1952 Tour of Britain - Part 2
Credit: Daily Express 1952 Race Programme
Route - Stages 1 to 7
BENEATH the clear blue sky of a summer's day, tens of thousands of
holidaymakers lined the sea-front at Hastings for the start of the 1952
Tour of Britain. A tremendous cheer arose from the closely packed crowds as the flag dropped for the commencement of Stage 1. All 78 contestants glided away in a colourful body and threaded their way through the spectators lining the streets on the route to Battle.
As yet the pace was leisurely, for the field had four miles of neutralised road to cover before the start of the race proper. Strictly observing the no-racing rule for all built-up areas, the riders held themselves in check until the de-neutralisation flag was waved - and then 78 pairs of pedals were stamped down simultaneously. Speed quickly shot up to 35 m.p.h. as rider after rider tried to break away on his own - only to be foiled by the tactics of the field.
After 14 miles hard slogging, however, a slight slowing-down of the field gave London amateur Johnny Brackstone the signal to forge ahead. Even so, his brilliant and sustained effort was not a lone breakaway - he was chased hard by eight other riders. This group of nine joined forces and, making the most of their lead, began to work as a unit, building up a useful vantage. Mile after mile the nine men kept together, maintaining a truly killing pace - so killing in fact that eventually T. Smith of Romford R.C. had to drop back.
Meanwhile, behind this leading group, other attempts at breakaways were being made. Some succeeded, some failed, and after an hour's jockeying, during which the leaders had covered 25 miles, there were four groups spread out in front of the main field.
At the summit of long, gruelling Patcham Hill, near Brighton - a prime point - Bob Maitland, leader of the B.S.A. team, sprinted away to score a magnificent win. Following him were Norman Yeaman of the Pennine team and Johnny Brackstone. The remaining four amongst the leaders followed close behind.
It was two minutes before the next riders appeared at the top of the hill. Then Frenchman Pierre led across a group of eight men. They were chasing really hard in an attempt to catch the advance party. Another two minutes passed before the main bunch breasted the hill.
Gradually the eight 'hounds' drew closer to the 'hares' Leslie Drinkwater (Wearwell) dropped from the chasers. With 3o miles still to go, the two septets joined up. These 14 men stayed clear of the field and fought out the finish.
And what a finish this proved to be! In one solid group they flew into Southsea's Serpentine Road. It was the young London amateur Brackstone who flung his machine over the line first, with barely the width of a tyre separating him from second man Ken Russell (Ellis-Briggs).
An ex-clubmate of Russell's, Ken Jowett, riding for the R.A.F., was placed third. The remaining 11 riders in the group were all placed equal fourth. Included amongst them were three of the B.S.A. team, Bob Maitland, Peter Procter and Gordon 'Tiny' Thomas. They became leaders in the team race.
Ian Steel, the winner of the 1951 Tour of Britain, had bad luck on this stage. At a feeding station, a rider in front of him skidded due to a fallen feeding bottle. Steel crashed into him - luckily falling on to the grass verge. To save time, he carried on with his damaged machine to the finish, but was well down.
1st J. BRACKSTONE (London) 99 miles (159km) in 4.12.27 (Average 23.5mph / 37.9kph)
2nd K. RUSSELL (Ellis-Briggs) at inches
3rd K. JOWETT (Royal Air Force) at inches
THE elements were again kind to the riders and to the great crowds gathered for the ceremony of donning the Yellow Jersey at the start at Southsea's South Parade Pier. Brackstone was given a great cheer when he donned his insignia as race leader - the first man to wear the coveted jersey in this year's race.
As the field moved off in processional order, dozens of local club riders, eager to savour the atmosphere of Britain's greatest cycling event, joined behind the racers. For 5 1/2 neutralised miles, this 'escort' remained with the field. Then the race became de-neutralised - and in a matter of minutes the club cyclists had been left far behind.
The speed of the field was phenomenal. Attack after attack was made at the front of the bunch, but so fast-moving was the field that riders who did manage to detach themselves remained in the lead for only a very short time.
Through Porchester and Titchfield they swept, and on to Thornhill. Still they were all together, fighting it out in one bunch. As the back-breaking climb up Stoney Cross Hill approached, Maitland (B.S.A.) and Welch (Viking) sprang away. They were instantly chased by Procter, West, Don Wilson, Audemard and Thomas. It was a fierce tooth-and-nail struggle up the climb, but Procter managed to force his way into the lead, and as he ground his way upwards, he opened a gap of five lengths between himself and West. Aldridge heaved himself and his bike over the line to gain third position.
It seemed possible that after the prime, a breakaway might materialise. But the bunch, lunging behind, swiftly caught up and the whole field re-formed - except for seven men. Two Italian riders and two Germans were finding the speed too great for their liking. Also behind were three B.S.A. men - Thomas, Newman and Jones. Thomas had punctured - his team-mates had stayed in the rear to help him back to the bunch.
While the chase in the rear was going on, a surprise break had occurred at the front. Nine men had escaped from the pack, and were slowly but surely building up a lead. Within 10 miles, as the field approached Wareham, another small group had detached themselves from the bunch, and were chasing the leaders. In this group, eight strong, was Irishman Lackey who had suffered such bad luck on the first day, and three Belgian riders.
The leaders had built up a lead of nearly 2 1/2 miles on the second group by the time Wareham was reached. But the group behind - and the main bunch - were putting on speed. The leaders' advantage had dropped to little more than a minute by the time they reached Warmwell Cross after 78 1/2 miles.
Despite this, there was never any real danger of the field catching right up with the flying nine.
Swinging through Preston and then along the sea wall into Weymouth, Ken Russell resolved that he was not to be pipped at the post as on the previous day. He made a tremendous sprint and shot over the line a clear three lengths ahead of Frenchman Gregorini. Flashing into third place was Don Wilson.
Yellow Jersey wearer Brackstone was in a group which finished more than three minutes later. He was placed equal 36th. And as a result he lost his race leader's symbol. Russell, with a minute bonus for his win, went into the lead.
The first retirement in the race came after this stage. One of the Italians gave up. The going was too fast and too tough. The leading German filled 34th place. Two others brought up the tail of the field.
Hardest luck of the day hit Marr, of the Scottish team. He was well up when only 15 miles remained to be covered. He broke a crank and had to wait by the roadside until a service vehicle came along to provide him with a spare machine.
1stK. RUSSELL (Ellis-Briggs) 85.5 miles (137.6 kms) in 3.38.48 (Average 23.4 mph / 37.7 kph)
2nd G. GREGORINI (France) at 3 lengths
3rd D. WILSON (Yorkshire) at inches
Weymouth-Weston super Mare
OVER so short a distance as 74 miles, there was little likelihood of any very serious breakaway occurring. When the riders lined up along Weymouth's sea-front, every team had but one idea - to maintain their position. The result was that immediately the race proper started, after a two-mile procession to the outskirts of the town, the whole bunch speeded up and kept together.
For mile after mile, as the brilliantly coloured field swept on its way through the towns and villages of the south-west, no breakaway occurred.
At the prime point, after a long, winding struggle upwards from Dorchester, Belgian rider Van Den Dooren whipped his machine to the fore and snatched a three-lengths lead to beat Ken Jowett and C. Mather.
On through Ilchester and Red Post Cross - still not one rider nor a group managed to break clear. Then, just after sweeping through Compton, a gap appeared in the middle of the bunch. It could hardly be called a breakaway, but rather a clean-cut division.
Not until the final few miles remained did the leading group, 29 strong, begin to string out at all - and then only a few seconds separated first man from last.
Down into Weston-super-Mare they swept, and along the front at a speed of more than 3o miles an hour.
Suddenly, 300 yards from the finish, the vast, excited crowd bulged, and caused a bottleneck in the road. The first few riders were able to squeeze through - the rest were not so lucky. In a split second the speeding riders sprinting for the line became a sprawling mass of bodies and tangled machines.
Those who had escaped the crash flashed on across the line. First over was Stan Jones, a length ahead of Italian Sanchez. Then came 'Tiny' Thomas, to be followed by the Yellow Jersey wearer Ken Russell. Another Frenchman, Audemard, was picked out as fifth, and Belgian Michaux sixth. Then followed the battered and bleeding riders, mixed in with following riders who had managed to stop before running into the crash.
Cut and bleeding and dazed with shock, the injured racers staggered forward, dragging their battered machines behind them, or carrying them over their shoulders.
It was a wonderful display of sporting instinct. For to qualify at the finish, a man must get himself and his machine, unassisted, over the line.
As they crossed over, many of the riders collapsed a foot beyond the line, to be caught by their managers and helpers, and carried to the side of the road.
Four men were taken to hospital for treatment - German Kopitz, Drinkwater, Procter and Jowett. Wightman received extensive treatment at the roadside by the travelling doctor. Others were treated for shock and slight abrasions.
So great had been the courage of the riders, that the judges' panel decided that the whole group of 27 men who had been together just before the crash should all be given the same finishing time. The three men who crossed the line first, of course, received their time bonuses.
Ken Russell still retained his Maillot Jaune, and Yeaman and Howarth were still his nearest challengers.
German Ziegler was again last man home. He was examined by the travelling doctor, who decided that he should be sent to hospital for examination, since he was running a high temperature.
Irish riders had not been blessed with a trouble-free day. Hawkins punctured a little before Glastonbury. So great was the speed of the riders that he had no chance at all of catching up again. He finished last but two.
Last year's winners, the Viking team, were well down - more than seven minutes in arrears. The big question in the minds of riders was, when would the Viking team - and Ian Steel their leader - make a big effort? So far, the tall, rugged Scotsman Steel had been content to sit in with the bunch most of the time, riding with his hands on the tops of the handlebars, admiring the scenery.
He had made very few big attempts - in fact only when a breakaway seemed to have forced too dangerous a lead did he go to the front of the field and show his paces, taking up the pack.
1st A. S. JONES (B.S.A.) 74 miles (119 kms) in 3.14.35 (Average 22.8 mph / 36.7 kph)
2nd M. SANCHEZ (Italy) at inches
3rd G. THOMAS (B.S.A.) at inches
FROM Weston-super-Mare, the riders had crossed by ferry to Cardiff, and there spent the night.
In the morning the sun again made brilliant the multi-coloured jerseys of the riders as they gathered in the forecourt of the Civic Centre to receive the good wishes of the Lord Mayor.
Three men did not appear at the start. Kopitz and Jowett, victims of the previous day's crash, were unable to start. Ziegler was detained in hospital.
With the lowering of the flag, the field moved off in processional order to the outskirts of the city, and straight away the race was on. Every rider knew this would prove the toughest day of the race, contested over the up-and-down roads through the mountains of Central Wales.
In the first seven miles, Caerphilly Mountain had to be climbed. In the tortuous upward struggle, Wightman began to drop back ; he was in pain with the injuries he had suffered. Irishman Morrish had trouble with his gears and also dropped back, joining forces with Wightman.
On the steep descent of Caerphilly, Thomson, De Smet and Pierre crashed on a hairpin bend. Thomson seemed badly knocked about, but after re-fitting his chain he managed to climb on to his machine and struggle on, along with De Smet and Pierre.
On the climb out of Merthyr Tydfil, on the way to the summit of Brecon Beacons, the 2,000-ft. prime point, the field split up into three distinct forward groups and a large following bunch. Away ahead were nine men, six of them amateur riders. Chasing them was another small group, six strong. Farther back still, a three-man unit. The main bunch was three minutes behind the leaders. In the foremost bunch was Stan Jones (B.S.A.), and it was his hill-climbing endurance which won him this stamina-testing prime.
The headlong downward descent from the prime point saw many of the chasing groups joining forces. At Sennybridge, after 51 miles, the hounds formed a bunch 13 strong to pursue the hares, still nine in number.
On the climb out of Llandovery, after another 12 miles, the leaders were caught. Just before a feeding station, the two groups formed a unit 22 strong. Pound of Yorkshire could not hold the cracking pace and dropped back. Greenfield stopped at the feeding station to change a softening tyre.
It seemed possible then that another tightly packed finish might be expected. But few people realised the steepness of the last climb but one of the day. Fifteen miles before the finish, the field had to tackle the hill before Llanrhystyd. The hill seemed to rise straight up into the air.
One man who had been conserving his energy all day seized his opportunity. He was Frenchman Gregorini, hill-climbing ace of his team. From a position well back at the start of the climb, he lunged at his pedals and slowly began to overhaul rider after rider. At the summit he was first over by several seconds. But whereas other riders eased to recover a little breath, Gregorini sprinted away on the downhill run and was soon lost to sight.
Even the final climb before Aberystwyth did not daunt him. He went up as if he were on a motor-cycle. Over the top and down into the town of Aberystwyth he sped, amazing officials and onlookers alike with his spectacular final sprint. He flashed over the line near the town's harbour jetty, comfortably ahead of his nearest rivals.
1st G. GREGORINI (France) 109.5 miles (176.2kms) in 5.01.33 (Average 21.8 mph / 35.1 kph)
2nd L. SCALES (Sun) 5.04.03
3rd K. RUSSELL (Ellis-Briggs) at inches
THE longest stage in the race made it likely that the field would be greatly split up, and several big changes were expected among leaders. But again the majority of the riders kept up terrific speeds and there was very little between them at the end of the 179 miles.
In brilliant sunshine, and with a strong wind blowing off the sea, the field made a brave splash of colour as they proceeded along Aberystwyth promenade to the de-neutralisation point. There the race began in earnest and with less than 20 miles covered, eight men had broken clear of the field and shot through Machynlleth. On the steep, wind-swept climb up to the summit of Mynydd Gwern, O'Reilly was dropped from the leaders. But not for long. Suddenly the Irishman made a spectacular recovery, raced up to the leaders again, and then went ahead on his own. At the top he was first over with a good zoo yards to spare. On the downward swoop, however, he was again caught by the leaders.
Behind this bunch a group of seven men had formed and were hot in pursuit. After 6o miles, when the race had passed through Bala, the seven chasing men caught up with the leading nine.
Into Queensferry, they had four minutes in hand over the next men. Trevor Fenwick put on a great spurt and was the first man over the Border into England to win the special £10 prize.
Now in the bunch were Ian Steel and his Viking team mates, Pottier and Blair. Ken Russell, in his Yellow Jersey, was also prominent - he was making sure that he kept with Steel. O'Reilly and Hawkins, two of the Irishmen, making a bold bid to be ' in at the kill,' were riding strongly. The Belgians had Bodson and Van Den Dooren well up.
The Viking team, it seemed, were out to make their big attempt. For once, the B.S.A. riders had only one man with the leaders - Peter Procter, still riding magnificently despite his earlier crash.
On and on the leaders swept, through the Lancashire towns of Warrington and Wigan. The two Irish lads could not hold the gruelling pace, and they dropped off.
In Preston, Ian Steel made a big effort to break away on his own, but Russell made sure that did not happen, and the remaining 13 kept together to fight out a sprint finish.
It was Russell who scored the victory, although the group swept across the line so bunched up together that at first the judges gave the verdict to Les Scales. After studying photographs of the finish, however, Russell was made the winner by ' half the width of a tyre ' ; Scales was placed second, and amateur rider David Robinson of the Romford team was third.
Over the final miles, the chasing group of riders had rapidly reduced the distance between themselves and the leaders. At Warrington, the cheering crowds had had to wait for more than five minutes in between the two groups. But at Preston this gap had been reduced to little more than three minutes.
At the finishing line, spectators and officials alike were surprised to see the approach flags waving less than a minute after the leaders had flashed by. Behind came a group of eight men, including Maitland and Newman of the B.S.A. team - and gone were the Viking boys' hopes of taking the lead in the team race.
Throughout the day the skies had been lowering, and rain threatened. The storm did not break until the riders were safely under cover and most of them in bed. As the gale increased and the rain lashed, they were all thankful that the next day was to be a rest day in the comfortable surroundings of Blackpool.
1st K. RUSSELL (Ellis-Briggs) 179 miles (288 kms) in 7.58.37 (Average 22.4 mph / 36.1 kph)
2nd L. SCALES (Sun) at 1 inch
3rd D. ROBINSON (Romford R.C.) 1/2 length
THE storm which had raged in Blackpool during the rest day had greatly diminished as the field, now 6o strong, lined up for the start on the city's promenade. Ken Russell was given a great ovation as he donned his Yellow Jersey for the fourth day in succession.
Along Blackpool's crowded promenade the field rode slowly to the start of the race proper, a distance of nearly five miles. Immediately the flag indicating the end of the neutralised period had been waved, the whole field speeded up to almost 4o miles an hour in a terrific initial burst of speed.
If the riders inspiring this sudden rush hoped to break up the field they were sadly disappointed, for through Lancaster, after 25 miles, the 6o riders were still in a compact group.
Shortly afterwards, however, six men managed to detach themselves and formed a fast-moving breakaway. As the ground began to rise between Lancaster and Kendal, another eight men broke away from the field - among them, Les Scales. These groups joined forces for the tough climb to the summit of Shap Fell.
As the 14 men ground their way upwards, still travelling at speeds often exceeding 15 miles an hour, it was Len West who forced his way to the front. Slowly but surely his lead built up, and he crossed the prime point at the summit with a good 150 yards to spare on his nearest challenger, Ian Greenfield.
Through Clinton, the leaders who had been broken up on the ascent of Shap Fell, re-joined and made a 10-strong group. West, the prime winner, was riding extremely well, and seemed likely to score a double by winning the stage as well. But when less than 20 miles remained, he punctured and dropped back.
Behind, a ding-dong battle was being fought out between race leader Russell and last year's winner Ian Steel. The Scot had overhauled Russell on the downward swoop from Shap Fell. These two, in turn, had caught up with Stan Jones.
Steed's one need was to get away from Russell if he was to get nearer to the top of the general classification. Again and again he tried to race away on his own. He switched, 'jumped', stalled, did everything he could to get clear. But Russell managed every time to hold him. Jones, too, kept up.
Finally, Steel gave up the struggle, and the trio was caught up by a bunch of 12 men, who went on to the finish together. They overtook Len West who, struggling on his own after his puncture, joined in with the group.
Amongst the leaders, now 3 1/2 minutes up on Steel's and Russell's group, was Romford amateur Bill Bellamy. He was little more than four minutes behind Russell in the general classification table.
Over the last few miles, the leading bunch, with Bellamy doing plenty of hard work in keeping the pace really hot, steadily gained on the field. As the finishing line came into sight their lead had increased to more than four minutes.
The nine men ripped into Carlisle, and it was West's team-mate Scales who flashed across the line first, a length in front of Viking rider John Pottier.
Once they had finished, the anxious wait for Russell began. Slowly the seconds ticked by. Four minutes passed, but still there came no signal that the next riders were approaching.
It was nearly 4 1/2 minutes later when they swept into Carlisle, with Russell amongst them. But this was 11 seconds too late - the Yellow Jersey changed hands. For the second time in the Tour, an amateur rider became the wearer Bill Bellamy was a delighted man that night.
He had never once been in the first three places in any stage, but he had always been in the first bunch to finish or very close behind. He was giving an exhibition of the sort of consistently fast riding which can win multi-stage races without ever securing day-by-day prominence. And to quote Bellamy's own words - `I'm not so hot in the final sprint'.
1st L. SCALES (Sun) 87 miles (140 kms) in 3.36.35 (Average 24.1 mph / 38.8 kph)
2nd J. POTTIER (Viking) at a length
3rd B. WOOD (Pennine) at inches
AS the crowds began to gather in Carlisle's Station Square, as heavy clouds above began to hover and threaten rain, the Tour of Britain entered yet another stage - the halfway mark in fourteen days' racing. To the cheers of thousands, Bill Bellamy led out the field in his Yellow Jersey. Only nine miles away was the English-Scottish border with its special prize for the first man across. With the dropping of the de-neutralisation flag at the outskirts of the city, the whole bunch of riders rose out of their saddle and sprinted - the race into Scotland was on.
So keen was the racing that no single rider broke clear. The lead changed constantly as one man after another forced his way to the front; at more than 3o miles an hour the field raced towards Gretna. A mere 5o yards from the bridge separating the two countries - and the field was still one compact group. Then Bellamy's Romford team-mate, Tony Smith, managed to open a small gap. Pedalling furiously he managed to hold his tiny lead and shot acrss the bridge first.
There was no let-up after the first fierce nine miles. On through Kirkpatrick and Ecclefechan the peloton raced, keeping up its killing pace. Not until more than 25 miles had been covered did a breakaway succeed. Beyond Lockerbie eleven riders managed to detach themselves from the field, and formed a fast moving breakaway.
The eleven were intent on battling for the prime at the summit of Beattock Hill, nearly i000 ft. high. It was a gruelling climb, steep and twisting. Still the speed remained high; still there came no signs of fatigue among the leaders. Right to the top they struggled in a compact group, and the prime point was an all-out sprint, Gordon Thomas just managing to get over first.
Behind the eleven leaders another group of ten men had formed. They were chasing hard to catch up. On the downward swoop after the prime the gap between the two sets of leaders rapidly closed. A little beyond Crawford the groups merged, and there were 21 men to forma breakaway, almost as large as the main bunch travelling in the rear.
They seemed all set to carry on right to the finish unchallenged. But they reckoned without Ian Steel. He did not like the idea of so many men away in front on the road to his native city. It was a long, hard struggle, but mile by mile saw the ever-smiling Scot closing the gap, and as the outskirts of Glasgow were reached Steel caught up, with six men in his slipstream.
Of the original 21 leaders, only two men had dropped off. With the arrival of Steel and his followers the leaders were now 26 strong-26 men to fight out a sprint finish after 96 miles of hard, wind-and-drizzle-swept country.
It was a scintillating end to the day's racing. The 26 lunged for the line in one heaving, fantastic mass. Belgian Van Den Dooren managed to pull out the last-moment effort that counted. He flashed by the winning flag a split second before Bevis Wood and Gordon Thomas.
It was a sad day for Scotland. The thousands of Glaswegians who had turned out hoping to see their own Ian pull off a win that day were disappointed. Steel himself was perhaps just a little disappointed, too. But as he explained to his parents, waiting for him on the line, ' It would have been nice to be first into Glasgow, but it's the team that matters, not me, and we are doing quite fairly.'
The R.A.F. team had another set-back on this stage. Thomson, suffering from stomach trouble, had struggled valiantly for 5o miles, but then had to retire. The team was left with only three men - the bare minimum for the team race.
1st G. VAN DEN DOOREN (Belgium) 96 miles (154.5 kms) in 3.58.19 (Average 24.2 mph / 38.9 kph)
2nd B. WOOD (Pennine) at inches
3rd G. THOMAS (B.S.A.) at inches