CONTENTS Foreword by Phil Liggett Publishers’ Foreword Introduction 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Beginnings – The Chester Road Club National Service on a Bike

Venturing Abroad From the Peace Race to the Tour de France A Second Roll of the Dice Pelforth Working for the Emperor The Golden Years Mont Ventoux The Beginning of the End Return to England Full Cycle Palmarés (compiled by Mike Clark and Richard Allchin) Index of Names 157 vii ix 1 3 14 24 36 45 53 69 89 119 129 136 147 153


There were riders everywhere. The tram lines suddenly spread out across the cobbled road, and men were falling like dominoes. I hit a heap of riders and must have ridden up a pile of bikes and bodies three or four feet high. ‘Hell, Vin, you’ll never get away with this…’ Everything flashed through my mind at once. Miracles happen sometimes, and amazingly one happened just then. I was travelling so fast with the wind behind me and with no time to brake I rode over the top of them. The bike just went on and up, bouncing over other bikes and fallen riders until it started to plunge down the other side. I was over. But then my luck ran out: the front tyre burst as it crashed against the cobbles and tram lines, and the alloy rim slowly collapsed as I skidded along. I was still gripping the handlebars and somehow kept upright while I watched the wheel change from round to oval, then into a lemon shape. Finally the forks bit into the cobble stones, and I was thrown over the roadside barriers into the crowd at about 30 mph. I picked myself up, surrounded by Kracow coal miners, and jumped on a spare bike. Those who could get up after the pile-up were doing so. The race had to go on. Another day, another race. And to think this would soon be the way I would be earning my living! It all seems such a long time ago now, packing my bags and heading for the Continent. I was just an amateur then, enjoying myself on club runs, youth hostel weekends and racing in time trials. But things turn full cycle. Here I am now, my pro career long behind me, and I’m still enjoying club runs with the lads, the occasional youth hostel weekend, and riding time trials. Full circle, full cycle. But what about the top of that cycle? Well, what memories, and what an adventure it all was. It was the kind of life that was almost impossible to imagine, particularly in Britain where cycling was hardly a national sport. It still isn’t. Sure, the introduction of new glossy magazines and TV coverage of Classic races and the international grand tours has started to capture the interest of the general British public but even so, I

doubt if cycle-racing will ever generate the passion here that it does in Italy, France, Belgium, Holland or Spain. I always said I would start this book when I was past my fiftieth birthday, when I qualified as a veteran racer. And I made a promise that I would also have to have finished a 24-hour race before I started writing, because I thought that would mean I’d completed the full cycle of races – everything from club 25-mile time trials, to national championships, to the Tour de France – and back again. Once you’re over 50, officialdom considers you too old to be of much danger and allows you to compete against other old men and generally to dwell on your memories of times passed. I’ve enjoyed doing that, and if the memories help some younger cyclists head for the ferry to Europe, or to race in England and enjoy competition and fitness, then I shall be very pleased. I do not want this book to be a dry list of race results; they are just history now. I want to write it as I lived it, enjoying almost every moment to the full. Almost every moment, did I say? Well, yes, although some of the moments were pretty painful! I started to write this book quite a while ago on the beach in Sète, roasting slowly under a Mediterranean sun. My wife, Vi, was sitting next to me when I started writing, just where she sat on the fateful day in July 1967 when she heard that Tom Simpson had collapsed and died during the Tour de France. I was racing on that Tour, and Vi rushed to be with me because Tom and I were like brothers, argumentative but inseparable. The day he died was really the day my career as a professional bike rider started to die as well. Things just weren’t the same after that, and now even Vi, my wife of 43 years and mother of our three children, has gone to join Tom. But I’ve carried on, made new friends and had new experiences. Added them to the old ones, rolled them all up together, and now I’d like to share them with you.

In my first Tour, in 1961, I couldn’t work out why I couldn’t keep food down. From the start, Brian Robinson, our natural leader, was telling us to get used to eating ‘steak tartare’ – best fillet steak minced and mixed in with raw eggs and barely cooked. At that time, if you missed a feed or dropped a bottle you were not officially allowed to pick up another bottle handed up from the team car. It was a really hot Tour and I’d seen the Spaniards in the Pyrenees filling their bottles halfway up the cols from those lovely, crystal clear streams, and you’re absolutely gasping with the temperature in the 90s with hardly any drink left, so I did the same. The next day I was really ill and for the next three days I just had the runs. I couldn’t keep food down at all. I was getting thinner and thinner and eventually I started seeing black and white. It’s horrible when you pack in the Tour, but I had no choice. I was in the ambulance to start with; then after about an hour, and some tablets, I was put in the camion balai. Both the food and the mountain water were blamed. Later, back in hospital in England, they found I had a bacterial microbe in my intestine, probably from a sheep or cow that had urinated in those streams higher up the mountain. Or could it have been from the uncooked meat? Who knows? I only did two more races that year and in both I was sick after the first big effort.

My first year as a professional with the Frimatic team, after winning a race in France. They were fridge manufacturers and based there, and that’s André Mater. He used to have restaurants and hotels in the red light district in Paris. He was the Directeur Sportif, a really nice guy. I won about 13 races with that team. Later that year I got sixth in the Grand Prix des Nations – a 136-kilometre time trial through the valley of the Cheverauld. The length suited me; that helped me. Ferdinand Bracke won, but I got 20 seconds out of him in the last 20 kilometres. They gave a prize for the fastest finisher – the last 20 kilometres – and I was the fastest finisher. At the finish I was three minutes down on Bracke, but I split the two Italians, Adorni and Gimondi. I was very pleased with my showing and it helped to get me a chance with one of the really big teams, Pelforth, which I joined the following year – 1963.

Overall winner of the Vuelta al Bidasoa – a four-day, early season event. This is after the finish of the last stage at Irun. I had won an earlier stage and we took the team time trial. I had the leader’s jersey on the last day, and in spite of crashing managed to hang on to it. In any race in the Basque Country, you’ve got to be able to climb. You’re in the foothills of the Pyrenees, and they had some good young climbers, like Echeverría and Pérez Francés.


Paris–Nice, 1963. I was riding for Pelforth then and finished 10th overall. My instructions before the first stage were to attack from early on. After the third effort I pulled a group about 400 yards clear, with my team leader, Henri Anglade, on my wheel. Seeing the gap back to the bunch Anglade shouted, ‘Allez, Vincent. Plus Vite.’ The gap grew and Anquetil had missed the break. The next day, in L’Equipe, Anglade referred to his command, and said, ‘To my amazement, Vincent went even faster, and the second position is not the easiest to be in.’ It was a nice compliment to me.