Category Archives: Cycling history

John Kennedy: the Scottish cyclist who rode the 1960 Tour de France

I researched the historical context and background to the early career of John Kennedy in previous posts, looking first at the Belleisle Road Club and then at the first part of his racing career with the elite club that emerged from it, the Velo Club Stella. He was one of Scotland’s best riders, having been a National champion and winning stages and the mountains classification of one of the biggest stage races of the time, the ‘Oats’ amateur tour of Britain.

Kennedy was demobbed from national service in the RAF in around 1953, moved to Belgium and later turned pro. After a great season, the zenith of his career came with a ride for Great Britain in support of Brian Robinson in 1960. He was one of the first Scots to ride the Tour, a little-known achievement that deserves wider recognition. The first British team had entered only 5 years previously, in 1955, under the trade team banner of Hercules. Ian Steel was in that team, the first Scot to ride the Tour.

Kennedy’s pro career included seasons for former world champion Briek Schotte’s Flandria teams, and will have consisted of a Belgian kermesses – long, hard-fought races on several laps of a relatively short circuit on narrow country lanes.

Scotsman Jimmy Rae had also travelled to Kortrijk in 1960 to ride as a pro, with the expectation of riding for the GB team in France in July, but he didn’t get on with the selector and wasn’t picked. Kennedy eventually got a call just three days before the race started, after the team had problems filling the roster. Not ideal preparation but who would turn down a call-up to ride the greatest bike race in the world, something he had dreamed of since leaving school in Glasgow?

1960-06-27 - Miroir des Sports - 804 - 23B

The Great Britain team for the 1960 Tour de France was built around Tom Simpson (above, third from right) and Brian Robinson (fourth from left). Robinson had won the first ever stage by a British rider in 1958.

Kennedy’s last-minute call-up would certainly not have been ideal, especially since his preparation for a three week race with mountainous stages was a diet of Belgian circuit races and semi-classics.

However he had good form: he finished 14th in Fleche-Wallone on 9th May, beating Gastone Necini (who finished 20th that day but won the Yellow Jersey at the Tour that year. The Fleche-Wallone results also included Rik Van Looy and five stage winners from the Tour later that summer: Necini, Louis Proost and Pierre Beuffeuil (who won a single road stage each), Michel Van Aerde (who the 15th medium mountain ,stage) and Jean Graczyk (who won four stages and the points jersey for the second time in his career). This isn’t to say Kennedy was as good as the Tour winner, but it shows the level he was at.

Great Britain team for the Tour de France 1960

Great Britain team for the Tour de France 1960

Tour-racing.co.uk reproduces a piece by Rene Delatour from the Sporting Cyclist of September 1960 summing up that July’s Tour with some views for the British readers. Many big riders did not take the start line that year, but “stars or no stars, the pace was cracking – faster than it had ever been in the days of Koblet, Bobet, Kubler, Gaul – or even the great Fausto himself.”

1960-tdf-map

The route took in Northern France and Belgium, including cobbled sections. before heading west to Brittany and then south to Bordeaux, with six of the first nine stages over 200km.

From Cyclingpassions.eu, – these pages from French newspaper Miror des Sports showed were cobbles on stages 6 and 7. Terrain on which Kennedy excelled and was charged with keeping his team leaders safe.

During the first 9 stages of the 1960 Tour de France, John Kennedy finished well up the field, often in the top 20, and never much lower than the 30s.

Stage 1a, 108km Lille-Brussels: 47th @2:56
Stage 1b: 27.8km Brussels (ITT): 98th @5:16
Stage 2, 206km Brussels-Malo-les-Bains (Dunkerque): 17th @0:44
Stage 3, 209km Malo-les-Bains-Dieppe: 16th @3:07 in a group of favourites
Stage 4: 211km Dieppe-Caen: 28th @6:19 in a group of favourites, finishing on a cinder track on which Simpson crashed.
Stage 5: 189km Caen-St-Malo: 44th @3:35
Stage 6: 191km St. Malo – Lorient: 27th @14.40. 7 riders stayed away, including favourites Nencini and Riviere.
Stage 7: 244km Lorient – Angers: 32nd @3:45 with Nencini and Riviere
Stage 8: 240km Angers – Limoges: 34th @9:10. 27 riders stayed away.
Stage 9: 225km Limoges – Bordeaux: 32nd @4:32. 3 breakaway riders contested the win.
Stage 10: 228km Mont de Parsan – Pau (including Col d’Aubisque): 101st @26:34
Stage 11: 161km Pau – Luchon: (Tourmalet, Aspin, Peyresourde): 87th @22:02 with groups all over the road.
Stage 12: 176km Luchon – Toulouse (col des Ares, col de Portet d’Aspet) retired after falling off the back

Kennedy posted great results before the mountains, given his job was to ride in support of Simpson and Robinson all day, carrying bottles, pacing them back on after punctures, and shepherding them through the bunch. I imagine his expertise on flat and punchy terrain will have seen him near the front in the finale of these stages, keeping the leaders out of trouble.

Writer Rene Delatour highlighted the inequality of 14-man French, Italian, Belgian and Spanish teams, while Great Britain and the others had only eight – even pacing his team leader Simpson back on, Kennedy was at something of a disadvantage. This is the type of riding Kennedy could do well with his experience in Britain and Belgium – he was built for these stages.

Assessing the British team, he praised Simpson and Robinson, the only two to finish, as well as Norman Sheil, but says ‘Kennedy and Andrews were at home on the long flat stages but couldn’t cope with the mountain stages.’

With this inequality in team sizes, the farther the race went, the tougher life became for the smaller teams. Crashes, retirals, or finishing outside time limit reduced the size of teams so that the domestiques in smaller teams would have been subjected to a brutal work load. Larger teams could send several riders to assist their leaders after punctures or crashes, whereas small teams  could only manage a couple of riders for this job, particularly in the later stages of the race.

John Kennedy Tour de France 1960

Dave Meek, a Scot who travelled out to Kortrijk to race in 1963, speaking to Veloveritas in 2007, recalled John telling him that during the tour Simpson and Robinson roomed together, and one evening he was in the room next to them and could hear them chatting through the wall. He had stopped to help Simpson after a puncture during that day. Simpson apparently said to Robinson – “Did you see Kennedy today? He was flying! Got me on after that puncture, when I thought we would never make it.”

With Kennedy’s riding experience, it looks on paper as though he gave out after the first two major mountain stages in the Pyrenees: day 10 over 228km from Mont de Parsan to Pau, with stage 11 a brutal, classic Pyreneen stage of 161km from Pau to Luchon, which saw Norman Shiell and John Andrews both finish outside the time limit by 5 minutes.

He had ridden well on the 11th stage, and the 12th stage was won by Jean Graczyk, who won two Tour points classifications in his career but was not viewed a climber. Also on stage 12 the mountain prime on the Portet d’Aspet was won by Jos Planckaert – followers of 1960s assure me was no climber either. So surely the pace uphill wouldn’t have been ferocious? “So modest were the hills” of stage 12, wrote The Sporting Cyclist, “that Darrigade won a bunch sprint up the top of the Col des Ares” (a prolific road sprinter).

Although some Jean Graczyk a ‘non climber’, he also won a mountain stage (17) from Briancon to Aix-les-Bains in the Alps, as well as three other stages en route to the points classification. He was on a flyer that year and my gut feel is that many of the British team domestiques must have been a level below the Belgians, French, Spaniards and Italians.

The story of the from Sporting Cyclist magazine, however, of the “comparatively easy” 12th stage from Luchon to Toulouse is of one that put paid to the hopes of two more of Tom Simpson and Brian Robinson’s lieutenants.

“We had seen him going off the back on the Ares climb.”. Harry Reynolds crashed out descending the Portet d’Aspet and a litle later there was another news flash on Radio Tour that John Kennedy had retired.”

The only rest day of 1960 came after stage 13.

Sporting Cyclist September 1958 - article about British riders in 1960 Tour de France

These stats certainly suggest that the going got too tough when the Tour hit the high mountains. But behind all the bare statistics there is a story for every rider in every stage. Each guy has his own version of the race, and the statistics only scratch the surface and are a snapshot.

Jim Hay, a commenter on this site who started riding with the Glasgow Nightingale in 1946/7 offered to enlisted the help of a John “Gino” Goddard of the Kenton Road Club, who was in touch with surviving members of the 1960 Great Britain team at the Pedal Club lunch, to see if we could gain any long- lost insight.

In addition to John, three of the team have passed away – Tom Simpson of course, Jock Andrews and Vic Sutton. Brian Robinson, now in his 80s, didn’t remember Kennedy, but this is unsurprising as the late call-up meant they wouldn’t have ridden together. Norman now apparently lives in Australia and was not contactable, leaving only Stan Brittain and Harry Reynolds to ask.

Reynolds recalled John as being super-strong on the flat. “He seemed to be one of the strongest team members – quite comfortable in the front part of peloton but seemed to lack confidence in the mountains. He retired after the first day in Pyrenees as did Norman Sheil. This lack of confidence in the mountains comes as a surprise to anyone who knew John from his time in the UK. He was known as a strong all-rounder who was an excellent climber. (KoM in 1955 Tour of Britain) Perhaps 5 or six years racing in Belgium contributed to his lack of confidence in the mountains?”

Meanwhile, Stan Brittain who roomed with John told a darker story.  John told him he had been feeling depressed for some time due to the widespread drug use in Belgium, making it very difficult to compete on even terms without getting involved in doping as well.

This isn’t controversial – Tom Simpson’s use of amphetamines are well documented and were a contributing factor to his death in 1967. Roger Riviere, a favourite for the 1960 Tour, crashed on a descent trying to follow Gastone Nencini, and the injuries ended his career. Painkillers were found on his body and had admitted taking drugs for his hour record in 1958.

Stan Brittain also recalled some marital problems that were contributing to this low morale. Another rider who knew John from his days in the Velo Club Stella reckoned that he received a letter via the Tour’s internal mail system informing of the end of his marriage during the Tour. I have never been able to corroborate this, but it is known that he returned to Britain and resettled, marrying again in Wales.

 

Thanks to John Gallacher for supplying the initial photos that led to this piece, and to Steven Flockhart for help sourcing historical details and context.

Acknowledgements are also due to Jim Hay, Gino Goddard, Norrie Drummond, Ray Green and Russell Galbraith.

RIP Ian Steel

I was sad to read Will Fotheringham’s obituary of Ian Steel yesterday. Ian died last week on 20th October aged 83.

Ian won the Tour of Britain in 1951, the Peace Race in 1952 and rode the Tour de France in 1955 among many other achievements. He was one of Scotland’s and Britain’s greats.

Despite a relatively short career he kept an active interest in cycling – one of my previous posts included a photo of him being presented with a Glasgow United jersey – one of his former clubs.

ian steel cyclist

Cyclist Ian Steel in Glasgow United jersey March 2011

I had heard that writer Richard Moore had been in touch with him recently and hope there are a few more stories to come out of that – Richard has an obituary in the Scotsman.

Tribute on Scottish Cycling

My other blog posts on Ian Steel.

Grass track cycling keeps you young

Grass track season starts in May, which reminded me of Hugh Johnstone, who took part in the retro exhibition race, a few days shy of his 80th birthday, at the Scottish circuit  championships held in Stirling last August.

Hugh Johnstone

His frame was built in the 1953 by George Elrick, a frame builder who was based in Lower Bridge Street in Stirling up until the 70s –  a steel single speed frame with extra tyre clearance and a higher bottom bracket. Continue reading

When wheel changes were not allowed

Found on the blog of former BLRC track and road rider Alf Buttler comes this story from the 1954 Tour of Ireland.

I was on the motorcycle and had with me a new pair of wheels that I had built complete with freewheel and tyres, we fitted these on the rear carrier with only three toe straps (very like Mavic do now for mountain stages and/or time trials in the big tours on the continent). Outside the headquarters we found the Scottish team in deep conversation near our Ariel… their manager, who we took an instant dislike to, said ‘you cannot carry them wheels its against the rules’. Where are these rules? we asked, he could not produce any. But the next day before the start of the race he got the commissionaires to get us to remove the tyres as it gave us an unfair advantage. This silly way of going on went on for at least 2 years because in the Peace Race the following year no team was able to fit a wheel complete. If a rider punctured he had to change his own tyres. This rule was changed by U.C.I for 1956

A recap of the race by Jock Wadley for The Bicycle is recorded for posterity on the excellent historical website Tour-Racing.co.uk.

Scotsman John Kennedy, riding for the Scotland team, was second on the first stage, which was won solo by Bernard Pusey, riding for the England “A” team. Kennedy kept his place on GC after stage 2, where breakaway men Shay Elliott and Stan Brittain were caught a mile from the line.

He disappears from the top 10 in the stage 3 results and given that only 15 of 108 riders finished, you can assume that if a crash or a mechanical had not ruled him out on this stage, he would have been one of the 59 abandons on a snowstorm-hit stage 6.

An R. Mackay of the Scotland was 14th on the final GC, but he wasn’t the only Scot to finish – John Burrowes of the VC Stella rounded out the classification in 15th (and last). His teammate, Ron Park was 6th, albeit 30 minutes down.

Tour-racing’s recap is a good read, including such drama as a runaway horse and cart which led to the death of a rider, the snowstorms and mass abandons, and a neutralised final stage.

Central Scotland Wheelers Cowie Road Race, 1986

Actor Greg Drysdale edited this old footage for the Stirling Cycle Hub short film competition a few months ago and I recognised some of my local roads on it.

The Central Scotland Wheelers (now City of Stirling Wheelers and still running a time trial on the Cambusbarron course) ran a race on the Cowie loope.

The loop is still used for Falkirk BC’s Billy Warnock memorial, which is one of the first races I entered.

Central Scotland Wheelers Cowie Road Race 1986 from Greg Drysdale (Actor) on Vimeo.

The course is largely flat but includes one steep little brae before the town and another incline as you come into the centre of town. If those are not enough to split the field up, an attack through the narrow twisty back roads between Cowie and the Bellsdyke Road might get away. I like the finish in Cowie, but you could never have that now with all the road furniture and speed bumps. Today’s finish on the main road is always a bit sketchy for me, with the bunch fanning out and cars invariably coming in teh other direction.

“Yes, really, 1986. I filmed it using our new (at the time) Sony CCD V8 AF E Video Camera.” explains Greg.

“I think it’s interesting not only because it’s a nostalgic record of a bike race that happened nearly 30 years ago… but also reveals some vintage cars (and vintage people!) and may be of some interest to the people of Cowie to see their old town and how it’s changed .”

Greg’s cousin Raymond was in one race (he is wearing black and yellow and can be seen on the right at the finish line.)

Please post up a comment if you were involved in the race or recognise anyone in it.

Ronnie Park, VC Stella

In one of my previous posts, I tracked the growth of the VC Stella, a club formed in Scotland as a formidable race outfit. In the 1950s in Britain, road racing was only just taking off, as a segment of cyclists sought to break away from the touring and time trialling culture and emulate their continental heroes of the Monument Classics, the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France.

John Kennedy was one of the VC Stella’s most successful riders, winning the Scottish Road Race championship in the 50s, amongst numerous other results, and going on to a professional career on the continent. The SCU team for the Oats 8-day Circuit of Britain, and later the Milk Race, was often comprised of mainly VCS members.

One of the founder members of VCS, Ronnie Park, was an accomplished rider about whom little is known today. I hadn’t heard his name until I began researching the VCS.

Below shows the start of the Glasgow Highland Games road race, in George Square in June/July 1954. The race was won by Joe Mead of St Christopher RC.

L-R Albert Wheeler (Douglas CC), David Ross, James Kelly, Ronnie Park (all VC Stella). Continue reading

Racing in Ayrshire, 1953

These images, courtesy of William Holden, show Scottish domestic racing in 1953 in Ayrshire.

There are several of John Kennedy, a rider that regular readers of this blog will know I have developed an interest. is there racing for Velo Club Stella in a few of them.

The Velo Club Stella has been described by a few people to me as ‘the first elite cycle racing team in Scotland’ and below we see what I guess to be the leaders of the respective races depicted, with John Kennedy in the mix.

John Kennedy Ayrshire 1953

Above, Kennedy in the foreground, racing for Velo Club Stella with Harry Fairbairn (Ayr Roads CC), left, and Cathcart McCurdie Hay (New Cumnock Cycling Club), middle tackling a climb in Ayrshire.

William’s father, Thomas Moss Holden was connected to the NCCC.

Harry Fairbairn is a name riders from today should recognise, as his BMW dealership still graces the jersey of the Ayr Roads CC. One blog reader recalls that he may have started with a bike shop before diversified into cars, and that he is the brother-in-law of Ian Steel .

John Kennedy Ayrshire Road Race, Dalmellington, 1953

Ayrshire Road Race, Dalmellington, 1953. L-R Harry Fairbairn (Ayr Rds CC) John Kennedy (VCS) Curdie Hay (NCCC). Curdie punctured at Dalleagles.
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Memories of Belgium, summer 1960

A recent interview on Veloveritas with Craig Wallace highlighted how important the Belgian scene is for serious riders who may be looking for a career in bike racing and need to push themselves on. Although Jim Robinson, whose shares memories of the 1960 season below, wasn’t necessarily looking to go pro, there were plenty at that time who were.

1955 Oats Scotland 016

It was spring of 1960 and we were sitting in an early-morning commuter train heading from Ostend to Kortrijk. I sat listening to the chatter around us thinking how much it reminded me of the blue trains going into Queen St. Low-level every morning full of Glasgow office-workers. Flemish shares a lot of vocabulary with old Scots and as my ears got a little more attuned to the accent I almost felt at home. Also, I had spent my National Service with the RAF in Schleswig-Holstein, a part of Germany where Plattdeutsch was still commonly spoken. Plattdeutsch, Frisian and Flemish, all Low Germanic languages, are still spoken up and down the North Sea coast from Denmark to northern France.
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John Kennedy, Scottish racer in Belgium, 14th at Fleche Wallone

In previous articles I charted the story of a talented Scottish racer about whom not much is known. After winning in Scotland and elsewhere in the UK, in around 1955 or ’56 John Kennedy went over to Kortrijk in Belguim aged 24 or 25 to further his racing career.

He may have turned pro in 1957 after succeeding as an amateur, and connoisseurs of the Belgian scene have noted that he rode for some decent teams in what was a tough arena. As Ed Hood noted on Veloveritas in 2007, he would have been competing for a pro contract with hundreds of keen young Belgians, all of whom were striving to avoid work in the fields, mines or steelworks. Back then as it is now, it was the toughest amateur racing in the world.

John Kennedy, Tour de France, 1960.

Back then, when you got paid to ride it was more of a profession. The idea of riders as ‘pedalling workers’ is a concept that runs through the early era of cycling. The phrase ‘convicts of the road’ was coined in 1924 by journalist Albert Londres who likened professional bike racing to forced labour.

The results I found for Kennedy weren’t stellar, but suffice to say he must have been a really good rider to achieve what he did in a hostile environment in late 50s, early 60s Belgium. Back then, contact back home was minimal to non-existent and you were virtually on your own.

Brian Robinson was an English pioneer who Kennedy would go on to ride with in the GB Tour team, who “epitomised that spirit of ‘living the dream’. Equipped with a hard-as-nails mentality and a penchant for suffering, it was all he needed to negotiate his way through the shenanigans of the professional peloton.” – (Guy Andrews, Rapha website)

In the early 80s, Robert Millar complained of loneliness and isolation when he went to Paris to ride for the famous amateur club the ACBB (Athletic Club de Boulogne Billancourt). As a foreign rider in France he found his first accommodation in a gym, before being put in an apartment. “For the first two or three months I got very depressed” he told The Face magazine in 1985. “There were a lot who could not take it, living in a strange country, and just went home. Your life came down to the last ten or fifteen seconds of a race, when you either won or lost and either had something to live on or not.” (Richard Moore, In Search of Robert Millar)

Another Scottish rider, Norrie Drummond also went over to Belgium in 1957 and rode the amateur Gent-Wevelgem, while Brian Robinson and Kennedy rode the pro event. Drummond placed 19th in the amateur Kuurne-Brussels-Kurne that year- no mean feat in itself. In 1958 Norrie was called up to National Service and that put an end to his racing career – a theme that I have heard from many who raced in the 50s.

I haven’t found details of Kennedy’s pro team for ’57, but in ’58 and ’59 he rode for Bertin-d’Alessandro-The Dura and Bertin-The Dura-Milremo, presumably the same squad with different sponsors. Below the team lines up at the Tour du Nord in France in 1958.

John Kennedy, Bertin, Tour du Nord 58

John Kennedy, centre Bertin team, Tour du Nord 58

Results are hard to come by but he rode some big races at the end of 1958, finishing 101st in Paris-Tours in a field that contained Van Looy, Darrigade and Anquetil, and 8th in a Belgian race at Anzegem, with top 10s also recorded in 1959 at  Moorsele and Izenberge in Belgium.

A Belgian adventure was a draw for other young Scottish racers though, as in 1960, Jim Robinson (a V.C. Stella rider, pictured below, second from left, riding the Oats Amateur Circuit of Britain in 1955 for Scotland) went out with Rab Dewar of the Glasgow Wheelers, and Bobby Finnie and spent a season racing there while living in Kortrai near John Kennedy.

1955 Oats Scotland 016

Although Kennedy’s ’58 and ’59 results seem obscure, by 1960 he was riding for Wiels/Flandria, managed former world champion and Tour of Flanders winner Alberic ‘Briek’ Schotte.

John is third team member from the left in the photo below. Briek Schotte, centre.John Kennedy, Wiels Flandria team, (3rd rider from left), Belgium, C1960

‘Briek’ Schotte was a Flandrian hardman in the classic mould. William Fotheringham writes, in his Cyclopedia miscellany, that he “was brought out of his first communion in 1930 and as an amateur would get up at 3:30am to go to work to ensure that he could start training at 1pm.” He rode the Tour of Flanders 20 times and won it twice, also winning the world championships twice and numerous other titles. There is more information about Briek Schotte at the Flandria Cycles website.

By 1960 he was riding some of the big races, posting 35th in Gent-Wevelgem before one of his best results on the Continent, 14th in the Fleche-Wallone on 5th May. He was ranked one of the top riders on the Wiels-Flandria squad, which was 60-strong.

The route of Fleche Wallone has frequently been changed and that year it was run over 208km from Liege to Charleroi. There is a little footage of the race here: Flèche Wallonne : petit rappel historique | SONUMA.

The 1960 edition of the race was won by Pino Cerami in nearly 6 hours. Kennedy finished at 3:52 in a group of 7 going for 10th place, with this sprint won by Emile Daems. He was in very good company, with greats Rik Van Looy and Tom Simpson in the top 10, as well as being amongst five riders who would go on to be stage winners in the Tour that year, and he beat Gaston Nencini, who took the yellow jersey.

The winner, Pino Cerami had a dream season in 1960, having won Paris-Roubaix and going on to get on the podium at the World Championships behind Rik Van Looy of Belgium and Frenchman André Darrigade. In 2018, he remains the oldest winner of Fleche Wallone at 38 years old. The next oldest winners were Alejandro Valverde and Davide Rebellin at 37.

The full result is still available, while I have copied the top 20 below.

  • 1. Pino CERAMI (Bel) en 5h41’35”
  • 2. Pierre Beuffeuil (Fra) à 27″
  • 3. Constant Goossens (Bel)
  • 4. Robert Cazala (Fra) 5. Jean Forestier (Fra)
  • 6. Alfons Hermans (Bel) à 35″
  • 7. Tom Simpson (Gbr) à 2’21”
  • 8. Rik Van Looy (Bel) à 2’53”
  • 9. René Vanderveken (Bel) à 3’12”
  • 10. Emile Daems (Bel) à 3’52”
  • 11. Francesco Miele (Ita)
  • 12. Germain Derijcke (Bel)
  • 13. Louis Proost (Bel)
  • 14. John Kennedy (Gbr)
  • 15. Eddy Pauwels (Bel)
  • 16. Daniel Denys (Bel)
  • 17. Elio Pizzoglio (Ita) à 4’07”
  • 18. Tino Sabbadini (Fra) à 5’43”
  • 19. Joseph Schils (Bel)
  • 20. Gastone Nencini (Ita)

The form that Kennedy was in is evident in this result, and it was to lead to a last-minute call-up to the Great Britain team for the Tour de France, in support of Brian Robinson and Tom Simpson.  To be continued…

John Kennedy second from right

Four of the Wiels-Flandria team 1960

Thanks to the following for assistance in this piece: John Gallacher, Stephen Flockhart, Jim Robinson, Jim Hay, Gino Goddard, Norrie Drummond and Ray Green.

 

The Velo Club Stella and John Kennedy

In part 1 of this historical research project I looked into the Belleisle Road Club, based in the East end of Glasgow.

The story continues with the establishment of the Velo Club Stella in 1953, as a team concentrating on road racing, as opposed to the touring and time trialling that clubs tended to focus on.

Jimmy Rae recalled: The Stella Maris was around when I was a lad and was one of the first Road Racing clubs with the old SCU/BLRC, it had Hugo Koblet as its Patron. It changed its name to the VC Stella in ’53, amongst its members were John Burrows, John Kennedy, Bobby Dykes, Ronnie Park, Joe Linden, Archie Fitzgerald, Brenden Roberts, John McLaren, John Fraser, the Downes brothers. They were among the trail blazers for road racing at that time who faced a ban by the NCU/RTTC for taking part.

1955 Isle of Man018
“Velo Club Stella L to R: John Fraser, John Burrowes, Ronnie Park, Archie Fitsgerald, David Ross, James Kelly (all founder members) and Gordon Watson of Belleisle R.C.”

The Stella Maris was formed as a road racing club from the St Christopher’s CC, which itself was a Catholic club, former member Joe Linden told me. While the Stella Maris wasn’t deliberately closed to non-Catholics, the membership was predominantly Catholic, and he remembered some dubiety about the acceptance of non-Catholics. The VC Stella seems to have been established as a club that was specifically available to all, with it’s main objective being competitive road racing in the continental style.

VC Stella

John Burrowes, one of the founder members, wrote to Swiss rider Hugo Koblet, winner of the Tour de France in 1951 and the Giro d’Italia in 1950, to ask him to be honorary president of the new Velo Club Stella, and he agreed.

La Perle - Hugo Koblet - Le Pedaleur de Charme - lui-meme 1951

The background to this is the restrictive ethos of the NCU/RTTC federation, who were against racing on the open roads and wanted to keep the status quo of the past 50 years, where only time trialling took place. The BLRC was a breakaway federation which, since 1942, held controversial road races and wished to emulate and ultimately compete against their continental heroes of the Spring Classics and the Grand Tours.

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