Mathias Germann (text) and Benjamin Soland (photos)
It’s not too long ago. More specifically: April 7, 2022. On that day, Louis Pfenninger (77) is lying motionless next to his racing bike. People try to talk to him for several minutes. But Pfenninger keeps his eyes closed and doesn’t answer. “A vein in my brain has been blocked, stroke. I fell off my bike and disappeared. I was actually dead, ”he says. Pfenninger’s Luck: There is a doctor among the Gümmelers he has overtaken. He immediately suspects what has happened and calls an ambulance. “At some point I woke up and saw a group of people around me. I wanted to know what happened, but couldn’t talk anymore. Everything is gone. “
Today everything is back for the man who won the Tour de Suisse in 1968 and 1972. Except for an accident. “I don’t know anything anymore. Maybe that’s good, ”says Pfenninger. He’s a little limp and his back hurts – disk damage. “But if it’s bad, I take the Voltaren. Then it works. Unfortunately, I have to be patient before I go back to the racing bike, he says with a smile as he bites on a piece of soft cheese.
“I pulled out 10,000 francs in cash”
We visit Pfenninger at his home in Denia on the Costa Blanca. He has been living here for 20 years in a small family house 800 meters from the sea. «One day we saw an advertisement in a newspaper in Switzerland and got on a plane. We didn’t like this newspaper house but liked the other one. The owners, a Dutch couple, doubted we would really have enough money. So I reached into my shirt pocket and took out 10,000 francs in cash, and they were convinced. Since then, it has been our little paradise in warmth. »
With “we” Pfenninger means he and his wife Liliane (78). They have been a couple for 53 years. “I won a few medals and bouquets of flowers in cycling, once even a kilogram of gold. But Liliane is my best gift »he says. They met at the six-day race at the Hallenstadion in Zurich. “I was a waitress then, but that day I was traveling privately. I liked Louis, we exchanged phone numbers – he says. The rest is history.
Soon after, Liliane Pfenninger apologizes, has to feed the cats. – We have four. But I have 15 more that jump through the wall. And the seagull, who visits us every morning and wants to eat too – he says.
“Mister Tour de Suisse” – who remembers that?
The Pfenningers live a simple life in Spain. They hardly use the pool anymore, the brick grill has not been heated for years. “Most of my friends moved out or died,” says Louis. They rarely go to the resort center, where 40,000 people live. people, and which in the bathing season grows to 80 thousand.
He makes an exception for the Sunday newspaper – he walks on the beach, and there is a “cerveza” in the cafe, which is a small beer. It is striking how much the Zurich cycling legend from Bülach is laughing – and so is his wife. Are you happy. And memories of his successes are still fresh in “Pfänni”. In his garage, where his racing motorcycle hangs, he talks about his victories (“The Tour de Suisse was more important to me than the Tour de France”), about Eddy Merckx (“If he wanted to win, he won too”) and about questionable offers (“Never I didn’t cheer because I couldn’t live with a lie ”).
In addition to two Tour de Suisse victories, Pfenninger was twice second (1970 and 1971) and third (1974 and 1975) on the Swiss national tour. A unique record that earned him the nickname “Mister Tour de Suisse”. “Even so, hardly anyone thinks of me anymore,” he says in front of a blooming bougainvillea bush. He is not disappointed with this. “Others have also been forgotten,” he says dryly.
“People were throwing money”
Pfenninger did not get rich as a professional cyclist either. As a book printer, a trained profession, in 1965, as a young adult, he earned 3,000 francs a month – ten times less on a bicycle, only 300 francs. “It doesn’t matter. My dream was to ride a bike.”
As a result, Pfenninger was struggling to fill his account – despite his success. “The good money only came into the house after I quit,” she says. How? Thanks to his nightclub in St. Gallen. Name of strip place: Chinchilla. “People were throwing money when they saw our two girls dancing. First the entrance fee, then the beer, and finally the champagne for 300 francs a bottle. The chinchilla snarled, all hell broke loose. And when the authorities allowed the dancers to take off their panties as well, it was impossible to stop them. ”
Pfenninger coped well with the night owl life. “I’m not ashamed, my wife and I have worked hard,” he says. But even then there was the worst point – the worst possible. «Our son Louis-Patrick died in a motorcycle accident. He was only 17 years old. It was a dark chapter. We still think about him every day, memories of him come back – fortunately also the beautiful ones – recalls Liliane Pfenninger. Her husband Louis adds tearfully: “It is said that couples usually break up when they lose a child. Liliane and I too have had crises because of it. We wondered what we had done wrong. It took a long time to realize: nothing.
Manuel’s daughter, who adopted Louis Pfenninger when she was two, also comforted the two of them. “She supports us in all situations to this day. We are very grateful, said the former Tour de Suisse hero.
Pfänni shares a fever on TV
Pfenninger has almost no claims to his life anymore, and neither do dreams. “Liliane and I just want to live in Denia as long as possible and have fun together.” He does not miss anything from Switzerland. Almost nothing. “Cervelates and sausages at most,” he says, laughing.
The question remains: will Pfenninger drive the Tour de Suisse? “Sure,” says the former bicycle stylist. “I pick up Swiss TV and watch almost every bike race. I am happy when the Swiss are driving well. My favorite driver is Stefan Küng, but I also like others. I’ll be up close – even if it’s a few thousand kilometers away. “