The month of July in Ireland has its high points for everyone in sport. For some
it is the GAA Championship games, for others its Wimbledon; others are more interested
in the Open Golf competitions, for others still it is Motor Racing and Rallying,
and some might just prefer to sit in a boat on a lake fishing, but for an ever growing
number of cycling enthusiasts it is the Tour de France.
The 2017 Tour de France is in its final days as I write this and cyclists around
the world watch its daily coverage or attend in person. I attended a stage a few
times but it passes by so quickly you see very little.
However 50 years ago there was tragedy for one cyclist and his family, and for the
cycling fraternity, as on the 13th stage on July 13th 1967, while racing to the top
of a steep mountain, Mont Ventoux, the great English rider, Tom Simpson, at the age
of 29, took ill, collapsed off the bike and died on the roadside, despite top medical
attention. It was found that he had had a heart attack, which may have been brought
on by medication he was taking and had taken some alcohol to cure a stomach problem
he had developed a few days previously. Indeed his friends had advised him that morning
to withdraw from the race but Tom was too committed to do that.
From all accounts Tom Simpson was a lovely person and endeared himself to everyone,
cyclists and spectators, and he was BBC Sports Personality in 1965. Another great
cyclist, David Millar, describing Tom wrote – ‘he was the first to charm all Europe
not only with his ability to race, but with his personality and panache". His commitment
to his sport was resolute and from early wins at Olympics and Commonwealth games
he turned professional and was the first English man to wear the Yellow Jersey in
the Tour de France. His death was mourned in many countries and in many sports.
In the 1967 Tour he was a member of the Great Britain team managed by Alex Taylor,
who, incidentally, died on the 13th July 30 years later. All the members of the ’67
team were at his funeral, all together for the first time since Tom’s death, and
afterwards they all cycled to Tom’s grave.
A memorial near where he died has become a place of pilgrimage for many cyclists
but time, weather and human traffic had caused a deterioration of the monument and
so the family decided to raise some funds to renew the monument and develop the surrounds
so that it was more easily accessible. They opened a Tom Simpson Appreciation page
and are selling jerseys to help raise the funds.
Back now to Ireland: Over the years Patsy Brady, a cycling fanatic, has collected
cycling paraphernalia of all descriptions and last year opened his collection to
the public. One of the first to visit was the great Sean Kelly. This year’s opening
was attended by the great Irish lady cyclist, Eve McCrystal.
Cyclists from clubs all over Ireland have visited the ‘Cycling Museum’ and have been
highly impressed with the massive and interesting collection. One of the Books on
display is the story of the 1967 Tour de France, which was given to Patsy by another
great cycling fanatic, John Colton. It contained the story of Tom’s death and tragedy
and the huge impact his death had on not only the cycling world but sports people
in general from all over the world.
Patsy decided to get a Jersey and so contacted the page and was answered by none
other than Joanne Simpson. Tom’s daughter. They exchanged stories and when she heard
about Patsy’s collection she sent him a signed jersey. It has Tom's name and cycle
number (49) and his phrase – ‘Put me back on the bike’. This jersey will now have
pride of place in the collection. On July 13th this year Tom’s family, including
his daughter Joanne, and 500 cyclists took part in a ride to the Memorial. Joanne
rode the 49 Cycle. Special guest there was Sir Bradley Wiggins.
An Irish owned Vineyard close to Mont Ventoux has produced a special limited edition
wine to mark the 50th anniversary and has named it ‘Tom and the Peleton’. Again a
donation from every bottle sold will go towards the maintenance and upkeep of the
memorial, which is located 1 km from the summit.
A member of that Great Britain team, Barry Hoban, was inspired by Tom’s death and
went on to become a legend in his own right as a cyclist winning many major awards.
He also married Tom’s widow, Helen, and became stepfather to Tom’s daughters – Jane
and Joanne (who was four year old when Tom died) and he and Helen have a daughter
Daniela. Barry would be well known in business circles in Ireland as he represented
an English company, which traded in here.
Another Irish cyclist who knew Tom well was Peter Crinnion, who lives in County Wicklow,
and he has told Patsy Brady of his time with Tom and how they trained together for
nine months. Peter’s greatest memory of Tom was the day he won the Bordeaux to Paris
1963 race and the huge reception that was given to Tom as he arrived at the finish
line and afterwards – thousands cheered him to the line and converged on him to get
autographs. Peter and the great Shay Elliott raced with Tom many times and one special
one was at the World Championships of 1963.
Peter describes Tom as a very likeable person who was hugely popular. He entertained
on and off the bike but was never afraid or pulled back from a challenge.
He was asked once what treatment he had for saddle sores and he answered –‘fill the
bath with ice cubes and sit in it for at least an hour’. He used laugh afterwards
thinking of all the cyclists sitting on ice cubes in baths all over the country.
Little did he know that ice would become such a remedial use as it has today.
Peter himself managed Irish teams including when Stephen Roche was a member. Indeed
there are significant anniversaries for Stephen Roche coming up soon.
At the 2012 Cycling Ireland AGM, it was decided by the members to set up a Hall of
Fame, recognising some of the people who have made Irish Cycling what it is today.
An initial 20 people were inducted into the Hall of Fame at the annual Cycling Ireland
Awards Night in 2013, and one of these was Peter Crinnion. Three further inductees
were added at the Cycling Ireland Awards Night in 2016.
For those interested in the sport of Cycling the role played by Tom Simpson is a
‘must read’ and because of the tragic circumstances of his death he must be remembered
for what he achieved and how his death could, perhaps, been avoided. But the sport
was different then with few regulatory checks and thankfully modern technology and
regulation has changed things for the better but with all the scandals of recent
years there is still a way to go. However his commitment, his enthusiasm, his passion,
his ability to endear himself to others, his love of life are all worth emulating.
Visitors to Patsy Brady's Cycling Museum will be able to see the Jersey and remember
the wearer and what he achieved. We thank Patsy for his information and thanks too
to Joanne, Helen, Barry, Peter Crinnion and Aiden Hammond for their assistance.
In the Sunday Independent of Sunday, July 23rd (just two days after we published
here) Paul Kimmage, who was himself a top class cyclists with many cycling honours
to his credit, wrote an article re. Tom Simpson and in it he regrets that the Tour
de France 2017 made no effort to remember Tom Simpson on this 50th anniversary of
his death. However some cyclists steer away from Tom Simpson's memory because his
death was possibly brought on from his use of amphetamines during the race. However
we must remember this was the 1960's and there were no regulations or tests for those
taking enhancing drugs and many were. The efforts to clean up drugs from sport are
ongoing, only today they are much more sophisticated
Postscript: When I had posted the story above on this site, Patsy Brady shared the
link to the Tom Simpson Appreciation Page, and it got many likes and one very interesting
comment. This came from a Jim Mc Guire, saying he trained with and raced against
Tom during the Commonwealth Games of 1958, held in Cardiff, and also in the Worlds
in Amsterdam 1959, which was the year Tom had turned pro. He lives in Saintfield
(near Belfast)and he is now a Cycling Ireland Commissaire (equivalent to a Referee)
and was the main man at the Emyvale Cycling Grand Prix in May of this year. Patsy
McQuillan was his driver and he had great time for him, - a lovely modest and well
mannered gent. He told Patsy that on the day before the GP he had celebrated his
80th birthday with a party and was feeling tired (any wonder). Patsy also added that
he was also Chief Commissaire at the Killylough race in March. He also told Patsy
that he used be up this way in the past, as his late wife was a very close friend
of a lady called Wendy, who lived a good while in Tullyree, Glaslough, but moved
to Tydavnet. Sheand Jim's late wife were both florists. Jim was the Irish National
Road Race Champion in 1959 and Peter Crinnion was champ in 1960 . Jim was one of
4 man Northern Ireland Cycling Team for Cardiff in 1958 and was a member of the Irish
Team for the Worlds in Amsterdam 1959, where he raced against Tom Simpson on both
occasions. Patsy sent me this photo and when I saw it I realised that he has been
commissaire a number of times for Emyvale events and I have been talking to him a
few times but only knew him as Jim. I whole heartily agree that he is a real friendly
gentleman and I hope to meet with him again at a future event. As a matter of interest
- 2771 people have been to read this page.