Wednesday, 12 March 2008

#063 - 1958 - Peace Race - Part 2

The night before the start of the event Tom came to see me in my bike room, I had just finished the bikes, it would be about 9pm, Tom asked if I fancied a drink and suggested we went away from our hotel and into the city. I said that I had been to Warsaw twice before but never out on the town.

“Well” says Tom “I have spoken to a taxi driver out front and he says he can take us to a nightclub, lets go for an hour. We have been working hard these last few days so come on”. I was soon changed and down stairs for a taxi to take us to this nightclub. We were dropped outside a large city store which I had shopped in for souvenirs last year, a shop selling Russian goods all duty free, but I had never known of the club at the top of this store.

Up the lift we went, it was more like a Pub than a night club, we sat down and ordered two beers, planning to have a couple then return to the hotel. Three Polish Army officers came in one of whom could speak English and they sat at our table. They kept ordering Vodka so much that in no time these three officers were drunk and lying under the table. We were then presented with a bill for all the Vodka, it appears that these officers had told the waiter that we would pay for the lot. The proprietors were on the verge of fetching the police and we had visions of an international incident, when a couple from two tables away came to our rescue. One of these gentlemen was a Polish ex Royal Air Force man and he explained the problem to the hotelier and as soon as everyone knew we were on the Peace Race and English we got a big cheer, we left soon after, a nasty incident being avoided.

The first stage was a hard, fast one with no hills to break it up, a small group of three did get away on the long, twisty park paths before we crossed the river to finish in the magnificent stadium at Praga. The three who had escaped were 1st - Barriveira (Italy) from Bebebin (USSR) while 3rd was that old pal of ours Kapitanow (USSR). We were in the prizes winning third team award.

Praga was where the Russian Army stopped in late 1944 and the Warsaw rising started, we had been to the ghetto the previous two days before, there was a new memorial for the Poles who had died - there it was very moving.

The team were riding well, we had at least three riders in the first 20 most days, so as the first twenty had prizes we were not doing to badly. Doing a bike change one day Ernie Clements casually looked down at the bike and shouted to me “Alf, look here” I followed his gaze and found that I had fitted a pair of toe clips upside down on the spare pedals that I always carried in the car. We instructed our driver to go forward to give me time to change them round, I was then able to give the rider a bike he could get his shoes in!! a close shave that was. Damen (Holland) was race leader in Poland with Russia winning the team.

In to Germany going from Breslau to Gorlitz we won the 3rd daily team prize and on the next stage from Gorlitz to Berlin, Stan was second to that great DDR man Adler, the rest of the team riding well. Gill Taylor had a crash injuring himself so much he was unable to start the next day. His frame had a bent top and down tube and was a write off. We had with us a spare frame (lent by Coventry Eagle) and not knowing whether Gill would be on the start line the next day, I could take no chances, so in the evening I changed all his gear on to the Coventry Eagle, Gill came to the mechanics room after dinner, and he asked that I remove the heavy badge of the front which I did, to the consternation of Ernie Clements who I had forgot worked for Coventry Eagle at Smethwick.

At the end of our stay in Germany we were 6th in the team competition and had three in the first 20 overall, John Pound and Brian Haskell going well. I had to tell Brian that his chain and freewheel had shot it, “Have you got any Perry chains” he asked, I had with me the world’s best “Brampton” a French subsidiary of Renold, England, but Brian rode as a professional for Perry and he would not let me carry out the repair with the Brampton chain. (Years later I would have fitted these parts and argue after - “fait accompli”).

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