Each and every Wednesday I would go out cycling in the Dales with a group of cyclists they were all like myself retiring, but do not think because they were in their twilight years they doodled along like geriatrics wheezing up every hill. For you see many had made a name for themselves in local, national and international cycling. And amongst them you would find Ken Russell, winner of the 1952 Tour of Britain, (as a privateer) and Brian Robinson, the first Briton to win a stage of the Tour de France.
I knew both men well during my time in Yorkshire. I wrote about the 1952 Tour of Britain and Ken’s part in it, my big hero was (John) Ian Steel (from Glasgow) Ian won the 1951 Tour of Britain and competed in the 1952 race. Ian was a big (tall) strong rider and won the Peace Race (a race between Berlin and Prague twice in 1951 and 1952.) He was a great rider but never made it into the professional league. I interviewed him in his home in Ayr and he showed me one of the two Peace Race prizes a large crystal cup, he told me his daughter has the other. I was writing about the 1952 Tour of Britain race at the time of our meeting in his home and I asked him about his 1952 Tour of Britain race,
I was never allowed to move out of the pack, as soon as I showed any sign of going off the front I would be pounced on by the BSA team.
Ken was persuaded to ride the Peace Race by Ian in 1952 but found it unbelievably difficult on incredibly bad roads, telling me he had to change gears between cobbles.
I spoke at length with Brian Robinson about his legendary Tour de France stage wins. He won stages in 1958 and 1959 and was also the first British cyclist to finish the Tour in 1955.
“The first win was so close that many disputed my win,” he told me.
Brian put everything into the race:
“I did not hang around after the stages, I went straight into the massage room and early to bed, unlike many of the British team I was determined to make sure the second stage win could not be disputed in any way, and this possibly helped me over the line.”
My friend Ken died on the 18th Sep 2017 age 87
Today I read that a second friend from those days, Brian Robinson died at age 91. Brian hailed for Mirfield West Yorkshire. Brian’s demise was announced on Twitter by his grandson and fellow cyclist Jake Womersley.
He Tweeted: “It’s with great sadness the family of Brian Robinson have to announce his passing yesterday.”
Brian joined his local cycling club as a teenager and later took up racing in between working for the family building company.
He competed for Britain at the 1952 Olympics before turning professional, riding the Tour de France for the first time in 1955 when he finished 29th overall.
The pioneering road racer also won the prestigious Criterium du Dauphine stage race in 1961 and was the first Briton to stand on the podium of one of cycling’s Monuments, Milan-Sanremo, finishing third in 1957, before retiring at the age of 33.
Brian Robinson is regarded as a trailblazer for the sport in Britain and his successes inspired the talents of Tom Simpson and Barry Hoban who followed him.
He was also an ambassador for bringing the Tour de France to Yorkshire in 2014.
He suffered an accident the same year, having been knocked off his bike, but you can’t keep a good man down, he was back on his bike just six weeks after the accident.