Victory from Defeat.

In 1965 Tom Simpson became the first British cyclist ever to win the men’s elite world road race title, and he did it just weeks after debilitating injury stopped him in the Tour De France.  

Words: Chris Sidwells
Photos: Cycling Legends

The first in our Cycling Legends series of lavishly illustrated books, Cycling Legends 01 Tom Simpson, will be published on November 20th. It is written with unprecedented access to Simpson’s family, friends, rivals and team-mates, and illustrated with over 150 photographs, many never published before, including 50 previously unpublished images of Tom.

But photographs weren’t included just because they are rare, each one had to work with the text to tell Tom Simpson’s story in greater depth and detail than it has ever been told before. The following photo-story illustrates the editorial values applied to Cycling Legends 01, and which will be applied to the whole series of Cycling Legends illustrated books.

These rare photos, a few have been published before but others haven’t, weren’t included at all. The reason? Because they are from the 1965 Tour de France, in which Simpson started well but was forced out through injury. The race wasn’t a highlight of his career, so it doesn't feature much in the book, but it did show his dogged and eventually self-destructive determination.

So this short photo-story serves as a perfect introduction to Cycling Legends 01 Tom Simpson.

For more about the book, click here:-


Stage 1a Cologne-Liège

Image of Tom Simpson with Colin Lewis (left) and journalist Ron White

At the start of the 1965 Tour de France in Cologne, Simpson shares a joke with the Great Britain amateur team rider, Colin Lewis (left) and the British journalist Ron White of the Daily Express. In the 1960s the Tour de l’Avenir, the Tour of the Future for amateur riders, was run at the same time as and over part of the Tour de France route. Lewis was riding the Tour de l’Avenir, which in 1965 did the first 11 stages of the Tour de France. It went from Cologne to Barcelona,and was 2,185 kilometres long against 4,188 kilometres for the big Tour.

iMAGE OF pEUGEOT TEAM

The Peugeot team are presented to the crowd. Tom is surrounded by Frenchmen. On his right is André Zimmermann, on his left and just in front is Raymond Delisle, and on his right and behind is Roger Pingeon.

Image of Tom talking to Raphael Geminiani

Another shot from the Cologne start. Tom is talking to Raphael Geminiani, manager of the Ford France-Gitane team. What’s being said? There's certainly a meaningful exchange going on.

Image of Tom talking to Michael Wright

Still not hit the road yet. Tom catches up with fellow British rider, Michael Wright. They would have been speaking French because although Wright was born in Hertfordshire, he grew up in Liège and only had a few words of English. Wright was a very good rider who won three stages in the Tour de France and four in the Vuelta a España during his career.

Stage 1b Liège-Liège

Image of Simpson far right of shot

Stage one was a 149-kilometre road stage from Cologne to Liège won by the Belgian legend Rik Van Looy, but the Tour organisers liked split stages back then, so later the same day there was a 22.5-kilometre team time trial around the streets of Liège. Tom is on the far right of this shot and the rider on the left, Désiré Letort is coming through to do his turn. Ford France won the stage with Peugeot second, just three seconds behind.

Image of Ferdinand Bracke (left) and Simpson

There seems to be a dispute going on here. This was straight after the team time trial and the photo captures the world professional pursuit champion, Ferdinand Bracke (left) and Tom explaining something to a journalist. Maybe it was to do with the way the team time trial was decided, because it was unusual. The times for the first three riders from each team were added together to give the team’s total time. Ford’s Cees Lute, Pierre Martin and Anatole Novak all did 29 minutes 12 second, to Peugeot’s Simpson, Bracke and Letort with 29 minutes 13 seconds. So a team one-second difference got rolled up into three seconds.

Stage 2 Liège-Roubaix

Image of Three men on a bench

Three men on a bench. Tom is giving an update to Ron White, next to him is the Spanish rider Angelino Soler, and on the far right is Henri Duez.

Stage 4 Caen-St Brieuc

Image of Tom with Salvarani taem
This is a telling picture. Tom never really got full support from his Peugeot-BP team, and in this shot he's sitting with members of the Italian Salvarani squad. He’d signed another contract to ride for Peugeot in 1966 and 1967, because the team manager Gaston Plaud told Tom he wouldn’t pick him for the 1965 Tour if he didn’t sign. The re-introduction of national teams for the Tour de France in 1967 gave Tom chance to switch teams, and he was moving to Salvarani in 1968, having signed a contract with the Italian team before the 1967 Tour.

Image of finish line of stage four

This shot was taken just after the finish line of stage four, Caen to St Brieuc, where Tom beat world champion Jan Janssen and Guido Reybrouck to win the bunch sprint for sixth place. It was something of a homecoming for Tom because St Brieuc was the place he moved to as an amateur in 1959 to further his cycling career

Image of Tom Simpson

Tom was always good for a quote. Here’s he’s pursued by a gaggle of pressmen as he leaves the St Brieuc velodrome. Tom had been picked as second favourite to win this Tour, just behind joint favourites Raymond Poulidor and Vittorio Adorni. At this point in the race he was the highest placed of those favourites.

Stage 6 Quimper-La Baule/Pornichet

Image of Michael Wright, Tom Simpson and Vin Denson

The three Brits in the 1965 Tour de France; left to right, Michael Wright, Tom Simpson and Vin Denson.

Stage 8 La Rochelle-Bordeaux

Image of Tom Simpson

Tom reads up on the stage route to see what’s in store.

Stage 9 Dax-Bagnères de Bigorre

Image of Tom Simpson

It starts to go wrong. This shot was taken close to the top of the Col du Tourmalet. Tom had crashed on the descent of the Col d’Aubisque, badly damaging his right hand and is fighting back through the field. A break-neck descent sees him move up from tenth to seventh overall, but his injured hand wasn’t cleaned properly and infection set in.

Stage 13 Perpignan to Montpellier


Image of Tom Simpson

We are in the south now, you can tell because Tour director Jacques Goddet, in the car with his back turned to us, has switched to his Safari gear, complete with pith helmet. This picture looks hot too, some riders have made makeshift Foreign Legion Kepis by putting white handkerchiefs inside their caps to protect their necks from the burning sun.

Stage 14 Montpellier-Carpentras/ Mont Ventoux

Image of Tom Simpson

Tom didn’t like racing in hot conditions. He’s had another crash by the look of the dressing on his right arm. The stage finished at the summit of Mont Ventoux, Tom was ninth. His hand was troubling him though, making it difficult to pull with any force on the handlebars. Afterwards he said he was badly affected by the heat and not feeling very well.

Stage 15 Carpentras-Gap
Image of Tom SimpsonMore hot weather on stage 15, the riders are approaching the lower slopes of the Col de Perty.

Stage 16 Gap-Briançon

Image of Tom Simpson

Smiling through the pain. Tom is being interviewed here by Jean Bobet. Bobet was a former pro, winner of Paris-Nice in 1955, and younger brother of Louison Bobet, the first rider to win three consecutive Tours de France. Bobet liked Tom and took a particular interest in British cyclists having completed part of his education at Aberdeen University.

Once the stage got going Tom cracked and lost 19 minutes.

Stage 17 Briançon-Aix les Bains

Image of Tom Simpson

The struggle is written all over Tom’s face as he talks to a journalist while contemplating another hot stage. The other Peugeot rider is Henri Duez. The plain cap Tom is wearing was yellow, as were the others on the floor. At this point in the Tour, Peugeot-BP-Michelin led the team classification, and the yellow caps signified that. Members of the leading team nowdays have the option of wearing yellow helmets.

Stage 19 Aix les Bains-Lyon

Image of Tom Simpson

Another crash and another fight back. Tom was crashing because the pain in his hand made it difficult to control his bike. Both arms were damaged now as well, but he wouldn't give in.

Stage 19 Aix-les-Bain to Lyon

Image of Tom Simpson
By now Tom was making daily visits to the race ambulance for antibiotics and to get his dressing changed and wounds checked, the medical staff were really worried about his worsening condition.

Image of Tom Simpson

It’s all over. At the end of stage 19 the Tour de France doctor stepped in and refused to let Tom continue in the race. He was taken to hospital and his badly infected hand operated on. It was feared at one point that he might lose it. The hoped for good performance in the Tour de France had gone. Tom went home, got better and re-built. Eight weeks later he was champion of the world.