Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The cream of world cycling

Bradley Wiggins, with the aid of team Sky, rode over the cobbled stones of Paris to win the Tour de France for the first time for a British cyclist. Chris Froome took second place. World champion, Mark Cavendish, won the sprint on the last stage and was launched into his final assault by Bradley Wiggins. With the Olympics starting on Friday it was a magnificent effort from a team with gold-dust in their eyes.

When I was a boy I grew up in the village of Harworth, North Nottinghamshire on the West Riding border with Yorkshire. Tommy Simpson was a local hero and lived just down the road from Sandy Mount, where we lived. Every night he would cycle up our road and do a 30 plus mile tour of what is now South Yorkshire. It took him about an hour. We, my brother Charles, Bill Brett and myself, would from time to time cycle to Tickhill Spital cross-roads where the road to Tickhill is straight and long. We would wait until we saw Tommy Simpson coming in the distance and see how far up the Bawtry Road incline we could get before he came zooming past to swiftly disappear round the corner. Top cyclists have something that separates them from those who use their bikes for leisure purposes.

I remember Tommy Simpson bringing the bronze medal he won at the Melbourne Olympics to show Bircotes scout cubs in 1956. He was a popular local figure and Britain’s top cyclist at the time. Talking to Tommy Godwin in the eighties at his bike shop in Selly Oak I learnt of a race that Godwin had watched in which Tommy Simpson and a German cyclist were battling it out well clear of the rest of the field. As Simpson went past he shouted “Get ‘em in Tommy. I’ve got this guy beaten.” And he did win the race. Tommy Simpson was the highest British achiever before Bradley Wiggins.

Always knowing my limitations, that I would never be a top cyclist, it did not stop me from getting on a bike. It is still one of the most pleasant ways to travel, especially when the weather is good. In late December 1999/2000 I cycled the North and South Islands of New Zealand linking up on the Wellington/Picton ferry with a German cyclist, Thomas Hugenschmidt, with whom I stay in touch. So I let the millennium in 12 hours before my fellow countrymen and women. Later in 2000 from August to early December I cycled from Birmingham to the Azerbaijan border but a severe stomach bug curtailed my journey any further. I was heading to Samarkand. I got a bus back from Tbilisi to the Turkish border, then another to Istanbul. When I recovered I took my bike on a Niki Lauda plane to Madrid and after contacting and staying with an old friend cycled from Madrid to central France, finishing at a village called Ambert. I had been following a trail of hand-made paper and decided to terminate my journey at the Richard de bas paper mill, where they still have a set of old stampers. Stampers preceded the Hollander machines for making pulp-stock.

Hopefully, with the success of British riders today, more people will take up this healthy pastime. You do not have to be a top cyclist to enjoy the ride.

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