Wednesday, 12 March 2008

#049 - 1955 - Peace Race - Start

The teams had a ceremonial start at a large stadium in Prague. Each team riding one lap with a motorcyclist leading them out with their national flag. The neutralised start was in the stadium, then the start proper came on the outskirts of Prague. Team cars paraded in Country order so our team being Angelski as we were known in Polish were number one, this is a good place to be on the first day because if any rider has trouble you are right with them. (I protested to the B.C.F racing committee when they changed the name to Great Britain in 1959 as this meant our team car would be well down the field.)

The cars were D.D.R police open tourers with an engine as in a SAAB i.e. 3 cylinder two strokes, special racks were fitted to the rear of these cars which held three bikes, all standing upright with a special “quick release mechanism” to remove the bike, I thought they were excellent. On the first stage we had an uneventful day, Stan Brittain finishing second, Owen Blower was just off the leading group, our car leading him down St Wencelas Square where the crowds were at least six deep. I stood on the back seat, clapped then pointed to Owen. The response from the crowd was electric.

The race finished in the stadium and - unique in the Peace Races - each rider had a young student, with the riders number on his back, waiting for him ready to cover the rider with a blanket, also handing his personal bag containing shower kit, slippers and track suit. These students then escorted the rider to the showers, then on to a coach and finally seeing the rider to his hotel room, not leaving him until he was safely ‘delivered’, another excellent idea. These students also made sure that the riders bike was taken to the mechanics special room where all the mechanics tools and equipment had been delivered by separate lorry.

After massage it was time for dinner. Stan suggested that we change in to flannels and blazers etc. we certainly put on a show. Being race mechanic, I spoke to each of my team and asked if they had any anxieties/worries with their bikes and then I also got changed for dinner. This I very soon discovered was a mistake, as when I returned to the mechanics room I found all the other technicians well in front of me, they had a certain routine which was to be the pattern every night – and it didn’t include joining the riders for dinner!.

I tightened every nut and bolt on the bikes having seen the road surfaces, Stan had had trouble with his front changer, it was a Simplex with a Cyclo handlebar end control, I worked on this for hours finally having to remove all the tape from the bars and then found the cable outer to be all kinked, so the inner cable would not change down. Being new on the job I was in hell of a state having had very little if any sleep, I was sharing a room with Bill Shilibeer but I did not see him.

Next morning and ½ hour before the start, the Belgian mechanic who was in the next room came in to me (he had been the mechanic for Sylvere Maes in the previous Tour de France) He tut-tutted that I had not cleaned the bikes, there was no time for me to put this right and I was to hang my head in shame when our bikes were the dirtiest on the start line. I had spent best part of the night making sure that nothing fell off and that the tyres were O.K. (Dunlop Rubber Company had supplied us with 40 x No. 5 road cotton tyres, we were hopping mad when we found the Russians on silk No. 4’s which had been obtained from the England (Melbourne) Olympics Team manager – we speculated how this came about!).

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