although open to much debate, and something that will never truly receive a definitive answer, conjecture and nationalistic pride would have it that the bicycle was invented by kirkpatrick macmillan in 1839. granted it was of wooden construction and with iron-rimmed wooden wheels, but a bicycle nonetheless. many a counter-claim exists in competing countries across the world, even extending to the elaborate hoax that averred the original invention was depicted in drawings attributed to leonardo da vinci.
but leonardo wasn't scottish.
ever since those days, you get the notion that britain has been setting itself up for a fall in the world of cycle sport, in much the same way as has afflicted performance in many another sport reputedly invented on these very shores. i'm sure i need not take this line of questioning any further. so in the world's premier stage race in existence since 1903, the first all-british team to take part, was the hercules outfit of 1955, including brian robinson, recently the subject of both book and dvd.
in the fifties, teams competed as national teams rather than the multinational trade teams that participate today, and it took a further 32 years before just such a trade team arose from the bedrock of british cycling, along with one or two johnny foreigners to again compete for that coveted yellow jersey in paris. of course, the ultimate prize in this case was merely a hypothetical aim; the constitution of 1987's anc halfords team was unlikely to trouble the judges, as david duffield was wont to say.
malcolm elliot, adrian timmis, graham jones, paul watson, shane sutton, steve swart, kvetoslav palov, guy gallopin and bernard chesneau made up the nine riders who rode peugeot bikes wearing anc-halfords jerseys (manufactured by assos; coincidentally, one of the directeurs sportifs was phil griffiths, the man behind yellow ltd, uk distributors of assos clothing). admittedly not all of british extraction, but that seemes to have mattered as little in the eighties as it does today.
parachuted in as journalist in residence from the star newspaper was jeff connor, subsequent author of this testament to self-destruction, wide eyed and legless. having a journalist in tow was likely as popular then as it would be now; even more so perhaps, given that connor was a tabloid journalist, rather than one with any sort of pedigree in writing about the beautiful sport. there is doubtless much worse than getting in above your neck while someone not only watches while you do so, but writes about it afterwards.
the anc-halfords participation in the tour de france has entered the annals of history possibly for all the wrong reasons. 1987 was the year that stephen roche kept delgado at bay to win a second grand tour (he'd already won in italy) and went on to take the rainbow stripes when sean kelly was dropped from the lead group, leaving roche free to ride his own race. to put it bluntly, the anc team literally disintegrated. most of the riders were considerably out of their depth; only malcolm elliot (94th), guy gallopin (133rd), kvetoslav palov (103rd) and adrian timmis (70th) finished in paris, while team creator tony capper left the tour before stage 22, "i've got to go back on business".
that was the last time any of the team saw him.
capper's disappearance may not have had a major detrimental effect on the remaining riders' competitive edge, but it did lose them a vehicle, finally making jeff connor less of a journalist and more of a team member. driving an iveco van down hairy pyreneean mountain descents with a distinct lack of braking power is likely not what he signed up for.
his position with the team, despite one of increasing reliance from their point of view, was never left in any doubt. phil griffiths; "there's no room for 'civilians' in a racing team". jeff connor, wondering if that meant him too received his answer; "of course i mean you too. i've never known a situation where a journalist was allowed to travel with a cycling team."
"but phil, you could have been lumbered with a real tabloid pig, you know, like the characters who put mikes under beds."
"yeah, but if you'd been a pig, you wouldn't have lasted the first two days. we'd have just bombed you out."
entertaining read as this book is, i am confused as to it's republishing at this point. it's not, in my opinion, the very best book on cycling ever written, even though the cover states it to be cycle sport magazine's no.1 cycling book of all time. (some dubious judgment going on there i'd venture). my press release states that publication is not till late june, but amazon are showing the book as currently for sale. either way, i can't help thinking that they've missed the boat slightly. surely a more appropriate time would have been either last year, when again we had a british team (sky) making its first attempt on the tour, or perhaps 2012 when it would have been the 25th anniversary of the anc-halfords attempt?
either way, it's quite good fun. if the 1987 race was to be recorded in any particular way, let alone from the point of view of an insider with a british team, this will do me just fine. and as a slightly disappointing epilogue, at the time this book was originally published (1988), the nine riders had not been paid for their july in france. not every story, however entertaining, has a happy ending.
posted tuesday 12th april 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................