exhaust pipe. Although de Graaf and I gave it our best effort, pre-race publicity featured Cees Stam and Piet de Wit who had placed first and second in the Words in Spain a few weeks earlier. But the real race was between Kemper and Verschueren who were out for revenge because like myself did not ride the World’s in Spain due to a new UCI rule requiring that the pacer and rider be of the same country. I finished the Revenge match in fifth place, again.
The worst stayer race I rode was just two hours before the start of the Dortmund Six Day race with five other stayer riders. I needed to perform well with my partner Piet de Wit in the Six that followed the stayer race an hour later, but we were the only team where both riders had to ride the opening thirty-minute stayer race for the spectators. We got more money, but our legs felt like rubber in the first chase of the Six and we finished two laps down the first night. Okay, the show must go on, but I was wondering when I was going to get my big break? Something always seemed to come up.
Outdoor Stayer race, Alkmaar, Holland, with Piet de Wit leading Tim Mountford
PEZ: You rode criteriums too, tell us about them – how many seasons, best results?
I raced crits nearly every weekend during the summer in Holland and Belgium, a few in Germany, from 1970 to 1974. By my second season my new crit bike had a high bottom bracket for pedal clearance and I ran a 51-53 x 13-18 giving me a gear for any crit course and recovery when I needed it. Summer criteriums are an essential factor in preparing for the winter Six Day races and a chance for recognition. I wasn’t a crit specialist but my track experience enabled me to get into a good position during the final laps and I often placed in the top fifteen, plus winning a few prime sprint wins.
My first pro crit was actually in England one week after the 1970 worlds in Leicester. Graeme Gilmore was also in the race after his ride in the world’s road race. I was first out of the final corner on the carriageway leading into the uphill sprint finish. The win was mine as no one in the peloton had an 11.2 sprint. Unfortunately, my plastic Simplex derailleur (Lejeune bike from the AVIS team in Paris that summer) slipped gears and I went from first to several places back in the final 200 meters.
I enjoyed racing the pro crits and carpooling with Harry van Leeuwen (RIP) and a few other riders to kermises in Belgium. At the Belgium frontier we would check the newspaper for the best pro race that day without cobbles. It was like a job. Get up and go to work with friends and the spectators and race ambiance were inspiring. The Ach van Chaam was the first invitational crit after the TDF and attracted a massive number of spectators. Many rider’s didn’t want someone like this American guy stealing the show and my name was often called out if they saw me moving up the peloton looking for a combine to tag onto in the final laps.
TDF winner Louis Ocana followed by Tim Mountford, with Leo Dyndam (RIP) at right, during the 1973 Ache van Chaam criterium
PEZ: The sixes, 16 rides between ’71 and ’74 – podiums in LA and Detroit and how about those Euro races and the mad lifestyle?
Several weeks after working as a mechanic in the London Six I found myself racing in the second Six Day race I had ever seen in my life, the Antwerp Six. London being the first. And yet this was déjà vu for me. In my mind I felt at home as if I had been on this theatre stage before. The atmosphere, excitement and lifestyle of a Six Day race. Except that on the 250 meter Antwerp track with thirteen three man teams was like the Hollywood freeway during rush hour commute traffic. The high-speed chases with three man teams where you have to sprint to your partner was a little stressful at first. A couple of times our partner Willy Debosscher wasn’t moving fast enough for my exchange and I had to pass him by and make the exchange with our third man Jackie Simes. With an hour to go in the chase one night I remember Jackie saying “where the hell is Willy?” Of course, Willy later became a showman and went on to ride one hundred forty-eight Six’s over the following sixteen years.
After the race Jackie and I collected our contract and prime money and headed back home to Gent on a snowy night at 1 a.m. Six Day racing during the seventies were very popular throughout Europe with about thirteen races on the calendar every winter and there were no signs it would not continue. To make a living and continue on this Six Day winter circuit, or ‘road show’ as we say in Hollywood, I wanted to get a minimum of six contracts each winter starting in my third winter season, plus a few good partners. And without an American Six Day race promoter to exchange favorite rider contracts with other promoters I was on my own. So, I concluded that to get more contracts I would have to win a European or World championship or, as Graeme Gilmore did, ride my way to more contracts with my legs. And, of course, as I later learned Sercu would be the only sprinter with the ability to convert his legs to the Six’s and road classics.
He was an exceptional athlete, RIP.
Antwerp Six Day; Jack Simes changing with Tim Mountford (top), with Gerben Karsten following
I accomplished my goals of four contracts my second winter, and six contracts in my third season (1972-1973) including a second-place win in the Los Angeles Six with ace rider and good friend Dieter Kemper of Dortmund, losing to top Six Day team of Klaus Bugdahl and Graeme Gilmore. My fourth season the following winter (1973-1974) I was off to a good start with four Six Day contracts by mid-December. Paired with Six Day rider Albert Fritz of Bremen I won a third place in the Detroit Six. However, had I chosen Kemper again we would have won Detroit. Fritz was out of shape and wouldn’t ride for me, leaving me on my own to initiate any laps on the peloton. Later I won a fifth place in the Munster Six Day with Wolfgang Schultz of Berlin. I was riding well with German partners. By my fourth year I had competed in several European Championships in four different disciplines of sprint, omnium, Derny, and the big motors racing these events multiple times as well as placing well in two World Pro Sprint Championships.
I was well known in the media especially in my home city of Rotterdam. I also had a studio in Dortmund to lessen the commute back to Rotterdam and therefore was labelled as a “Dortmunder” by the German media. It was a delightful feeling to have kids ask for my autograph while at the petrol station, or being the special guest at several night clubs. And the ladies; oh my god, to be an American bachelor in Europe competing in pro cycling was almost unmanageable. But of course, delightful if I may confess. I enjoyed hosting parties at my house with many international riders in town for an event at the Ahoy sports arena, and having friends on vacation from America and Australia. My dear English friend and fellow Rotterdam resident and Six Day rider Norman Hill of England married the Queen of the Groningen Six Day race. They have a daughter and I hope to visit them soon at their home in Vancouver, Canada.
I have to admit that riding year-round in so many different events and driving all over Europe was taking a toll on my weight and upper body strength. I had lost nearly ten pounds. You need core strength to keep the legs going and not submit to fatigue. Poor morale can break a rider’s character. This was the case for me after driving several hours to the Munich Six when I learned at track side an hour before the race start that I had been bumped from the race in favor of world motor pace champion Theo Verschuren. Theo had just recovered from a sickness the day before and motor pacing was very popular in Germany. After going nose to nose in the office with race director Rudi Altig for my contract money, my agent negotiated a double contract for me for the European Stayer Championships in Dortmund the following month and two more Six Day contracts, which I knew I was getting regardless. Although I was on track for receiving eight to ten Six contracts my fourth winter season this incident in Munich would play a role in my decision to retire and return to the States.
Zurich Six Day three man teams in 1974. Tim Mountford (l) sporting a mustache, Willy Debouscher, and Norman Hill (r)
PEZ: As an American, an outsider, what did you do to get the respect of the promotors and riders?
In 1969 before venturing off into Six Day racing Jackie Simes and I concluded that to break into the Six Day circuit as an American team we would have to have character, show a little contempt and demand respect from our European counterparts. To make a long story short, Jackie eventually re-established his friendship with Peter Post and Albert Fritz who he almost popped in the nose during the Groningen Six.
Jackie returned to the States in ’71 to successfully promote races in America. Of course, you have to race well, hold your position and complain when something doesn’t go your way. It’s about being visible and seizing the opportunity. Unlike road racing, in track racing there is the opportunity to network with promotors and riders to learn their personalities and contacts to get into future events. You have to get personal and with a little contempt make your demands. Once during a pro omnium at the Dortmund Westfalenhala track with a packed house of spectators and the media, the promoter from the Bremen Six Day race (Karl, forgot his last name) approached me suggesting that I let his local rider Albert Fritz win our next sprint race. With a puzzled look and a slight smile I said, ‘do you realize that I can beat Albert with one leg?’ In his dapper three-piece suit he stepped back with an indignant look on his face; ‘who the hell are you?’ Then I said, ‘I won’t tell anyone you asked me that, and I won’t make Albert look bad.’ I won second in the omnium that night. A few weeks later I received a contract to his Bremen Six and Albert and I were on a pre-race TV show introducing the start of the race later that evening with Karl standing next to us smiling ear to ear.
Groningen Six Day, Tim Mountford leading followed by Piet van der Lans and good friend Gerard Koel
Another fun incident was one year before the start of the European Madison Championships at Antwerp. I showed up without a contract looking for a ride, and Graeme Gilmore was there earlier for training and had his bike gear with him. I approached the race director Theo Ballemans in his office suggesting he should let Graeme and me ride as an English speaking team which should satisfy the new UCI rule that even pro team must be of the same country in championship races. He leaned back in his chair with a smile and hesitated. I knew he was thinking that we would be a good team to have in the race for the media. Before he spoke, I said in my best Dutch ‘five hundred U.S. dollars to you Theo and we ride! What say you?’ At first he was shocked at the bribe, then broke into a laugh and he really got a kick out of the boldness of my request. It was the best thing that happened to him all day. Later I received a larger than normal contract for the next Antwerp Six and I like to believe it was because of the respect I got from Theo. So many fun stories I could write a book.
1971 World Pro Sprint Championships, Varese, Italy. Tim Mountford (left) held his own when five time world champ Beghetto tried to block him with his elbow before the finish line. “Prior to the race with Beghetto I declined an offer from the Italian TV to let the Italian win. You have to know when to hold your own and demand respect. Doing well at the worlds each year meant more respect from my agent and future race contracts.”
PEZ: When and why quit racing?
I had a lot of time to think during my nine-hour drive back to Rotterdam from the Munich Six where I got bumped. If a promotor can void a signed contract that easy with no advanced notice and not pay me, then something was wrong. Prior to that I had a similar experience upon arriving in Spain with my soigneur and Dutch pacer Bertus de Graff for the 1973 world motor pace championships, a costly trip, only to learn that the UCI decided that the driver and rider had to be of the same country in championship races. Although Europe had free trade status, you can’t successfully sue the UCI in Switzerland. Without a podium in a European or World championships pro bike racing was becoming an uphill battle and I wasn’t getting any younger. Also new riders from the ’72 Olympics like Udo Hempel were making their way into the pro Six Days by 1974. And then there was the arrival of this young Australian named Danny Clark who stayed with me in Rotterdam prior to moving on to Gent and a hugely successful career as you know. So, I decided it was time to go home. Or so I thought.
PEZ: How did you cope with ‘no longer being a racer’?
In hindsight my decision to return to California with signed race contracts still on the table and a good team sponsor was premature and was based on my stubborn ego telling me that they cannot just bump me from a major race like the Munich Six Day. After a few days back in California I hit the panic button and decided that I wasn’t ready to quit! I missed my friends and the life I had in Rotterdam. I heard that same voice in my head from my days climbing Laurel Canyon at fifteen years old with my two friends; ‘I’m going to beat them. I’m not stopping!’
I began searching for flights back to The Netherlands in time to fulfill my contracts. But then, once again, my dear brother Stan saved me. He talked me out of going back, saying that I was just scared of the future. The following months I was confronted with an identity crisis and panic attacks. How do you go from the attention of thousands of spectators and media coverage starting at sixteen years old to overnight being a ‘nobody’ in your adult life? I couldn’t adjust to America lifestyle nor find a new identity, and I felt I had let myself down. After moving to Berkeley my psychologist, who was a dear friend told me to get over it, NOW – and that people with PTSD commit suicide. I learned that professional cycling has one of the highest post career suicide rates of all sports. Okay, that was scary, and I snapped out of it. Fast forward to 1977. The following years I opened three bike shops in Silicon Valley, got married and had two more kids. Life was good. I now have four adult kids all who are my best friend, and eight grand kids, and I ride 150 miles a week on the sunny California coast. However, I will always remember the words from an old Belgium soigneur; ‘if you can see then you can keep going, the wind is your friend, your time will come. Alle rit door (everyone rides through).’
Rotterdam Six, Tim Mountford with partner and good friend Harry van Leeuwen, RIP (l). “I remember our drive to Zurich for a 50k Madison driving at 150kph in hisMercedes. He liked opera and I liked symphony”
PEZ: You were a bike shop owner – how was that experience?
When I made the decision after Munich to return to the States I called my brother Stan who then lived in San Jose (Silicon Valley) and we talked of opening a chain of bicycle stores in northern California. During the early 70’s Stan was the highest paid Raleigh salesman in the world until the bosses in England found out. So after a year in Berkeley getting my brains straightened out, I bought my brothers bike shop in Cupertino which was down the street from Apple computer, Hewlett Packard and several other computer companies at that time. Brother Stan pursued a successful career selling life insurance to insanely rich people in Silicon Valley. He discovered quickly that people with money have money problems, you just have to tell them. Later I opened two more bike stores in Silicon Valley thus allowing for more cost-effective purchasing, advertising, payroll and bookkeeping. Looking back, I can say that Six Day racing gave me the energy and tenacity to make these stores successful and I often worked ‘Six Days’ a week with little sleep. I also sponsored a 70-man triathlete team co-sponsored by Adidas and Bianchi, and a 20 boy/girl BMX team, and promoted two-day bike tours every summer. I was living life.
US Cycling Hall of Fame inductee
PEZ: You’re a US Cycling Hall of Fame inductee – that must have been a proud moment?
The best experience during my induction ceremony was that my four kids got to see an overview of my career and the depth of my commitment and meet many of my friends. It’s a bonus to my life and career, and honor to be recognized by my peers, family, and close friends in the sport. For a Youtube video of my career search USBHOF Tim Mountford.
PEZ: Which of your achievements gives you most satisfaction?
The race that stands out the most is the Wesfallahalla Christmas Eve event 1972 in Dortmund when I beat World Professional Sprint Champion, Robert Van Lancker coming from three lengths behind down the back stretch with Sercu glued to my back wheel and 13,000 spectators on their feet. The final sprint was myself wearing my red, white and blue stars and strip’s American jersey, Van Lancker wearing his current World Champ jersey and Sercu (former World Champ) wearing the Belgium jersey. I led from the front brushing my right elbow on the balustrade while looking over my left shoulder with Sercu on my wheel followed by Van Lancker at three lengths back. I cranked up the speed at two and a half laps to go on the 200 meter track and I was hoping that Van Lancker would jump early for a long sprint. Note that Van Lancker can tell you when he is going to jump and then pull three lengths on you and smile at the same time. He was that good.
So Van Lancker jumps and pulls four lengths on me! Ouch! I hesitated a split second waiting to see if Sercu will go after him. Not going to happen. I snapped out of the saddle, dived off the banking and took off after Van Lancker thinking that I am actually racing Sercu for second place, and like a good Pro I had to make a show of it. Coming down the home stretch on the bell lap I notice that I closed in on Van Lancker. When I come out of turn two going down the back stretch I saw Van Lancker rocking in the saddle. I knew then that he had jumped too soon and was running out of gas. Also, I have seen his nerves get the best of him once puking his guts out in the track tunnel one year, before the finals of the Euro Sprint Championships in Rotterdam. I said to myself; ‘I can get him’ and bolted out of the saddle down the back stretch, increased my leg speed and caught Van Lancker’s rear wheel wind draft in turn four and popped by him for the win by a half wheel with Sercu sucking my rear wheel.
Wow, all 13,000 spectators were on their feet cheering as I shot down the back stretch wearing my shiny Stars and Stripes USA jersey. Of course, back then that’s when America was actually ‘Great’ and Trump was busy bankrupting businesses. My agent Jan Dirksen bought me dinner that night and guaranteed me more contracts. Damn, I’m thinking that I am in the big time now! Eat your heart out Hollywood.
L.A. Six in 1973. Tim Mountford and Dieter Kemper head for 2nd place
PEZ: Anything you would do differently given your time over?
Hind sight is of course 20/20.
I should have hired a strength training coach and a nutritionist. Going for laps in a Six Day race or the final laps in a crit I obviously needed another two or three percent strength. Leg speed along isn’t enough. I performed my best when Ron Baensch (RIP) helped me with my strength training for a period. And although I never won the world or European championships, I have to say that my entire five years racing in Europe was in itself an achievement I greatly enjoyed and at the time was something no other American since the war had accomplished. Years later I was the guest on two different Hollywood TV shows and I was honored to continue to receive requests from around the world for my photo with autograph. I must give thanks to my Dutch friends Hans Gommers and his family, sprinter Rene Langkruis, and sweetheart Karen Vos for being such good friends always looking after me during my time in Rotterdam. Also, to Dieter and Carola Kemper (RIP) for their hospitality and guidance. I quickly learned to appreciate the fact that I was living among a society in Europe that had been through a world war that shaped their values and love for their neighbors. America is still a young country compared to Europe.
Thanks for the interview Edmond. This has been a nice walk.
# With thanks to Tim, he went ‘Euro Dog’ way before 7-eleven and Greg came along. Thanks for the photos. You can read part 1 HERE #