International Cycle Sport | June 1968 | Issue No 2 | Page 32
For the first time in seven years, our well known contributor will not be following the Tour of Britain for the full fortnight. In this "I wish I were there" article he remembers some of the highlights of one of the world's most important amateur stage races. Roy is now on the editorial staff of "Amateur Photographer."
Colourful Memories of the Tour of Britain
by Roy Green
Have you heard that very wistful song, "The day that the circus left town"? It's about a youngster who pines when his wonder world of showmen leaves him behind. I rather fancy I shall have a strong tinge of the same emotions on the last weekend in May.
The town for me will be Swindon, the "circus", the colourful unit that is the Tour of Britain. Yes, I shall enjoy again all the atmosphere of the opening gathering at Brighton on Sunday May 26, after the leg-loosener "pursuiters" time trial in the dusk the previous evening, and I shall follow the first 100 miles. But then, because of a recent change of journalistic fields, its back home.
Following the last six Milk Races has given me a few musettes full of memories, you can imagine. Down at Brighton, they'll be restirred, as I meet dozens of friends, the same faces, both among riders and the big supporting entourage, who are drawn to the race every year, willingly giving up the chance of a more conventional, restful, holiday. They will all be especially busy there at the first of fourteen starts, since their thousand-and-one tasks, which will fall into the pattern of routine before many days, will call for more concentration.
Despite that "hors d'oeuvre" time trial there is bound to be an underlying feeling of tension, no matter how well they hide it, that tension common to all performers before "curtain-up". But although everyone will be longing for the moment to get the wheels rolling, they all know that those agitating minutes before the Union Jack is dropped for the first time are an important part of the Tour scene too; the big crowd lining Madiera Drive will want to see all the cast of this colourful spectacular, as teams are presented in turn, the first bright yellow jersey put over the shoulders of the fastest man in the time trial.
COLOUR! There's a word that sums up the essence of the Tour. Covering the race with camera the past six years I've often been aware of something lacking. . . now, in "International Cycle Sport" there's scope to show up one more vital element of the lively scene.
Besides specific events and personalities, pictures of more general pieces of the Tour jigsaw come readily to mind. Colourful pictures, like the way the multi-hued, serpent switches along against the green and brown-toned backcloth of long moorland descents in Wales, the North Yorks Moors, the bleak open Pennines.
For me, this is the most typical framework of the race. More's the pity that on these wilder stages, sheep outnumber human spectators over much of the mountainous route, except where clusters of club enthusiasts line the roads near the tops of the better-known primes.
The most typical image the public has of the race is contained in a few lightning moments of speed, in the hurly-burly, seemingly chaotic scrambles for those all-important bright orange finish banners. That's not a bad image, though. With tension building up during their wait, helped by expert commentary and plenty of info. on the race to date by the announcers, then arrival in increasing frequency of judges, press, race service cars, motor-cycle marshals, police outriders, the cavalry-charge of a jostling bunch of humanity and glittering chrome and enamel-this is always a great thrilling climax.
Some of the mums, dads and kids lining prom. and park finishes must think it a hazardous game indeed as the switching mass rushes at well over 30 mph towards the line, beyond which there is an apparently impossible space in which to pull up. The inevitable few screeching brakes heighten the effect, cause gasps, before the tangle comes to an abrupt halt. In among them plunge team officials, brandishing their mens' duffle-bags containing track-suits and slippers, bearing dripping sponges, cartons of milk.
To many uninitiated watchers, how this first sight must make cycle racing seem like an imposition of hard labour! Men with faces that mirror fatigue - perhaps heightened by disillusion if it's been a disappointing stage - look like some sort of curiously-dressed dusty, sweat-streaked tramps. This is a hard man's sport indeed!
In contrast, I remember how much I enjoyed those quieter half-hours before the day's stage began. In the mornings, those same men, pottering down to sea front or town square start, present a very different impression. Refreshed by food and drink, sleep, and the all-important soothing attentions of team masseurs, they look every inch the highly-trained athletes they are, in clean racing gear, with sparkling machines, looking relaxed, bronzed, smooth-limbed.
You acknowledge smiles and greetings from riders you know well, and men from Poland, Spain, Switzerland -l anguage is no barrier. This is the time that tongues are loosest too, the time to learn the subtle secrets of how "x" skived craftily in the previous day's break, who are the men to watch, excuses or reasons for taking "packets". more...
The 1968 Tour of Britain will be the 16th in the series and the 11th to be sponsored by the Milk Marketing Board. This year the race will be contested by ten teams of seven riders in each. At the time of going to press the following teams were expected to start from Brighton on 25th May - Denmark, The Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, USSR, France, Great Britain, England, The Provinces, International All Stars.
Just as a good map can help unfold a hundred memories of past rides for a tourist, so the outline of the ToB route here, the names of the stage towns does the same for me, bringing incidents and men of past races vividly to mind. Even though a very thin slice is my share of this year's Milk Race I know that there's still a fair chance of seeing some vital action on that first stage to Swindon. The ToB has never been a race to feel its way gently! Into mind in particular springs the shock opening stage from Blackpool to Nottingham in 1963, and that tall powerful man, Peter Chisman.
That year, Peter never gave the rest of the field a chance to find their stage-race legs! Small wonder that when his name is mentioned, I automatically think of the blonde Tynesider with the serious air as naturally dressed in a yellow jersey, for after his 'blunderbuss' start he wore the mantle of supremacy throughout. I have vivid memories of the tough road between Cardiff and Aberystwyth. I can see Arthur Metcalfe now, on his triumphant progress through the mining towns of the South Wales valleys. In his strong, super economical style, he just rode away from Spaniards Carril and Santamarina, Scot McNaught, on the hairpin bends of a long climb. Then he plunged down through the valleys, getting a hero's welcome from enthusiastic ranks of coal-black miners outside colliery gates of Pricetown, Treorchy, Treherbert, on to the stage win on which he based his 1964 Tour victory.
Another of his best rides was done over the steep, narrow, tricky, Pennine climbs and descents on the tough stage up North linking east and west coasts. In 1966, his seven-minute win at Morecambe is foremost in my recollections of fine solo efforts.
Other great "loner" feats over that same stage came to mind. There was a tiny Pole, Ryszard Zapala, with legs like tree-trunks, carrying off the 1963 Mountains prize in one days "stormer" there. Then the previous year another Geordie had [not] been in the limelight; Norman Baty. It's not surprising that I readily remember Norman's angular form, for he's ridden five Tours that I have followed (six in all), and taken five stages. He always had the typical Tour specialist's motto on his mind-"Wait for the mountain's," But this (and perhaps also his dislike of days of wet weather) probably accounted for Norman's failure to carry off the Tour.
Though Bradley dominated it through his climbing ability, the race is becoming more and more a race for men strong in every department. I remember many hours of sporting argument in the evenings of the 1965 race with genial Charles Ruys, there as interpreter. Charles director of that very different "stage race", the Skol Six, is most outspoken about "those horrible hills". He thinks cycle racing should be exclusively a flat affair, and that the ToB is mountain-goat stuff.
It would be an impossible problem finding a flat route round England and Wales, to tie in with the many other problems of routing as well. Latterly, the hill sections have been moderate, just right in my opinion. But in any case I consider that the very nature of our home tour is its hilly nature, with the major climbs generally ideally placed anyway. Riders tackling Warsaw-Berlin-Prague have no grounds for complaint about rough roads and weather; Tour of Morocco competitors should not be averse to heat-dust (though another hazard reported from there, the "mafia" tactics, give genuine reasons for complaint!)
A man who is a strong climber first and foremost will always find a chance to win ToB stages, collect a good bag of primes, and perhaps the red jersey of the "King of the Mountains"! But he needs to be strong in every racing department to take and keep that yellow jersey, Even a would-be winner will find the odds stacked against him unless his team is strong, and right behind him too. I've seen enough instances of strong team work - and lack of it - dominating the racing pattern. Into mind straight away spring numerous sights of breaks containing, three, four, even more of those strong, resolute Polish terrors. Latterly, with the Russians coming over to show us a possible reason why the hammer figures in their national emblem, the battle for overall leadership has almost been secondary to deciding team supremecy between these two countries.
Looking back at this year's route map, I see that the final stage follows a well-worn route indeed, Morecambe to Blackpool But no-one could I accuse Messrs Arnott and Cumberworth of lack of imagination in their route planning. The breezy, brash seaside town that means Wakes' Weeks, cowbay hats, the Tower to so many, is the only real home of the Tour. A jam-packed Middle Walk in scorching sunshine (it dare not be I otherwise!) provides the perfect finale. The lead up to that last stage winner's laurel wreath, "Miss Milko'" , kisses, Lord Mayor's handshakes, and yellow jersey - the final all important one - has so often been a real scorcher of a battle too. Out there over the wild North Lanes. Fells the narrow rocky-sloped winding Trough of Bowland, always thickly lined with club folk, big decisions have often been in the balance. Overall victory still not certain on the last day of 1962, when a yellow jerseyed Pole, Eugen Pokorny, who had won our admiration by his decisive, powerful, attacking style of riding, clung like a shadow to battling Billy Holmes, who tried till the end to open the vital gap that would have given him a second Tour.
Then in 1965 those open Fells roads witnessed the final thrilling moves that wound up the most dramatic day in the Race's history. Early that morning I had been given an unusual see-through vacant look from race director Maurice Cumberworth when I said innocently "Looks like a fine day for the last stage Maurice." The absent look and non-commital reply was explained half an hour before the Morecambe start. Maurice certainly had a weight on his mind. "Drugs", unhappily a word cycling journalists have had to handle a lot since then, came to the fore. Angry, perplexed looks and words were followed by the disqualification of race leader Santamarina - withdrawal of the Spanish Team. Events of that morning and the firm, courageous, stand since by the men in charge of the Milk Race, have played such a major part in the cleaning up of cycling racing's shoddiest secrets.
But happily, a note of triumph, not notes of disillusion and shame, ring loudest in my thoughts back to that tour of passion played by one of the brightest virtuosos of the race's history. Les West's tremendous solo over those final breathtaking miles of the 1965 Tour made him a victor we could be proud of.
Les West, the biggest name over the last three years can deservedly be the last yellow jersey in my Memory Tour. For my final look back at six years among the Milk Race Peloton I'll chose a very enjoyable "stage". Those end-of-race banquets for "all surviving competitors" as the race booklet somewhat ominously puts it, have always been an impressive way to set the seal on a past fortnight of international cycle sport of high calibre.
I'll miss the 1968 feast. But here's wishing "bon appetit" to all those at the table. May a record number "survive" to enjoy it!