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Tour de France has lit a flame for Keighley area cyclists
7:00am Friday 13th September 2013 in News
In the first of a series of occasional articles in the run-up to the Tour de France Grand Depart, Keighley cycling enthusiast FRANK O’DWYER reflects on the sport’s local past
To my utter amazement it was announced earlier this year that Keighley was on the 2014 route of the Tour de France.
I have had a love affair with the race since I was a teenager in the 1950s and hope these reflections will explain why it has been a source of inspiration to many Keighley cyclists over the years.
The tour began in 1903 and celebrated its 100th edition this year, only ceasing during the world wars.
I will explain how it came about in later articles. For now I’ll concentrate on how it influenced cycle sport in England generally and Keighley specifically.
When the first tour was announced England was invited to send riders – but it declined and cycle sport evolved in a different way in Britain.
In order not to antagonise the authorities, racing was conducted in secrecy.
Competitors dressed in black alpaca, racing on courses given numbers to preserve secrecy.
They raced over fixed distances at minute intervals, their efforts being timed, setting off early in the morning at distances from ten miles to 24 hours!
The controlling body was the RTTC (Road Time Trials Council), an all-powerful governing body. They thwarted all attempts for massed-start bunched racing and any rider competing in this form of racing faced being banned from RTTC events.
All this changed during and after World War Two.
Massed-start racing on closed circuits – aerodrome or race tracks – flourished and a rival authority, the BLRC (British League of Racing Cyclists) was born. Clubs began to sprout French-sounding names like VC St Raphael, VC standing for velo club.
Men returning from war joined these new clubs and so in towns like Keighley there was intense rivalry between the two factions.
In the RTTC camp was Keighley Road Club, Keighley Clarion. In the BLRC camp was St Christopher’s (my club) and Keighley Velo.
RTTC clubs were traditionalists, going on club runs on touring bikes fitted with mudgaurds and saddlebags and dressing in plus fours and Nomad cycling jackets – all very proper.
BLRC riders aped the continentals. Sports bikes without mud-gaurds, no saddlebags, our capes strapped under our saddles, our food on our backs in “cork bags” and sporting black berets instead of flat caps.
When not racing we would go out on club runs to the coast, the Dales or the Lakes. This was known as “getting the miles in.”
When the different factions met on the road the fun began – often at tea rooms in the Dales.
Long Ashes near Grassington, Beck Hall, Malham, Bell Busk, Burnsall, Bolton Abbey – all had tea rooms where for a few coppers enamel jugs of tea with numerous cups kept the riders going.
At Long Ashes there was a proper cafe. Round the side they had a big hut with trestle tables and benches for the poorer clientele.
Tea was provided by nubile young girls and you were allowed to consume your own sandwiches – usually egg or banana.
Hundreds of bikes lined the walls and you would come out – like in the cartoon above – to find yours buried under a mass of handlebars.
Then the ride home began, the ranks swelling as you got to Skipton, with riders from Bradford, Halifax and Queensbury.
As we approached Keighley, riders would jostle to be first past the old Keighley sign. Riders were all over the road, handlebars and saddlebags clashing. This pace was kept up into Keighley to be the first into town (bottom of Spring Gardens Lane). The Keighley riders would then peel off home.
Paul Kennedy, Pat Kelly, Paul Loftus down Lawkholme Lane, Terry Melvin down Showfield, Mike Howley, Oakworth Road. Alan Boland, Tony Beckett and myself up Devonshire Street. Terry Clarke, Highfield.
All the above rode with St Christopher and were the hard core of the A section of the club.
Other riders joined in when it was deemed they were fit enough to endure the pain and suffering inflicted on these rides.
We would have aching legs on Monday morning – but it was worth it to escape the tedium of Keighley and work and have our day in the sun.
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