Robinson and Hoar turned and turned around all night. Earlier in the day, the two had raced in Tours at the end of a 68.6 km time trial from Chatellerault, Hoar beating Robinson by 1:22. But it was Robinson who held the advantage overall, being some 40 places higher in the general classification. Whether it was the adrenaline of a day spent racing against the clock or a nervous feeling of anticipation of becoming the first British drivers to complete the Tour, which kept them awake is unclear. Perhaps the two runners were restless and restless due to the noise of the post-stage evenings which lasted long into the night. “Tony Hoar and I hadn’t slept a bit when we embarked on this remarkable adventure,” said Robinson later, reflecting on the particular experience of the last stage of the Tour.Finally, dawn finally broke. It was July 30, a Saturday. In the coming hours, the Tour would celebrate its second triple winner – Louison Bobet, who entered the race as the reigning double champion. Bobet had taken the yellow at the start of the last week and was almost five minutes ahead of Jean Brankart, second. Except for misfortune or collapse en route to Paris, the Frenchman, once considered too fragile for Grand Tour races, was nailed to claim his third Tour title
While Bobet was preparing to enter the record books, the Belgian Philippe Thys, the only other rider to have won three Tours (1913/14/20), was going to Paris from Auvergne, where he was on vacation, having received an invitation from the Tour organizers to make a presentation to Bobet and share a lap of honor. Perhaps the Belgian was unaware that, alongside the reported 50,000 spectators who filled the stadium stands, he would also witness the first runners from Great Britain crossing the ultimate finish line for cycling.
Six hours, 38 minutes and 39 seconds after leaving Tours, Robinson and Hoar finished their race, part of a group of 68 runners who had allowed the Spanish Miguel Poblet to escape and achieve a solo victory 14 seconds. While Bobet was in the center of France, the reaction of the Parisian crowd to the two Britons was warm.
Robinson, who finished 29th overall, played an important role in a number of stages during the race, performances which earned him the respect of other riders and seasoned observers on the Tour. Hoar, on the other hand, was 69th with a red lantern, coming home almost an hour behind the 68th runner, Henri Sitek, from France. He had driven relentlessly and in a good mood throughout his journey and his arrival in Paris was both celebrated and unexpected – halfway through the race, the British press having reported that it certainly could not last much Longer. And it was true that Hoar had benefited from the benefit of the doubt along the way. After failing in Monaco, a stage that took the Vars and Cayolle climbs in which he fell three times, he was allowed to continue because he had been disadvantaged by the traffic that had spilled over the course. before his death.
>>> Subscription offers for Cycling Weekly magazine
In Paris, Hoar walked his lap of honor with a small red lantern attached to his bike to an original soundtrack of French voices calling his name. He then posed for the usual photo alongside the race winner, Bobet. “The young Hampshire cyclist has become almost a legend because of his grim determination to participate in the Tour at any cost,” reported the Aberdeen Evening Express. “Along the way, the enthusiastic French crowds first sought out their own idol, Louis Robet [sic] … And then for Hoar who has been fighting against all odds since the first stages. “In Paris, Hoar, nicknamed” Tail-end Tony “by the British press, said:” It was the most difficult race in which I have ever participated … I continued to manage because it was worth it finish.”
As for Robinson? Well, he had really impressed. Jock Wadley wrote in the pages of the inaugural edition of Runner that “the reconnaissance tour found [Britain] a leader for ’56 ’. “I’ll be back,” said Robinson in Paris, and indeed he would.
The Hercules connection
Charles Holland and Bill Burl were the first British to participate in the race in 1937, in a three-man “team” alongside Canadian Pierre Gachon, but they drove without any real support and neither driver finished. The idea of bringing a complete and sustained British team to the Tour was formed at the 1953 World Championships in Switzerland.
This is where a group of influential voices, including the editors of Cycling and The bicycle, began to discuss the merits of sending a team of British riders to the Tour. Among those who contributed to the group’s discussion was D.D. “Mac” McLachlan, advertising director for the bicycle brand Hercules. Hercules sponsored a professional team on the road and with Tour-oriented discussions, Mac sensed a golden advertising opportunity – while any Tour team should ride in national colors rather than commercial, Hercules could not benefit from it. only by association.
The organization of the Tour was enthusiastic and in November 1954 an agreement was reached for a British team to enter the race. In early 1955, Hercules sent their riders to the French Riviera to train and gain the much needed European racing experience, in order to maximize their participation in the Tour. The scheme worked. “Ten cyclists will represent Great Britain for the first time on the Tour de France from July 7 to 31 [sic] were named yesterday, “reported the Birmingham Daily Gazette on June 14. “These are: Dave Bedwell (Romford), Tony Hoar (Emsworth), Stan Jones (Birmingham), Fred Krebs (Cambridge), Bob Maitland (Birmingham), Ken Mitchell (Kenton), Bernard Pusey (Redhill), Brian Robinson (Huddersfield ), Ian Steel (Glasgow) and Bevis Wood (Manchester). Six of those 10 – Bedwell, Hoar, Krebs, Maitland, Pusey and Robinson – rode for Hercules, while the team was led by Hercules manager Syd Cozens.
Twenty-four days later, these 10 men stood at La Marseillaise and marched along the seafront at Le Havre. How they would fare over the next few weeks was completely unknown. The Team said the team was “richer in courage than experience”, while the Birmingham Daily Gazette said that the mere presence of the team in France was “a recognition of the world class of our runners ” At the Daily Herald, Sydney Saltmarsh reported, “Do we have a chance? Frankly, no … if some of them are even among the finishers, they will have done well “, before changing their mind and writing five paragraphs later that” the devastating sprint of Bedwell could well snatch one of the first victories step ”.
It turned out that the team suffered from the start. Barely three steps and Pusey, Bedwell and Wood were already ready, not meeting deadlines. There were tensions within the team, some considering Cozens out of depth. “Syd was fluent in French, but that was almost the only good thing about her,” Hoar told Max Leonard for his book Lanterne Rouge. “He didn’t know anything about road racing. They also suffered frequent punctures. On the first day, 30 seconds before the start of the afternoon team time trial, Bedwell noticed that his front tire was flat. As he desperately tried to inflate it, the valve blew on the pump, which meant that there was no choice but to change the wheel and then travel the course alone. “The tires were s ** t,” says Robinson bluntly in William Fotheringham’s Roule Brittania.
The team was assured that the Dunlop tubing was mature, “but we had more punctures than any other team,” Hoar told Fotheringham. “We were all screwed up with that, so we opened them – they had the date stamped on the inner tubes and they were only a few months old. “
Robinson turns heads
As the race progressed, the team disintegrated. Jones was eliminated at step seven; The steel detached, exhausted and disillusioned on the way to Briançon; Maitland crashed into the new scene, with photographs showing him sitting on a wall with a bloody elbow and knee while a housewife wearing a kitchen apron cleans her wounds. Krebs and Mitchell started stage 11 above Mont Ventoux – an infamous day in the history of the Tour where Bobet climbed the Giant of Provence in intense heat, Jean Malléjac collapsed and a Disoriented Ferdi Kübler wove up and down the mountain. The two Britons gave up before reaching Avignon, Mitchell suffering from a saddle wound so severe that he had cut sections of his saddle. With 11 stages to go, there were now two.
>>> Cycling Weekly is available on your smartphone, tablet and desktop computer
Despite the team’s setbacks, Robinson stood out admirably. “Through this narrow torture chamber, climbed Robinson, suffering like I had never seen an English cyclist suffer, while preserving in a way his balance and his exceptional style … ‘he overtook 39 runners while climbing'”, wrote Jock Wadley, citing Viking crew chief and acting British team mechanic Bob Thom, who had counted the riders. Robinson was just as impressive in the Pyrenees. “Experienced observers say they have never seen anything equal to Brian Robinson’s 5,500-foot descent of Aubisque in flight,” reported the Herald somewhat improbably. Whatever the truth of this statement, Robinson had a successful last week, gaining 10 places to finish 29th overall in Paris.
Hoar may have captured many titles and photographers in the finale – that’s the romance of the red lantern – but it was Robinson who turned the heads that counted. Two-time Tour winner André Leducq told the Yorkshireman that he “could finish in the top 15 of the Tour next year”, which he did, moving up to Paris in 14th place 12 months later.
In 2014 Robinson spoke on local television about Kirklees, saying that Bobet had told him during this first adventure of the tour: “It’s not like taking a step when coming to France, it’s like going up a floor. Of the 10 who lined up at Le Havre that day in July 1955, only Robinson returned, making a total of seven laps and becoming Britain’s first winner.
They may not have all had their heads for such long heights, but the class of 55 really led the way. “Only two have completed the course,” concluded this publication, “but these two have shown in this preparatory year that they and others will ride faster in these benchmarks in the years to come.”
Sixty-five years later, and Britain having since claimed 71 stages as well as successes in all major rankings, including six wins, it may have taken a little while, but there has never been had no truer word written.
This feature originally appeared in the print edition of Cycling Weekly, available at newsagents and supermarkets for £ 3.25.