Saturday, 4 February 2012

#092 - 1970 - Commonwealth Games

As well as a business to run, we had a contract to marshall the Scottish Milk Race but first marshalling the Commonwealth Games Road Race in Holyrood Park, Edinburgh. With me driving my Triumph TR6P police motorcycle and Robert on a BSA police motorcycle loaned for this special assignment, we went up to Edinburgh on the Saturday morning, it poured with rain all day. We stopped at Darlington for lunch, setting off again we hadn’t gone very far when - just outside Darlington - we were stopped by a police car. Wireless messages about 2 bogus police motorcyclists had been sent from Nottinghamshire to the police in the various counties as we travelled north – we were eventually caught up by the Darlington Police who stopped us for investigation, just as well that I had proof of possession supplied by Triumph and BSA - we were allowed to continue. We arrived in Edinburgh and went directly to the stadium, parked our machines and then under the tunnel and out into the middle of the track. Spotted by the race announcer Dave Saunders, over the Tannoy system came a glowing introduction followed by an ovation from the assembled crowd! Suddenly the 350 miles of cold, wet weather seemed to be worth it.

The following day – and still raining – the 102 mile road race started in Holyrood Park, this was a 3.3 mile circuit and because of a decision made by the Chief Commissaire Maurice Cumberworth, no following cars were allowed, the route allegedly being deemed to narrow for team cars (but not apparently for the judges car) I was therefore not allowed to do the job that I had been invited to do i.e. blackboard man, but instead designated to follow the race – with an official on my pillion armed with a pair of wheels - to provide service. It was the first time that this official had been on a motorcycle and he was ‘steering’ me from behind, (a common enough fault in non-motorcyclists) eventually and in the interests of our safety, I asked him to dismount and I continued the race on my own. Being requested by the riders to supply information I was then able to give verbal time checks for the duration of the race.

On the last lap there was a breakaway of 3 and a small chasing bunch, which contained Dave Rollinson. I came across one of the three, Australian John Trevorrow, spread-eagled on the grass verge. I stopped and asked what was wrong, and he replied that he had ‘had it’, I persuaded him to get on his bike with the encouraging words that he had only ½ mile to go, with a big push he was on his way still ahead of the chasing bunch, enabling him finishing third. Dave Rollinson was next over the line and I realised I had denied him a place on the rostrum. The evening celebrations were held at the Ice Rink and late in the evening Edward Heath – having won the election just prior to the Commonwealth Games, made an appearance.

#091 - 1970 - World Track Championships Preparations

We were back from the Annaba and Algerian tours in late March, the shop luckily was doing well left in Roy’s capable hands. Benny Foster rang me to ask if I would look after the Pacing Motor bikes required for the forthcoming Track Championship, (at Leicester), and would I set up the building allocated for the mechanics for general bike maintenance. Obviously I agreed to do what I could and went to several meetings held at the Track, but could never tie the elusive Benny down for a chat about the engines required for the Pacing event. Benny had been to the 1969 Worlds held in Brno, Czechoslovakia, and whilst there had arranged with the C.Z. factory to supply twelve pacing motorcycles less engines – these would be supplied by Norton Motors. I was supposed to accompany Benny to Norton and then to Brno to meet with the three Czech technicians who would be coming over to Leicester with the frames, I could then ‘troubleshoot’ for them.

After waiting seemingly weeks whilst Benny negotiated a contract with Norton, they eventually supplied Benny with the new 850cc. engines with no magneto fitted, I had told him several months before that we required Norton “Dominator” twin cylinder engines with magnetos for the spark, these would have given us no trouble, but it now appeared that these were no longer available; It was quite a while before I found out what Benny had done, the contract signed there was little that could be accomplished now, (this was at the time when Norton were having financial difficulties). In fact the first we knew at our works in Long Eaton was when Benny rang to say that he had ordered the prototype to be built at Brno and the machine was awaiting collection from Harwich. I sent Alan to Harwich (- he was there two days being “buggared” about by the customs). This prototype pacing bike had to be built to UCI 1922 specification i.e. with wide belt drive direct off the main shaft. What Benny did not understand was that the alternator unit which supplied the sparks, had to be removed from the main shaft to make room for the front drive pulley. Twelve 12v batteries had been ordered from Lucas, this gave us sparks but no way could we fit back the alternator as the shaft was to short consequently, once the battery was flat, it had to be removed to be re-charged.

We at the shop were hopping mad for Benny’s elementary error which would not have occurred had he taken me – or someone else familiar with motorcycles – to Brno. He had taken a young Polish woman with him to interpret and she also accompanied him to Norton Motors Ltd - talk about the blind leading the blind. This is where I should have walked away from the project. But I was very proud to be part of a World Championship being held in England.

The prototype model had no brakes or clutch, and I rather dangerously drove down Myrtle Avenue to test it, Robert setting me off with a shove. So, we had at last one model all ready to go to Leicester. Now the beginning of July, the time was getting on, where were the other eleven machines and their duff motors? I still cannot believe how naïve I was to listen to Benny Fosters excuses. My well-being was to take another blow – Roy, my trusted shop manager, came to visit me at home, this in itself was unusual and I pondered what he had come for. Slightly embarrassed and awkward he handed me an envelope and explained that he was giving me one months notice to quit, he had rented a property in Derby and was to start up on his own. I could do no other than wish him well, which of course I did whole-heartedly, but at the same time realised that life would be different from now on.

#090 - 1970 - Tour of Annaba

The East and West German, Italian, French, Swiss teams all flew home. We left for Annaba on a coach for the long drive. We stopped at Constantine for lunch, then on to Annaba where a good dinner was awaiting us. Accommodation was in a motel with meals taken in a restaurant about two miles away. A taxi with an Arab driver was provided as team car. He could not speak French or of course English, but we got on really well. The French and Poles flew in brand new teams, which had us thinking at the time that they would beat us easily, but our team achieved good results with Phil winning a stage and Doug winning 2 stages which included a Mountain Time trial, prize money was being won daily by the rest of the team - Alan Mellor, Pete Matthews, Graham Moore, Gary Crewe and John Suttcliffe.

When the events in Annaba finished we thought of the dreaded trip back in the coach to Algiers. I suddenly had a brainwave, our return air tickets were in my brief case, (I had not handed them over to our interpreter as requested, preferring to keep them in my possession). Why not go to the ‘Air France’ office in Annaba and request that our tickets be altered to allow us to fly direct to Paris from there? Air France agreed and altered the tickets to read Annaba-Paris-Heathrow. We did not tell any of the other teams, but we went to say goodbye to them as they boarded the coach, for once we had ‘one over’ the Poles, French, Dutch and Belgians, the look on their faces was worth pounds to us. We left them and went for a ride in the sun along the coast where we met two English couples in a Bedford ‘Caravette’ and they made us a lovely cup of tea. These people were originally civil servants in the Inland Revenue office, in their early 40’s they decided to pack up work, and travel through France, Spain cross the Mediterranean to Morocco and so into Algeria, we all thought they had got the right idea!

That same evening Doug Dailey and I got our Arab driver to take us up to a British War Graves Memorial which stood out as the only green spot on the mountain side, we climbed up a steep road then visited the immaculate cemetery and signed the visitors book, we also visited the Mary Magdalene Cathedral which was built on a hill opposite. There was a priest in the Cathedral who seemingly had been abandoned, he had had no congregation for a number of years. (After the civil war in Algeria all the French people went back to their homeland). The priest still had the idea his flock would return one day, this was the third Mary Magdalene Cathedral we had visited, the other two being in Montreal and of course Paris. With the prize money, which unfortunately was not negotiable in England, we all bought expensive watches, Doug Dailey purchasing I remember an “Omega”, I bought a stop watch, which like a fool I left in a washroom at Castle Donington Motor Museum a couple of years later! We left Annaba the following day for Paris, our Arab driver helping us with bikes and baggage, we tipped him well and he was overjoyed, but sad to see us go.

We landed in Paris where we met all the other teams; they looked shattered after their long bus trip from Annaba to Algiers the previous day. We again said our goodbyes then loaded bikes and baggage on the plane for our short trip to London Heathrow.Airport. On arrival in the Air Terminus I went to check our bikes, unfortunately Graham Moores bike had the front forks crushed. Whilst I was checking the rest of the equipment, a noticeable hush fell over the crowded terminus; I looked up and saw coming through the entrance an ‘Arab’ at least 9 foot tall! Suddenly everyone erupted in laughter. This apparition was none other than Pete Matthews with Alan Mellor sitting on his shoulders wearing sunglasses and a turban and, draped in a bolt of Arab cloth that we had won, they sailed serenely into the Terminus, they fetched the house down!

Apart from the damaged bike we had had a very successful trip taking part in two major North African tours, but little did I know that this would be my last Amateur Tour.

#089 - 1970 - Tour of Algeria

Early in February Bert and I had received invitations to take an English team to the “Tour of Algeria”, we had heard what a good tour this was from the Swedes in Morocco in 1968. The race was over sixteen days with one rest day, it was early too - March 7th –22nd 1970 Bert and I decided to accept, hoping the selectors would pick a good team, this proved to be so - the chosen riders were to be:

  1. Doug Dailey,
  2. Pete Matthews,
  3. Dave Rollinson,
  4. Graham Moore,
  5. Alan Mellor,
  6. Gary Crewe
  7. John Suttcliffe.
Going as masseur was my old mate from 1955 Peace Race Bill Shiliber, he was astounded when we produced “Siopel” cream and the powder from Morocco to treat diarrhoea.

A week before we were due to fly to Algiers, Bert and I went down to a race near Bristol where the three south western lads were riding. We met them and had a good chat - they had ridden well, the event being won by the Bristol rider Phil Edwards. Leaving Bristol about 12 noon Bert and I drove up to Liverpool where we had arranged to meet 4 other members of the team at Doug Dailey’s house. Alan Mellor turned up from Oldham, but no Pete or Dave. (I had met John Suttcliffe on the Peace Race). We had a good discussion at Doug Dailey’s but still no sign of Pete or Dave. Bert and I drove home quite pleased with the day, but mad with Dave and Pete for not turning up.

On Wednesday, 3 days later, we were due to leave for London Airport, imagine my surprise on Tuesday afternoon to receive a telephone call to say that Dave Rollinson wasn’t coming with us. I did not inform the BCF until I had made my own change to the team, I rang Phil Edwards to see if he was free to come with us, he jumped at the chance, even with only 14 hours notice. I then rang the BCF with a “fait acompli”.

Alan my nephew, took Bert and I down to London Airport with all our kit and spare bike, the weather was atrocious snowing heavily by the time we had reached the airport. All the team eventually arrived well in time for our Algiers flight, we got the bikes ready for the plane, checked these in together with our luggage at the Air France desk. Meanwhile the weather closed in. A charming French air hostess came to us in the departure lounge and informed us that, as the flight was cancelled and we were the English cycle team riding in the “Tour of Algeria”, we were to be the guests of Air France and stay overnight in the ‘Sky Way Hotel’ this of course would include dinner and breakfast. We had a very warm welcome there. (More about this when we return some few weeks later). Bill Shiliber living in South London decided to go back home, returning the next day to join us. The plane to Algiers was able to take-off next morning via Paris, where it picked up the Poles and French, East and West Germans, Belgians, Yugoslavians, Swiss and Italian Teams.

We arrived at Algiers to warm sunshine and were met by the Director General Ahmed Kabali and the Algerian Minister of Sport, M Kabali who had been a good bike rider in his youth was now a little plump and Pete Matthews, thinking that he wouldn’t be understood said “Oo look at little fatty there” whereupon M. Kabali turned round and said to Pete in perfect English - “why don’t you speak English like everybody else”.

I had not been away with Pete before, but his reputation went before him and was was not good. I was prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt, this was shattered at London Airport. After we had checked in our bags and bikes we had to mount a staircase to the next floor, Pete produced a huge life-like spider attached to a length of cotton and kept dropping it on women’s shoulders below which obviously scared them to death, this went on two or three times and the check-in officials were clearly getting narked. I asked Pete to put the bloody thing away, which he did after some cheek, I made a mental note at the airport to try and control this idiot. I personally apologised to M. Kabali, giving him one of our much sort after Union Jack badges and a bottle of whiskey (Bert and I always took 200 cigs and two Bottles of whiskey and two of Brandy as presents).

We were soon whisked away from the airport in a coach and taken to a super holiday camp about ten miles west of Algiers to a place called Zeralda, the weather had turned quite cool but we had central heating in all the chalets, the place was brand new and we were its first occupants. Bert had a nice room for the bikes and Bill Shiliber being an old hand soon set up his massage room. There was a big well organised communal dining hall, where all the riders and officials met.

We found to our astonishment that there were fifteen teams and 112 riders in the tour. There were some class men in the field - Dick Baert, Georges Claes, Willy Terirlink and Willy Vvershuren from Belgium. Harry Hannus from Finland, Mario Martinez and John Daguillaume from France, Fedor den Hertog from Holland, El farouki from Morocco, Ampler, Mickein and Peschel of the DDR to name just a few. The entry was up to “Peace Race” standard. The day before the official start of the tour we rode down to Algiers and in to the big stadium, although mainly for football and athletics there was a concrete track round the outside.

A competition was being held and Trenton and Daniel Morelon, French Olympic tandem gold medallists in Tokyo, were the main attraction. Each team did a lap of the track and then had their photographs taken, and National anthems were played. It was really presented well for the large crowd who attended. We rode back to our hotel for a meal. By now we had collected our team car - a Renault type 5, a large ex-Army (British) radio was also provided, the ear phones going right inside your ear. As all instructions over the radio would be in French, Bill sat at the back in charge of the radio because he was fluent in the language. An amusing thing happened on the first stage, Doug Dailey punctured his front wheel in the neutral zone, for some reason Bill Shiliber jumped out of the back of the car still attached to his radio - Bert hastily got out of the front seat and – running to the rear of the car – tripped over the wireless headphone cable still attached to Bill and nearly pulling his ears off, with these two in a heap I changed the wheel almost collapsing laughter.

The first stage was split in to two parts, the first was from Algiers to Tizi Ouzou of 100km, signing on in Algiers was early at 0630hrs with the processional start at 0700hrs and the start proper just outside Algiers at 0730hrs, Alan Mellor doing a great ride was fourth in a sprint to the line, Peschel DDR won the stage. Our other six were in the next group, second part of this 110km stage from Tizi-Ouzou – Bedjaia, with a climb after 55km of 1200m, was won by a friend of ours from the Morocco tour, Tahar Zouf.

Our stay was at the lovely seaside resort of Bedjaia, facilities for bikes and masseurs were perfect food being good too. We all had a get together just after dinner to discuss tactics etc and then I helped Bert with the bikes as he had seven to do, Bill looked after the team. Considering the opposition, we were performing quite well, and even after one day I felt as though we had a first class set up.

Stage two took us from Bedjaia to Djidelli 95km, this passes the beautiful remains of a large Roman city of Djemila. Alan Mellor was again fourth in a small group won by Huster (DDR) from Kowalski (Poland) 2nd and Hanusik (Poland) 3rd, Huster lead overall.

Stage three was from Djidjelli to Constantine, the distance being 140km a climb of 4000ft coming after 95km. Our lads rode well on this stage Phil Edwards showing his worth on the mountain, they all finished inside the first twenty, another Polish friend (who in the future would be the winner of four Peace Races) was Szurkowski winning the stage from Huster (DDR), Huster was still leader overall. In Constantine - home of thousands of Arab women all dressed in their long black traditional dress - our accommodation and facilities were still OK (we had bought emergency rations in Algiers as we did in Morocco).

Stage four, Constantine to Batna 100km, another split event and another early start 0645hrs, the weather had changed once more the rain coming down in torrents, so much so that a bridge on the course had been washed away and routers had to find an alternative crossing eventually finding us quite a deep ford to negotiate to get to the other side. A photo in “Mirroir du Cyclisme” shows the riders going through water at least 6” deep. Terelink of Belgium won this first part, second part of stage four started after lunch at 1400hrs from Batna to Biskra 105km, Hausik (Poland) won this second part, Huster (DDR) holding on to his overall lead.

We are now right on the edge of the Sahara desert, the accommodation here being in Arab tents all among the palm trees, there was a swimming pool there too, food was OK but not plentiful, we supplemented with our emergency food. The Tunisian team (one of whom was a butcher by trade) appeared with a sheep which was duly slaughtered, and then roasted over a makeshift fire. In due course we were all treated to some of this served up with couscous. These split stages were hard on riders and officials too, the bikes have to be cleaned, light massages given between stages, race food to be sorted out and having to rise early as well.

Rest day was in Biskra, after we had done the bikes we all (including Bert and I) went for about a twenty mile ride, after about ten miles I looked round and found that Pete and Alan were not there, we retraced to find them against all the rules in a café, eating of all things in Africa - cream cakes! I spoke pretty sternly to them both but especially with Pete telling him a few home truths, they were both ill later with diarrhoea, but were able to continue. One good thing about Pete he holds no grudge.

Stage five Biskra to Bou-saada, a long one of 170km with a climb of 4000ft at 83km. This tough, wet stage was won by Verplanke (Belgium), Axel Peschel DDR now leading overall by only 42secs from Hanusik Poland.

The 6th stage was the toughest yet, a head wind and raining as the race climbed up to 5000ft, this 160km was from Sour-El Ghozane to El-Khemis Miliana. Doug was away with the three DDR riders Ampler, Peschell, Huster and Hanisik (Poland) they were caught just before the finish, this was hell of a stage with a second climb of 6000ft. The stage was won by Madjid of Algeria in 6hr 23m 37secs, that shows how hard the event was. We stayed at Bou-Hanifia for the night accommodation and food were OK, our lads were absolutely done in, but under Bill Shillibers hands they soon recovered especially with his banter.

The next stage was even harder than the day before with a continuing head wind, sleet and sub-zero temperature. Doug Dailey was away again in a group with the Belgians, Baert and Teurlick, but he dropped to the chasing bunch, we had tried to hand him a warm coat but he could not get it on without stopping, the next group contained Huster and Peschell DDR, and behind them chasing hard were the Poles, Hanusik and Szurkowski with the Dutchman Legierse and Knispal (DDR), the race climbed on to a plateau 2,500ft and it was now snowing. Doug and the Germans “packed”, we had Dailey in our car plying him with extra clothing and brandy, we passed the two Belgians on the side of the road and, with only 10 miles to go, refusing to get on their bikes. Loison Acou their manager, was doing his best to coax them but to no avail. 84 riders would pack in the cold conditions, we luckily had Gary Crewe, John Suttclife, Alan Mellor and Pete Matthews still in the race, Graham Moore and Phil Edwards had succumbed earlier to the apalling conditions. They were to take the overall Team Award as the officials terminated the event at Tlemcen due to the atrocious weather conditions and with still 6 stages to go. Alan Mellor and John Suttcliffe had finished 9th and 10th overall, with Gary Crewe taking 10th place on the ‘final’ stage. An excellent ride for our four considering the weather conditions and we were the only team to finish with a full compliment of 4 out of the original 15 teams. The race overall winner was Hanisik (Poland), Legiesre (Holland) 2nd, Knispel DDR 3r,d with the great Polish rider Szurkowski 4th. The changing rooms was a Turkish Bath and no one wanted to come out in to the cold, even Bert and I had one too it was sheer delight. The lads soon recovered and were taken by coach to our warm and comfortable hotel. The weather and retirements were similar to that experienced in the “Tour of Eire” in 1954.

The next day was a much wanted rest day and we had a nice restful, peaceful time in Tlemcen, Bert and I did the bikes together, at first we did the four who had finished, then after a Team managers meeting the officials decided to take the riders 40 mile down the mountain where the weather was kinder and start a separate race. Although the authorities decided to start the race at Ain Temouchent 65km off the plateau, several teams did not want to start again, among them the Dutch. Unfortunately for our team Den Hartog persuaded Phil Edwards not to ride (Phil was to ride in Holland for a Dutch pro team on our return to UK). This breach put me in a turmoil, but after a meeting with our team captain Doug Dailey, we decided to take no action. Doug was an excellent team member always immaculate, his bike perfect, all his kit clean and tidy, a good team captain on the road too he set an example for all to follow. Our remaining five riders were tougher thankfully, riding and finishing in that gruesome weather.

I cannot remember hardly anything regarding the next four stages except going past the massive French Foreign Legion headquarters at Sidi Bel Abbes, this brought memories of books I had read by ex-British Legionnaires. The shortened stage of only 70km finished in Oran, all down hill so there was a bunch sprint finish on the sea front. We heard more in Oran how the British had bombarded the city and the French Navy in 1940. All our facilities were good here (and if I keep mentioning this, I cannot stress too strongly how important it is after a long, hard day in the saddle to have good quality accommodation, food and amenities for the riders especially, but also for the masseur and mechanic).

Two split stages again next, the first of 75km starting at 0700hrs and from Oran to Mohammadia, following which we had a light meal, Bert and I cleaned the bikes, Bill giving the lads a light massage in preparation for a 1300hrs start for a 140km stage - Mohammadia to El-Asnam. I cannot remember anything of this day or the next, although from the start sheet I know the following day was also a split stage, the first part being a 50km Team Time Trial from El-Asnam to Tenes, we were so far down in classification that there was little point in using up our energy we therefore took our time. Same routine - clean the bikes, a meal followed by a light massage then we were off on 100km event from Tenes to Cherchell, through beautiful wooded scenery on our right, the lovely blue Mediterranean on the left.

The last day and a 100km event from Cherchell-Algiers, finishing in the Velodrome. What an eventful Tour it had been, considering who had ridden from Eastern Europe we had performed very well and we won a lot of money. We were again quartered at the holiday camp just outside Algiers at Zeralda, and we had two days before catching the plane home. The weather had turned warm and Bert and I did a bit of sunbathing, letting the lads train on their own.

At the finish of one stage in Algeria, the team stayed in a very pleasant villa with an inner courtyard and bedrooms on the second floor surrounding the square. On arrival at the “digs” Bert required water to wash the bikes, he turned on all the taps in sight but could not get a drop, he eventually managed to find a water pump outside and also commandeered a room to do the bikes. He was able to have dinner with us as meals were served on site, as a rule the mechanics worked a distance away from the dining area. After dinner I washed the vests and shorts, cleaned the shoes etc. To dry these vests I went across the road to a smart hotel, the staff allowed me to dry the clothes near to the central heating room. A Team managers meeting was held in the same hotel, which was the “Permanence” for the race. After the meeting I collected our beautiful dry vests etc and went across to see how Bert was getting on.

I had just heard the news that in England, ‘my’ team Derby County were playing Bert’s team Nottingham Forest, Derby had won 3-1, I was overjoyed and hurried to give Bert the news and no doubt exchange some friendly banter. When I got to our hotel I found him fast asleep fully clothed lying on his bed, the room was covered in 3 inches of steaming water, I roused Bert, he shot out of bed in bare feet and almost scolded his feet on the hot water. It appeared on the afternoon of our arrival he had turned on all the taps but had not turned them off, when the authorities turned on the rationed water the taps overflowed. I said to Bert “Goodnight I will see you in the morning”, “Come back you ‘b……’ and help me” he called, of course I was only joking, we used a sheepskin rug to mop up the water, good job these rooms were on a veranda with nothing underneath.

On another occasion the team and Bill Shilliber and I were quartered some ten miles away, Bert was to stay in town with the other mechanics. Unfortunately I had with me the key to his room. After taking dinner with the team, I leapt in to our Renault 5 Team Car and went in to the stage finish town to give Bert his key. On my arrival I saw this figure poking about in the open drain outside, it was Bert. I got the usual abuse for going off with his door key (Andre Chenal of the French National Team and who we both knew from the 1961 Tour de France, had let Bert use his room to get changed in to his overalls). In the mechanics room there was a long trough to be used mainly for washing, Bert had taken the opportunity to rinse his false teeth when he dropped them in trough. Before he could catch them they had slid down the drain hole and so into the sewer in the street. Bert had in his tool kit a special tool, which held nuts in place when fitting in unreachable spots; he managed after a while to retrieve his teeth, he then boiled them, I thought this a bit drastic and feared they would melt but they had some sort of metal finish. What a laugh Bill and the lads had on my return to our hotel, in fact Doug Dailey and I recently recalled this incident and after all these years it still has us in stitches!

This is a good opportunity to give an appreciative report about the late Bert Humphries taken in the prime of his life by the ‘Big C’; we were in our teens when we first met and had been close mates ever since. With a wicked sense of humour, he was well liked by all the teams – foreign as well as G.B. - and his workmates with Vic Hallam Ltd of Langley Mill. Nothing was to much trouble to him;, he was an excellent driver, especially in bike races where you need that extra skill, he was a good sound mechanic, and I cannot recall any incident other than pleasurable on any of the tours we were on together, moreover if any foreign team was in trouble on the road Bert was always there first to help... In all my Tours as team manager Bert was always my second in command and we were on the Tour de France, Morocco, Annaba, many times in Eire, Olympia Tour of Holland and the Tour de Nouvelle France; he also drove for Bobby Thom in the Tour de le Avenir in 1962. Bert gave confidence to the whole teams, I still miss him to this day 2001.

The following afternoon and the day after the Tour finished, Bert, Bill and I were sunbathing on the flat roof of our chalet when we were visited by our interpreter - a Swedish woman who was married to an Arab – accompanied by the British Ambassador. The Tour of Annaba organisers had requested him to invite us to ride in their race. Annaba (originally known as Bone during French rule) was about 300 miles east . We called a meeting with the rest of the team to discuss this development. Bill Shilliber was unable to stay as he had other commitments, Bert telephoned his boss and was able to get an extra two weeks off; the rest of the team, including Phil Edwards, took the plunge and agreed to stay for the event. I personally ought not take any more time away from the shop, but when you are in another country, surrounded by the best cyclists and personnel in Europe, well – what you want to do takes precedence. I stayed and managed the team and acted as masseur as well. 

At the end of the “Tour of Algerie” our French mate Andre introduced us to the French Minister of Sport Maurice Herzog. What we did not realise at the time, we were meeting the famous Mountaneer who had climbed Annapurna in 1950 , we could not understand at the time why he had no fingers, these had been frost bitten on the Himaylen peak. What a unknown honour we had to meet this famous man.

#088 - 1969 - Scottish Milk Race

Time for the ‘Scottish Milk Race’ was approaching fast. My participation as ‘blackboard man’ was established and – so successful the motorcycle marshalling of the previous year – I was again invited to formulate a team which was to include 2 car drivers. This time we had Ray Finch, an Essex police motorcyclist. (We had met him on the ‘Grand Prix of Essex’ which starts and finishes in Halstead, he had clearly enjoyed the race and indicated that he would like to be involved on future events), John Cooper, Mick Rose, Jim Rushton, our mechanic Robert, and my nephew Alan. Rex Withers and Aubrey Smith came as team car drivers; Mick, Aubrey and Rex were Nottingham traffic policemen, and so together with Ray we had a highly professional, experienced team.

For the unacquainted, the role of the ‘blackboard man’ was to provide and relay vital information to the racing cyclists, team managers and informed spectators, (we didn’t have the benefit of radio communication). Having the speed and manoeuvrability on a motorcycle he moves up-and-down, back-and-forth the whole of the race taking time checks and rider numbers; writes this information on the blackboard and so displays to the race as a whole what was happening. For instance, there could be a break-away of 1 or more riders, the chasing pack would not know how far ahead the leaders were without the ‘blackboard mans’ information (or even sometimes who were in the ‘break-away’!). A tactical evaluation would then be made after seeing the blackboard.. So a possible entry on the blackboard could be:

1m 16s

indicating that 3 riders, numbers 1,12,and 15 had a 1 minute 16 second lead on the main group of 57.

To-day, even with the advanced technology of communication, the role of the blackboard man is crucial in mountain stages of any race. The blackboard man, riding pillion, is very prominent in the Tour de France and his information can be seen clearly on the TV screen – the camera sometimes zooming in.

Again memory fails me- if only I had kept all the notes given me from the Race officials. I do remember having to talk rather sternly to the Rex and Aubrey, the 2 policemen who were driving the cars, these clowns were – embarrassingly - bothering the race director for their spending money just prior to the start of the first stage, you would think they had not any money with them. They received their pocket money the next day as we all did. All the motorcycle marshals performed exceptionally well and had a rousing reception at the final dinner held this particular year in Ayr.

I had one embarrassing moment, during the middle stages, we had to come down from Aberdeen to Kirkcaldy which meant having to cross over several main roads. At one particular cross road I stopped to take a time check, opposite me in an unmarked car sat the Chief of Police, he came across the road to speak to me and, as he was asking about the race I could hear the sweet sound of Jims Triumph Tr6 Trophy coming along and flat out. I gave him the all clear sign, he throttled down only slightly, four more marshals came by at the same speed, no cyclists had yet appeared although there was a break, hence the need for our marshals to get to the next danger point. The Chief said to me
“Did you say you were on a cycle race? I thought it was a motorcycle rally” he was OK after I explained the position, and eventually the cycle race proper came along. “Keep up the good work” was his parting shot.

Our accommodation and food was again of the highest, the communal evening, meals and prize presentation given by the Mayor of each stage finish were as always impeccable. (Whilst we were on the Scottish Milk Race, Dave Miller of Kilmarnock invited us to marshal his “Grants Whiskey 3-day” race held every Easter around Girvan, we accepted the invitation and so followed a few cold rides up to Girvan for the next year or so).

We returned home on the Sunday, no mishaps, but always a race ! Work started on the Monday now we were coming for Aug 1st rush again, we sold a good quantity of new motorcycles and we were as busy as ever, Roy Pidcock and Steve Waplington doing a good job whilst we were away, it seemed much longer but we were only away for Wednesday, Thursday , Friday and Saturday.

#087 - 1969 - Olympia Tour

1969 and from the BCF came another invite, this time to the “Olympia Tour of Holland”, Bert to be mechanic and me manager/masseur. The team was:
  1. Pete Smith
  2. John Watson
  3. Howard Walmsley
  4. Ray Barker

After talking it over with Bert and approving of the selection we decided to accept the invite. Pete, Geoff and Ray had been with us on previous tours, John Watson was a well known International having ridden well in the ‘Milk Race’ and a first class time trialist. Howard Walmsley was the only new-comer.

The shop was particularly busy that spring and, working late at night, I was dead tired before the tour, shades of France all over again. Bert and I had been to see the team ride in one or two events, Geoff Wiles coming up to Long Eaton to stay a few days. We did our usual journey to London seeing BCF headquarters people and buying souvenir badges and getting the itinerary for the race. This was the 13thMay 1969, we hoped it was not a bad omen. Pete and John left their luggage with us, they were going out training and would meet us at Liverpool Station to catch the 20.00 hrs train to Harwich. They did not arrive until five minutes before train departed, whereupon they promptly changed from their training kit to blazer and flannels to the amusement of the other passengers.

We boarded the boat for Harwich at 22.00hrs had a meal then retired to our respective cabins for a short sleep, the boat arriving at Hook of Holland at 06.00 hrs Wednesday morning. We cleared customs and a van was waiting to take us to our hotel in Amsterdam. We ate an early breakfast then Bert and I got the bikes ready for the team to go out training, we had to stay behind as our team car had as yet not arrived. After dinner on the 15th May we were invited to watch England play Holland at football, this was on TV in a lounge with all 95 riders and umpteen officials there, England caused us some embarrassment loosing heavily, and we were subjected to some friendly banter, we hoped this wouldn’t set the scene for the forthcoming race.

This tour was one of the most professionally run we had been on. Belgium, Denmark and ourselves were the only amateur teams - talk about taking lambs to slaughter, the rest of the field were made up of semi-professional teams Joop Zoetemelk riding for Amstel Beer team (he was to win the ‘Tour de France’ a few years later). These semi-pro teams were well equipped with two team cars, luggage van and a masseur. We were no match for them.

The race started in the centre of Amsterdam, preceded by the teams being introduced to the assembled crowd, each team mounting the rostrum, their national anthem played. This was a proud moment for Bert and I. Then began the ceremonial start to the outskirts of Amsterdam, what a joke ‘ceremonial’ - the lead car was driven by a Dutch mate of ours Ben Koopman, the neutralised zone is usually a steady ride of about 18 mph, a ‘warm-up’ section for the cyclists and at the same time allowing the spectators to see the riders – Ben was driving at about 30mph! The riders were going all out to keep up, and our Howard Walmsley was off the back in this so called neutralised zone! A concerned Bert and I thought we would have a start proper on the outskirts of Amsterdam - but Oh! No, the flag was withdrawn into the car and they were off. Our team never regained the field, Pete Smith and John Watson, the finest time trialist in England at the time, did a two-up and arrived 5mins down on the leader on this first 161km stage to Breda. Our team were well down after one day.

Food and accommodation in Holland was of the highest, organisation was top class, team leader meetings just before the start of the stages were concise and clear, the route was well marshalled by the Dutch Police and for those left far behind the correct routes were colour dyed on the road.

The second stage was from Breda to Bladel 163km, baggage to be ready by 11.00 a.m. prompt. the race had a proper neutral start this time! (I had protested about the day before at the team managers meeting). After a short pause for nervous “pee’s” the race started, the pace was very fast with only small drags and no hills. We rode a lot better to-day Pete, John and Geoff finishing in the top group, Ray was in the second group but Howard Walmsley only just made it inside the very strict time limit, i.e. 15% of winners time.

We stayed in a very good motel at Bladel, the facilities for the mechanics being first-class too. The 3rd stage was 160km from Bladel to Elsloo, our best three were up there again but Howard and Ray were ‘off the back’, we were winning a little cash. A very, very fast criterium around Sittard starting at 15.30pm followed, lasting for about two hours we had a job to keep up. We stayed just outside Elsoo at a sports centre at Sittard with the other amateur teams. A team managers meeting was held at 9 p.m. but nothing important came up, the race running very smoothly. We watched the event on T.V. at 22.00 hrs but could not distinguish any of our riders.

Elsloo to Geleen, and another fast 150km stage , Howard punctured twice, (once in the neutral zone), but Geoff did very well getting second place in the hilly eastern part of Holland, only being beaten by a wheel on the cinder track. Two days to go and we were on a another split stage, Oploo to Nijverdal - a 151km event starting 13.45 p.m. our three Pete, Geoff and John were up in the main bunch, the 20km Time Trial was very fast starting at 19.00hrs - we obviously rode but I cannot remember how we performed. WW2 history came to life here when we crossed the bridges at Nijmegen and Arnhem, also passing through the now famous European Union city Maastrict.

By now Ray Barker had retired sick and Howard Walmsley lost out on the time limit. These two were allowed to stay with us for accommodation and meals. During the day they trained in Holland meeting up with us at night. These two got hopelessly lost one day having to get a lift on a canal barge to put them on the right route.

On the last day when the bunch was “screaming” Pete Smith touched a wheel and came down heavily, he was knocked out having hit is head on the road. We saw him put in the race ambulance and worryingly he was still unconscious when the medical men drove off to hospital. However it was to be a happy outcome – Pete joined us at the race dinner all bandaged up.

So ended a most fantastic, very professional tour, everything went like clockwork, a super event. Pity we did not perform well enough, still we tried. We were met at the end of one stage by Mick Bennet and his mate who were living in Holland gaining vast experience by racing on the continent but living on a shoe string, a hard life trying to win money to live. We invited them to have dinner with us and we enjoyed their company, (Mick Bennet was to win a silver medal in the 1972 Olympic Games Team Pursuit).

The following year Ian Hallam who lived a few miles from me, won the last stage in to Amsterdam, the final 20 mile being in the twisty back streets of that city, Ian certainly gained in my admiration. (he was to be second in the 4000m pursuit in the World Championship held at Leicester in 1970 and also took gold medal in the Commonwealth Games held in Edinburgh the same year).

In my report to the BCF I stated that we had to take a leaf out of the Dutch Federation book and have sponsored Pro/Am teams in future, for instance there were already pro/am teams such as Amstel Beer, Smiths Acetif, Peugeot, Michelin, B.P, Batavus, Skol and Vredestein to name only a few.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

#086 - 1968 - Peace Race

  1. Geoff Wiles
  2. Brian Jolly
  3. Pete Smith
  4. Owen Davies
  5. Andy McGhee
  6. Roy Cromack

We duly left for Berlin for the Peace Race, Neil Walsh joining Bert and I. What a change we could see in Neil, he was almost an alcoholic, sad to see. The accommodation in Berlin was in the 1936 Olympic Games Village, and quite good. The team met and sorted out the menus for the next fortnight or so, I kept the ticket books to present to the waiters (see previous years). My heart was not in this race, Geoff was a bit down due to his non-selection for the Olympics, and the team had somehow lost their Moroccan edge. Due to our success in Morocco we were feted by the TV, radio and press. But this time we did not live up to our previous successes.

We were given a rousing welcome at Schonefeldt airport at Berlin, non other than Tave Schur headed the party, he had a long chat with Geoff. The race started in a large football stadium in East Berlin (the 1936 Olympic Stadium is in West Berlin)  the race route was out to Frankfurt-on-Oder and returning to Berlin to finish in the stadium. Disaster hit us on the first day Pete Smith, touching a wheel in the big bunch sprint, fell breaking his collar bone. A night in hospital for Peter, he was flown home the next day. We hoped for better in the next stage which was from Berlin to Halle, 189km. All the team rode well Brian and Geoff finishing in the first twenty , putting them in the prizes. Doctor Mirek Slavic made his nightly visit checking up on our team, he had become a great friend of ours.

Halle to Suhl was the next stage 194km, Suhl was a new town to me. All the team finished in the main bunch, the Germans were doing well, their Klaus Ampler was leading on General Class, Frenchman Duchemin (one of our old pals from Morocco) was second and France led the team competition. Bert had settled down well doing the bikes, we had again been given tyres by the Czech Barum Co, these were very well received. We gave the Barum rep a bottle of Scotch as small recompense. Whilst on the subject of bike mechanics Holdsworth had given us twelve new chains and freewheels which Bert fitted before the start. Rica, through Kathleen, supplied us with Radium massage cream, Iodine oil and of course their “Super Plenamin” multi-vite tablets, and also we had the now famous and much acclaimed Siopel Cream for ‘bums’.

The next two stages were split, everybody hates these, the first part was an individual Time Trial of 30km from Halle-Ilmenau, the weather which had been good changed for the worse - it poured with rain and another disaster hit us which very nearly had Bert and I in tears. The new chains that had so kindly been given by Holdsworthy seized up in the rain, every time any pressure was put on the pedals the chain jumped a few teeth. You can imagine how our riders felt. At the end of the split stage Bert and I contacted our mates the Rumanians, we managed to get eight Brampton chains from them in exchange for our Dunlop brass double acting pump. We changed all the chains in between the two events.

The next stage was 170km long from Ilmenau to Aue, the lads were overjoyed with our competence to get the chains, but they had no idea the relief it gave Bert and I. As in the previous year we stayed again at the hospital in Aue, but in twelve months it had been changed to a luxury hotel, ideal for the ‘rest day’ that followed. After a short ride in the morning we were entertained by the staff of an engineering works, relaxed all our worries disappeared. Neil was doing an excellent job as masseur, a bottle of brandy keeping him going, he had a real good time at the engineering offices, introducing himself as “Walsh of Glasgow”.

The fifth stage took us back to our favourite city Prague, again staying at the ‘Hotel International’ facilities there are excellent, with a good, heated, well lit room for the bikes (although by now Bert brought along his own inspection lamp). Prior to this however on passing through Karlovy Vary Brian Jolly was involved in a “pile up”, he was so badly hurt the first aid people put him in ambulance, but after they  had bandaged him up he fought his way out of the ambulance, demanded his bike from the back of our car and started the chase back, we decided to let Brian ride at his own pace until he recovered before we sent anyone back to help him and we followed him in the team car till we were certain that he was alright. He gallantly finished the stage riding   50km on his own until we fetched Geoff Wiles back to help him, what a courageous ride that was, he received the meritorious award for his bravery. 

1968 - Stage 5 Brian Jolly crashes and gallanty continues the race

Four days in Germany had come to an end, we were now looking forward to four days in Czechoslovakia where historically British teams had fared well. Sixth stage Prague-Hradek Kralove (of Graham Greene fame) was only 145km - I thought the hills might suit our team  but we all finished in the main group. The Czechs were coming to the fore now they were on home ground, Dolezel and Konecny doing well, but the DDR team were winning with Klaus Ampler and Peschell in good form, Huster and Mickein backing them up. Our ‘team mates’ the Swedes were having trouble with their Kurt Sauderland and Joe Ripsel struggling. Our other friends from Morocco weren’t doing too bad Morciano, (he did not go to Morocco as his five team mates did) winning a stage.

Stage seven came along and this was a circuit road race starting and finishing at Hradec Kralove  119km a big bunch contested the finish, our team were all there, nice to get back to same hotel not so much hustle. Good food and comfortable lodge here at Hradek Kralove. A short ride in a coach the next  day for the start at Vamberk going towards the industrial part of Czechoslovakia to the large city of Gottwaldof finishing the suburb Octrovice .We had good accommodation at Gottwaldof, food also was first class, mechanic and masseur facilities were also of the best, Czechoslovakia always in front on the course.

We were still only just scratching the service as regards prize money, but at least the team were all finishing the stages. Rest day beckoned at Karvina going from the large city of Gottwaldow to reach there. All the team again finished although Andy McGee was well down. I helped Bert to do the bikes the night before the rest day so he could relax and have a lie in. We all  went a little ride in the morning, just enough to stretch the riders legs, returning then for a light massage and lunch. In the afternoon we were collected in a coach and taken to a coal mine, where we were handed boiler suits and headlamps and down the mine we went.

Living near Nottingham and Derby – in coalmine country -  you would have thought that at least Bert and I would have been down a mine, but no this was our first. It was quite interesting, we came up and had baths in the super pit head facilities, then we were entertained by the office staff, Bert who was very shy at the best of times ‘fell’ for a school teacher, we were not to see him till very late that night. We all enjoyed the meal and wine there, again taking our minds from the hard race.

In to Poland the next day to the coalmining city of Katowice from Karvina in Czechoslovakia, the race finished in the marvellous stadium which in 1955 was just a heap of cinders. Now there was a theme park and an overhead railway which seemed to run for miles, the transformation from 1955 was hard to believe. Good facilities (for Poland) were had, the lads were still there but winning little in prize money. The eleventh stage next day took us to the ancient walled City of Krakow 123km, this stage being relevantly short, finished with fast bunch sprint, and all our riders finished OK.

From Krakow on the twelfth stage we went north to Rzeszow, (we were there in 1962 with the Tour of Poland team).  I cannot remember any happenings at this place, but the next stage was Rzeszow to the eastern Polish city of Lublin 192km, again memories came back of my being taken to that horrific concentration camp at nearby Medanek in 1962. We had a nice hotel here, better than 1962, and the food was good too, and all the team finished once more.

The final day at last arrived and we were all ready for it, the stage today was split into two, the first part being a 49km Time Trial, Roy Cromack excelled himself in this finishing in the first ten, the last stage in the afternoon to Warsaw was from Radum only 123km finishing in the magnificent stadium on the other side of the river Vistula at Praga. The winner this year was Axel Peschel (DDR) from Karel Vavra (CSSR) and 3rd was Jan Magiera (Poland). Poland succeeded in taking the Team prize.

As before  the washing was done by the race laundry and I had told the lads not to put any wool clothing in the wash. Roy Cromack unfortunately put in an expensive wool jersey and much to everyone’s amusement it came back to fit a five year old kid, he was livid. The prize giving and dinner at the Hotel Warsaw was a tame affair for us, the lads were a bit down not having won much. I did assure them that they had done well to finish at all, but we all had a merry time until the early hours with a little help from  Hungarian champagne. We flew home to Heathrow the next day. So ended my eighth and last Peace Race.

A lasting memory for me on the 1968 Peace race was the new freedom, which unfortunately was not to last long for Premier Dubcek’s Czechoslovakia, what a difference the lack of Communism had made, we were all disappointed when the Russians invaded from Kosice where we had been in 1957 - a sad time for them all.