How one Yorkshireman conquered Britain’s greatest cycle race

June 30, 2014 by  
Filed under Wind Energy Tips

Cycling as a sport was in its infancy. A ban on road racing implemented in the late 19th century had persisted until the 1940s and it was still frowned upon after the war. The bicycle was, on the whole, seen as a machine of the working classes and viewed with suspicion for the mobility it gave the common man. Britain’s elite did not relish the idea of mill hands and factory workers racing along roads that, until then, had been the preserve of those who could afford a car. Even after the ban was lifted, Ken remembers being stopped by the police during races. The West Riding of Yorkshire, however, was a hotbed of talent honed on its ferociously steep hills.

Ken joined the Bradford Racing Club and started taking part in evening time trials and speedway races. In his spare time, he worked as a frame builder at the Bradford bike shop, Whitaker and Mapplebeck. Soon, he was winning amateur races and making a name for himself against national riders.

“There was no hope of a career at that time,” he says. “I did it because I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the competition. I enjoyed winning. I suppose you could call that ruthless, but I rode to win.”

In 1948, called up for national service, he joined the RAF and stormed through Armed Forces cycling time trials as well as continuing to win numerous road races. “That,” Russell says, “was when I really got going.”

In between races and his RAF duties, every spare minute was spent training on his bike. Home on leave in Yorkshire in 1949, he was invited to the Christmas lunch of the Aire Valley Road Club and, for want of anything smarter, he wore his RAF uniform and decided to take the bus. It was a good day to be looking his best. A talented young club cyclist called Renee was also at the lunch. Ken, who was a rather shy, private young man, caught her eye. “It must have been the uniform I fell for,” smiles Renee. Soon, they were courting, going to Saturday night dances at the King’s Hall in Idle.

In 1950, Ken was demobbed. The following year the first ever Tour of Britain was launched: a 12-stage race over two weeks starting in Hastings and going as far as Glasgow before finishing in London two weeks later. Organised by the British League of Racing Cyclists, it was to be a fairly haphazard affair: roads remained open to the public so riders had to dodge cars and stop at every halt sign, or face arrest. Some 55 cyclists from 13 teams from Britain, France and Ireland took part in the event.

Ken, racing for a team called I.T.P, was part of a strong Yorkshire contingent. The county even boasted its own separate “Yorkshire” team, which included a 24-year-old scrap metal dealer from Leeds called Jimmy Savile. His racing name was “Oscar”, after the Oscar Egg bike from France that he rode, but true to form, Savile also called himself “The Duke”.

“Before a race he would get one of his friends to bring a brush, comb and mirror to the start line,” says Ken. “He would turn up in a tuxedo and strip off. It was all show. He was a showman.”

However, the showman “packed” (abandoned the race) early on. Ken’s team, too, was beset by problems. He recorded one stage win, between Cardiff and Wolverhampton, but otherwise he and his team-mates struggled to keep up with the pace. He finished 14th. Even now, he refuses to elaborate much beyond that.

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