Saturday, 4 February 2012

#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.

1 comment:

Howard Walmsley said...

Hi Alan, Just read your account of the 1969 Tour of Holland. It's very interesting but unfortunately inaccurate. You are correct in saying that I was off the back of the bunch on the first stage whilst in the de-neutralised zone but you failed to say that I punctured just as the flag was dropped for the racing to begin. I rode over 90 miles on own that day and still managed to finish inside the time limit. Later in your blog you say that I retired. That also is untrue since I was only one of five members of the GB squad to finish the race in Amsterdam. In fact towards the last week of the tour I almost won a stage whilst the race was in the Heelam district being away on my own for the last 30 kms and only getting caught by 6 riders just 200 mtrs from the finishing line. I hope you can make the truth known in your blog.