Race winning bikes
Graham Webb’s 1966 Tommy Godwin
Britain’s only world amateur (under-23 category now) road race champion set a new British Hour Record on this bike
Words: Chris Sidwells
Photos: Andy Jones
Graham Webb was a phenomenon. Stories are still told about him; like when he lapped the field four times in a Dutch criterium, or when he beat the Dutch national team pursuit squad solo in a pursuit match, or the one where he did a lung capacity test and exploded the machine.
He was the world amateur road race champion in 1967. So strong that day in the Dutch hill country around Heerlen that he stopped to wait for a team mate, paced him back to the bunch then carried on past it, caught the break and rode straight past that to win. One of the riders in that break was Roger De Vlaeminck. Graham Webb was the real deal.
Too big to be a climber maybe, but in other races his potential was huge. Cycling recognized it, and Webb became a professional in 1968 for the double the money Eddy Merckx was paid three years before, but it quickly went wrong. Within weeks a catalogue of bad luck reduced Webb’s career to ashes, illustrating how disposable new pros were in Webb’s time, even world champions.
It started in February 1968 when his car was broken into and all his bike and equipment were stolen. Losing bikes wasn’t a problem, but losing all his cycling shoes was. It took ages to break in new shoes back then. Two days later Webb had to ride Het Nieuwsblad in brand new shoes, then next day in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne his knee gave out on a climb. He started Paris-Nice, but could hardly pedal, and dropped out on day one.
“That was it for my team, Mercier BP, I don’t think they ever forgave me. It was like they were waiting to say, oh here’s another world champion who was a one day wonder. A registered letter came saying they’d stop paying me until my results improved. I won four pro races in 1968, I sent Mercier my results, but they still refused to pay me,” he told me in 2010.
In 1969 Webb signed for a small Belgian team, but the season had hardly started when the sponsor revealed it had no money. “The DS said I could keep my bike and continue racing, so I picked it up, handed it to him and said, if you think I’m racing for you for nothing then you can think again. And that was that. I turned my back on it. Next day I got a job in a furniture factory.”
Webb stayed in Belgium all his life. “After growing up playing on broken bomb sites in Birmingham, living abroad was like being on holiday every day, that’s what it always felt like for me,” he told me. Birmingham was where Graham Webb’s cycling story started, it was where this bike was made, and where he had his golden hour on it.
In 1966 at the city’s long gone Salford Park Velodrome, Webb set a new British Hour Record. He also set records for ten and 25 miles along the way, and surprised everyone because Salford Park was a notoriously bumpy track.
The bike is big and solidly built to reflect Webb’s power. It was supplied by 1948 double Olympic bronze medalist Tommy Godwin, who had a bike shop in Birmingham. As well as helping and supporting local riders such as Webb, Godwin managed the 1964 British Olympic cycling team was president for British Cycling’s predecessor the British Cycling Federation. He was also the first salaried national coach of the Great Britain cycling team.
The frame is made from Reynolds 531 double-butted tubing, the drivetrain is from the Campagnolo track group-set. Its care conveniently catered for by an oil nipple on the bike’s bottom bracket.
Pedals are Campagnolo track, which were like the Record road pedals but produced without the quill on the outside. That increased pedal clearance and reduced the danger of grounding the pedal on a steeply banked track when riding slowly.
Campag’s 32-hole hubs are laced to Fiamme rims, with their spokes tied and soldered for extra resilience.
A Unica Nitor plastic saddle tops off a very workmanlike bike, which is currently on display at the Universal Cycle Centre in Maltby, South Yorkshire. On the face of it a bike shop, but becoming more a museum of British bike racing by the day. A longer story about the shop and its owner Dave Marsh’s amazing collection will be on www.cyclinglegends.co.uk in the near future