Well, he isn’t a Sir, but he should have been. One of my favourite Chain Gang cyclists, veteran of the Loire Valley, the Dordogne and Burgundy, sadly died last Friday. He’d been fighting cancer for some time, and lost.
John was an Eastbourne Rover, and I met him with his friends Stuart, George and Mike many years ago in the Loire Valley. They’d been cycling together for 50 years, and it was a pleasure to be with such generous and funny people.
As a cyclist, John was top dog, which is saying something when you know that Stuart was a founder member of the British League of Racing Cyclists (BLRC). As a youngster, he sometimes spent his Easters cycling from Eastbourne to Land’s End and back – a round-trip of over 400 miles. Stuart told me that one time, having ridden over 200 miles from Eastbourne, John entered a local 50-mile time trial race. Inevitably he won, and the following day he cycled back to Eastbourne. John would never have told you that he’d won that race, but he was very charming in his modesty, there was nothing false about it.
I cycled with them in the Loire Valley, the Dordogne and Burgundy, as well as Eastbourne. It was a great privilege to know John. When you see these 4 guys on their bikes, everything is so fluid, their feet go round in circles – not as stupid as it sounds. Mine tend to go up and down, as most cyclists’ do, but the best cyclists pedal in circles, and ‘stompers’ like me could never keep up. Watching them cycle, you could tell that’s where they belonged, they were just so smooth, John more than any of them.
Once, in the Loire, the Easbourne Rovers and I found ourselves together, separated from the rest of the group and needing to make up some time – I forget why. Three of these guys were over 70, and though I tried to hide it I was panting and puffing trying to keep up. And they were chatting away as if they’d just met in the coffee shop. It was revealing to see what they could still do if they wanted to, and I wouldn’t have fancied racing any of them.
But the most fun was watching the other 3 pretending to ostracise Stuart for having broken away from the National Cyclists’ Union (NCU) to form the the BLRC. The NCU were the governing body, and members were instructed not to ride with ‘league’ members. It was hilarious to watch these three blokes, fifty years later, explaining to incredulous strangers why they couldn’t allow Stuart to cycle with them, and shooing him away as ‘a terrorist’ (OK, this was pre 9/11). How can you keep that up for 50 years?!
Then they’d all sit round a table in a bar explaining that they didn’t trust each other, and it was cash-only please.
Lovely people, especially John, and he’s worth a moment of reflection.
His funeral is next Wednesday, March 11th, in Eastbourne.