LONDON — Ferdy Kuebler, who came back from injury and the interruption of World War II to win the 1950 Tour de France, has died. He was 97.
The Swiss won an epic battle with French rider Louison Bobet in the 1950 race, and became world champion the following year.
Andre Haefliger, the chief reporter at Swiss magazine Schweizer Illustrierte, said from Kuebler’s home in Switzerland on Friday that he could confirm the death on behalf of Kuebler’s widow, Christina. Kuebler died Thursday at a Zurich hospital. He had been suffering from a cold.
Switzerland’s national cycling association, Swiss Cycling, paid tribute to Kuebler and offered its condolences to his family. “We are taking leave of one of the greatest cycling legends of our time,” it wrote on its website.
For many, his biggest achievement was winning the Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege races, then held on successive days, in both 1951 and 1952.
In an era of marathon races on poor roads, Kuebler also won the 1953 Bordeaux-to-Paris after 356 miles and more than 14 hours in the saddle.
Born July 24, 1919, into a poverty-stricken family near Zurich, Kuebler knew as a child that he wanted to be a professional cyclist.
Forced as a teenager to find work to support his family, he got a job delivering bread by bicycle.
“I had to climb the mountain up to four times a day. That was how I trained for my career. I told myself: one day you will be a cyclist,” Kuebler said in a 2003 television documentary.
Later, as a Zurich office worker, Kuebler cycled the 100-kilometer (63-mile) round trip from home.
World War II broke out as he was starting to make his name as a cyclist. Kuebler was drafted into the Swiss army.
“I lost five or six of my best years,” he said.
An accident in 1946 that hospitalized him for two months almost ended his postwar career.
He came back in 1947 and started his first Tour, aged 28. He won the first stage, becoming the first post-war wearer of the famed yellow jersey.
In 1950, third-placed Kuebler took over the race lead when Italy’s team of riders withdrew, accusing spectators of assaulting them.
He finished the 2,983 miles in 9 minutes, 30 seconds ahead of Belgium’s Stan Ockers, with Bobet third.
Kuebler chose not to race another Tour until 1954. He finished second, behind Bobet.
After retiring at age 38, Kuebler trained as a ski instructor and worked on the Swiss slopes for 25 winters. In summer he did publicity for the Tour de Suisse and traveled with the race as an official for 35 years.
Kuebler said there was never any other career for him except cycling.
“I always said if I came back to earth — which I hope will happen — I would be a cyclist again,” he said.