Bordeaux-Paris is one of cycling’s lost classics. Once regarded as the toughest one-day race in France, the ‘Derby of the Road’ saw the peloton roll out during the night, making the tough, near-600km parcours more gruelling still. Last staged in 1988, the sight of the world’s finest riders heading into the darkness in the early hours was once a highlight of the racing calendar. Among my collection of original cycling photographs is this beautiful image of George Pilkington Mills, winner, in 1891, of the first edition of the race.
Pictured above in 1893, Mills is my ultimate cycling hero, a phenomenal rider who accumulated records as if his life depended on it. During the years 1886 to 1893, for example, the English-born Mills collected no fewer than six records for the ‘End-to-End’, the name given to cycling from one end of Britain to the other; from Land’s End, at the most south-western point of England, to John O’Groats, the most north-westerly point of the Scottish mainland, a distance, on the roads of the time, of approximately 900 miles.
His first record, on a solid-tyred, 53-inch ‘ordinary’ (a penny-farthing), was made at the tender age of 19. Despite poor weather and winds so strong that, at one point, Mills and his pacing companions were blown clean off their bicycles, Mills rode the distance in 5 days 1hr 45mins.
The portrait above shows Mills on the Humber tricycle on which he claimed his End-to-End record of 1893. His other records for the End-to-End were:
- 1886 Tricycle (solid tyres) 5 days 10hrs
- 1891 Bicycle (pneumatic tyres) 4 days 11hrs 17mins
- 1893 Tricycle (pneumatic tyres) 3 days 16hrs 47mins
- 1894 Bicycle (pneumatic tyres) 3 days 5hrs 49mins
- 1895 Tandem bicycle (with T.A. Edge) 3 days 4hrs 46mins