Tag Archives: Ian Steel

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.

Ian Steel visit

Thanks to Steven Turbitt from Glasgow United CC for pointing me in the direction of these pictures by his clubmate Richie MacPherson, who went to visit Ian Steel recently. Steel won the Peace Race and the Tour of Britain in the 1950s and also rode the Tours of France and Spain. I’ve done quite a bit of digging on him over the past year or so, check out the Ian Steel tag for my other posts.

A nice quote from the GUCC forum: He still very much has that sparkle in his eye when talking about the bike. He was presented with the latest GUCC jersey, and was delighted and very quick to put it on and get his photo taken. Anyone who got their hands on Rouleur 18 will know this already- his enthusiasm for cycling and passion when telling the old stories is evident.

Thanks to Steven and Richie for permission to reproduce. Click through for the full photo set with Ian Steel’s other tropies.

Peace race 1952 extended footage

This film was mentioned in the Rouleur 18 article about Ian Steel, but disappeared from Y0uTube. It has since reappeared- It’s in four parts, in Polish, but patience will reward enthusiasts of this era. It’s the most sustained footage of one bike race from that age that I’ve seen. You get to see the bikes, kit, pace and attacks all at close quarters. And of course Ian Steel won it – the toughest amateur stage race in the world.

Part 1 is mainly background and preamble, but worth a watch for the ceremonial start in the Polish Army Stadium, at 7min. The sheer number of spectators, and the noise, is incredible, and gives you a sense of the scale of the race. Part 2 focuses on riders I don’t know, but by parts 3 and 4 you are getting good chunks of Steel against his rivals.

I’ve blogged quite a bit about this, mainly as I share the discoveries I make. It’s a part of our cycling history that few seem to know about, and should be celebrated. Almost like the Tom Simpson of Scotland. Thanks to “Ivan” from the Braveheart forums for the heads up. Read this thread for the story of the race.

Ian Steel’s 1952 Peace Race win

Last year I really enjoyed researching and posting on Ian Steel’s career in the 50s, one of Scottish Cycling’s first greats.

One of the best places I have found for information on Scottish riders from this time is a thread on the Braveheart forums, where a member called Ivan shares his memories and extensive konwledge on the era.

Ian Steel, 6 feet, V2 cycling rocket from Glasgow, won the 2135 km 12-stage Warsaw-Berlin-Prague race which ended on May 13th , 1952, in a shower of glory, for he not only dominated the field of 93 other riders, but led his 5 team mates (Ian Greenfield from Edinburgh, Bev Wood from Hyde in Cheshire, Ken Jowett from Bradford, Londoner Les Scales and Frank Seel from Manchester) to the head of the team race in which exalted position they stayed from the end of the 6th stage to the finish.

The above paragraph is the introduction to a 4-page special supplement which appeared in June 1952 in The Leaguer (The official publication of The British League of Racing Cyclists), written by Charles Fearnley. Fearnley was well placed to comment on Steels’s rocket-like performance because he was masseur to the 1952 PR team.

The team, led by the BLRC founder Percy Stallard, with Bob Thom as mechanic, arrived in the Polish capital on the 26th of April after a journey which started two days earlier with a send-off from the British-Polish Friendship Society in London, before flying via Copenhagen to Warsaw.

The ceremonial start to the race took place at the Polish Army Stadium on the 30th , watched by a crowd of 60,000 people, with the 14 teams lined up on the playing field being presented to the crowd following the playing of the national anthems. With the release of thousands of white doves ( the symbol of the race), the teams made their way to the official start for the 1st stage, a circuit of Warsaw over 105 km.

With most of the riders unknown to the British riders, Stallard’s instructions were to simply observe and take stock of the opposition, there would be no rash action on the part of the British team. Steel and the rest of the team survive the hot, and fast (at over 28mph) stage which was purpose built for Belgians, being mostly over cobbles and tram lines. Belgians took 1st, 2nd and 5th, with Steel and all his team mates at 37 seconds, in the same time as Jan Vesely from Czechoslovakia, 1949 PR winner and one of the favourites.

Ian Steel and his team mates were highly praised in the press of all three organising countries, Bogdan Tuszynski of Polish Radio, the doyen of Polish cycling reporters, described his victory as being in the ” Style of an English Lord “. BT meant this as a complement, further describing Steel’s performance as being without fanfare, extremely efficient, cool and elegant, and the team as the revelation of the race. In all the Polish media of the time, Steel is portrayed by Polish cartoonists as an English gent, often sitting astride a penny-farthing, it was if they had no appropriate Scottish caricature which was flattering, even though Poles, Germans and Czechs were all aware that he was Scottish, but they all had problems with the name Ian, the Czechs insisting on Ion, and the Poles and Germans on Jan.

Even the DDR reporters were full of praise , if a little less enthusiastic than the Poles and Czechs, this was more for political reasons than nationalistic ones ie this was at the height of the Cold War and Steel and his team were from the West, but in the only book published in any language which dealt exclusively with the 1952 PR , the classic “Warschau – Berlin – Prag” by the DDR journalist Adolf Klimanschewsky, the coverage is fair-minded.

One thing common to all coverage of Steel’s victory was the fact that he never won a stage of the race, later German coverage was often quick to point that out, as if it even mattered. All these references stopped when DDR hero Gustav Adolf Schur won the PR without winning a stage.

Text by Ivan on Braveheart forums

Ian Steel winning Tour of Britain 1951


Click the image to go through to the British Pathé website, an archive of old newsreels for a 2 minute clip of Ian Steel taking the overall win at Hampstead of the Daily Express Round Britain Cycle Race, 06/09/1951.

It was a 14-day stage race. Below is a great photo of Ian hoisted aloft the shoulders of fans after winning the second stage in Plymouth. It’s a Getty image and I thought I would be risking castration by posting it but I’m assured Getty Legal are more bothered about infringement on billboards than blogs. You can license the image for newspapers, books, posters etc by clicking on it to go through to the Getty site.

More info available on Tour-Racing.co.uk including the full route, the victors of each day, and summaries of the racing on each stage.

Scots in the Peace Race

After doing a couple of posts on Ian Steel I recalled a thread on the Braveheart Forums that began as an inquiry for somebody’s email address and wandered off on a wonderful tangent about Scottish racers on the continent.

The summary below, of all the Scots who took part in the Peace Race, comes via a guy called Ivan from Belgium who is a great contributor on the Braveheart Fund forums. The Peace Race, if you don’t know, was an extremely hard amateur stage race that crossed the iron curtain from communist Eastern Bloc and back. Non-communist countries took part by invitation.

1952 Ian Steel and Ian Greenfield, first and only English-speaking winner in Ian Steel, first British podium for Ian Greenfield with a 3rd place on the crucial 8th stage from Leipzig to Karl Marx Stadt, where Ian Steel took the leader’s jersey. The BLRC team also took the team class.
1957 Jimmy Rae, podium in 1st stage Prague – Brno
1959 Joe Christison
1960 Ken Laidlaw, second in KOM clas.
1961 Ken Laidlaw, fourth in KOM clas.
1962 Hugh McGuire
1963 First and only Scottish team in Peace Race, Drummond, Gardiner, McGuire, Murphy, McNaught and Waugh.
1964 Jim Hendry
1966 Billy Bilsland
1967 Billy Bilsland, first Scottish stage win in Liberec in CZ.
1968 Andy McGhee
1972 Sandy Gilchrist
1973 Sandy Gilchrist and Denis Mitchell
1985 Ken Clark
1987 Martin Coll
1989 Martin Coll

There’s no need for me to cut and paste from the thread- it’s a fascinating read with stories about Chernobyl, Slovak stage races, the whereabouts of former Eastern Bloc riders and

As often happens when I post, I am inspired to write more entries- now on my to-do list are things about Sandy Gilchrist and Jimmy Rae.

Books and information about Scottish cyclist Ian Steel

Wikipedia, the internet’s semi-reliable source of information, includes plenty of background on the Peace Race, his win’s effect back in Britain, and Steel’s ill-fated ride in the Tour de France in 1955.

Ian Steel’s results on cycling archives, which include the image above, has a database with data on his 1951 Tour of Britain win, and more historical information to be explored, including Tour of Britain stage wins.

William Fotheringham’s book, Roule Britannia covers a history of British racing cyclists in the Tour de France. Ian Steel, who rode for Viking Cycles but went to France as part of a cobbled-together Hercules Cycles team, went home after ignoring team orders to drop back and help a weaker teammate. There’s a review of the book by Ramin Minovi on the Association of British Cycling Coaches website.

History of Viking Cycles – an interesting trip down memory lane with some references to Ian and the 1955 team photo below.

Rouleur references a video of “Wyscig Pokoju 1952” (Peace Race 1952) , which has occasionally been available on YouTube.

In Herbie Sykes’ 2014 book The Race Against the Stasi, he profiles the influence of the Peace Race in communist East Europe and tells the story of how Dieter Wiedemann came to be the only man to ride both the Peace Race and the Tour de France. Ian Steel has a fairly brief mention in the book. Although he won the event –  a massive achievement – the story charts the power and influence of the communist party and the Stasi (its secret police) had over East German athletes, and how important their fame was in political propaganda.

Watch the video below to get a sense of the crowds – just for a stage start. Read the book and you’ll understand why they were so big.

Then the amount of spectators; there seemed to be seas of people everywhere. I’d been used to riding amateur races in Britain, and as often as not there was nobody watching. People back home had not the slightest understanding of how big a race this was, and there were no British cycling journalists there to inform them. 

Scottish Cyclist: Ian Steel

Ian Steel is one of Scotlands greatest ever cyclists. I wanted to put him in my Top 10 of all time back when I started this blog, but I didn’t know enough about him. Since then I have found more has made me come to realise his achievements.

A brilliant article in Rouleur edition 18 by Herbie Sykes and Ben Ingham. A thoroughly researched story of the man’s life and cycling career, with memories direct from the horse’s mouth.

What is remarkable is that the inspiration cyclists in Britain took from Ian Steel’s win in the 1952 Peace Race (Warsaw-Berlin-Prague), the hardest amateur race in the world at the time, was responsible for the emergence of road racing over here. Up until that point the National Cycling Union ruled the roost- only time trialling was allowed and mass start road races did not take place. Soon afterwards, the British League of Racing Cyclists started up and road racing began to get established in Britain.

1951 – Age 22, Pattern maker, 1st SCU Championship Road Race 1951, 1st West Scotland Championship Road Race 1951, 1st Glasgow Wheelers RR, 1st Edinburgh Comet RR 1951, 1st Glasgow Wheelers 25-mile 1951, 1st Tour of the Chilterns 1951

1952 – (Independent). There can be no doubt that this six-foot Scotsman is the outstanding British road cyclist of the century. He leapt to fame in the first 1951 Tour of Britain, when he scored a brilliant win. This year he went to the Continent, and beat the finest amateur and independent Continental riders on their own ground, finishing on top in the tremendously gruelling Warsaw-Berlin-Prague stage race. Shortly after, he went to France, and startled the Continentals by finishing a very close 2nd in the Paris-Lens classic road race. He has been time trial and road race champion of Scotland, and is a winner of the Tour of the Chilterns, besides his many other successes. A cycle-frame builder, Ian is aged 23. [1]

1953 – (Independent). This six-foot, unassuming Scot will always be remembered for his brilliant win in the first Daily Express Tour of Britain, and for his equally sensational victory in the gruelling Warsaw-Berlin-Prague race later that year. Also finished as leading British rider in this year’s Six Provinces race. He is the current British road race champion, and is captain of his team. He is 24 years old. [24]

1955 – 25 years. Rode in Tour de France and Tour of Spain, 1955. National Road Race Champion, 1953. 1st Warsaw-Berlin-Prague. 1st Tour of Britain, 1951.

I got the biography and palmares information from tour-racing.co.uk, a site with a pretty phenomenal archive of cycling race information.

The Ian Steel article in Rouleur 18 is highly recommended, and to top it off you get a great piece on climbing by Robert Millar.

Tour de Trossachs

October kicks off with the Tour de Trossachs mountain time trial, run by the Glasgow Ivy CC and stalwart race organiser Jeannette Hazlett. It is a true classic in the Scottish, and in fact the British racing calendar. Amazingly it has run since 1943.

The former winners read like a who’s who of Scottish Cycling greatness: Ian Steel in the 50s, Billy Billsland in the 60s, Robert Millar in 1978 and the 80s, Graeme Obree breaking the record on a fixed gear in the 90s, and and Jason McIntyre winning in 2005, 2006 and 2007, and breaking Obree’s record.

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