Didi Senft – the Tour Devil – is the new advertising face of Wiggle. The 60-year-old German is world-famous for his devil’s costume and antics at the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and numerous other races.
Outfitted in red – or soon, in Wiggle orange – Didi can be seen on the side of the road at cycling races, especially on mountain stages, urging the riders to keep going when it gets tough.
It all started fifty years ago, in what was then East Germany, “To be the devil at the Teufelslappen” (Devil’s rag or Flamme Rouge) is a colloquial expression in Germany referring to the red triangular cloth hanging across the road to indicate the last kilometer of the race.
Didi first appeared as the devil in 1993 and hasn’t missed a Tour since. He travels around Europe in his mini-van, plastered with ads and pictures, and has become a favourite with the fans, attracting them wherever he goes.
“I go to the Tour as a fan” he told us. Of course he has commercial sponsors, including Wiggle, but “money isn’t important it just helps me get there.” His love of cycling is what drives him on – and he can often be seen on a bike himself.
And when he is not on the bike or jumping on the side of the road, he is running along beside the cyclists. “It’s not something I train for – it simply happens. But it doesn’t always work out, the situation has to be right,” Didi noted. He is physically quite active, and in outstanding shape for his age.
Looking back , he says that the fans haven’t really changed much over the years, except perhaps their nationality. “It always depends on the winners. It was 100,000 Danes in 1996, then it was 100,000 Germans in 1997.” There weren’t quite that many American fans for the Armstrong wins – it is just a bit far from the US to France – “but there were still a lot of American fans at the Tour.”
But there is more to Didi Senft than just his costume and race antics. He also has a bike museum in Storkow, Germany, near Berlin. He has more than 120 curiosities on display, all of which he has made himself in his attached workshop.
The workshop is world of wonders. Bikes, bike parts and well, all sorts of things, fill the space. Things that we might throw away strike him as useful for a new and unusual bike. Huge bikes, miniature bikes, bikes with shoes(?!) and footballs and ski-jumping skis – there is no limit to his imagination. Tandem bikes? Why stop with just two when you can build a bike big enough Snow White and all the seven dwarves as well?! Not to mention the oversized guitar which is, yes, also a bike.
His favourite? “I don’t really have a favourite, but I’ve had to build the biggest bike in the world twice.” Having built it, it was soon enough beaten by someone building one bigger, twice in fact. “So why not a third time?”
Being the devil is not the easiest way to make a living. He is on the road almost constantly, attending everything from local Christmas markets to cycling races to other sporting events. And always in costume and always with one or more of his novelty bikes with him.
Didi will be wrapping things up at the German studio broadcasting the European football championships before heading off to France and his beloved Tour. Whilst he doesn’t know for sure who will be standing atop the final podium in Paris, he does think that “Cadel Evans has good chances to win the Tour again in 2012.”
Unfortunately since speaking to Didi on the eve of the 2012 tour he was hospitalized due to an accident and may not be able to visit the Tour de France this year, if you would like to leave him a ‘get well soon’ wish in the comments below we will pass them on to Didi, the best message will be awarded a Garmin Edge 200 GPS bike computer worth £130! (Entries close 15/07 at 5pm GMT)