theo van dabber was born in hoorn in the netherlands in february 1919, just after the the end of the first world war. his father, bram van dabber was an importer of tea and coffee, something he had managed to continue through the war years, and a business that was now heading towards a more lucrative future as europe began to get back to normal. thus theo had a relatively privileged upbringing, one that provided him with many of the luxuries of the day, but mostly without over-indulgence by bram and his wife marianne.
van dabber senior had always been a keen observer of the new-fangled bike racing, following the tours de france up until they were interrupted by the great war, and though he rode his own bicycle to and from his warehouse office, he had no real desire or ability to indulge in competition himself. theo, however, was an altogether different matter. though the van dabber household income was above average with the prospect of improving further, bram was keen that his son learn the value of money. as he grew up, theo's own affection for the bicycle began to match that of his father, but shielded from the privations faced by several of his eventual italian peers he had no need to learn on an oversized bicycle belonging to a long lost uncle.
theo had his own.
cycling in north east holland was less popular than in the south, so while the youthful van dabber was keen to exercise his prowess in the peloton, in truth, there were fewer opportunities than he or his father would have liked. this led to van dabber senior having to buy a van in order to take his son south to gain greater racing experience. the boy was showing promise which bram was keen to support. he had, however, a need to maintain his status, particularly when outside his regular domicile, and to that end, both he and his son dressed with a superior sense of sartorial eloquence.
as these journeys south increased, so did young theo's victories, leading to a mixture of respect and resentment from those he raced against, many of whom did not have the van dabber's wherewithal and up until his regular visits, had been more used to winning the prize money. it was, therefore, perhaps not unusual that this resulted in theo being disparaged due to his fine dress sense and becoming commonly referred to as 'van dapper' his opponents adopting, for the situation, the colloquial word for one so eloquent of garb: 'dapper'. theo would soon find himself referred to in this manner even in an official capacity.
his constant pressing from within the peloton had brought him to that attention of the dutch racing authorities. theo was being seriously considered as a rider who could represent his country at national level, most likely in the grand tours of italy and france.
by the time theo turned 20, europe was embroiled in the vicissitudes of nazism and the onset of the second world war, a situation that effectively put paid to the cycling career that, up till that point had looked so promising. it was a situation that would affect many a professional cyclist across europe. italy's gino bartali had won the 1938 tour de france. it would be another ten years before he won another.
during germany's occupation of france, the nazi propaganda machine was keen that life ought to at least maintain the facade that all was well and good. to this end, in 1942 they coerced goddet and his entourage to issue team selections for a tour de france to be held over two weeks in july. at that time, the tour peloton was composed of national teams rather than the trade teams of today, so letters of intent were sent out to the official cycle bodies of each respective country.
unsurprisingly, every one of them refused to fall into line with goddet's requests, well aware that the invitations were sent not on his behalf, but that of the nazi occupiers. but even in wartime, administrative errors take place, so in june of 1942, a letter addressed to mr t van dapper (sic) arrived at 36 hoogstraade, hoorn in the netherlands, inviting the twenty-three year-old theo to join his team-mates in brittany come july for the start of the tour de france.
presuming that the letter would not have been sent had the intent not been genuine, and bearing in mind the almost total lack of verifiable news or information that existed in this time of war, van dapper made his way to the appointed start at saint brieuc on the 4th of july 1942. despite the letter appointing him as a member of the dutch tour de france team being as good as a free pass across europe, on arrival at saint brieuc, accompanied only by his bicycle and the requisite issue jerseys and tubs, he found himself completely alone apart from a twelve man german team.
the germans, however, seemingly unaware of the wholesale rejection of their diktat, had made jacques goddet continue with all the usual preparations. when theo arrived alone, goddet felt compelled to continue with the race, rounding up as many frenchmen as he could find to take the place of those who had failed to turn up. all were complicit in this facade, some fearful of german reprisals, others keen to expose the pretence for what it was.
it likely doesn't take too much of a stretch of the imagination to realise that theo van dapper rode all but unchallenged, for his competitiors were anything but. the german team were hardly the pinnacle of aryan sportsmanship, having suffered from unfavourable privations at home. the finest german riders had been conscripted to the german military leaving them unable to train in any constructive manner. goddet's doppelgangers were most being drawn from the surrounding farmlands and many of those dispossessed by the rigours of the occupation. thus it was that a dutchman now officially recognised as t van dapper emerged on the parc des princes as the token winner of the yellow jersey. though the german high command were less than impressed at the defeat of their own team by a sole dutchman, they were even less inspired with the knowledge that second and third places on the podium were occupied by those to whom goddet had provided bikes, tyres, lodging and a modicum of food.
the highest placed german rider arrived in fifth place, over six hours behind the winner. far from wishing to trumpet the '42 tour de france as a victory for the german occupation, hitler's generals contrived to ignore and subsequently bury the farce that very few had witnessed; van dapper never received the accolades he perhaps deserved, but it remains fact that he was the unsung winner of the 1942 tour de france.
in recognition of this pyrrhic victory, uk cycle clothing maestros, velobici have introduced the van dapper range to their recently released roadwear range, trimming the jersey with yellow inside the collar and the storm flap behind the full length zip on the jersey. this continues around the back, featuring across the top of the capacious rear pockets. and it is the latter that may, for a brief moment, provide cause for concern. surely some mistake? yet, no; the rear pocket arrangement on the van dapper jersey is one of the smartest and most pragmatic i have yet come across, consisting of no less than five. on each side is a waterproof zipped pocket, the left larger than the right and just ginger peachy for the purpose of concealing a veritable wardrobe of gels. the open pocket to which it is adjacent is huge, swallowing an entire showers pass double century jacket without chewing.
the yellow trimming describes a profile not unlike that of a ski jump. thus the pocket on the right is smaller than its neighbours (though still more than adequate) but has spread itself onto the side panel, making for unbelievably easy access on the bike.
the jersey is fashioned from a mix of lycra and meryl providing a beautifully soft yet strong and stretchy fabric which, rather uncharacteristically is knitted in nottingham before gaining its jersey personality in leicestershire. quite how they achieve the three-d logo effect on the side panels and across the back, i really have no idea, but it is both subtle and unique in the same breath.
a drop tail under those sloping pockets is held in place by very grippy silicon gloop, a substance also inhabiting the inside hem of the short sleeves, rounded out with a thin sliver of scotchlite reflectivity. the full-length front zip terminates in the now ubiquitous zip garage, a feature also yellow trimmed. theo van dapper's jersey is both stylish and practical in one package.
of course, no cyclists, whether possessed of dapper tendencies or not, can do without a matching pair of bibshorts to continue any pretence of dapperness, and thankfully the chaps at velobici have already thought of that. these too are fabricated from meryl flavoured lycra (i know, not the best of descriptions to apply to a pair of shorts, but it was the best i could do at short notice) providing a fit that easily ranks amongst the best on the market. i am still (at my age) the owner of a narrow enough waist to continue wearing a small size in bibshorts; the velobici van dapper's were no exception.
i did feel that the bib straps were just a tad lacking in tension, giving the impression they were designed for someone of greater height than myself. even honed athletes such as myself are forced to indulge in a modest amount of rest and recuperation while the support crew ready the colnago. this would almost always involve making a plate of scott's old fashioned porage oats, topped with peach slices and partially drowned in unsweetened soya milk. during these moments, the right bib strap kept sliding off my shoulder under the jersey. however, i can lay claim to no such irritation while riding the now prepared colnago.
the leg length is on the long side of short (sean yates need not apply), and held in place by more of the aforementioned gloop. the outer panel on each leg has more of those three-d velobici logos, all but invisible at speed, but allowing the smugness that comes with intrinsic knowledge. i can imagine how theo must have felt when folks called him dapper.
as a drummer of the parish, i am aware of the phrase 'timing is everything', a phrase that brought its own resurgence when the van dapper jersey and shorts arrived the day before this year's ride of the falling rain, surely the ideal testing ground for jerseys and shorts of any hue and cry? one hundred miles round the principality in excellent company, fending off heat, overcast conditions and even a modicum of rain while avoiding any coffee stains at debbies and trying hard not to spill any clootie dumpling and ice cream at ardbeg, can only be regarded as the ultimate test for any form of road-bike apparel. and simply to add insult to injury (so to speak), i took a flying kilometre (or two) down to debbie's and back the following morning.
theo van dapper may not have inherited the success he truly deserved, undoubtedly being in the saddle in the wrong place at the wrong time, but he has engendered a stunning heritage in both these garments. truly, the van dapper jersey and shorts are amongst the very best that money can buy and athletic physique can ride in.
an all-british triumph.
tuesday 7th august 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................