The Grand Tour: Fife and Beyond

Ramblings of an inveterate cyclist

 It was a dreich drizzly morning so it was a ‘caped up’ ride out. I chose my tricycle since I would not be going far, over to Leuchars and back, very little traffic, the odd builder’s van, and I never saw one bus, maybe they have finally got the message. Home shower breakfast then Aldi for shopping, that was my morning.

Yesterday, I finished the book Crimes and Arnold, in the past I have read books about their cycling feats, and much about their End to End marathon, but it is quite a record and I really did enjoy re-reading about the end to end.

I loved many or the humorous stories and cuttings from the pages of a Ripley’s Believe it or Not! This was an American franchise, founded by Robert Ripley. It would tell stories of strange and wonderful claims, that were had to believe. Like the Dalmatian, owned by the South Portland (Mane) Fire Department, that travelled alone to market each day and selected his own dog food. Or the Mangue tribe that lived in the Belgian Congo that did not build their own homes but hollowed out huge ant hills. Then we had John F Arnold rode 457.33 miles in 24 hours on a tricycle in 1953, and Albert Crimes rod from Lands End, (England) to John O’ Groats, (Scotland) a distance of 872 miles in 2 days, 12 hours, and 37 minutes on a tricycle. Na’ a don’t believe that.

Between its pages, names would pop up of cyclist that I had rod alongside when out on my Wednesday (my day off) runs in the Dales of Yorkshire. One name, in particular, triggered some great memories from that time, Brian Robinson.

Brian was eight years old when the Second World War broke out, they had moved to Mirfield from Ravensthorpe in 1943. Both his parents now worked for the war effort making parts for Halifax bombers, his mother Milly by day his father Henry on nights. Like most families at that time, they grew what they could in their gardens to supplement the wartime rationing, some like the Robinson’s had a small allotment.

Bikes were the everyday transport for many at that time cycling too and from work, young Brian at the age of 13 joined the Huddersfield Road Club and a year later (the minimum age) became a member. He was following in the wheel tracks of his father and older brother Des, who were already members.

Although a keen cyclist and showed talent for cycling from an early age, his father would not allow Brian to race until he reached the age of 18 years. Brian trained early morning, before the start of the working day, and in the evening after work. Sutton Park in Birmingham was a frequent venue for races, however they had to end by 9.30 allowing the public to use the park.

In 1948 Brian went to Windsor Great Park to watch the Olympic Games road race that was held in the part that year, such was his talent as a rider he himself would ride in the Olympic Games in Helsinki four years later.

His talents had not gone unnoticed back home either, 5th in the National Cyclists’ Union massed-start. 3rd in the Road Time Trials Council hill- climb championships in 1950. equal 7th in the Isle of Man International, 10th in the NCU massed-start Championship and second in the RTC Hill-climb. By 1952 he was fourth in the NCU race, won the hill-climb championship, and was 5th in the Isle of Man International.

1952 National Service (Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry)

Brian rode the Route de France, an amateur version of the Tour de Frances, in a joint NCU/Army team. He rode well and was lying 5th with three days to go, a poor showing in the Pyrenees saw him slip to 40th. In the August of that year, he represented GB in the Helsinki Olympic Games road race and finished 27th to Andre’ Noyelle of Belgium and a future Tour winner Jacques Anquetil. Brian would race against Jacques Anquetil again in the World Cycling Championship in Italy in September 1952 where they tied for eighth place. He was now riding in lustres company and gaining international experience and notoriety.

On leaving the forces in 1952, he joined Ellis Briggs (a cycle shop in Shipley Yorkshire, and the same shop that Ken Russell was a salesman with and winner of the 1952 Tour of Britain, you can read my blow by blow account elsewhere on my site). Brian finished 4th that year, and the following year 1954 finished in 2nd place.

Most of this I already knew before meeting Brian formally, from the extensive library, in the Otley cycle club, of which I was a member.

However it was on those Wednesday runs in the Dales when we would meet up at cafes or on the road and ride together that I really got to know the man, and his tales about the Tour de France.

Their small team raced in Franc, the Netherlands and Belgium in preparation for the big event. Brian was 8th in Paris Nice, 4th in La Fleche, Wallonne and led the tour of the Six Provinces to the Sixth state. The final team was a mixed bag of Hercules riders and those from other sponsors. The Tour de France proved to be a tough race and only Robinson and Tony Hoar finished, Robinson 29th Hoar Lantern Rouge. However they were the first Britons to finish the Tour, 18 years after Charles Holland and Bill Burl were the first Britons in the race in 1938.

it was 1958 before Brian make history again by winning stage seven of the Tour de France, to Brest. It was Arigo Padovan who crossed the line first, but was relegated to second for his tactics in the hot sprint. Brian recalled that race and told me, when he rod the Tour in 1958 he was determined to win a stage outright without any dispute over the result. As soon as the days racing was over he was straight into massage room, fed and watered then rested for the following days race, no hanging around chatting, he was taking this very seriously indeed. Brian won the 20th stage of the Tour de France from Annecy to Chalon-sur-Saone by a full 20 minute, no dispute this time.

He had given his all to win the coveted prize and paid the price the following day. He and his Irish teammate Seamus Elliott, found themselves trailing far behind the field, outside the time limit. It looked as if both men would be sent home but the team manager, Sauveur Ducazeaux, insisted the judges apply a rule that no rider in the first ten could be eliminated, Brian had started the day in 9th it was Seamus Elliott only who was sent home. Brian finished the 1958 Tour de France in 19th place having at one time been in 9th place. Still a great achievement.

Louise (Brian’s daughter) became a cyclo-cross rider, taking a silver medal at the 2000 UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships. Two of Brian’s grandchildren are also competitive racing cyclists: Jake Womersley competing in cyclo-cross and road racing, Becky Womersley in road racing.

I heard in 2014 (long after I had left Yorkshire and returned home to Scotland) that Brian was knocked off his bike in a collision with a car in Thornhill Lees, it was a pretty serious accident. And in the 2017 New Years Honours he was awarded a British Empire Medal for his services to cycling and his charity work.

The circles I have moved in, you wouldn’t believe.

Stay safe.

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