Hans-Ulrich Schmedtlevin, flower bouquets, benefit race and the Bullentäle
The fact that there has been a Cross-Country World Cup in Albstadt since 2013 and that the World Championships in 2020 will be held there, is something that people there have been laying the foundations for long before. Without their commitment to cycling it would probably never have come to this point. Hans-Ulrich Schmedtlevin, founding member of RSG Zollernalb, is one of them. The man from Tailfingen has not only encouraged several World Cup and World Championship protagonists to take up cycling, but was also involved in turning Bullentäle into a cycling Mecca.
In the international mountain bike scene, only a few may know Hans-Ulrich Schmedtlevin. His own active career was already over when mountain bike races became popular in Germany. As a cyclo-crosser, who used to be called a cross-country rider, he competed in Switzerland against Peter Frischknecht, the father of the MTB legend Thomas Frischknecht. As organizer he brought the multiple cross world champion Albert Zweifel to Albstadt for a charity race. His busy activities as a cyclist, trainer, functionary and organizer were impulses for the Albstadt cycling sport, which developed over German championships, European championships, World Cup and World Championship. When he talks about the early days, he does so without any “everything was better back then” attitude but with a hint of self-irony.
Hans-Ulrich Schmedtlevin, you play an important role in Albstadt’s cycling history, not least as the initiator of the founding of RSG Zollernalb. But how did your own cycling history begin?
I rode my first race in 1965. That was at a time when cycling in Germany was mainly non-existent. It was all about cars and motorcycles.
How old were you then?
Fifteen years. But before that, my father registered me with RSV Tailfingen when I was twelve and took me for bike rides from time to time. But I didn’t like that. The current honorary chairman of RSV, Rudi Mann, once said to me: “There’s a beginners’ race in Geislingen, that’s the district decision. That’s how I got here.
That doesn’t sound like you were really prepared for it?
I have always been on the road by bicycle. Of course, we didn’t really train properly. Rudi used to ride with me from time to time, but I was actually still active in swimming. Like all boys of that age, I played football until I was a B-youth, with FC (Tailfingen).
So you were a swimmer and soccer player. What position did you play?
Oh, in the youth you actually played everything. I can’t remember that at all. I was probably not really talented. Otherwise the coach wouldn’t have said from time to time: if only you had stayed with swimming (laughs). But last year I got a huge certificate and a barrel of beer because I’ve been with FC for so long (laughs).
So it was worth it after all. Did you participate in the beginner’s race?
(Laughs). Yeah. There was district level, then county level, then state association level. That was in Cannstatt back then. The next year I had a license and met Jürgen Colombo and Hans Lutz (both later Olympic track cycling champions in foursome), who were one year older. Of course they were superior. We slowly got a few riders here in the Alb. When we saw that one of them always goes to training, some of them joined us. We were then four or five. But when the phase with vocational training and the Bundeswehr came, it was gone again. In 74 or 75 I started to build up a team with people like Siggi Krüger.
When you started out as a beginner, can you explain what that was like?
In the class I was riding in, there were only maybe five or six boys. You couldn’t start until you were 15, there were no school classes. I was glad when I got a flower bouquet. I made it to the state level in the beginner class. The federal decision would have been in Hildesheim, but you couldn’t go there back then. Then in 1996 I obtained a license.
What was your greatest personal success?
That I was allowed to ride a few times in the Württemberg selection, on round trips. We were once at the Schleswig-Holstein round trip or at the Tour de Liège in Belgium. And the Berlin stage tour.
But that was with the amateurs, right?
Yes, when I had started again. I introduced the boys to it. I rode until 1982. The tours were at that time if it was possible with the work. It was always a balancing act when you had to take a few days off. If you’re asking for results, the success was that I was allowed to take part.
Hans-Ulrich Schmedtlevin completed an apprenticeship as industrial clerk and then studied business administration. He worked for an insurance company in Stuttgart and was director there after his career. However, the man from Tailfingen still lived in Albstadt and commuted the 80 kilometers to Stuttgart. Which of course took up a lot of time.
What kind of cyclist were you?
I couldn’t sprint at all. I start a sprint for Siggi for example and later for Walter Hoffmann. But me in the front, that didn’t exist. I didn’t have the physical requirements for that. I was under 60 kilos. I preferred riding on the mountain and I liked a 160-kilometre race more an 80-kilometre one.
You were a road racer, but at some point you also went off-road.
I was a road racer, but I also brought cross sport to Albstadt. I started that when I was young. More and more have joined. That’s how Stephan Salscheider joined as a little boy. One day in 1977 I took him to Saulgau for a beginners’ race. One year later he was already training with me as a student, when the category in cross did not even exist. We trained in Bullentäle which we picked out for a cross race in 1977.
I also rode on the track from time to time, but that didn’t excite me that much.
But the cross sport did. What fascinated you about it?
Being out in nature and the technique. I still say that today, the technique is the most important thing. Almost more important than fitness. That fascinated me. Many times people have said to me: look, the little idiot, in winter he runs through the snow with his bike on his back (laughs). Today everybody does that.
You mentioned Stephan Salscheider. Did you also have a coaching function at the same time?
Yes, also for the association. Back then, boost groups were set up. Uli Bock (today’s head of the state sports school in Tailfingen) did that as a young guy and we also had a group in Albstadt. When Karl Link was the coach of the federation for a short time, he set up bases, Black Forest and Zollernalb. For example, Uli Rottler (five times German champion) also came from there as a young guy.
Who emerged from this work?
Cross-national riders like Stefan Rinderknecht, Joachim Schreijäg or Stefan Maggiolini (Worlds 16th 1992 and German Champion third in 1991) and others. Later I started the Peter-Schlecht trial series. From this series also female national riders have emerged. For example Ronja Eibl. Her father took her to a race and I called her that evening. Because her mother is a teacher at the grammar school in Ebingen, she joined the RSG. This is how Ronja came to us. Or Alessa-Catriona Pröpster from Jungingen, who became Junior World Champion last year on the track. She also joined through the series. That was road and mountain biking. Unfortunately, not many clubs in the mountain bike area have done anything anymore in the districts except RSG and SC Onstmettingen.
You were also involved in the founding of RSG Zollernalb, which is now an important factor in the MTB World Cup and the World Championship in Albstadt.
I was involved in the foundation then, yes. When the road racing sport was made big by the successes of Didi Thurau (among other things vice world champion and wearer of the yellow jersey at the Tour de France) in 1977, the Zollernalb also tried to make the best of it. We did road, cross, track and leisure sports. In 1996 mountain biking was added. That’s when we founded the department, although we were already involved in the first Albstadt Bike Marathon in 1995. Stephan (Salscheider) then pushed forward and said we should also do that in the RSG.
Stephan Salscheider and Marc Faude were already successfully active on mountain bikes at the end of the 80s and beginning of the 90s. Can you remember how it came about that they got into MTB?
That was actually a normal development back then. Two years ago, I talked to Mike Kluge (former cyclo-cross world champion and MTB world cup winner) in the marquee about how he came by mountain biking. He said that with Cross they had only been to Holland and Belgium, it was cold and it was only raining. As a mountain biker, on the other hand, you have been to all continents (laughs).
What was that like from your point of view at the time? Did you take the mountain bike seriously as a piece of sports equipment?
No, not really. I saw it in the same way as BMX at the beginning. I didn’t take it that seriously. There were the races at the reservoir in Schömberg, where Uli Rottler also rode. I was called from time to time to see if I could be a speaker. But I said: what am I supposed to say there, there is no background. I let myself be persuaded and had to say that it’s not that bad.
That was now a typical Swabian praise. Never exaggerate.
(Laughs). In 1989 we did a hobby mountain bike race at our international cross race in Heselwangen. Frank Rieber from Biberach, a former national road rider, was also there. I looked at the way they went up the hill and thought, Jesus, now that’s something. That was really great.
From then on you took it seriously?
I had to make amends. In 1996, when it was an Olympic Games, I had to support it. Especially since people I brought into the sport of cycling did that.
The aforementioned race in Heselwangen was at the same time a charity race for the son of the three-time world champion Rolf Wolfshohl, who had suffered a serious accident, initiated by Hans-Ulrich Schmedtlevin. Among others, Wolfshohl himself and five-time World Champion Albert Zweifel from Switzerland were at the start.
When Salscheider and Faude competed in the World Cup, did you accompany that, too?
No, I was never there. I hadn’t had time for that either. Back then, I was on the road almost every Sunday as a speaker at road races and I had a family, too. Jörgl (Georg) Thoma (Olympic Champion Nordic Combination 1960) called me once and told me to have a look at it at a race in the Black Forest.
You mentioned that you worked as a spokesman for bicycle races. How did this come about?
That was simple. After I stopped riding, I took the others to a race in Bodelshausen where the spokesman was absent and they asked me if I could fill in. That’s how it started. But I always did it voluntarily. The full-time employees didn’t like that that much.
Your protégé Stephan Salscheider also became a spokesman. Does that have anything to do with you?
He once sat next to me at a race in Erlaheim as a rookie judge. I told him I was going to get a beer now and when the riders would come around again, you say that the next lap will be mountains classification. But nothing more. But then he talked a lot more and so he became a spokesman, too. However, I don’t know if I was the incentive.
The two German championships in Albstadt were a complete success. The atmosphere was as enthusiastic as last time in the 90s. This is why an international Bundesliga race was held in 2007, with Julie Absalon and Christoph Peraud, two Frenchmen who won Olympic gold and silver in Beijing a year later, on the podium. In 2008, the European Marathon Championships were held, followed by two years of Bundesliga races and in 2011, a German Championship for the third time. In 2012 it was again a HC endowed Bundesliga race, before the World Cup was held in Albstadt for the first time in 2013.
If you look today at what is going on at the World Cup in Bullentäle, is this also heart’s blood for you, despite the initial scepticism towards the mountain bike sport?
Sure, it’s a great thing.
Let’s be honest: when the decision was made in Albstadt 2012 to try to replace Willingen for the 2013 World Cup, what did you think? World Cup in Bullentäle, can that be successful?
I have to start further ahead. In 1999, I first applied to the BDR (German Cyclist Association) for the organisation of a German championship (in 2000). They didn’t have the track yet. But we did not get the German Championship, it was assigned to a private citizen in Hambachtal. In 2002 we had organized a wonderful German mountain championship (road) in Ebingen. In 2003 the BDR announced that they were still looking for an organizer for the road championship and one for the mountain bike championship in 2005. Then the majority was in favour of applying for the Road German Championship. But it was very expensive. The mountain bike championship was much cheaper. So the decision was made for the MTB German Championship.
And the track for this?
Rainer Schairer and I looked at possible routes independently of each other…, but then Christian Genz (†) came and said: you have already chosen the Bullentäle as the event area. I said, okay, if you as a mountain biker say that. Rainer Schairer was also in favor of it.
Then we did the German Cross-Country Championships in 2005. In 2006 it would have been Garmisch’s turn, but they gave it back. So we organized it again in 2006.
Back on the first World Cup. What did you think when you heard that a World Cup race was going to take place in Bullentäle? It’s a different size than a German Championship or a Bundesliga race.
Great, I was happy. The Lord Mayor at the time, Jürgen Gneveckow, also said that sometimes a world championship is taken into consideration. He asked me what I think about it. I said: Jürgen, keep trying (laughs). And now Klaus Konzelmann would be the World Championship Lord Mayor.
And as a cycling fan, how do you experience what goes on in the Bullentäle?
Excellent, really great. In 2004 I went to the German championship in Sundern-Hagen to have a look at it because one year later it was our turn to organize the German Championship. And I had to say: that’s not so much different than the cross races in the past. But it is still different. I must say: great. And I must say that I discovered a preference for a driver.
And who is that?
Mathieu van der Poel (cyclo-cross world champion, MTB world cup winner and road professional). When I see that guy, he is just amazing.
He unites the disciplines you also have to deal with. And you have seen his grandfather Raymond Poulidor, as well as his father Adrie van der Poel as a racing cyclist.
You’re probably looking most forward to seeing him at the World Championships in Albstadt?
Yes, you could say that. I hope that all the efforts were not in vain.
Short profile: Hans-Ulrich Schmedtlevin
Profession: Industrial Clerk, Business Economist
Sportive Successes: Württemberg Team
WRSV: road officer and press officer from 1982 – 1987, 2001 – 2004
RSG Zollernalb: founding member, manager, racing sports manager and from 2005 – 2008 chairman, since then honorary chairman
Photo: Eyrich, World Cup 2019