One of the First Modern Americans to Race in Europe
Bill Kund, far right in Shimano jersey, in a derny-paced race in Shiedam, Holland in 1975
Before Lemond, before Hampsten, even before Boyer, a few riders went over to Europe in the late 1960's and early 1970's to ride as pros. Some came for just a few months and a few stayed and tried to make it a career. Today, with Americans successfully racing in Europe, it's hard to understand the huge difference in the quality of racing between the US and Europe at the time. A transplant found himself forced to go at least two miles an hour faster in a peloton that was far more skilled and far more aggressive. Most couldn't handle both the culture shock and the new athletic demands. A few could. Among these pioneers going to northen Europe were Bill Kund, Tom Sneddon and Tim Mountford. Mike Neel, another pioneer, carved a place for himself in cycling history by going to Italy.
Bill Kund was kind enough to talk to me on March 10, 2005 about his racing career.
Chairman Bill: So, when did you start racing?
Bill Kund: I started racing a little bit in 1961.
CB: As a junior or as an adult?
BK: I never raced in the junior class, although I was only about 15 or 16 when I started racing.
CB: Was it because there weren't enough guys racing to fill out a field?
BK: I don't know if the age limit was different when I first started racing. But I was 18 in '64 and I think the junior class went up to 17 at that time. I don't remember ever riding as a junior.
CB: Did you start winning early on?
BK: No. I got waxed all the time.
CB: You weren't one of those athletes for who everything comes easily?
BK: No, it's kind of a strange thing. I was never really all that great in sports to start with. I was always the last guy picked when they chose teams. I got into riding. I didn't know much about training. There wasn't really anybody who could help me. I would regularly just go off the back. I remember I got 21st place in the Tuna Hill climb. I was second from the last. I got a little trophy and a little bottle of vitamins. I was so proud of that.
CB: When was that?
BK: That was in 1961.
CB: When did you start to have things "click" for you?
BK: That's funny. It was right at the start of 1964. I was a "C" class rider [before numbered categories, riders were "A", "B" or "C"]. I was a senior at John Marshall High in Los Angeles. A guy named Terry Meacham transferred to my school from New York and we started training together in '63. At the start of the '64 season I rode a road race up in Lindsey, California and I won it. I was really surprised. Then I started riding the track and found that I could go fast on the track. This was in the infancy of the Encino velodrome. I started doing well on the track very quickly. Jack Disney started working with me some at that point. I think he was in his thirties at the time. He was a great mentor to many of us, including Tim Mountford, and remained a good friend until we lost touch when I moved to Europe.
CB: Were you doing well in Sprints, pursuits, Kilo or other events?
BK: I was doing well in everything but I was doing particularly well in the time trial events such as the Kilometer and the Pursuit.
CB: And you kept racing on the road?
BK: I rode on the road some and trained on the road. That year, 1964, success came to me very quickly. That was the year I went to the Olympic games
CB: This would be the Tokyo games?
CB: You were on the American Olympic team?
BK: Yes. Once things started going well, everything happened very fast.
CB: Any particular reason? Did you change your training or did you just figure out how to beat the other guys?
BK: As I mentioned earlier, I got a lot of help from Jack Disney and I think I just discovered something that I was good at. I got on the track, I was new to it. I was a bit afraid of the Madisons and the other mass-start stuff because I didn't have a lot of track experience but I found I could ride a kilometer pretty fast.
CB: So you were the American Kilo roder for the Olympic team? How did you do?
BK: I got 14th.
Kund setting the 4 kilometer record at the Encino Velodrome in 1965
CB: Who else was on the American Olympic team that year?
BK: Jack Disney, Tim Mountford, Skip Cutting, Jack Simes, John Allis are some that come to mind.
CB: That was when Skip was a pursuiter?
BK: Yes. Actually what happened was that Skip and I initially tried out for the team pursuit together. The trials were in New York and we just missed it by one spot. Then he tried out for the individual pursuit and I tried out for the kilometer. We both won our events. The way they picked the team at the time was based on how you did in the trials. We had to ride the Kilometer twice in one day. The times were added up and the guy with the fastest time went to Tokyo. I think Alan Bell, who had gone to Rome in '60 was second. It was a very nerve racking day for an 18 year old upstart between the two rides.
CB: 1964, would you have been running into guys like Patrick Sercu?
BK: Yes. As a matter of fact he won my event in Tokyo. My first contact with him was coming out of the Olympic Village on a training ride. I must have gotten in his way or something when he rode up behind me and he ended up swearing at me in Flemish. It took some years, but I managed to get pretty proficient in that and more respectable aspects of the Flemish language later on in my career.
CB: So Sercu did the Kilo and the Match Sprint?
BK: I don't remember if Sercu rode the Match Sprint. The main sprinters I remembered were Petenella, Bianchetto, Morelon and Trentin.
CB: Pierre Trentin? Mr. Monster Locomotive Legs?
BK: Yes, he was pretty amazing. He was quite short but he had the most amazing legs. He would walk with his feet 18" apart and his thighs would still rub down to his knees. He and Daniel Morelon [1968 and 1972 Gold Medalist] rode against each other for third place.
CB: You and Cutting were up against a rather impressive group of competitors.
BK: Yes, that was a tough bunch of guys.
CB: So, you suddenly find yourself winning and have a terrific break-out year in 1964. What happened then?
BK: In 1965 the U.S. team sent us to Trinidad to race in an invitational meet. We raced mainly on grass tracks over there. That was fun. John Allis was on our team, also Gordon Rudolph and Skip Cutting.
CB: At the same time you were riding the road as well as the track?
BK: Yes. I rode pretty well in everything, but I was focusing on the track. I set the 4-Kilometer record that year. I also set the 25-mile record that year. About 10 years ago "Winning" magazine traced the record. I was the last holder of the 25-mile event before they changed it to 40 kilometers.
I was the first American to break an hour for that distance.
CB: This was on the track?
BK: No this was on the road, but I did ride a track bike for that record attempt.
|1965, Mexico City Pre-Olymic Games, Team Pursuit. Kund in forground. Others on team, Doug Burnett, Dave Brink and perhaps John Allis.|
CB: But you were riding derailleur bikes for road races by then, right?
BK: Oh yeah.
CB: Americans used track bikes for road races long after they had been abandoned by the Europeans. But by this time, you were using modern road bikes?
BK: Some guys would still ride track bikes in criteriums. Guys like Jack Disney would put a freewheel and brakes on a track bike and ride a single-speed in criteriums.
CB: A 1965 high-end road bike such as the one you would have been riding back then would have had a leather saddle, Reynolds steel tubing, five-block in the rear?
CB: Universal Centerpull brakes?
BK: No....Mafac were the hot brakes at the time.
CB: Campy cranks and derailleurs?
BK: Yes. My first road bike had steel cranks. It was a cheap Italian bike called "Champion of the World". It had Campy derailleurs and those steel cottered cranks.
CB: So 1965...
BK: I started out great; a couple of successful record attempts and a 10 day racing trip to Trinidad. On the way home Skip Cutting and I spent a week in Chicago with Gordon Rudolph so we could race on the track at Kenosha on Tuesday and Northbrook on Thursday. During the Madison I got between a couple of guys making an exchange and crashed badly---dislocated my shoulder and got pretty torn up.
I kept training (I'd ride around the Rose Bowl golf course one handed) and got my arm out of the sling a couple of days before the state championships. Of course I did poorly but got a by to ride the nationals because I was the national record holder in the 4K. I had an awful series of rides in the 4K, partly due to putting too much pressure on myself to win, and ended up 4th in the nationals. The next night was the 10 mile. I was so disappointed at my poor performance the previous night that I came in totally relaxed, rode a great race and won the national 10 mile title. I set a National record. That stood for about ten years.
CB: So, you continued to race in the United States. Were you living off your racing?
BK: There was no living off your racing in those days. We made no money. We weren't allowed to win money for prizes. We might win a couple of tires.
CB: This was in the dark days of the ABLA [Amateur Bicycle League of America]?
BK: Oh, yeah. I was in college for most of my racing career in the United States.
CB: At some point you decided to leave the United States and race in Europe. What year was that?
BK: That was in 1971.
CB: Did you go to the Munich Olympics?
BK: No, I gave up my spot on the national team before I went. In 1971 I went over as an amateur. I went to Holland and spent the summer racing as an amateur. Then I came back. I was teaching school in Saugus at the time. I taught another year and then I just bagged it. I just left with my wife.
CB: You went back to Holland?
BK: I went to Holland.
CB: Why did you pick Holland?
BK: I had a contact there. There was a fellow named Charley Ruys who wrote articles for Sporting Cyclist magazine. He was from Holland and had been hired to come to the United States and train us.
CB: Who hired him? The ABLA?
BK: I'm not sure how that was arranged. So when I wanted to go to Europe I figured I had a contact there. So I went to Holland.
CB: Where in Holland did you go?
BK: I lived just south of Rotterdam. On a little island called Hoecksche Waard.
CB: So this was in '71?
Grass track racing in Trinidad, 1965. Kund is second from right.
BK: Yes, 1971. Charlie put my wife and me up with a friend of his for the summer. And I raced over there.
CB: As an amateur? How did you do?
BK: Yes. I started off doing rather well; had a top ten placing within a couple of weeks. Then I developed allergy problems, some kind of hay fever, that really hampered my performance after that.
CB: What was it like racing in Holland as an amateur in the early 1970s?
BK: It was fast. Those guys could ride bikes. It was amazing. That was the era when bike handling was not very good in the United States. Back then if you were behind two guys who touched each other, you knew you were going to crash. Here I was exposed to racing on brick roads in the rain cornering at crazy speeds. Everybody stayed up. They knew how to ride bikes. The racing style was very different, too. In the US nobody wanted to attack. If you got into a break everyone just went fast enough to stay away and then hung out for the sprint. It was great for me because I often won those sprints. In Holland, on the other hand, the attacks never stopped. People would attack each other in the breaks and just annihilate each other. Most of the time it came down to a very small bunch in the sprint.
CB: What sort of distances were you riding?
BK: Mainly 100-kilometer criteriums.
CB: Rain or shine?
CB: Cobbles or smooth roads?
BK: Mainly brick roads in Holland. In Belguim we usually had a combination of paved and cobblestone roads in the Kermesses.
CB: If you won a race there, what did you get?
BK: There was money. I forget what the amount was. The prize money went all the way down to twentieth place. It wasn't very much.
CB: But you could keep coming back for more?
CB: Were you living off your Dutch race winnings?
BK: No. I was still teaching school and this was during my summer vacation. There was a little bit of money occasionally, just enough to pay some expenses.
CB: Were you on a Dutch team?
BK: No, I wasn't on any team at all. I was just over there racing as an individual. You could race seven days a week there. The number of races there for amateurs in Holland was just amazing. On a weekend you could pick for seven, eight, nine, ten races and each of them would have 50, 60 guys.
CB: Which explains the high level of racing and the high quality of racers coming out of there.
CB: So then you came back to the United States in 1971, taught school for another year and then went over in 1972?
BK: I went over with no job. We went over at the start of summer and said we would just try to make a go of this.
CB: And where did you go?
BK: Same place. We rented a little workers cottage on a farm. It was really hard to find a place to live. They have such strict laws protecting renters over there, a landlord is almost afraid to rent to you because he might have you for the rest of your life. We were illegal aliens. We didn't know that, we weren't even supposed to be there because we didn't have jobs. And as tourists we weren't supposed to have jobs.
CB: So you were just living on your savings?
BK: Yes and that lasted about two months and then we ran out of money.
CB: You weren't making enough money racing to make a living?
BK: We weren't making any money racing. I never did.
CB: What did you do?
BK: Since we were living in a worker's cottage on a farm we could have all the potatoes we wanted. So we ate a lot of potatoes. I ended up getting a job at the American School of The Hague coaching the Freshman Basketball team.
CB: For a guy who says he didn't do well in sports...
BK: Well, they figured that by now I was a professional athlete so I could teach sports. My wife and I also got involved in music and picked up a little money playing in clubs in Holland. We were actually ready to give it all up and go back to the States at the end of the summer but got a couple of radio and TV gigs and thought we might have broken in. So we stayed.
CB: You were still racing as an amateur though?
BK: No, at that point I had taken out a professional license.
CB: OK. For 1972 you took out a professional license?
BK: Yes. For 1972 I was racing with the pros, but no team, no support, no nothing. Same as when I was an amateur. Show up at a race and race. There were a few of us like that, riders who weren't on team, but just showed up and rode. Actually there were a lot of guys on European pro teams who didn't make any money either. Even guys who rode the Tour; they'd get team jerseys and shorts. If they were lucky they might get a bike. If not, their bike would be painted like a team bike and that was it. For the most part none of these guys were working. They were either being supported by parents or wives or by "Supporter Clubs". Supporter Clubs were like fan clubs for the riders. A café (bar) in a village or community would raise money to help a local pro with expenses. Only the really big guys were making much of anything.
CB: So, you show up at a race. Who's on the line with you?
BK: Eef [Evert] Dolman, Jan Janssen, Harm Ottenbros, Walter Godefroot, Roger De Vlaminck, Eddy Merckx sometimes. It was just the luck of the draw. For the big guys these were just little money-making races. They would show up and get paid start money. Some of the guys, especially Merckx rode hard. Others would just show up and ride in the pack. There was a well known criterium called the "Acht van Chaam" right after the Tour. Most of the top finishers of the Tour rode that race. I remember riding one of those with Ocana in the pack. He was terrified.
CB: You finished the 1972 season. Did you do cyclo-cross?
BK: No. In the winter I did take a break. I ended up getting a job teaching, as a substitute, at the American School of The Hague. Initially I was so poor that the school secretary would send me money so that I could buy enough gas to drive to the school to teach. She really had pity on me. It was a long drive. I was living in Rotterdam and was teaching at the Hague.
Bill Kund racing Tim Mountford and Skip Cutting at the Encino Velodrome.
CB: 1973. What did you do in the Spring?
BK: I started training. In Holland you started training on the first of January.
CB: What sort of mileage?
BK: Starting off, initially, probably about three hours a day, riding a 53-17 gear, joining the bunch and just riding. It was cold and wet and nasty all the time.
CB: So you rode with local clubs, amateurs?
BK: Whoever lived close by. It was always easy to find guys to ride with. One fellow I got to know really well was Eef Dolman [4-time Champion of Holland, Gold medalist Tokyo Olympics, amateur World Champion, winner of the 1971 Tour of Flanders]. I met him at a small bike shop in a village called s'Gravendeel on the island where I lived. H e was wearing mechanics coveralls. He spoke a little English and I asked him if he raced, too. He told me he raced a little. After he left the owner of the shop told me who I was talking to. I was pretty embarrassed. We ended up becoming very good friends. Unfortunately he died in the early 90's. Another close friend, we still talk on the phone about once a month, is Cees Van der Meijden. He and I trained together or went to races together the last 2 or 3 years I lived there. I still consider him one of my best friends. Racing would start around the end of February.
CB: Were you still riding as an independent?
BK: I was. At the level I was riding I wasn't riding any of the big races. The Classics were for the guys on the big teams, by invitation. So I would ride whatever I could.
CB: Which was mostly criteriums?
BK: Mostly criteriums or kermesses.
CB: What's the difference?
BK: A kermesse is usually on a longer course. Belgian kermesses are usually about ten kilometers around. Give or take.... What that name comes from, a kermesse is like a carnival. So they would have a carnival in a town and part of the attraction of the carnival is the bicycle race. The start and finish line would be in town where all the activity was going on. And then you'd go out into the countryside and do laps. If you were a pro, you'd usually do about 150 kilometers.
CB: How many times a week were you racing?
BK: About three or four. We'd drive to Belgium during the week because they didn't have any pro races in Holland during the week. You'd have one pro race on Saturday and or Sunday. But you'd have your choice of two or three pro races in Belgium seven days a week.
CB: So you were making a subsistence level living doing this?
BK: No. I never made any money doing this. Cycling always cost me money. I was teaching school and that subsidized my cycling. By that time I had a full-time job teaching at the American School of Rotterdam. I realized later that teaching elementary school and bicycle racing don't go together very well. When you train and race a lot your resistance is down. Being in a classroom with a bunch of young kids is like being in a germ factory. I was sick all the time.
CB: So, let's move to 1974.
BK: In 1974 I actually got a spot on a team in Holland, a team called "Robot-Gazelle". Robot was a company that manufactured garage doors, and of course, Gazelle made bicycles. I still have the bike frame, made of Reynolds tubing.
CB: The bike was built with Campagnolo Nuovo Record. And the leather saddle was gone by then?
BK: Yes, I think that was what the group used then. And the leather saddle had been gone for a while by then. About halfway through my racing career we were on those really hard plastic saddles.
CB: Cinelli Unicanitor?
BK: Especially on the track. And then they came out with saddles that were a lot more comfortable with some padding under a leather cover.
CB: So, in 1975, you're still riding criteriums and kermesses? Was it easier now that you had a team to work with?
Bill Kund in a pursuit race at Encino Velodrome, 1969 or 1970.
BK: No. It wasn't a particularly great team. I think I was put on the team as a novelty because I was an American. You didn't really work as a team in criteriums or kermesses anyway. What you had was combines, basically friends who would make informal agreements to help each other out in races and share the prize money. Team affiliations didn't play a role here.
CB: Were you still riding the track then?
BK: A little. Mainly open (amateur and pro mixed) weeknight races. I rode on the track at Schiedam, just outside of Rotterdam about once a week. Other than 6-Day races, in the winter, there wasn't much for pros to ride on the track. What races there were, were weird. The races were all fixed. I didn't like that. I don't know how much of this I want to say because it sounds like sour grapes.
CB: No, it doesn't sound that way at all.
BK: Peter Post [legendary road and track racer who was also the boss of the TI-Raliegh team] was running the show in Holland. He had already stopped racing and was in charge of booking riders. I was signed to ride a track meet in Rotterdam. I got paid start money. You were told where you would finish in every race. You had to do that. And I rebelled against it. And so I got ridden into the fence and the infield and everything else. What I did just wasn't done. I was never asked back again to ride any other race.
CB: Bill Kund is no fun?
BK: That's right. We had a motorpaced race that day and I was yelling at my driver to speed up and he wouldn't do it. It was very frustrating.
CB: 1976. What kind of year was it?
BK: In 1976 I retired from racing.
CB: Now didn't you ride the World's road race in Montreal?
BK: That was in 1974.
CB: Now in 1974 didn't you get a sponsorship from Shimano?
BK: I did. Towards the end of 1974 the season was tailing off and the Robot-Gazelle was ending. So I worked out a deal to ride for Shimano on the US World's team at Montreal. Shimano paid my way over. Bob Hansing was the man who took care of all of this.
When I started racing I was with the Montrose [California] Cycling Club, which was sponsored by Bob Hansing. So, I went way back with him.
CB: As did so many racers. You went over with Tom Sneddon? Didn't Shimano make a movie about you two?
BK: Yes. I actually saw it once. But I don't know what ever happened to it or where there might be copies today.
CB: How long did you last at Montreal?
BK: Not long. I was woefully unprepared for that race. I didn't have a good season in Holland. I was sick a lot with the allergy problems still bothering me. I tried to make up for it by putting in lots of mileage in Montreal. But obviously it was way too late. There was no sitting in on that course with Mount Royal. It was awful. They went up that hill and that was about it. [Only 18 riders finished the pro race that year]
CB: Where was Sneddon racing?
BK: Sneddon had come over to Belgium. We'd run into each other occasionally at races. Or, he'd stay at my place when he came to Holland to race. I think he was only there for a season or two. The whole time this was going on Tim Mountford was living in Rotterdam. He was concentrating on the six-day scene. He was in the Rotterdam Six-Day. Sercu and Merckx were in that race.
CB: Years ago you told me a story about being in a road race in Belgium with Roger DeVlaeminck.
BK: This was towards the end of my racing career and I was having a pretty reasonable year. We were in a big peloton going at sort of a medium speed.
CB: How fast is that?
BK: Probably 25 [mph] or so or maybe a bit more. I was in the 53-15. That's how I would judge how fast we were going. Everyone was using the same gears back then. So when you were riding normal tempo you were in the 53-15. When things started happening you would shift down to your 14 and then the 13 and then there weren't any more gears.
CB: 12's showed up after you retired? So you're just riding along with a big bunch of Belgians and Dutchmen and about 25 miles an hour or a little more?
BK: Right. I was up at the front of the pack and Roger De Vlaeminck happened to be up there. We went around a corner. We weren't going that hard so I wasn't paying that much attention and worrying about staying tight on anyone's wheel. I went around the corner and was about three or four bikes lengths off his back wheel. What you typically do is give it a couple kicks of the pedals to close up the gap and then everything is fine. Well, I went to do that and the gap didn't close.
So I kicked it a little harder and the gap stayed the same. I looked at him. He hadn't gotten out of the saddle. He didn't look like he was going hard. The only sign that he was pushing it was that you could see his calf muscles were a little bit more tense than normal.
So I thought, "he's forcing the pace a bit." There's a reason why I'm not closing the gap.
So I shifted down to my 14. And he shifted. And I'm chasing like hell and was three bike lengths off his wheel and couldn't close the gap.
And so I go down to my thirteen. We're still going like hell and I'm still not closing the gap. I figured I'm not going to let a gap fall and let him get away. Peloton etiquette dictated that if you couldn't close a gap you would move over, grab the hand of the next guy in line and sling him up to the front guy's back wheel so that the peloton would stay intact. I swung over and looked back. There was nobody there. The peloton was just blown apart.
Marine Corps Recruiting Depot in San Diego, 50 mile criterium. 1969.
CB: De Vlaeminck, single-handedly, sitting down, just shattered a peloton of professional riders?
BK: Yes. And he didn't make it look as if he were trying. It was just amazing.
CB: Any other particular memories that stick out?
BK: I rode an evening criterium with Merckx one time in 1974 or so. I remember at one point we were strung out on a one-kilometer course single file. We were that way for probably 10 laps, everyone struggling to stay on the wheel in front of him. I found out later that Eddy was pulling that whole time, by himself.
CB: He was just dragging you all around?
BK: These were all top pro riders, but everyone was just hanging on for dear life with one guy at the front, pulling through the wind. Later in the race I got tangled up behind a crash, bounced off a couple of guys, but stayed up. I got into a small group chasing to get back into the group that had been in front of the crash. We were chasing hard but not getting much closer and, after a couple of kilometers, got caught by another group behind us consisting of Merckx, who had punctured, along with a couple of his teammates. We got in with them and, within a couple of kilometers, saw the lead peloton in front of us with about six Molteni riders in front putting on the brakes. We were back in the lead group in no time.
CB: After 1975 you called it quits?
BK: I called it quits and ended up moving to England to teach school.
CB: Was that it as far as you and racing were concerned?
BK: Basically, yes. Between financial struggles, lack of any help, lack of good medical care and the allergy problems it was impossible to be consistent. It just got to be an exercise in frustration. In my last season, I had been out with the flu or something for a couple of weeks. and hadn't been able to train at all. When I started riding again I entered a 150 km race in Belgium and got in an 8 man break right from the start. We were flying and had a big lead on the peloton. With about 30 km to go I cramped up and had to stop. Because I had been sick I just hadn't ridden enough to go the whole distance. At the end of that season I figured that if I hadn't gotten any farther in the sport at the age of 29 I probably wasn't going to make much of in impact any more. I didn't want to be just another guy riding around with the peloton.
Bill Kund sailing off Newport, Rhode Island, 1999.
I briefly considered turning amateur again and riding in England, but back then, once you had been a pro, whether you had been successful or not, you were tainted property. You were not allowed to ride anything of any consequence as an amateur again.
CB: You couldn't regain your virginity?
BK: No. No more championships. No more Olympics, no big races. It just didn't make sense anymore. I had gotten a divorce by then, remarried and had started a family. My priorities had changed.
I got into running, then, as a means to stay fit, and rode my bike occasionally. When I moved back to the States in 1981 I settled in North Carolina. I stayed with running and got into skiing in a big way. I taught skiing for a few years.
Now I'm riding my bike again for fitness. I have a Look carbon fiber frame (KG 96) with a Shimano Dura Ace group. By today's standards it's a dinosaur. Downtube shifters and all. It's amazing how much bikes have changed since I was involved in the business just 10 years ago.
I work as a commercial photographer now. My current passion for the past 7 years has become sailing. It's something my wife and I can do together. We plan to do some long distance cruising in the not too distant future.
My philosophy has always been that I never want to say "If only I had had the courage to try..." That philosophy was what made me pick up and move to Europe to be a bicycle racer. It was a long shot. It didn't really work out the way I had hoped, but I learned a lot and I'm glad I did it. I learned to speak another language and made some great friends. It certainly beats saying I had spent 10 years sitting in an office wishing I had tried it.
That's how I try to live my life now, too. I'd rather be sorry for failing at something I did, than be sorry that I didn't even make the effort to try.