CLOSING STAGES TOUR “BATTLE”
Race Report from Rhyl, Monday
THE situation as we left it in last week's report, on Sunday night, with six of 12 stages gone, saw Bradley with a lead of 7-28 over Coe, and, behind these two first-half dominators, eight men of possible importance with deficits of between 10 min. and half-an-hour.
Bradley day-by-day was looking more and more the likely winner and Coe seemed equally capable of holding if not improving his second position, and nothing happened on stage seven, 125 miles (113 according to programme!) from Rhyl to Aberystwyth, to alter their rating. But for many of those immediately behind them, what a day it was, this mountain slog across four major passes, including the notorious (in a speed sense) Bwlch-y-Groes. Just look at the catalogue:
Constant De Keyser, champion of Belgium, third at the start, 9-47 down on Bradley, whom I and most others anticipated would this day launch the attack that his obvious great ability and race-lore made imminent. Instead, suffering with a muscle pulled in his right knee when his chain jammed the previous day, it was a sad De Keyser trailing wearily in 22-50 after the winner and 19-57 after Bradley..
Owen Blower, a man of unequalled tenacity and courage, and supremely fit for this race, puncturing twice, almost getting back to the key group, then crashing heavily on a descent, severely abrasing his knees and twisting a muscle. "I was going too fast," Blower said honestly. But it was cruel luck when others were going too fast also and got away with it. He finished 8-42 behind.
Harry Reynolds, the complete bike rider, fifth at 10-6 after. six stages, going into a rumbustious solo attack on the Aberhosan grind after 73 miles - an attack that gained him two minutes on the Bradley-Coe group in five miles; an attack that, but for' a puncture at the very summit, might have taken him, if not into the race-lead, quite possibly into second place very few minutes behind Bradley.
And still there are more. Bernard Pusey, eighth in the running at half-way, was having three dismounts for gear trouble and a puncture with eight miles to go, but managing to get back to his group, and also benefit, moving up to eighth.
Most serious of all, the tumble of North Midlander Michael Coupe, on the descent of Bwlch-yGroes, resulting in a broken wrist, and bringing down Stan Brittain in a crash that completely wrecked Brittain's machine, even to crumpling both wheels, and put Brittain out of the race with a broken wrist-bone that will be 12 weeks in plaster. The ascent of Bwlch-y-Groes is three miles and the descent one mile literally down a mountain-side. On the score of road-surface alone, quite apart from impossible corners and sheer drops, it is far too dangerous a proposition for British roadmen.
Such is only a part of the catalogue of a day's disasters and just to top it off, it was learned from. Middlesborough that stage three crash-victim Thielens, in hospital with concussion, was suffering from loss of memory and will be in hospital some weeks.
But for one man, stage seven of the Tour of Britain spelled triumph, his greatest achievement yet in crossing the line first at Aberystwyth nearly three minutes tip on the "heads" after a breakaway (in company with mountain-points seeker and ultimate climbing king Brian Haskell) lasting over 100 miles.
This was big Jim Hinds, of Streatham, riding for the Surrey team. Twenty-two-year-old Hinds went away with Haskell in the first 10 miles out of Rhyl and, holding- at one time a lead of more than seven minutes, they were never caught. Haskell's objective, of course, was to ensure his King of the Mountains prize and this he virtually did on the day's four major passes where points were given.
With neither Hinds nor Haskell figuring as a challenge to the established leaders, overall race interest centred on activities behind them, and throughout the day these concerned a group ,varying from 12 to 20-strong containing all the key men except De Keyser, from out of which the happenings already related took place. Bradley throughout showed never a sign of weakening, and when Blower fell it was a signal for an England team attack to get the race-leader as far as possible away from him. Ultimately, on a Monday afternoon of brilliant sunshine, Clements, Perks, Geddes, Coe, Pusey, Claes, Taylor, Pat Maskens, Moore, Reynolds and Bradley arrived in that order 2-53 behind Hinds at warm, inviting Aberystwyth, Hinds having easily beaten a tired Haskell for the stage.
The classification now read: Bradley, 37-40-27, 1 ; Coe, at 7-55, 2; Reynolds, at 10-6, 3; Blower, at 15-41, 4; Geddes, at 19-17, 5 ; Claes, at 22-44, 6; Haskell, at 26-29, 7; Pusey, at 28-20, 8; De Keyser, at 29-34, 9; Denson, at 33-31, 10.
The story of stage eight, 110 more miles of mighty Welsh mountains, from Aberystwyth to Porthcawl, is the story of two men with little chance in the overall outcome, making the most of a day of suffering among the giants.
One of the two was De Keyser. This day, groggy knee and all, he attacked, and, because his importance had so drastically diminshed and because for the others it was the bad time, his attack succeeded.
The other man of the moment - in fact, the man of the day and the man, I'm sure, of any more to come - was the same Jim Hinds who crossed the line first at Aberystwyth. With a tremendous solo bridging effort on one of the day's five major climbs, he not only caught De Keyser but beat him hands down at Porthcawl for a second consecutive stage win.
The first notable activity came at 34 miles with Taylor, Welshman Melville Davies and Ryan away. But by 67 miles, with the spectacular 3 1/2 mile Heol Senni climb behind and 1 1/2 mile Ystradfellte in hand, it was De Keyser with a 40-sec lead over Ryan and Davies and the field at 3-40. At 78 miles, at an ill-chosen feeding station at busy Hirwaun, De Keyser lost a good half-minute at a closed level-crossing, but even so Hinds, coming up from the group like a rocket, would still have caught him on the Craig-y-Llyn climb. From there on, over the massive Rhondda and Ogmore Valley ascents and descents, the pair stayed together, but they finished eventually only 1-48 ahead of a now more lively pursuing group. Geddes beat Coe for third place in the 29-strong group sprint, which included Pusey, Taylor, Claes, Bradley, Reynolds, Blower and a much-suffering Haskell. De Keyser got back two places on classification, overstepping Haskell and Pusey to enter 7th place, but his deficit was still over 25 min. on Bradley, whose more immediate rivals held their positions.
Nowhere in the first half of this story of the 1959 Tour of Britain published last week, nor, indeed, in the accounts of the first two stages of the second half printed here, have I mentioned any of the factors which led to the withdrawal of Reynolds and Coe by their England team-manager, Gordon Thomas, last Wednesday. This was not because these events didn't take place; nor was it on account of any squeamishness about presenting the facts. It was simply that we all have the sport at heart, and that there existed tor eight days a chance that the race would conclude without the need for making widely public so unpleasant a situation. Every journalist on the Tour felt and acted the same way.
But on stage nine, 139 hard miles in broiling heat from Porthcawl to the race's only inland stop at Bath, the lid blew off .the pot irrevocably.
The England team line-up at the start of the Tour was Bradley, an amateur, and four independents, two of whom (Reynolds and Coe) in their other races ride for the same trade team. In a sentence, what happened was that, as the race progressed and Bradley seemed more and more firmly ensconced in a winning position, the efforts of the race-leader's England team-mates Reynolds and Coe, became more and more blatantly aimed at getting a bicycle rather than Bradley the premier honour by Eastbourne.
One doesn't need to go into all the multifarious gambits that made the hard life of a stage-race leader so much harder for Bradley, and that of his team-manager Thomas so nerve-wracking, in the first two-thirds of the Tour. Stage nine is enough. Only Bradley, Coe and Reynolds, by then, remained from England's five starters.
After 43 miles a breakaway had been established comprising the three Belgians, De Keyser, Claes and Baeyens, Geddes, Reynolds, Barr, Lewis, Ramsbottom, Perks, Pusey and Denson. One-minute down, Bradley, knowing something was coming, desperately defended his race-lead, heading a group containing team-mate Coe, Blower, Clements, O'Brien and Robinson. Eight miles later the front group had a lead of 2-20 over Bradley; a further 10 miles and the lead was up to 3-45. And the man who was doing most work at the front was Bradley's team-mate Reynolds!
In going after and joining a break containing three Belgians, Reynolds was doing the right thing. But his role then, as an England man supporting a team-mate with an eight-minute race-lead, was to sit back and hinder the leaders. Instead he worked hard and continuously. At the feed, at 71 miles, he was 4 min. up on Bradley's group, and Thomas threatened to withold his feed if he failed to slow. Coe's feed was witheld on the grounds that he was doing virtually nothing in the second group (which had been added to by Clayton, Moore, T. Smith, Hutton and Howling in the meantime) to defend Bradley.
To cut a long, sad story as short as possible, by 101 miles the leaders had 7 minutes over Bradley, and Reynolds eventually crossed the line 8-23 in front of his race-leader. This would have taken him to second on general classification, only 1-46 behind Bradley, as against third at 10-6 before the day's start. And for Bradley, so psychologically and physically belaboured, such a margin would not have meant a thing.
But even before Bradley and Coe crossed the line together, team-manager Thomas was making a written application to the officials for the withdrawal of Reynolds and Coe, and this was authorized. Coe and Reynolds protested that the manager had no jurisdiction over their entry or withdrawal. The protest was over-ruled by the British Cycling Federation. It was actually referred to London, to the National Racing Committee, which confirmed the team manager's complete authority. The officials had on their own account disqualified Clements and Blower "for bad sportsmanship and conduct prejudicial to the good running of the race," but this decision was quashed following appeals by the rider's regional team officials. Clements and Blower are members of the same works team as Coe and Reynolds.
The England team happening was tragic but the impossibility of giving 100 per cent. service to two masters made it almost inevitable. And what must be remembered is that, for this race at least, these men, like it or not, had agreed to ride for their country.
Not surprisingly, a lot of the shine was taken off the sprint victory of "Porky" Perks over De Keyser (his third second) and Denson for the day's verdict. Perks had been trying every day, and just missing the breaks ; he deserved his win.
The general classification now read : Bradley, 48-49-0, 1 ; Geddes, at 10-33, 2; Blower, at 15-56, 3; Claes, at 14-15, 4; De Keyser, at 17-1.
The first half of stage 10, a 28-mile time trial, was over good-surfaced but heavily undulating roads south of Bath - the sort of thing Brittain describes as " distinctly choppy." It wasn't, one would have thought, by any means a 25 m.p.h. parade-ground, but that is around the speed De Keyser managed in a resounding and well-deserved initial Belgian " first " in the Tour.
Starting last but one, De Keyser had as his minute-man much fancied Geddes. Within three miles, the Belgian had got to within 10 sec. of Geddes, and he stayed at that distance-150 to 200 yards on the road - all the rest of the way, closing up at the line to within 2 sec. of Geddes to beat him by 58 sec. with 1-6-35. Watched from behind, De Keyser was a study in the perfect use of big gears and intelligent placement on the road.
Third in the time trial was Pusey, 1-7-40, and behind him the order read: Claes, 1-7-46; Denson, 1-8-21 ; Blower, 1-8-36; Bradley, 1-8-58 ; A. Jacob, Surrey, 1-9-16; Haskell, 1-9-47.
Following so hard a ride in the morning, one would have expected little action from either Bradley or De Keyser on the afternoon 57-mile run to Weston-super-Mare. But Bradley, obviously mentally restored from his long ordeal, seemed determined to ram home his superiority.
After six miles, John Morris, London, who had deliberately had an easy time trial, went away and Bradley went with him. For 25 miles they held a lead of not more than a minute, but at 30 miles De Keyser left the group in pursuit along with Perks, Lewis and Hinds, and in five miles they had joined Bradley and Morris. Hinds punctured and went back, but the others remained together and ahead to Weston, where Perks beat De Keyser in the sprint - as he had at Bath the previous afternoon ! Hence, in two days of hectic going, De Keyser had been second, first (in the time trial) and second, and, with bonuses totalling 2 min. and a breakaway lead of 8-31 on stage nine, he, pulled back 101 min. on Bradley in 224 miles, rising to third on classification at 14-8. Bradley's efforts on Thursday afternoon, however, increased his lead on all important challengers except the Belgian.
Geddes, who took over from Coe as leader on points for daily placings, on Thursday afternoon had tried hard, both alone and with the few whom he could whip, into support, to nullify the Bradley - De Keyser break, and he was even more disgruntled about the day when the judges penalized him a minute for not handing in his number tally at the finish.
Naturally, on Friday, with time, fast running out, he was looking for an attack by which Bradley could be left, but it was not to be. Haskell, already King of the Mountains, took the final hill prime over Cheddar Gorge on the 122-mile run to Southsea, but he dropped back and it was his Yorkshire team-mate Denson who, as the miles ticked by, looked like being the first man to achieve a long solo break on this Tour. But at the 75-mile feed, irrepressible Jim Hinds was also on the warpath, and at 90 miles he joined Denson and beat him easily on the cold, blustery Southsea front for a third stage victory.
The final stage, over busy coast roads to Eastbourne, produced no activity to alter the overall picture. Bradley, Geddes, and the Belgians were quite content to promenade well behind a break lasting nearly all the 93 miles from which Liverpool's John Ryan beat Alan Jacob, T. Smith and I Moore.
- BUT IT’S BRADLEY FROM START TO FINISH
Geddes Second for Army: Belgians, Third, Fourth and Team
By Ken Bowden
TWO men won the 1959 Tour of Britain, the "Milk for Stamina" Tour of Britain, the eight-pints-a-day Tour sponsored by the Milk Marketing Board that finished in Eastbourne on Saturday.
One of them was Bill Bradley. He was the man on the bicycle. The man who crossed the line first by seconds at Skegness at the end of that first flat-out day from London ; who crossed it first again by triumphant minutes - race winning minutes, indeed - on an incredible, heart-breaking, hair-raising clamber across the mighty Pennines on stage four reported last week ; and who crossed the line in Eastbourne eight sunny days later still glowing in the golden jersey insignia of his superb achievement. A man of whom a humble admirer at Morecambe murmered, almost to himself, "You looked just like Charly Gaul, Bill." A man who has done mighty things before in many departments of his sport, including second in this race last year, but who, no matter what the future holds, will never excel the performance of those 12 gruelling, restless, often bitter days. A born climber, a first-class technician, a man of not much bulk and not many inches, but a man of great heart and even greater courage. A true amateur, who earns his living full time as a Post Office engineer and has little interest in the considerable prize value of his success, and less in capitalizing from it. A great bike-rider.
Such is Bill Bradley, winner number one of the 1959 Tour of Britain. Winner number two - the other half of a team whom I think Bradley himself will always acknowledge as having been of inestimable value - is Gordon "Tiny" Thomas, team manager of England's five starters.
Thomas himself not so many years ago was acknowledged as Britain's top roadman. He is a former winner of the Tour of Britain and now, a business man and family man, his sole wish in taking on team managerships is to be of some value to the sport that gave him such fun and fame. Quite apart from his courageous act in withdrawing Bradley's England team-mates Reynolds and Coe when they openly attacked Bradley on stage nine, there can be no question that it was "Tiny" Thomas, by his tactical direction and even more by his personal treatment of his charge, who got Bradley through to Eastbourne the winner.
Final General Classification
W. Bradley, Eng., 61-30-36, 1
J. Geddes, Army. at 11-57, 2
C. De Keyser, Belg., at 14-8, 3
J. Claes, Belg., at 15-20, 4
O. Blower, E. Mids., at 17-53, 5
B. Pusey, Kent, at 20-48, 6
V. Denson, Yorks., at 24-39, 7
J. J. Perks, Central, at 28-13, 8
I Moore, E. Counties, at 31-33, 9
J. Ryan, N. West, at 33-8, 10
B. Haskell, Yorks., at 40-3, 11
J. Hinds, Surrey, at 51-4, 12
Last man, D. Wellman, Kent, at 7-39-52, 50
Final Points Classification
J, Geddes, 1
C. De Keyser, 2
King of the Mountains
B. Haskell, 83 pts., 1
W. Bradley, 47 pts., 2
Thomas's philosophy has always been, within his strict code of ethics, to “race to win." Bradley is essentially a placid, easy-going personality, not a "hard" man. He has little of the "killer" instinct. He can always see the other chap's problem and sympathize with it. But for Thomas (backed by the sound common-sense and support of invalided England team-man Stan Brittain), it is possible that the blows of team-mates riding against him would have killed Bradley's will to win this Tour. As it was he was "talked" and willed into holding to the end the superiority that he gained on the very first day - an achievement extremely rare in stage racing.
What of the rest of the result? Somehow it seems to matter little. Soldier John Geddes came up into second place following the withdrawal of Reynolds and Coe, held it to the end, and also won the prize for highest daily placings. Belgium was third and fourth with their champion, Constant de Keyser (next to Bradley my choice as the best "class" in the race) and Jean-Baptiste Claes, and they won a team-race that England would have "walked." Towards the end, it may be these Belgians were sympathetic towards Bradley, and that De Keyser did not press as hard as he might have done. Unquestionably, his rise to third place after losing 20min. on Bradley with knee trouble on stage seven, was a magnificent achievement, as was his time trial victory. Apart from stage seven, he was never lower than 10th on the day, and four times second.
But whether or not Belgium will come again to a race of this formula is open to doubt. They found 12 days of continuous racing with distances repeatedly over 100 miles (and repeatedly over those stated), and the country tough and hazardous, just too hard and wearying - and, indeed, unless the calibre of the field can be stepped up tremendously, an easing of distances particularly, and terrain generally, is essential in any future Tour. It rained this time only at the start of stage 11, but had the weather been bad, there would not have been more than 30 finishers from a field of 70-odd.