Wednesday, 12 March 2008

#042 - 1954 - Tour of Ireland - Part 1

March 1954 saw an invite for us to ride the four day “Tour of Ireland” Tom Crowther our 1953 manager decided not to come this year, after a meeting of local clubs a team was picked lead by Bill Henshaw, Bren Thorpe, Dennis Weston and “Sqeeky” Gascoigne all Long Eaton C.C. with Derek Robinson. as team mechanic, I was to go as manager and managers were on motorcycles not cars. This suited me down to the ground. In the shop, we had a new 500 VH single cylinder Ariel which we had had over 12months, so this was licensed and all import and export forms filled helped by the R.A.C. (not required now apart from a green insurance card). Meanwhile Bill Henshaw had been short listed by Arthur Spurgin ( England team manager) Bill however turned down the invite preferring to stay with the Long Eaton team.

The race started on the Thursday 29th April 1954. We left Tuesday night Bill took the bikes etc and the three riders whilst Bren Thorpe came pillion with me. We left Long Eaton about seven o’clock going the usual road, we stopped for fish and chips at Bethesda then across Nant Francon pass in to Bangor and so across Telfords bridge and on to Holyhead for the night ferry. As we were crossing the causeway which leads in to Holyhead I felt Bren go all heavy, he had fallen asleep on the back, he was amazed when I awoke him.

We were on the ferry and asleep before midnight arriving at Dun laughaire about 7.30am. We were booked in at our “second home” with Mrs Ryan, breakfast was all ready a full English - or rather Irish - with black pudding. We rode down to Dublin in the afternoon to collect frame and body numbers and start list. I was on the motorcycle and had with me a new pair of wheels that I had built complete with freewheel and tyres, we fitted these on the rear carrier with only three toe straps (very like Mavic do now for mountain stages and/or time trials in the big tours on the continent). Outside the headquarters we found the Scottish team in deep conversation near our Ariel, their manager, who we took an instant dislike to, said ‘you cannot carry them wheels its against the rules’. Where are these rules? we asked, he could not produce any. But the next day before the start of the race he got the commissionaires to get us to remove the tyres as it gave us an unfair advantage. This silly way of going on went on for at least 2 years because in the Peace Race the following year no team was able to fit a wheel complete. If a rider punctured he had to change his own tyres. This rule was changed by U.C.I for 1956.

Previous to the race start on the next day, we had a meeting to discuss tactics, having ridden myself the previous year I did not want any jealousies which had occurred then. For instance talking behind the managers back instead of every grievance being advanced and brought out in the open.

Bill asked “What do you mean by last year” .

“Well Bill” I said “when Eric, Reggie and I were away on the 3rd day we had given Tom food and drink to be handed up to us but we only saw him once all day, and that was after about 20 miles when we had 9 mins lead on the main group. Tom told us to stop working, although we were the only team by then with three riders up there, we assumed Tom was looking after you and Bren”

“What!” exclaimed Bill “we got nothing from Tom nor any information of how far you three were away and regards the food, he seemed to give it all to Dave Keeler, including the bar of Cadburys Milk (half pound block) we had bought between us”.

As this happened 12 months previously, it was a good example of not bringing things out in the open. After a heated discussion it was decided that no animosity would be held between us and this made us into a good team. I was to use this same discussion in all my future events as manager, mechanic and masseur. Also when we had a motor cycle marshal team and cars drivers I used the same idiom - it worked wonders. Prizes were also another crucial matter. We agreed that all prizes would be shared equally, this meant a rider could sacrifice himself for another or the team, and in the case of national team racing the committee would be informed in the race report so future selection for events would not be jeopardised.

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