When a man defies a fascist regime by refusing to represent it in the sport he excels in, he’s making a powerful statement about his own beliefs and the courage to back them up. When that regime is the Nazi party, it is a veritable death sentence. Albert Richter was a German track cycling champion in the 1930s who refused to represent the Nazi party and he paid for his convictions with his life.
I just finished reading the article in this month’s Pro Cycling titled, “Riding the Storm.” It’s a short history of Albert Richter from his early days as a violin prodigy to his unceremonious death at the hands of the Gestapo. I knew nothing of this great man who traveled Europe during the rise of the Nazi party and helped exiled German Jews in the countries he raced in. He openly defied their requests to spy. He refused to salute in photographs where other spineless Germans towed the party line. I don’t want to spoil all the details of this amazing man’s short life so I suggest you pick up a copy of the magazine and read it.
Learning about Richter made me realize the remarkable fortitude that cyclists had in the war years. I don’t mean to diminish the toughness that today’s riders exhibit on the bike. It’s a gruesome sport no matter what era you ride and every rider who undertakes it deserves to be respected for tackling its dangers. But think about what a man like Richter had to endure. He resisted the unending pressures of his own country to join them in their quest. He smuggled money to his exiled countrymen at risk of his life every time he boarded a train. He continued to return to his country to race knowing that he could be killed at any time.
Albert Richter wasn’t just a great cyclist, he was a great human being. It’s something for every great cyclist to aspire to.