Dave Rayner book extract: I can't remember him ever being on a downer

Dave Rayner was a rising talent on the British cycling scene when his life was tragically cut short at the age of 27 in 1994. Two months after his death, the Dave Rayner Fund was set up in his memory to help young up and coming cyclists. One of them, Adam Yates, is now wearing the yellow jersey as leader of the Tour de France.

During the last 22 years the fund has helped a plethora of young riders race in Europe and turn professional including Yates, David Millar, Molly Weaver, Tao Geoghegan Hart and Charly Wegelius.

The annual Dave Rayner Fund dinner has been an integral part of keeping the fund going. The book, Everybody's Friend was written by Peter Cossins in time for the 2015 dinner and covers the life of Rayner.

In this extract from the book, Rayner's friend and former teammate Chris Walker retells the story of the time they spent racing in the US. You can buy the book here (opens in new tab) with the proceeds going to the Dave Rayner Fund.

A rollercoaster year in the States

Chris Walker confirms he was unhappy with the way things were run at Subaru, but was enthused enough by what he had witnessed of the US scene to return when the offer of a deal came through from IME-Healthshare, and particularly because Dave was part of it too. 

"It was always really good fun having him on the team," Walker affirms. "Anyone who knows me knows that I'm a bit grumpy, that I get irritated easily. But I'd spend a full year with Dave and never had a fall-out ever. With other people – and it might well be my fault – they would end up getting on my nerves and I'd end up having a to-do with them, but I never had cross words with Dave at all. He was just fun.

"He could always make me and everyone else laugh. I remember in the Raleigh-Banana years, when we were all into fast cars, and I had a Golf GTi and Dave had this little Fiat Uno nutter that was like a ballistic rollerskate, which was really fast. Dave would come into the car park with the music so loud the car was shaking and he'd handbrake it into a parking space. It could have been embarrassing but he wasn't embarrassed by it. It was the kind of thing most people would never do, but Dave would do it and it wouldn't matter who was there. The Lord Mayor could have been there and he'd have done a handbrake turn and then spun his wheels into the car park. Things like that didn't bother him. He just thought it was funny. That's why he was so different," says Walker.

"He had a lot of really close friends. If I think about it, I've probably got four or five, whereas Dave had lots of mates. You'd always know he was there, and I can't remember him ever being on a downer. I don't want people to think that I'm overegging it. I'm not at all. I think you'd find a lot of other people would say the same thing."

It was just as well that the pair got on so well together, as the omens for their new team were not good right from the very beginning. 

"We started off on a pre-season training camp down in Florida, which was amusing from the start as we'd only been there a couple of days and we got caught up in a hurricane," Walker explains. "At Raleigh-Banana and Falcon we'd been used to stopping in nice hotels. I don't know what vision we had, but when we turned up we found we were staying in this ramshackle, wood-built, five-bedroom house, which was a bit dirty. Right away we were thinking, 'Oh my God. What's happening here?'

"All of the other riders had done it for years and were all sorted. They'd got their pancake-makers and so on, but we'd got nothing. You were supposed to look after and feed yourself, but we didn't want to start doing our own cooking. As the exchange rate was particularly favourable to us we went out and found all these nice little diners. They'd all be making their breakfast and we'd walk two blocks to a diner, then go to a different one the next day.

"Because we were the last riders to arrive, we ended up staying in the rafters. It was a bit spooky up there. I'd got just enough room for a single bed and Dave was just through on the other side in a single bed, really cramped in. When the hurricane hit it was really scary. There were roofs blowing off and trees coming down all over the place. 

"The team had just got a brand new Saab Turbo that had been driven all the way down from Boston, and in the middle of this massive storm we heard an almighty crack. It was a tree going down and it fell straight down the centre of this car. It totalled it. It was brand new with just the delivery mileage on it. It couldn't have hit it any more perfectly down the centre, squashing it. 

"So we'd got no team car and we couldn't really train for a week because there were trees across all of the roads. We were just glad it hadn't taken this rickety house away. Already we were thinking, 'What are we doing here?'"

The Tour DuPont

The team's major target was May's Tour DuPont. They prepared for it racing in Portugal at the Tour of the Algarve, where Walker crashed and damaged the tendons in his wrist, leaving him struggling all the way through the 10-day DuPont. Dave, though, was flying, almost literally on the stage eight finish at the Homestead Resort in Virginia.

"We almost knew Dave would be up there because it was a lunatic sort of finish," says Walker. "You came in down this really fast, technical descent and hit the bottom doing 50mph and then there was about another 200 metres to go to the line. It was all about positioning. 

"One of his nicknames was "Crazy Legs Crane" after the cartoon character, and that got shortened to 'Crazy Legs' because he was just so quick on the descents. I could descend with the best of them, but he could take it to another level. He'd have his foot out and all kinds of things. 

"George Hincapie actually won the stage, but he took a sling off someone and loads of riders saw it, so he came by Dave just on the line, but loads of riders complained because of the sling he'd got from his teammate. He showed the character he was going to become later: 'I'll do anything to win'.'

Watching the race back home in Bradford on a German satellite TV channel, John and Barbara Rayner had no real idea what had happened at the finish. 

"We were watching it on Screensport and I didn't know how you changed the audio to get it into English," John says. "Of course I could understand the race announcer who said the winner was George Hincapie. I said to Barbara that I thought our Dave had been thereabouts, that he'd been in the first three. They then flicked back to the race coming downhill and circled George Hincapie's head and said something about him, but I didn't know what it was because I didn't understand the commentary. 

"They switched back to the race announcer standing on this hotel balcony and he said, 'And the winner is… Dave Rayner.' He'd won it…"

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