Thesis Part 5
The race in question was a long one: 1970’s 3rd Annual Trans-German/Iberian Championship Tour (TGICT), which wound a meandering route through almost 1,500 miles of scenic European terrain from Germany to Spain.
This being the height of the Cold War, the TGICT had acquired special significance for various activist groups. Known informally as the “Tour De Gauche au Droite,” the tournament organizers had hoped to raise the awareness of modern-day tyranny by beginning the race at the Allied entrance to Checkpoint Charlie, and ending it at Madrid’s Alcalá Gate in the heart of Franco’s Spain. Thusly, along with a ripping bike race, both anti-communists and anti-fascists could use the ensuing press coverage as a makeshift forum to give voice to their political agendas. Times being what they were and people being what they are, this was bound to turn sour rather quickly.
In fact, the previous year’s tour had been marred by tragedy at its outset. East Berliner Hans Pellenbach, a star player in the inaugural run of the tournament (the GDR team came in fourth, but Pellenbach broke several personal speed records and was much admired in the cycling community), found himself denied an exit visa for the following year’s race.
The Stasi, it turned out, had objected to a drunken comment Pellenbach had made to a Der Spiegel reporter, comparing himself to comic book hero Captain America.
On the night before the race, Pellenbach was machine gunned as he attempted to surreptitiously enter West Berlin so that he might race with his team. A photograph of Pellenbach’s corpse, draped across the wall’s barbed wire, his GDR team uniform visible underneath his parka, was printed in western magazines and for some time became the rallying image for legions of anti-Soviet protesters.
Today, Pellenbach’s story is mostly remembered as being the basis for Paul Whittingham’s 1974 hit melodrama, The Cyclist.