Humour: Jesper Skibby - The Koppenberg, 1987
“Always use the Green Cross Code, because I won’t be there when you cross the road.”
This immortal phrase is engraved in the minds of a whole generation of UK school children that received this sage road safety advice from the Green Cross Code man who visited schools during the ’70s and ’80s. With the task of educating school-kid lemmings with a penchant for busy streets and ice cream vans, it is estimated that the Green Cross Code man averted around four million ice-cream related accidents. Outside of the UK, however, children were getting their road safety education from very different sources, including Scandinavian backwater, Denmark, where a cyclist was about to revolutionise how kids crossed the road.
Bursting onto the pro scene in 1986, young Danish pro Jesper Skibby quickly captured the hearts of the Danish public and became media gold, commanding more newspaper and magazine inches than Victor Borge and Sandi Toksvig put together. Only a couple of years earlier, the automobile had been introduced to Denmark leading to a massive increase in Danish children being run over as they sought ice cream. Knowing they had to act fast, the government decided to pour millions of kroner into a new hard-hitting road safety campaign fronted by the nation’s no. 1 celebrity – Jesper Skibby – who subsequently went on to be the face of a successful Cycle Proficiency Campaign. Knowing just how marketable the Skibby brand was, Jesper and his team looked to expand beyond Denmark, which historians now concur was the moment that his date with destiny on the Koppenberg was set.
When not making Jedis feel the effects of the dark side of the Force, Star Wars regular Darth Vader fulfilled the role of the Green Cross Code man during his days off from crushing the rebellion. Having the UK market sewn up and his days as a Dark Lord of the Sith numbered, Vader was looking to expand his road safety education territory. After successful forays in the French and German markets, his attempt to enter the Scandinavian market is where Danish pro Jesper Skibby came into the equation.
The Danes no longer needed a Dark Lord of the Sith to front their campaign, especially not one with such a poor record of human rights abuse
After signing a pre-contract agreement with the Danish Government, Darth Vader was looking forward to introducing a whole new country of school children to the Green Cross Code. However, the Danes now had their Golden Boy and no longer needed a Dark Lord of the Sith to front their campaign, especially not one with such a poor record of human rights abuse. Furious at being double-crossed, Vader left Denmark, vowing to speak to his lawyers although he would later decide on a more direct form of action.
As revenge, like rice pudding, is a dish best served cold, Vader was content to bide his time and systematically destroyed the Danish government before gaining his revenge on Skibby. With his ability to crush the weak of mind using the dark side of the Force, Vader was the ideal man to direct cycle races from the lead car and control the numerous TV and press motorbikes with simple thought manipulation. Knowing that this would bring him within touching distance of Jesper Skibby, Vader knew it would only be a matter of time before he could wreak his revenge.
Breaking away over the early climbs of the ’87 Tour of Flanders, Skibby arrived at the bottom of the Koppenberg with a healthy gap of 12 minutes over a sluggish peloton. As the gradient and cobbles took their toll, Vader calmly instructed his driver to bump the back of Skibby’s bicycle, causing him to fall and end up in the now famous pose – half on the grassy bank, half on the cobbles with his legs firmly under the car. In fact, a poll of people which know about this sort of thing, “Skibby under car” came third in an all-time-famous-pose poll behind Christine Keeler in that chair and the Vanity Fair cover with a heavily pregnant Demi Moore.
The fall-out from the incident was immense. Sponsors who previously flocked to be associated with Jesper Skibby dropped him like a stone as, in terms of road safety, his now perceived shortcomings were a national joke. A long and mediocre career on the road was only of consolation to Jesper, who was subsequently involved in a string of road accidents, culminating in being knocked over while running for an ice cream van in his native Silkeborg in 2006.
The Koppenberg incident also spelled the end of Darth Vader’s involvement in road safety. He went back to pursing the complete eradication of the Jedi and was last seen in a retirement complex in Margate, Kent, and was never again to wear the uniform of the Green Cross Code man.
Changes to the Koppenberg have made this narrow climb more suitable for the demands of modern racing but the sight of Jesper Skibby under that BMW remains one of the iconic images of not only the Tour of Flanders but of professional cycle racing. Even today, the local hospital in Oudenarde reports cyclo-tourists being admitted after attempting to replicate Jesper Skibby’s great misadventure. Indeed Jesper himself regularly runs touring holidays to Flanders where, for an extra charge, he will happily drive a replica BMW up the Koppenberg and run you over too!