Stage 1 Brighton-London
HALLO, Girlie, get me Central 7440, and hey, wayda minute, it's a Transfer Charges call. I'm poor! The name's Fearnley, Charles Fearnley, an' lissen Trunks, this'll be a long - call 'cos t'other end of this line from Glasgy here is the Press Association of Fleet Street, and I'm here to spill the story of the 630-mile Brighton-Glasgow Bike Marathon " What, you think it's crazy; so do - Oh hallo P. A. Gimme General Sports Desk. This is C.F. speaking from Glasgow - Cycling Marathon result and story. I'm half-a-mile from the finish where the prize giving is taking place. There's no outside to this 'phone box 'cos, the door's off and every pane of glass is busted. All round me in the street there's a bottle fight in progress. Before I finish this story my throat'll either be dry or cut . . . O.K., so you don't care; you want to know who's won. Gotcher stennog ready? She'll haveter be nimble. Better put the 'phone booster on for her. Can you hear me Ducks? Here we go. Take the General Classification list first. One, Geoff Clark, I.T. Pools, Independent Bradford, 29 hours, 19 minutes, 42 seconds; Two, George Lander, Polhill R.C., Amateur. .
YES, Geoff Clark, the most popular rider in the British League of Racing Cyclists, won the 1949 cycling race from Brighton to Glasgow at Glasgow, yet I, and no doubt others, congratulated Geoff at Newcastle when the race total time to that point was but 18 hours, 51 minutes, 42 seconds, for it was on the Bradford-Newcastle stage that Clark really won, with what was probably the most magnificent effort ever put up by a League man.
But let's get back to Brighton where it is Sunday, July 31
A heat wave lasting several weeks has given the 100 entrants a fine training period, but this morning of all mornings heralds the break-up of Old Man Sunshine's protracted spell of overtime. Lowering clouds shed a little spray-like "fluid flak" as they speed across the sky from the mouth of the Channel. Madeira Drive becomes rapidly as unlike one's conception of Madeira as palm trees at the Pole.
Yet the Brighton crowd thickens as it assembles to send off the gallant Hundred, while the gallant 100, clad only in their gay jerseys and brief shorts, feel anything but gallant as they huddle or hasten into the warmth of milk bars, there to drink hot coffee and peer at each other like lambs before the slaughter.
Officials and helpers park their cars along the front beyond the roped-off "market place" where the riders will line up in order of programme for the "Off." The loud-speaker van bursts into life; the clouds burst into torrents. The Clerk of the Weather is taking his first serious bombing run over the Scottish invaders. How many gallants would survive to the border line - and beyond? As the rain increases its tempo with that of the wind, the question rises. How many will survive the first stage?
This 66-1 miles of ups over the Downs after the stretch of controlled coastal road gives way to the narrow, bumpy, hilly ribbon that zig-zags northwards to Caterham Hill and the first Finish line. In twos the riders take their places as Announcer Lawton introduces them to the raincoated gathering. Let's you and I scrutinise just a few wheelmen as we wait for the Mayor of Brighton to arrive.
All past British winners are numbered among the 100. Mike Peers, Manchester, he of the retrousse nose and the musical voice, who, at ig, won the second "Six" in 1946; Garrulous George Kessock, 1947 winner; and there riding as an individual Independent is tiny " Tommy " Saunders, who chuckled as he chugged hills at 14's and laughed gleefully as he flew down them at 45's to take last year's race. No one has yet won twice, Robert Batot, France, having won the first of these annual week-end speed-feasts in 1945. With Peers rides Geoff Clark, boyish head, fresh complexion, and terribly determined looking legs. The shortish, fair-haired fellow in the cap is Clive Parker, whose fitness bodes ill for those who lack fast miles. Harold "Bulldog" Binfield, Hateley Cycles, tough, bow legs and stocky body; Ted Jones, Viking Cycles, fair curly, pallid, ex-N.C.U. International; Johnny Raine, hero of many a mountainous breakaway. Behind him ...
But here comes His Worship the Mayor of Brighton (Alderman Ernest Marsh, J.P.). The time is 10.55 a.m. An 11 o'clock start is scheduled. "Action stations" is signalled silently among the helpers. Car engines start purring like great cats awaiting the "mice" they are about to chase right through the counties and shires of England on to the Land o' Cakes, of kilts - and Clydeside.
The Mayor makes his brief address, and to Tommy Saunders, as the previous year's winner goes the honour of conveying a message of goodwill to the Lord Provost of Glasgow, and the Mayor of the City of Westminster.
Then, as the rain pelts down in a vain endeavour to dampen the ardour of 100 hardy cycling souls, the flag is dropped as voices rise in stirring shouts of " good luck and no spills or punctures!"
The huge caravan of riders, feverishly fixing toes in clips and straps, and the attendant vehicles of all shapes and sizes, move off, soon strung out a quarter of a mile in length along the coast road leading eastwards. Then the de-neutralisation point is reached and on those switchbacks through Rottingdean, Peacehaven to Newhaven and Seaford, the riders get as big a lashing from the wind and rain as ever they are to receive during this week of " steaming " through storms.
Yet as the riders curve north inland, the speed increases once the Downs have been surmounted. Following in a car is difficult because the rain falls so heavily that windscreen wipers are almost useless. Steam clouds the windows of the cars when open ones are wound up. Cold rain soaks occupants through slit-like apertures in cars with faulty coachwork. Yet out there somewhere ahead is a streaking mass of men on mudguard-less bikes. Men clad only in gaudy coloured jerseys and chamois-seated shorts. Some with little linen caps and some with ankle socks. All with water-proof hearts.
As cars find an extremely narrow, sharp and dangerous corner at the bottom of a sharp hill, occupants look fearfully for riders wrapped round telegraph poles, posts and other roadside impediments. Nothing' to be seen but the car in front. Occasionally one passes a dismounted rider feverishly replacing a tyre or a chain. How forlorn lie must be, is the inevitable thought. Yet a few minutes later that same rider is back in the milling mob as full of fight as ever, asking who had broken away, if anyone
Who has broken away? News comes back that Jack Williams and Jim Fletcher, Harrison Cycles, have chased off, Williams being led from the bunch by Fletcher with the latter's irresistible sprint. Away they stay for miles, but Fletcher experiences chain trouble, and by miraculous acrobatic skill is actually changing gear each time he comes to a hill, by reaching down and derailling his chain with his fingers!
Eventually this tells on him and he keeps on an 83 ratio. And this too, takes the spark out of his efforts. Too high a gear for climbing, it becomes an exhausting twiddle down the steep slopes of East Hoathly, East Grinstead and Forest Row, and soon this blue and gold jerseyed pair are sagging, Williams, a time trialist in make-up, being worn down by the erratic speed.
At least 50 men whirl up to them--and straight by. But they are not the only troubled souls in this 661-mile blind from Brighton, The law of punctures is beholden to no one, while gear trouble, cramp and other physical snags always seem to make a rare old sort-out of this first and shortest of the six stages. Yet despite this first stage sort-out, ii men who finish in the first 20 at Caterham will be in the first 20 at Glasgow. The first six too, include three in the first six at the final reckoning. Is this a good guide? I think so, though not always.
Be that as it may, two features of this race are already manifesting themselves. First, the team work of the Polhill R.C. trio of amateur 'teen-agers in the persons of George Lander, Les. Wade and Geoff. Graves. Secondly, the individual fight being put up by the 1948 race winner, bespectacled Tommy Saunder, riding "unaccompanied" for Urago Cycles. Yes, and perhaps a third one. There's always at least one fellow in a stage race who is dogged by sheer bad luck. In this case it is undoubtedly A. H. Clarke, Paris Cycles team leader, who was second in the 1948 event, and who obviously is fit enough to be right up there with the leaders this year, but for constantly recurring mechanical trouble that dismounts him on every hill, There should, I aver, be a special award for the adjudged most unlucky rider in this Brighton-Glasgow " bash."
Meanwhile, Les. Wade and George Lander (Polhill R.C.), R. Watel (F.S.G.T.), Tom Saunders (Urago Cycles), Ron Baker (Harrison Cycles), and Johnnie Raine (Viking Cycles), are making the going "up front" and unlike the previous six when Ron Baker and the Australian Johnson were doing bit and bit some minutes up on the field, it is anyone's race among the first six right up to the outskirts of Caterham.
Then comes that searching, searing climb, that rears up at you suddenly from the town. Frantic fumbling with the right hand at the down tube and levers are hard back. Daylight intermittently flickers in streaks as seats bob up and down above saddles. Saddles wave from side to side as though they are heads shaking their doubt as to their 6wner making the gradient. But they do. They do. There is general tension. Tension of mind; tension of man; tension of machine. “ I must, I will!" says the mind through gritted teeth with breathless sobs of energy. " Why the hell should you? " groans the labouring body-slave of the mind. And the machine? Some crackle in sympathy with the objecting bodies. A very few cause momentary dismounts. Most respond alertly to the will of thr# rider to get there.
Who will get there? Neck and neck two riders battle to the summit. A blue jersey of France is slightly nearer to the following car than the yellow one with the black bands. We look for their numbers . . . the blue is easy, No. i, Roland Watel; the yellow, yes, it's No. 63, George Lander, the Polhill 18-year-old who gave the Independents such a trouncing in the East Mids. 3-day race at Whitsuntide. English determination vies with Latin abandon to the desperate task in hand. The Hill struggle passes with the chase for the line on Westway and Lander leads, though Watel might yet have la kick for the line and a throw of his bike over it that will give him an inches victory.
But no. Lander's tyre is baptised with the fatal chalk mark more than two lengths ahead of Watel, who later complains that his gear did not respond as it should have done at the crucial moment. Then another pair flash into view. Another yellow and black jersey with little red-jerseyed Tommy Saunders. And again amateur beats Independent for the line as Lander's clubmate Len Wade screws his Urago rival for third place. These two are 10 seconds behind the leaders, whose time is given as 2 hours, 47 mins. 20 secs.
Others are coming in now in a m616e of colour, the first 20 finishers being separated only by some 6o seconds. Three orange jerseys, in close company denote that Clive Parker, George Kessock and Harry Burville have put Paris Cycles on the map with a leading team total of 8 hours 14 mins. r sec. The road is kept clear for others delayed by trouble, physical and.mechanical. But only one rider is shut out by the time limit.
Soon the riders and officials are busy in Caterham Barracks, changing, bathing, and having tea. Huge Grenadier guards look on. Some admit to having ridden on an "old iron," One says, "It's tough work unless you like it." The riders grin. Only they know just how tough it is. But there's something about this crazy game ...
We leave Caterham behind, some in cars, most on bikes. In my car we pass among others, Ron Baker with his racing cyclist wife, Iris. He is still the Brighton-Caterham stage record holder, this year's stage being 3 mins. 23 secs. slower, yet still miraculously fast for such weather conditions.
A forked flash lights the clouds, a crash of thunder. Millions of gallons of rain suddenly fall. The Clerk of the Weather grins through a sickly sun. A multi-coloured "mudguard" encircles half the sky to the north. To-morrow we shall go in that direction - searching for that rainbow
BRIGHTON - CATERHAM LEADERS
Pos. Name Club Sponsor Time
I. G. Lander Polhill R.C. (Am.) 2 47 20
2. R. Watel France at 2 lengths 2 47 20
3. L. Wade Polhill R.C. (Arn.) 2 47 30
4. T. Saunders Urago Cycles (Ind.) length 2 47 30
5. R. Baker Harrison Cycles 2 47 42
6. J. Raine Viking Cycles 2 47 47
7, C. Parker, Paris Cycles, 2.47.48 ; 8, G. Kessock, Paris Cycles, 2.47.51 ; 9. L. West, Ealing C.C. (Ind.) ; 10, L. Hook, . Harrison Cycles ; 11, E. Gamier, France ; 12, I. Greenfield, Comet R.C. (Am.); 13, K. Russell, Bradford R.C. (Am.), 2.47.55 ; 15, M. Peers, I.T. Pools ; 16, D. Jaggard, Ealing C.C. usse (Ind.); 17, G. Clark, I.T. Pools ; 18, T. Brodie, Comet R.C. (Am.) ; 19, B. Woods, Hants and Surrey (Am.) ; 20, J. Spragg, Hateley Cycles ; 21, S. Blair, Ridley C.C. (Am.) ; 22, A. Morgan, Birmingham Premier. 2.48.0.