Friday, 21 March 2008

#079 - 1967 - Circuit of Sarthe

1967 - and I had been 13 years on stage races, World Championships and Olympic games trips seemed to be reserved for top men on the BCF Committee. The familiar brown envelope containing International cycling invitation duly arrived. This time the invite was for two events. The first one was in France to be held in late April this was to be the famous “Circuit of Sarthe” following which we would fly direct from Le Bourget, Paris to Warsaw. I had to give this invitation a great deal thought as we would be away about a month. After much sole searching and with the help of Ernie, it was decided I could go. Then came details which almost caused me to cancel - I was to be team manager and mechanic in France, with Neil Walsh from Glasgow as masseur. But on arrival in Warsaw for the Peace Race I would revert to mechanic with 1952 Peace Race winner,  Ian Steel  flying in to take over management. After much recrimination I decided to go, at least I would manage one team.

The team selected was:

  1. Bill Bilsland
  2. Danny Horton
  3. Alan Lloyd
  4. Dave Mitchell
  5. Geoff Wiles
  6. Roy Hempsall

A good young team with a fair amount of stage race experience in the ‘Milk Race’.  My - by now - standard  letter regarding their equipment was sent, but this time – in my managerial role - had advise on what should be included  in their own personal kit, Kathleen helped me by writing to Ryka Ltd of Loughborough who kindly agreed to donate Super Plenamin multi-vitamin tablets, Radium massage cream, and Crookes Iodine Oil for wet weather. (This firm was to supply us with these same items for every tour I was to manage in the future. For African countries they also recommended a  medication for use in the event of  diarrhoea). This firm was very helpful indeed and Kathleen, now involved with my preparation to go away, would drive to the factory and collect the carton for me. We also had help with equipment from Holdsworth and Ron Kitching. (we never forgot their kindness and always sent an autographed card from the races we were on).

We met up first at BCF London headquarters, then we bundled Neil Walsh in to a taxi to take him, with our baggage, to Victoria station en route for Southampton and the boat to Le Havre, we rode our bikes to Victoria station. We had a good laugh in the canteen, Neil Walsh being a super comedian and I could see we had the makings of a great team here -  something I had missed since Stan Brittain days. We made it to the  boat OK, I had the tickets for all of us, a pile about 3” deep, good job I had bought my brief case (a present from my first Peace race). I had in my safe keeping –

  • 8 train tickets from Victoria to Southampton,
  • 8 boat and berth tickets from Southampton to Le Havre,
  • 8 train tickets from Le Havre to Le Mans inward.
  • 8 train outward tickets from Sable to Paris
  • 8 air tickets to Warsaw.

A Frenchman met us off the train  at Le Mans and took us all in his van to Chartres were the race was to start on the next day. The entry for this event was tough for us, mostly French professional teams and one other amateur team from Norway. First day was a circuit round Chartres and Alan Lloyd won 3rd prize, a very good effort. The rest of our team were together in the next group.

The Team knitted well in this very tough  Pro/Am “Circuit Sarthe”, we did not pull any trees up but as amateurs we acquitted ourselves very well. We did win a fair amount of francs, and it was fortunate that we did as the expenses given me by the BCF in no way covered our food etc. The race finished at Noyen s Sarthe a beautiful spot. We were billeted at the Chateau Verdrelle, an old building on the bank of the River Sartre but in its own large grounds with a drive up to the front doors.

We were slightly overawed at the magnitude of this historic chateau. The owner, Madame Tercinier showed us to our quarters and they were luxurious, she being kindness itself. We were directed to the large dining room which had been set for dinner with silver cutlery, red and white wine, gold cutlery stands to use between courses. Danny was given the  bridal suite complete with four poster bed! Before dinner the team had a bath in pairs because dinner was ready and this would save time – we thought! Unfortunately the bath had no small drain hole near the top so every so often the water overflowed and leaked on the floor. The first indication of this was when Madame Terciniers’ niece ran up stairs grabbed me by the arm, her limited English failing her, and took me in to the dining room and pointed to a big stain that was appearing on the ceiling, I ran back up stairs and put right the problem. (Some years later when taking Kathleen on a visit, and later with David and Alan, the stain had been left - all the rest had been decorated. Written on the stain was “Equipe Angletterre Cycliste” Tour Circuit Sarthe 1967,  - fame at last).

We were treated like royalty at the Chateau, food etc first class, the race organisation had paid for our two days accommodation there, and as we had 5 training days before we left for Warsaw with no arrangements for lodgings made, we decided to stay on at the Chateau. Once the local cycling bodies knew we were at the Chateau, they arranged for us to ride in their annual “Victory in Europe” celebration events, they  provided a van for the bikes and cars for the riders, Neil and I. Danny Horton won all four of these events with rest of the team well up, we won quite a lot of money which came in very handy to pay for our stay at the Chateau.

After a race one day we arrived back at the Chateau to find Madame Tercinier and her lovely 19 year old niece trying to wallpaper the bridal suite ceiling, we took over and they were delighted to let us as they had difficulty in moving the heavy furniture. It was hilarious, and I’m surprised anything got done.  Alan Lloyd said he would write to the BCF on his return to state that all issue track suits should have pockets in the front to hold wallpaper brushes. We could hardly work for laughing but the finished job looked good.

Meanwhile Neil Walsh and I had formed a terrific relationship, everything was carried out with no fuss or bother. Madame took us all to the Motor Museum at Le Mans and afterwards drove us round the circuit of the famous 24 hour event in her big Citroen car, we felt as if we were in the race. Eventually came the day of our departure from Noyan, but before we left the Chateau Madame Tercrinier produced a big heavy book, in it she wished us to sign our autographs which we did, we looked through this book and found that General De Gaulle and Marshall Leclerc had stayed there and some years before that Napoleon Bonaparte, we were suitably honoured.

And so we made our tearful goodbye to Madame Tercinier and her niece Geraldine (when David and I visited the family in 1982, I was to speak to Geraldine on the phone, now married and living in  Rouen, she was overjoyed that we had not forgotten her - how could we anyway). Madame Tercinier loaned us her 2Cv van to take the luggage and bikes down to the railway station.

We  had not booked our luggage on the train, only registering our bikes because we were getting low on funds, we sat on our luggage in the train corridor which made the ticket collector irate, but we made out that we could not understand him. The BCF had booked us in to a small hotel in Paris. We did our usual, Neil in a taxi with the bags, the rest following on the bikes. The night before our departure from the  terminus in Plac de la Concorde, we weighed in our bikes and bags thus saving us time the following morning, we had an early start to catch the metro to Le Bourget for the flight to Warsaw. We boarded  an Air France flight which was luxury itself, and were given a very good in-flight meal.

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