Tour of Britain special, August 21, 2005
Fifty one Britons have started the Tour de France. Twenty two have finished. Eight have won stages. Four have worn the golden fleece.
Last Saturday night, David Millar, the 51st Brit and only yellow jersey winner in the room , was one of eighteen former Tour de France riders attending a dinner to celebrate the first ever finishers, Brian Robinson and Tony Hoar. The dinner was held at the Dewsbury District Golf Club, just a mile or so from Robinson's home in Mirfield, Yorkshire.
Robinson, 74, finished the 1955 Tour de France in 29th position. Hoar, a Canadian resident since 1956, was the lanterne rouge, the last man left in the race, a position of great honour in those days. Hoar, a bike race organiser in British Columbia, is still in the bike business: need to tow a kayak behind your bike? Hoar's your man http://www.tonystrailers.com/
The two riders were the first Britons to finish the Tour de France, but not the first to start. Charles Holland and Bill Burl started the 1937 Tour but didn't finish. Hoar and Robinson were survivors of a ten-man British trade team - riding Hercules bikes - that entered the 1955 Tour de France. Five other members of the team were at the reunion dinner. Bob Maitland, Bernard Pusey, Ian Steel and Bev Wood didn't have too far to travel; Ken Mitchell flew in from Queensland, Australia.
Dinner organiser Martyn Bolt was unable to track down Freddie Krebs but Dave Bedwell and Stan Jones had good excuses: they've passed on. Malcolm Elliott's excuse was also a good one - he's still a pro and was racing that weekend, and Chris Boardman's was perhaps the weakest: "I don't do dinners."
Hoar never rode another Tour, Robinson took part in another six. His best position was 14th, in 1956. In the same year he was ninth in the Tour de Suisse and seventh in the Vuelta. Robinson was the first Brit to win a stage of the Tour de France, winning stage seven on the 1959 Tour - Annecy to Chalon-sur-Saone - by a whopping 20 minutes. Later the same year, Robinson suggested to his Rapha Geminiani team it should sign star-in-the-making Tom Simpson. In 1962, Simpson became the first Briton to wear the yellow jersey and eventually finished sixth on general classification. On Friday 13th July 1967, during the 13th stage, and on the slopes of Mont Ventoux, Simpson collapsed and later died.
The jubilee dinner raised £750 for the Dave Rayner Fund, which gives financial support to young British riders racing on the contintent. David Millar was one of the first to be assisted by the fund. Toasting his predecessors, Millar said he was proud to be part of an exclusive club of fifty one members.
Phil Liggett, giving the official toast to Hoar and Robinson, said it was sad that there were no Brits in this year's Tour de France.
"I look around at all these cycling pioneers and wonder where we've gone wrong since."
On the day after the dinner, Bob Addy (1968 TdF), Brian Robinson and Colin Lewis (1967 TdF) joined Liggett and 750 other riders, on the fifth annual Phil and Friends CTC Challenge Ride in the Peak District.