Friday, 21 March 2008

#075 - 1964 - Tour of St Lawrence

It soon came to late August 1964 and our return trip to Canada. The team had 2 changes -  John Geddes and Bill Holmes being replaced by

  1. Arthur Metcalf
  2. Peter Edwards,
  3. Bill Bradley
  4. John Woodburn

Benny Foster was again manager, Bill and Pete were riding for Harry Quinn  their equipment therefore identical, John Woodburn’s bike I knew and Arthur Metcalf had similar equipment. The only problem was wheel interchange, I could sort this out in Montreal. We took the same route as the previous  year i.e. train and boat to Amsterdam then riding our bikes from Amsterdam to Shcipol Airport. Again we had an uneventful flight but still on a piston type aircraft. This time we landed at Quebec which cut the flight time by about and hour. Huge crowds lined the route to our college, the French Team leading the way with their tricolour proudly flying. This was the time of President De Gaules attempt to get Quebec under French rule. Some weeks later our sovereign Queen visited Quebec and got a cool reception.

1964 Tour St Lawernce (Canada) Alf works on the bikes.

His much admired toolbox and stand clearly shown.

This visit I was prepared and  had brought along my English driving license, so all I had to do was collect from Avis Rent-a-Car our allocated vehicle, it was a Buick automatic with press button gear control on the dashboard. The race was  due to start some  miles east of Quebec, a place on the south side of the St Lawrence called Levis, and we loaded the boot with luggage and the five bikes on the roof rack, the 6 of us piled inside.

“Have you got this gear change off ‘pat’ then?”; asked Bill Bradley I answered in the affirmative. Putting the car in to low gear, we moved off OK, I  then did the unpardonable thing - putting my foot on the brake to change up to drive, the car stopped on a sixpence knocking me into the windscreen and everybody else forward, comedian Bill asked if we had stopped! We checked the bikes etc and then continued.  On coming up to a crossroads we came across a horrific accident, two cars crashing head on with bodies on the ground and some hanging out of the cars. There was not much conversation from us for many a mile after this, we arrived at Riviere de Loup finding our excellent accommodation in a Catholic College, the food again being first class as  it was to be throughout the race.

We had travelled east last night alongside the River Lawrence, crossing to the south side before we left Quebec. The race started heading east the finish in Quebec. A breakaway group of six riders including Kapitanow got way about with 50 mile to go. The marshalling was not too good this first day and the main bunch of which we were part, was sent off course and we finished up on a rough track landing almost in the St. Lawrence River! Riders and team cars hopelessly lost,  we were fortunate enough to be brought to a halt outside Vachon Cake factory nearby and the management invited us in for tea & cakes. Benny was furious, he had been negotiating with the other team managers and the UCI officials how to resolve the situation, with the breakaway still forging ahead (as we thought)! We eventually regained the main route but now -  to make matters worse - the bedraggled breakaway group was coming towards us!, they had also been sent miles off course. So now the race was stopped again and another meeting  ensued, the result of which was to give  the breakaway  six minutes start before the  main group.

It was good to be back at our favourite college in Quebec. We had no problems with the bikes generally, I was pleased the lads came down to chat  when I was doing the bikes, we had a good laugh  especially with John who had a hilarious tale to tell regarding two of his club mates.

One was married, the other a single lad who had just taken delivery of a brand new and very expensive tandem. The married man came home unexpectedly to find the tandem leaning against his house, he went in whereupon he found his wife and the lad in flagrante   delectico. The aggrevieved husband telephoned the lads dad who retorted “I don’t care what you do to him, but for Christ’s sake,  don’t touch the tandem!"I probably laughed more nerviously than the rest in view of my developing relationship with Kathleen!

Next stage was an undulating road to Drummond Ville, our team finishing in the main group. Benny had the team in his room after dinner, berating them for not trying, he had a lot to learn - this was only his second road race, (his speciality being the track, a different kettle of fish). I pointed out to Benny that he was not taking in to account the field which consisted of the best amateurs from Eastern Europe (where  he had never been) and top class professionals from the Continent.  Benny simmered down a little.

Another flattish stage took us again through the dusty asbestos mining town of Thetford , there was again a prime up a small drag. The race finished at Trios Rivers in a big bunch sprint, we did not participate. Still very little trouble with the bikes, so I was able to massage the team before starting work. The beautiful Laurention National Park (Quebec) was passed through on this next  stage from Trios Rivers to Chicoutomi, just a few hills but not enough to split the field, everyone was enjoying the  scenery even at 27 mph, the stage finished at the most northerly town in Quebec Chicoutomi, seemingly the only place with a decent road. We had good food etc here,  a lovely hilly forestry town like an  old “cowboy”  style place.

From Chicoutomi we travelled  on the hilly route to La Malbie and at last our team came to life. This stage had been split into two events due to extreme road works, (I have never seen such a boulder road, nearly  as bad as the road just before you enter Lodz Stadium in DDR) The first stage was 65 miles of fairly hilly country, Arthur Metcalf managed to breakaway with a Swiss rider, they were both well down on general class so they were not immediately chased, when the pursuit commenced it was too late, on a hill just before the finish Arthur swooped away and won the stage. This raised our hopes somewhat.

We put the riders bikes in the car after the first part of the stage (the riders being transported by coaches).  A quick rub down and a bike check and the second part of the stage began. It was 47 mile almost all downhill, a split appeared 10 mile from the end which contained Arthur Metcalf, he finished 6th in a sprint for the line. He was to move well up on General Classification. The last stage was from La Malbie to Quebec, where it poured down with rain, John Woodburn remarked that we looked like refugees from a flood (we  were all together on the floor in a big hall). In the evening there was a criterium round a Quebec shopping centre that was included to entertain the crowds, but not part of the main tour. I had a job to find a place to do the bikes, normally they would be maintained outside, the weather being consistently good but a kindly priest lent me his well-equipped garage. (It had compressed air tools which I was able to use on the bikes – they looked immaculate).

In the morning I had my usual queue of Canadian & American riders for the last time, they all thanked me profusely. The day dawned well with the rain gone, just right for the last day back into Quebec City. After about 20 miles covered a Swiss rider jumped away with Bill Bradley on his wheel, the course was quite hilly and the type of terrain which suited  Bill. These two had about 1min15secs on the main group when on a long twisting hill, Arthur Metcalf got away. He had about 75secs lead when I suggested we go up and ask Bill Bradley to ease a little, the Swiss lad did the same and Arthur soon got on. These three were no threat to general class so they were allowed a decent lead, the chase started about 20 mile to go but they were too late. About 2 mile from the finish Bill hung off the other two, obviously his front tyre had a slow deflation. By good teamwork we were able to give Bill a spare bike without any loss of time, Arthur Metcalf dropping back to take Bill up to the Swiss rider.

At the top of a rise not long before the finish we came across a group with a Union Jack, jumping up and down in the road with  excitement, (two Englishmen in the first three,) these two  were Maurice Jeffries late of Norwood Paragon and Mike Brecon of Yorkshire R.C. Alan Large of Norwood Paragon was in our Team Car and he  had helped with the massaging the previous night. Bill Bradley jumped the Swiss whilst Arthur Metcalf sat on the poor Swiss riders wheel, afterwards beating him to  the sprint for second place. What a great finish for us. After this stage we were back at our familiar college, had a light meal, I “did” the bikes then gave the lads a massage - a tone up really, then with bikes on top of the car we wended our way to downtown Quebec to take part in a criterium round a big shopping centre. Money prime prizes were given and we won our fair share, with Arthur Metcalf getting second place overall (in the criterium).

Next day was a ‘rest day’ but no time to go to Niagara this year. We were allowed however to have the car to go sightseeing. We visited The ‘Mary Magdalene Cathedral’ and the famous ‘Citadel’ (I was to see an exact replica of the ‘Mary Magdalene Cathedral’ in Bone, Algeria in 1970, I had no idea that there were three identical ones in the world, the other being in Paris). We also visited an island in the middle of the St. Lawrence, on top of a steep hill there was a monument but we unfortunately did not have time to climb up to this. Also on the island near a big landing stage were  several long  white huts, all in immaculate condition.

On my return to England I was reading a book about the famine in Eire in the 19th century, and how people emigrated to Canada in what became known as ‘Coffin  Ships’ because of the cholera outbreak on board. When they arrived of Quebec, the people were landed at ‘Isle of Orleans’ and put in to quarantine in the white huts we had seen, the monument was to the thousands of Irish people who had died there.

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