His career included a World Championship (1978), two Amstel Gold wins, 10 TdF Stage wins (and 8 days in the Yellow Jersey), a Paris-Nice overall win and many other prestigious results that netted 129 victories in a pro career starting in 1974 and concluding in 1989.
As with so many of his generation ‘de Kneet’, as he was affectionately known by his fans, was to be found in every type of race from the Grand Tours to the Classics to Six Day races and everything in between. A big man, his power and endurance often gave him the competitive edge to win some of the toughest races. Such was the case at the 1978 World Championship at the Nurburgring in Germany. He had made the final selection with Bernard Hinault, Giuseppe Saronni and Francesco Moser. Moser was the outright favorite as they entered the final lap but seven and a half hours of grueling racing played into Kneteman’s hands and his superior stamina gave him the day.
Gerrie Knetemann was once honored with a
song about him by the Dutch group Tandem.
Many consider his World Championship to be his crowning glory but ‘de Kneet’ always thought that his best accomplishment was his 1985 Amstel Gold win, which came ten years after his first win in the race. In the same way that the Belgians consider the Tour of Flanders to be “the real World Championship”, the Dutch look to their ‘Amstel’ as the premier single day race on the international calendar.
Naturally for a Dutch rider this is ‘the’ race to win. In the 1985 edition the weather conditions were appalling, very cold with rain and strong winds blasting in from the North Sea. Out of the 146 starters only 25 made it to the finish 242km distant. For many it is always surprising that there are hills in Holland. The Amstel seeks out some real horrors with the most famous being the Keutenberg and the Cauberg that offer ramps as steep as 20%.
On the day Adri van der Poel was touted as the big favorite and after 174km he decided to ride away from the leading 10-man break. He gained a minute or so but then his body cried ‘no more’. Coming to an abrupt halt he was seen to be ‘puking and crying’ from the cold. The icy remnants of the break came hurtling past and left him to his frigid misery. When the break got to the fearsome Cauberg climb, Kneteman launched himself off the front and none of the other riders would (or could) follow him. For the remaining 10kms ‘de Kneet’ rode like the devil to his most emotional win. ‘Crying buckets’ as he crossed the finish line, he was still crying as he was interviewed. “This is the most beautiful moment in my life, the most beautiful victory. Cycling can be beautiful.”
When his racing career finished, Kneteman stayed very much in touch with the sport. In fact he was still coach to the Dutch national team. His teenage daughter races and she placed highly in this year’s junior World’s TT and RR.
‘De Kneet’ hailed from Amsterdam, a city that is very proud to remember him as their best ever racing cyclist. This is a true honor for a city where nearly half of all traffic movements are made by bike. In 2003 a census showed that there were approximately 600,000 bikes owned by the population of 730,000.
At the national level Kneteman was active at a golden time in Dutch cycling. In 1978 the Dutch Sports Journalists Guild voted him sportsman of the year. The year before Hennie Kuiper had been awarded the honor and in then in 1979 it was Jan Raas and 1980 Joop Zoetemelk. All of these riders hold significant chapters in the history of elite cycle racing. And for a country that is passionate about its soccer and speed skating it is no mean feat for a cyclist to head the sport’s journalists poll.
Throughout his life ‘de Kneet’ was greatly respected and much loved by his countrymen. During the 1980’s a music group known as Tandem produced a record (on the Frigram label) in his honor. The words from one song talk of the young man from Amsterdam; the World Champion; strong; hard working; as fast as the hare. It is fitting to end this tribute in his own language and with the words from the record that paid tribute to him:
Hй ken je die jongen uit Amsterdam,
de Kneet die iedereen te grazen nam.
Te grazen nam? Ja te grazen nam.
Wereldkampioen, dat is de Kneet.
Wat is de Kneet? Hij is sterk.
Kneteman, Kneteman. Machtig werk
Gerrie Kneteman, zo snel als een haas.
Kneteman Kneteman, hij is de baas.
Read Gerrie Knetemann’s Tour of Flanders Memories here.
Graham R. Jones rides and races with the CCB/Volkswagen club near Boston, USA, which is also the home club of both Tyler Hamilton and Tim Johnson. Read more about this dynamic club at the CCB web site: http://ccbracing.com. And if you’re visiting the Boston area join ‘em for a ride.