1951 Tour of Britain - Part 2 - Stages 1 to 6
Credit: Daily Express Race Report 1951
Stages 7 to 12>>
THE 49 riders with their machines made a brilliant splash of colour as, applauded by thousands of spectators, they rode slowly out of Hyde Park. This was not the start of the race, but the assembly of competitors. The race proper was due to start at 12 noon on Farnborough Common in Kent. Between 9.45 a.m., when the field left the centre of London, and the starting time, all those competing had to ride in formation across South-east London and then take lunch.
At 12 o'clock sharp, the starting flag dropped, the riders tensed, the wheels began to turn - and the first Tour of Britain was on its way. Through Sevenoaks, Tonbridge and Johns Cross the field kept together, keeping up a steady fast pace. There were occasional attempts at breaking away, but all were fruitless. Through Hastings and Bexhill the rainbow-coloured jerseys swept - and still no attack. But team tactics were soon to make themselves felt. Louis Donzelle, manager of the French team, said his idea was to get one or two men well in front right on the first day. "Once we had built up a good lead," he said, “we would then be able to watch and meet challenges from the others."
The French team tactics on this first stage were to get Edmond Pierre, the team leader, and Gabriel Audemard away to make a two-man break. If that failed, then either one was to seize his own opportunity and make a lone break. In case of an early breakaway by another team, Andre Laurent was to go with them and act as marker.
The scheme worked perfectly. After 53 miles, Les Wilson and Ian Steel were out of the bunch and had nearly a minute lead. But with them was French "marker" Laurent. Whenever his rum came to take the lead, he slowed down !
He so tired the other two that after only seven miles the bunch, including the rest of the French team, had caught up with the leaders again!
After 63 miles came notorious East Dean Hill with gradients of 1 in 7. Audemard swung out of his saddle, called to Pierre and shot up the gradient, reaching the top with seconds to spare from the rest of the field. He flew into the lead, looked back only once to see if Pierre had managed to follow him, and then tore away on his own. He was checked at a level-crossing gate, climbed the footbridge, and was again racing for all he was worth to Brighton. He won with a total time of 3 hrs. 57 minx. 52 SM.
Behind him, Pierre had managed to break away, but not on his own. Young Mick Howarth broke away with him. Pierre, however, sprinted hard at one point, and the Northern lad could not match him. Pierre did not manage to catch up with his teammate, but he finished in second place, nine seconds behind the winner and 25 seconds ahead of his nearest challenger.
So the French plan had come off. On total times, the French team held a lead of four minutes over Dayton Cycles, and five minutes over Viking Cycles. Donzelle was satisfied. " It was a shortish stage," he said, " and I could not expect my men to make up more time than that on the first day." Even when Audemard was fined 30 seconds, later that night, for an infringement of rules (he had allowed someone to carry his machine over the level-crossing bridge instead of carrying it himself) none of the French team worried. It was simply a matter of the lead passing from one member of their team to another, since Pierre was only a few seconds behind Audemard. The prospects seemed rosy, and the five members of the Continental team laid plans to improve upon their early advantage.
The British teams were not worried either. Dayton had decided to watch the Frenchmen ; see how they rode, find out their scheme, give them their head - then break them.
The Viking team also resolved to play a waiting game. " No need to go all out at first, wait until the longer stages - then attack " - that was their plan of campaign.
The Irishmen were having a tough time. They experienced mechanical trouble, but were game, and not over-worried. " Give us time to settle in," said leader Karl McCarthy. " Remember, it's the first race of its kind for us, and it may take a little time to get the hang of it."
“WE must make our lead secure. Go all out to win to-day's stage, and then we shall have a good safety-margin of time." Those were trainer Donzelle's instructions to the Frenchmen as the field prepared to set out on the comparatively flat stage from Brighton.
A sound - and necessary - scheme if the French team were to keep in the lead. But other teams had their own ideas, and as the colourful 49 swept out of the town to the start at the Toll Bridge, just beyond Shoreham, plans for beating the Frenchmen were being finalised.
As the flag dropped at the Bridge, and the race started, the speed quickly accelerated to more than 22 m.p.h. All the riders kept well together, and any attempts at breaking away were stopped. But at Arundel, as the field swung beneath the shadow of the castle, a group of a dozen men became detached and forced a small lead.
Out of the town, the lead increased - and right up in front was Pierre, obeying instructions. Also with the leaders were three Dayton men - Parker, Buttle and Scales - they were there to make sure that the Frenchman did not have things all his own way.
As the two groups, now separated by nearly a mile, neared Portsdown Hill, after 45 miles had been covered, Bedwell suddenly jumped away from the main bunch and scorched along to join the leaders. There were now four Dayton men in the lead. They were not taking any chances.
Through the New Forest, and the first prime hill of the race at Stoney Cross was nearing. First man to the top would receive a time bonus of half a minute and points for the " King of the Mountains " trophy. As the climb started, Pierre sprinted forward - but Bedwell was with him, and just before the summit he overhauled the Frenchman and was first to the top.
Pierre tried several times to break away on his own after that, but at every attempt Bedwell or a team-mate would chase him. The Dayton men were obviously working to a clear-cut plan. Another man who tried repeatedly to sprint away on his own was Don Wilson, but he, too, was a marked man, and he failed to get clear.
Yet it was Wilson who, in the end, broke clear of the group, with Bedwell on his tail, just before the finishing line in Bournemouth's King's Park. Bedwell, however, had the faster sprint and was first over the line. The leaders had taken 4 hrs. 8 miss. 17 secs. to cover the 95 miles.
As a result, Pierre, who had been urged on every mile by trainer Donzelle and had carried out to the letter the plan which had been laid down before the start, retained his position. Dave Bedwell, possibly the man feared most by the French team, had moved up to within 11 secs. of Pierre on general classification.
French team tactics for the day had been sound, but not good enough to meet the determined challenges from the British independent teams. Pierre had faithfully carried out his instructions, but his team-mates had suffered a setback - they had been unable to match the efforts of the Dayton, Viking and I.T.P. racers. Dayton moved up to No. 1 team and held a 5 mins. 34 secs. advantage over I.T.P. and Viking, who tied for second place. The Frenchmen found themselves in fourth position.
It was this stage, too, which began to show just how great a spectacle a "Tour” can be. All the way along the 95 miles, crowds of spectators had gathered to cheer the riders on their way. Cars, buses and lorries pulled off the road to give the racers a clear path ; hospital patients were wheeled out to see the field as it pounded on its way; thousands of cyclists from miles around gathered to watch - in fact the Tour of Britain was really making itself felt - and this only its second day.
Unluckiest men of the stage had been the Irishmen. All of them had had further trouble with their gears. But they were not downhearted and had no intentions of giving up. " We may he new to the game," leader Karl McCarthy said, "but we are learning fast."
GREAT crowds assembled at Bournemouth's Pavilion Forecourt to see the ceremonial send-off for the third - and toughest stage so far. Overnight conferences between teams and managers had resulted in new plans being laid. The day's tactics of the main teams were planned in this way:
France: Pierre was to take things fairly easily, and stay with the main leading group. Audemard to cover any serious breakaway. Rest of the French team to assist Pierre and stay with him in case of trouble.
Dayton: All the team to watch Bedwell's interests and try to force things so that the little Rumford flyer could make a lone break if possible. Rest of the team to keep up with the leading bunch at all times.
Viking: The first big attack must be made. Steel was to be the man to win the stage if possible, but the rest of the team must keep their eyes open to take over from Steel if necessary.
I.T.P: Push on as far in front as possible, but no all-out attacks yet.
Ireland: Keep together, in the leading group if possible, but with the main bunch if not. Leave any attacks to others for the time being.
Scotland: No need to worry about getting into the lead yet. Only two men and aDchance of a team lead - individual attacks can come later.
How did the plans work out? It was the French and Viking teams who came nearest to pulling off a perfect victory, but the Dayton men had the last laugh.
The field remained well together for some 25 miles, but at Dorchester, Audemard made his attack. Don Wilson and Trevor Fenwick chased him, and the three made a leading group, but with only five miles covered they were caught by another small group - in which were Steel and Michael Eastwood.
Now came attack within attack. Steel sprinted away from the leaders - but Frenchman Audemard followed. On the Frenchman's tail was Eastwood. Rapidly the trio drew away, and as they passed through Axminster they were five minutes ahead of the next men.
On they sped until they reached the foot of gruelling 1 in 9 Haldon Hill. There was a prime at the top, and Steel intended to win it. He did, with lengths to spare from the Frenchman. Once over, Steel waited for the other two and they again formed a fast-moving trio.
But Eastwood was tiring. After 90 miles had been covered, at Chudleigh, he could no longer hold the pace. Audemard and Steel were on their own, left to fight out the final 30 miles.
Audemard decided that he would have an easy time, and stay behind Steel. Several times Steel called to him to take the lead, but the wily Frenchman was having none of it. He left Steel to act as pacemaker and wind shield. Audemard's idea was to leave things until the last few yards, and then slip past to win the stage.
Steel, however, was as wily as the Frenchman. As the pair came flying into Plymouth, Steel suddenly sprinted even faster. Taken by surprise, Audemard could not hold on, and as they crossed the line along Embankment Road, Steel was a good three lengths in the lead.
Bedwell, left behind in the bunch, himself made an attack before the finish, and sprinted in ahead of a group of 28 riders to take third place. Pierre was with the group, but Bedwell's third place gave him a quarter-minute bonus - and he went into the lead on general classification, with just four seconds to spare over the Frenchman.
The I.T.P. riders also finished well up with the leaders as they had planned. Result of all the sweat and toil throughout a day in which rain fell almost non-stop was that Viking went into the lead in the team race, Dayton were second, I.T.P. third and the French team fourth. But only ten minutes separated the lot.
The yellow jersey left French hands for the first time - it passed to Bedwell.
The four leading teams were all satisfied with the day's stage. The Viking men were particularly pleased. They decided that if it was at all possible they would hold on to their narrow lead for a few days - and then make another big effort to make sure of winning. Even if they lost the lead, then they would watch that they were not far behind, and when their next all-out attack came they would be in a strong position to take over team-race leadership.
Could the tearaway Romford lad keep his "badge" as leader of the race? A vast crowd at Plymouth gave him a tremendous send-off, and if good wishes were any help to him, then he should have had little difficulty. His jersey could always be seen near the front, bobbing and weaving, as the riders, still 46 of them, left Plymouth's Armada Way and set off at a fast pace along the A.38 road. This was used during the final miles the previous day, and it remained the same, in fact, until near Exeter.
Early 11 casualties " were the I.T.P. men - but their misfortune gave an opportunity of displaying perfect team-work. Frank Seel punctured - he and Ken Jowett were in the rear of the main bunch. Jowett immediately stopped to help Seel, and the two men quickly lost sight of the riders.
Ken Russell, who had been well up in the bunch keeping an eye on the Dayton and Viking men, looked round to see where his team-mates were. When he saw they were no longer with the bunch, he stopped, turned round, and dashed back to help. Geoff Clark, too, stopped and rode back.
Seel's tyre was difficult to replace - and it was five minutes before he could carry on. But once Seel was on his machine, the four I.T.P. men formed a chasing group and acted as they would had they been a breakaway - each man taking the lead in turn they simply scorched along.
The result was that in eight miles they caught up with the bunch again!
But this was not I.T.P.'s lucky day. Later on Geoff Clark had a long stop when an empty musette became entangled with his rear wheel ; Ken Jowett, too, suffered a puncture. Each time the same brilliant, unselfish team-work got them back with the bunch, but the tiring effects of making up lost time prevented them from attacking.
Keeping well together, the long line of heaving, straining racers sped through Plympton, Ivybridge and South Brent, and then on to Buckfastleigh and Ashburton. Haldon Hill, scene of the previous day's prime, was approaching - but in the opposite direction, of course - and there was a fierce battle going on at the front of the bunch for position before the actual climb began.
At the foot of the hill the field was still one solid group - but Bedwell's jersey could be seen well to the fore. Up they went at tremendous pace, but just before the top a yellow figure shot past the field. It was Bedwell, and he was first to the top, gaining more points for the " King of the Mountains " prize, and another half-minute time bonus.
With an almost unbelievable display of skill, the riders careered down the other side of the hill at speeds often in excess of 5o m.p.h. At the foot, Laurent, McCarthy, Welch and Addie had managed to forma breakaway group and were tearing away on their own. Behind them were two small groups, and then the main bunch in which were Bedwell and Pierre.
As the bunch swung on to the Exeter by-pass, Bedwell shot out of the middle, with Greenfield on his tail. The two rapidly drew away, and after five miles they had caught and passed the two smaller groups and were up with the leaders. Pierre had missed his chance when Bedwell attacked, and was still with the main bunch.
Shortly afterwards, the only French rider at the front, Laurent, fell back, unable to keep up the tremendous speed. Before Bedwell and Greenfield had caught up with the leaders, however, five others had joined them. When the Frenchman dropped back, it left ten riders - travelling at a steady 30 miles an hour.
Irishman Joe Lennon had trouble with his gears, and Addie suffered from a sudden attack of stomach cramp - the two men dropped back. Eight men were left. Over the border between Devon and Somerset they maintained their speed and tore on through Highbridge, East Brent and Bleaden. The finish was almost in sight.
Into Weston-super-Mare and still together, a great roar of welcome went up as they zipped along the Promenade. Once again the yellow-jerseyed Bedwell streaked away and he was first across the line. Another win, another time bonus, and his jersey was safe for another day - another two days, in fact, for the next day, Thursday, was a holiday, with no racing.
But if the tough fight for honours was over, Bedwell still had to face an excited and jubilant crowd. Thousands cheered him as a garland of flowers was placed round his neck and he was carried off shoulder high.
Best of the Frenchmen that day was again Pierre. He finished in ninth place - and dropped down to fourth position on the race as a whole. But the team had done better, and had come up to third placing behind Dayton and Viking.
Most surprising feature of the day was the .great speed of the riders. They had had to face terrible conditions and some hard hills - yet even the slowest riders kept up an average of more than 22 m.p.h.
1st: DAVID BEDWELL (Dayton) 4 hrs. 19 mins. 19 secs.
2nd: Don Wilson (Yorkshire) 1 1/2 lengths
3rd: Derek Buttle (Dayton) wheel
Result of Hill Climb 1st: D. Bedwell (Dayton) 2nd: I. Steel (Viking) 3rd: A. Taylor (Gnutti)
The day of rest had benefited every rider. It had also given the teams time to sort out their next moves. The Frenchmen, in particular, looked happier - for they had been a little gloomy after the Weston-super-Mare finish. They were not used to up and down country. " It's a bit upsetting," they said, " but we will keep going."
I.T.P. men had decided to make this their big day. " We originally intended making an early attack with the whole team getting away," said one of the riders after the stage, " but it did not quite work out that way. We are quite satisfied, just the same," he added.
The Viking men, too, despite their intention of " doing little more than hold their lead " were feeling frisky. They were heading for their home town, and whenever the speed of the bunch leaders began to increase, the purple-and-gold Viking colours could always be seen bobbing and weaving at the front ready to chase any breakaway that might develop.
By the time Newport was reached the field was well split up, and then straightway began the struggle to be the first man to win the prime from Wales to England. The point carried a time bonus. Les Scales, of the Dayton team, made it, but with only inches to spare.
The wind was in the right direction - almost right behind - and a speed between 25 and 3o m.p.h. was general, although whenever an isolated attack came it jumped up to 35 m.p.h. The field were not letting anyone get a lead.
Nearly 5o miles had been covered before any serious breakaway occurred. Then, just before Hereford was reached, Frank Seel, Bill Bellamy and Ian Steel forced their way into the lead, and as they passed through the town they held an advantage of 30 seconds. But the bunch caught up with them again outside the town, and at that point Don Wilson of the Yorkshire team went to the front. Shortly afterwards disaster hit the race. A smash between a fuel lorry, a hospital utility and a car occurred right in front of the leading riders. A flying door hit Wilson and knocked him from his machine.
Then came one of the most sporting gestures ever. The whole field stopped - and refused to continue until Wilson, patched but obviously in pain, rejoined them. Wilson again went to the front, but the speed noticeably decreased. It seemed that the whole field wanted to give the plucky Yorkshireman every chance and they kept their pace down to suit him. Tactics, attacks, chances - they were all temporarily forgotten in the general concern for such a game fighter.
More trouble hit the field when they neared Leominster. Road repairs along a 200-yard stretch made the riders pull over on to a rough, pot-holed surface. Loveday and Hibell punctured, Parker and Fenwick had trouble with chains jumping gears.
Ten miles farther on, level-crossing gates closed as the field approached. Some dashed through, others dragged their machines over the gates. They all re-grouped, but with so many setbacks it seemed this was the Tour's black day.
Wilson was still holding his own, although his friend Dick Richards could often be seen giving him a helping push when the going became more than usually hard.
It was the test hill at Bewdley that gave the I.T.P. men the chance they had been waiting for - and it was also the point where Wilson finally dropped back from the field. On the climb, Russell and Clark sped away from the bunch and were chased by six others. The eight made a leading group, but the I.T.P. men forced the pace so much - they held a speed of over 30 m.p.h. - that three men dropped back.
Through the rain-soaked, crowded streets of Wolverhampton they raced, Russell and Clark together at the front, and as the finishing line was reached young Russell won by a second from club-mate Clark.
The I.T.P. men had scored their win, but it was not quite as big as they had hoped for. No doubt the accident along the route had had a lot to do with it - in fact the whole field felt more than a little dispirited.
But Wilson, game as they make 'em, finished the stage, and then went to hospital for a check-up.
The yellow jersey was still on Bedwell's stocky figure, for although he finished three minutes behind the leader, he had the best total time for five days' racing.
1st: KEN RUSSELL (I.T.P.) 5 hrs. 22 mins. 17 secs.
2nd: Geoff Clark (I.T.P.) S.22.18
3rd: Alec Taylor (Gnutti) wheel
Result of Hill Climb 1st: J. Welch (Viking) 2nd: G. Clark (I.T.P.) 3rd: D. Buttle (Dayton)
DON WILSON, the tough little Yorkshireman and hero of the previous day's race, was on the starting line, ready once again to do battle. An overnight hospital check showed that he was suffering from severe bruising, but that there were no broken bones or dislocation ; it would take more than a tumble to put out Wilson, toughened by eight years in the Merchant Navy.
He was still in considerable discomfort but with great determination to carry on. Fortunately, the race to Morecambe was one of the easiest - if not the easiest - of the Tour so far as terrain and conditions were concerned. Fairly flat, with a strong following wind, the stage should not have caused any rider much trouble.
But good conditions are also the passwords to speed. And immediately the field was given a send-off in West Park at i i a.m., the pace hotted up. In less than an hour the race had passed through Albrighton, West Heath, Newport and Hinstock, averaging a steady 25 m.p.h.
Between Hinstock and Whitchurch the field split in two halves, with all the top men battling for position in the leading bunch. For mile after mile the two groups sped on, rapidly gaining on schedule. In fact so fast was the pace that after 62 miles at the approach to Weaverham, the leaders were nearly half an hour ahead of scheduled time.
Stretton came and went, and then the road to Warrington. Scales, with half-a-dozen riders, broke clear of the leading group to forma compact and fast-moving breakaway. But the leading lights, Viking, French, Dayton and I.T.P. men, were all in the second group, watching one another warily. Each team covering the other - each man with his appointed job.
Out of Warrington the first man to attempt a breakaway was Garnier. Immediately he made his attack, Greenfield jumped on to his tail and Garnier dropped back again.
Russell attempted to force a lead but with him went Parker and once again an attack was frustrated. Bedwell, too, made several attempts to get clear of the fast-moving group, but on each occasion he was marked by one of the Viking or I.T.P. men.
The final attack came with only io miles to go. Jowett shot away and joined with Scales ; chasing them like madmen were Taylor and Steel.
Through Lancaster they raced, and Taylor and Steel caught up with the two leaders. Behind them, forming another group, were Bedwell, Parker and Russell chasing hard. The team battle was on in earnest. In Lancaster, Frenchman Garnier skidded and was thrown to the ground ; he remounted without delay and soon forged his way ahead to join the bunch.
Down into Morecambe and along the Promenade, the leading four were still together. It was the 6-ft.-tall Scot Ian Steel who added yet another win to his list, snatching an inches victory on the line. But Bedwell was not far behind, and Steel's win was not sufficient to take the yellow jersey from the Romford racer who still led on general classification. But the team positions were now extremely close.
Wilson, tired and sore, finished the day and was given a tremendous cheer. Bellamy, another who had fallen during the previous day's crash, retired in the early stages of this day's racing. The Frenchmen were not feeling too good, they just did not seem able to hold the amazing speed.
There could be no doubt that the team riding of the Independents was paying off, for not since the third day had the French aces had a chance of keeping to their plans. Every attack they made was met, and they were being rapidly worn down so that they could not resist the continual British challenges.
The Irishmen had had another unlucky day. Their best man, McCarthy, finished in 33rd place, 15 minutes down on the leader. Lennon and Hawkins were equal 39th, a further seven minutes in arrears, and Carr saw the back wheel of every other finisher. He crossed the line alone three-quarters of an hour after the winner.
Between the British teams rivalry was now at its height, and with half the distance covered, there was very little between any of them. Dayton led with a total time for their three fastest riders of 86 hrs. 16 mins. 47 secs., a lead of not quite four minutes over Viking.
The French team's best man was still Pierre. On general classification he was placed eighth with a total time of 28 hrs. 48 mins. 5 secs., which meant he was 5 mins. 43 secs. down on the leader. Order of general classification at half distance was : 1st, Bedwell ; 2nd, Steel ; 3rd, Russell ; 4th, Taylor ; 5th, Welch.
1st: IAN STEEL (Viking)5 hrs. 7 mins. 40 secs.
2nd: Ken Jowett (I.T.P.) 2 lengths
3rd: Alec Taylor (Gnutti) 5.08.05
Result of Hill Climb 1st: K. Russell (I.T.P.) 2nd: C. Parker (Dayton) 3rd: J. Welch (Viking)
Stage 7 onwards>>>