Mon Jul 13 09:02pm EDT
He's as much a part of the Tour de France as time trials, mountain stages, yellow jerseys and podium girls and is probably more recognizable to cycling fans than a majority of the riders in this year's race. He's Didi, the guy with that huge bike who dresses up like the devil and jumps up and down like a toddler throwing a temper tantrum. Even if you've watched little of the Tour over the past 16 years, you've probably seen him on the course, gesticulating wildly while holding his three-speared pitchfork. So who is he and, more importantly, what's his deal?
Didi is Deiter Senft, a 56-year old German who modeled himself as "El Diablo" after hearing of an archaic cycling term used by television announcers:
They always called the final kilometre of a criterium [stage] the red devil's lap. I never saw a red devil, so I became one.
(The only time the phrase "red devil's lap" appears in the Lexis-Nexis perdiocials database is when it's used to reference to Didi's story, so take that for what it's worth.)
Didi travels to most stages of the Tour with his enormous bicycles (he's listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as having built the largest bike) and sets up a few kilometers out from the finish. (He says he'd like to be closer to the finish -- or the red devil's lap -- but police and race organizers won't let him.) Sometimes he'll paint forks and cyclists on the road with white paint, but only if local police allow it. Then, he waits for the riders and chases them, but stresses that it's never intended to be bothersome. Sure it's not, Didi.
He says he is able to pay for travel through sponsors and usually camps out in his car before each stage.