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May 26 1963
Tommy Simpson has been canonised in the sport since his tragic death in 1967. His fate on the slopes of Mt. Ventoux during his quest to win the Tour de France perhaps symbolised a dangerous desire to win, but at the same time immortalised him as one of the most iconic riders of a generation. Yet Simpson's dramatic death sometimes overshadows what he achieved as the most successful British racing cyclist of the twentieth century. Part of a pioneering fraternity including Brian Robinson and Barry Hoban, the man from Nottinghamshire opened up the Tour de France and ultimately the sport to a larger, more international audience. A style icon, loved by the French press and fans alike, Simpson won some of the most prestigious titles including the Tour of Flanders in 1961, the World Championship in '65, Milan-Sanremo in '64 and, almost 50 years ago, Bordeaux-Paris in 1963.
In his crucial biography of Tom Simpson, Put Me Back on My Bike, William Fotheringham features an intriguing description of the British rider's victory at the 'Derby of the Road'.
Cȏte de Dourdan. May 26, 1963
The five small motorbikes putter up the dead straight hill out of the village in the Chevreuse valley, through the crowds lined three–deep. Old men in berets, Brylcreemed fathers, mothers and children in frilly Sunday dresses have turned out to watch cycling's longest race, the Bordeaux–Paris 'Derby of the Road'.
The 'dernys' are motorised bikes driven by fat men in dark glasses, cycling jerseys and shorts, who pedal slowly to help the engines; behind each one is a cyclist. They are wearing identical kit to the 'derny' drivers, but the similarity ends there: the cyclists are slender, athletic, their pacemakers corpulent and varicose-veined.
The cyclists left Bordeaux 14 hours ago, at two in the morning. They rode through the night in a silent, orderly crocodile with their police outriders and support cars, saw the sun rise at Angoulȇme and began racing near Poitiers, where the 'derny' drivers were waiting. The 'Derby', 348 miles long, 180 of those miles behind the 'dernys', is a throwback to cycle racing in the 1890s, when racers were paced by tandem cycles over inhuman distances; Dourdan, an hour and a half from Paris, is usually decisive, where the distance finally makes itself felt.
Tactics are dictated by the pacer; Tom Simpson's guide, Fernand Wambst, is a calculating man, chosen by the Peugeot team to master Simpson's impetuous instincts. He wants to make their move here. His gut wobbling under the black and white Peugeot jersey, he guides Simpson to the front of the little group and accelerates, with Simpson sprinting behind, eyes fixed on the back tyre of the 'derny'.
Only one man attempts to hold their pace: Edouard Delberghe, in the striped jersey of the Pelforth Beer team, and he is soon 100 metres behind Simpson. He races the final 42 miles to the Parc des Princes stadium with 'the ease of an English gentleman going to his daily bridge session', as one writer puts it. After a spring of frustrating near misses, his career is back on track.
Put Me Back on My Bike: In Search of Tom Simpson is published by Yellow Jersey Press.
All images Offside
- @tribryan Hi Bryan, that’s a discontinued Irish Country Jersey which is no longer in production, sorry to disappoint.
- @vickiewoodsford @richardhier @daithetooth Thanks Vickie, glad we were able to help too.
- @ServiceCourse @richardhier @daithetooth You’re all too kind, thank you.
- @richardhier Thanks Richard, have a good weekend. Will pass on your thanks to Peter.
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- @andersmagnus Hi Anders, there’s been a delay unfortunately, but thanks for being patient. It will be out as soon as possible.