IAN STEEL, a shy, bespectacled Scot, might well have been our first post-war Tour de France star and gone on to a Simpson-style career - but homesickness beat him. The quiet Glaswegian had enough ability, but miles from home and with nobody to talk to in his own language the loneliness of the pioneer finally defeated him.
Steel started as a time trialist, became a roadman, and turned independent. He attracted the Viking Cycles attention, and rode for them in the 1951 Tour of Britain. After that first Tour he was a household name. From his elbows-out sprint past Bedwell for third-stage victory at Plymouth, plus stage-six victory at Morecambe, and then again into Glasgow, Steel took over race leadership. Bedwell snatched two more stages in a bid to regain the yellow jersey, but was withdrawn by his sponsor at the start of the final stage. Steel was the master, and swept on to Hampstead Heath for the finish of the 1,403 miles route, with his arm held high in token of brilliant overall victory. He was even fourth on that last stage.
Victory in the Tour of the Chilterns and the Scottish national title followed, and in 1952 he took the British title as one of a string of wins, which included the fabulous Warsaw-Berlin-Prague. In that event he started badly, but at the start of the last stage held a slim lead of a minute, which he held by defensive riding - totally out of character for Steel.
Paris-Lens, an event run by the French rebel body - the FSGT brought Ian's turn to be shadowed The complete master, he dominated the race and towed a Belgian over the last 50 miles, only to be outsprinted, despite his rival's promise not to try.
The Tour of Mexico followed, but a bad crash ended his personal hopes, and he spent the rest of the race helping Bev Wood into third place.
Now Steel was ready for the big guns, and he was certainly not awe-struck when he attacked them on their own ground in the Six Provinces. Big names like Gaul, Brankart, De Bruyne and Forestier were in that race, and Steel lived well in their company.
That Tour, invite declined, his next big Continental venture was in the 1955 Tour of Spain and, despite a lack of training, he again proved he had the necessary class. But you will not find his name among the finishers. After seeing his team-mates smashed into retirement one by one, Steel packed four days from the end - because he had nobody left to talk to !
One man who had certainly been impressed by him in the that race was the French climbing ace Jean Dotto, who was forced to tell Ian to take it easy in a break on the dusty Alto de la Mata climb en-route to Barcelona.
"The Scot was tearing us to pieces," Dotto told reporters later.
The Tour followed, and despite his disappointing ride, Steel looked set for big things but, abruptly his career ended. The cause was the complete withdrawal of the big sponsors from the British cash game at the end of 1955. With no sponsor, and virtually no races to ride, Ian called it a day.
If Steel had been born 10 years later he might today be one of the world greats; as it was, he paved the way, proving it was possible for a Briton to match the Continentals. For that, British cycling will be forever indebted.