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