The Grand Tour: Fife and Beyond

Ramblings of an inveterate cyclist

78 riders were competing in the tour from 16 teams including France, Italy, (West) Germany, Ireland, and the RAF.

Britain sixty-nine years ago was a very different place to the one we know today. Lorries had a speed restriction of twenty miles per hour imposed upon them and in truth, a fully laden lorry of that era would struggle to maintain such a speed. Cars were few and far between on our roads as for the roads although adequate for their time would be little more than unclassified roads today. This was still the golden age of steam trains a spider’s web of railway lines crisscrossed the country carrying every conceivable cargo from heavy goods to people. The idea of cycling a distance of one thousand four hundred and seventy miles around Britain passing through some fifteen major towns and cities must have seemed nothing short of madness, still, in nineteen fifty-one the first Tour of Britain, sponsored by the Daily Express took place. The winner that year on the back of winning the Peace Prize in Poland was the great Scottish cyclist Ian Steel. When I visited him at his home in Ayr, and there was I shown his Peace Prize a large glass trophy (the other was with his daughter). I asked him about the Second Tour of Britain, he told me the BSA boys shadowed him all the way, not allowing him to get away from the peloton.

John “Ian” Steel 28th December 1928 – 20 October 2015, was a Scottish racing cyclist who in 1952 won the Peace Race, a central European race between Warsaw, Berlin, and Prague for a second time (back to back). He was the only Briton, and the only rider from the English speaking world to win it, as well as the first Briton to win any major race.

Some years on from that first tour I was living down in Yorkshire and on Sunday rides would meet up with many of the old boys that had ridden in those first tours. One, in particular, was Ken Russell. I became fascinated by his story of the Second Tour of Britain which incidentally Ken won. Ken was not a member of any professional team. Such as the BSA but a salesman with Ellis-Briggs bike shop so rode the tour as an amateur or privateer building for himself a bicycle in the company’s frame building workshop, at Shipley, West Yorkshire.

I remember asking Ken about riding in the Peace Prize race in Poland, he said it was a nightmare, “I had to change gears between cobbles”. I told him I had spoken to Ian Steel about his experience of the race and he had said, “Oh, the bike held together and so did I” as if that was all there was to it, but listening to these old boys talk about their careers in cycling, (always with modesty) the memories were still fresh, and clearly a time they enjoyed.

At that time I did write a blow by blow account of the race as it unfolded over the fourteen stages for my cycling club magazine (mostly the information was gleaned and found in the Otley club library) If you are ever down that way the library would be well worth a visit. I have been asked a few times if I still have a copy of that piece, unfortunately only notes, so I thought it time I re-wrote it for publication. I would like to post it stage by stage on a daily bases just as the race would have progressed over the two weeks of racing, and would have been recorded in press and cycling magazines at the time.

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