What has Yorkshire Ever Done for Cycling?

To celebrate the 2018 Tour de Yorkshire, and looking ahead to the 2019 UCI world road race championships in the county, Cycling Legends looks at some of Yorkshire’s contribution to the sport.

Photos: cyclinglegends.co.uk, Chris Auld.
Words: Chris Sidwells

Part 3 of 3

Image of Brian RobinsonBrian Robinson
The father of the British Tour de France story, the first British cyclist to finish the race in 1955, the first to win a stage, in 1958, and the first to carve out a regular place in the professional peloton is from Mirfield in West Yorkshire. He did it all between 1955 and 1962, and his name is Brian Robinson

Robinson is friendly, modest, articulate, intelligent and self-sufficient and he was an extremely talented and tough cyclist, but he is all those things in an understated way. Never given to what his generation would call ‘showing off’, Robinson is shown off regularly now. Since the 2014 Tour de France Grand Départ in Leeds, he’s been an ambassador for Welcome to Yorkshire’s cycling effort, and was at the heart of the Tour de Yorkshire this year, as he has been ever since it started.
 

When Brian Robinson talks about his cycling career today, being a professional cyclist in the biggest French team seems the most natural thing for a 1930s Yorkshire boy to become. Of course it wasn’t, what Robinson did was huge, although you’d embarrass him if you told him so.
 
Image of Lizzie DeignanLizzie Deignan
She’s from Otley, and if Yorkshire cycling has a hub Otley, with its annual circuit race and massive cycling culture, is where it’s at. Tom Pidcock, who’s shaping up to be the next big thing in British cycling is also from this bustling market town. 

Deignan is an Olympic silver medallist, and was the 2015 world road race champion. She has won 12 classics, including the Tour of Flanders in 2016 and Tour de Yorkshire in 2017. She also won the women’s UCI World Cup series overall in 2014 and 2015.

Deignan is one of British Cycling talent drive’s truest successes. She was due to have a double maths lesson when the talent identifiers visited her school, but as a very good runner she fancied trying out on a bike instead of working on her algebra. She shot through British Cycling ranks, went to race full-time in Belgium and the rest is history.

She’s taking some time off at the moment to have her first child, but she’ll be back and no doubt winning again.
 
Sid and Keith
Sid Barras and Keith Lambert are a Yorkshire cycling institution. They were both great professional riders in the UK. Both were national road race champions. Lambert won the title twice, and Barras was superb in city-centre criteriums. He won the British circuit race title the first time it was recognised by British Cycling, although he’d already won the it several times before when it was organised by a separate body, the British Professional Cycle Racing Association.

Image of Sid Barras and Keith Lambert

But, like the Downing brothers, Sid and Keith mean more in Yorkshire cycling than the sum of their race wins. They’ve kept on riding, and they’ve contributed to the sport, helping and guiding hundreds of young riders. They are also two of the very best team managers. Lambert still manages Great Britain teams for British Cycling, and both are deeply involved in running the Dave Rayner Fund.

Barras and Lambert are in their early seventies now, but they still turn a nifty pedal, either alone or in groups like the famous Buckden run. Many a young Yorkshire cyclist has received a helpful, if waspish, comment from Barras if they make a silly mistake. His views on people turning up for winter group rides without mudguards are pithy to say the least, but nobody turns up without them twice.

The Leeds Chaingang
It’s been going since cycling started. Everybody in Yorkshire who is or has or wants to make their mark on cycling has been on the Leeds Chaingang. It’s a group training ride, but as hard as any road race. You need to be fast, experienced and a good bike handler before even thinking about joining in. But if you tick those boxes then it’s every Tuesday and Thursday during the summer, always has and always will be.

Image of Leeds chaingang with Josh Edmondson

The route is the same route too; Lawnswood Cemetery to Addingham and back. The group starts fast then get faster, if you miss your turn at the front you get shouted at. Keep going through until you get dropped or contest the final gallop. Anybody who misses turns then contests the sprint will wish they hadn’t. Etiquette blunders are never forgotten, even if you subsequently win the Tour de France.
  

There are other rules too. If you have a power meter, keep it to yourself. Don’t mention the words ‘functional’ or ‘threshold’, especially not together. Make sure your socks are the correct length, no compact chainsets, no gels, and if you aren’t in the first or second group over the Chevin nobody will speak to you. Still fancy it? 6.30pm, outside the toilets, cemetery gates. Don’t be late, they don’t wait.

Ron Kitching
Image of Ron Kitching with Barry HobanRon Kitching revolutionised the look of British club racers during the 1950s and 60s. Coupled with the first British riders making their way in the pro peloton, and performing at what is World Tour level now, Kitching started importing European equipment and, more importantly, clothing made on the continent. The same stuff the pros wore back then.

Woolly jumpers and baggy shorts, stiff corduroy and itchy tweed, were replaced by slick, close fitting soft Merino wool. Club cyclists in Britain could finally look like; well, a bit like their European heroes.

Kitching was actually an adopted Yorkshireman because he was born in Barrow-on-Furness, which (shock and horror) was in Lancashire back then. He moved to Harrogate with his family when he was very young, and had the good grace never to mention his birthplace again.

He was proud of living in Yorkshire, he loved Yorkshire cycling, and over the years he brought thousands of cyclists to Harrogate, first to visit his shop then his wholesale distributors and finally to his Festival of Cycling. Kitching supported Yorkshire cycling and helped developed it. He was part of it too, first as a very good long distance time triallist and road racer, and later as an avid club rider and cycle tourist.

He died in 2001, aged 85, so he missed the Tour de France coming to Harrogate in 2014, and he missed the Tour de Yorkshire. He would have loved both of them. If there are such things as ghosts then Ron Kitching’s will haunt Yorkshire cycling forever.

Steve Peat
Sheffield’s Steve Peat is one of the all-time downhill mountain bike greats. He won his first UCI World Cup event in 1998 at Snoqualmie in the US, he won his last in 2009. In between there were 15 other World Cup round wins and three World Cup overall titles, but no world title. He put that right in 2009 when Peat won his first and only world title in Canberra, Australia.

He’s 43 now, still racing, he’s the subject of a film called ‘Won’t Back Down’, and shares his birthday with Eddy Merckx. Remember that last fact, it could be the answer of a cycling-related question in a pub quiz one day.

Sir Gary Verity and Welcome to Yorkshire
“We are working closely with ASO and British Cycling to continue the lasting legacy of Yorkshire’s Grand Départ by delivering this new race for Yorkshire from 2015, which will rank as a major new addition to the global cycling calendar. It has the potential to take in wider parts of the county and will help affirm Yorkshire as a cycling heartland of Europe.” Those were the words of Gary Verity now Sir Gary, the head of the Yorkshire tourist authority Welcome to Yorkshire, shortly before the start of the 2014 Tour de France in Leeds.

Image of Gary Verity at the Your de Yorkshre 2018

He was announcing the first Tour de Yorkshire, a two day stage race in 2015 and a four-day race now, which saw at least 2.6 million people take to the paths pavements and grass verges of Yorkshire to watch the spectacle pass by.

People didn’t know what to expect at first, many still probably don’t understand what they are seeing in front of them, but that’s not the point. A bike race is a massive street party everybody is invited to. It ebbs and flows through the countryside like a living thing, a kaleidoscope of colour, a visceral mass of muscle and machine, a chess game played on wheels. It’s noisy, colourful, fast and at times bizarre entertainment, plus there’s human ambition, drive and sometimes sheer bloody-minded bravery involved.

What’s not to like? Thank you Sir Gary and all who are or have been involved at Welcome to Yorkshire. Here’s to next year, and the double treat of another Tour de Yorkshire plus the 2019 World Road Race championships. We hear the Vuelta a España might be coming soon, and we can’t forget your slip/hint at the 2018 Tour de Yorkshire presentation when you said, “During the Tour de France’s first visit to Yorkshire.” Let’s ‘ave it back quick, like.

Giant Crowds Tour de Yorkshire