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).
The photo below shows Park winning the 1958 Hull International for VC Stella (below) – he beat Joe Christison into 2nd, a rider who had narrowly missed out in competing in the Grand Prix Des Nations in 1955 – effectively the world time trial championships at the time. Christison had won the time trial in the Tour of Britain that year but could not fund a trip to compete internationally and an opportunity to kick his career on was lost.
David Ross, who raced from ’51 to ’55, remembered Park as ‘the most tactically aware rider I had known’, while Ian Thompson, who joined the VC Stella in 1961 describes him as a ‘superb’ rider, and highly under-rated. In addition to his talent on the bike, his management skills helped to get Ken Laidlaw to the 1960 Olympics in Rome, and had a big influence in getting the Stella riders sorted out to compete in races in England.
Later Park rode the Tour of East Germany, and this great image of him at the head of the bunch. ‘with Weißleder’ is written on the back. To the right of the two riders in the foreground is Gustav-Adolf Schur, overall winner of the 1959 DDR-Rundfahrt.
At the time, many of the best amateur Eastern European riders were effectively state-funded pros, and a bit more digging has revealed that Manfred Weißleder, with whom Park is sticking it to the bunch in the picture above, was pretty handy himself. He rode the Peace Race in 1960, winning 4 stages himself and finishing 11th overall as his DDR squad won the team ranking. The image was annotated as from 1959, a year when Weißleder won stage 4 from Dessau to Weimar, along with the points jersey and his DDR Nationalmannschaft won the overall team prize. Ron Park is listed on German Wikipedia as having finished third in the points classification, with 14, behind Weißsleder’s winning total of 60 – it’s possible that the photo above shows the lead-up to an intermediary sprint.
In 1960, riding for the SCU team, he won the 8th stage of the 1960 Tour of Britain , with Hugh McGuire was second and Ken Laidlaw third on the day. McGuire was 4th on final GC, riding for the Services team , Ken Laidlaw was 8th on final GC, and the race was won overall by Bill Bradley.
A race in Ronnie Park’s memory is still held near Manchester every year but it feels like the knowledge of his achievements has faded in Scotland over time. Scotland had some real talent in the 50’s.