Posts Tagged ‘wide eyed and legless’

Wide Eyed and Legless Revisited

August 17, 2011

words: Ian Cleverly photos: Geoff Waugh (www.waughphotos.com)

“Connor got the job because he was the only sports writer at the Daily Star who didn’t smoke.” Paul Watson

And so a national daily newspaper sent one of its journalists to France for three weeks in July, and one of the finest books ever written on cycling emerged. Wide-Eyed And Legless, Jeff Connor’s boils-and-all coverage of the fateful 1987 Tour de France undertaken by the hopelessly under-prepared ANC-Halfords team, chronicles the misfortunes of the first British squad to tackle the grand boucle in 20 years. Connor spent the entire Tour with them, initially as an observer, but before long as a helper, giving him unprecedented insight into the machinations of ANC’s adventure.

From the prologue in West Berlin, run off in searing heat without time trial bikes or aero helmets, the hapless Tour debutants were on the back foot, struggling to hold wheels on the opening stages due to the ferocious pace of an EPO-fuelled peloton. Competitors returning positive drug tests for known banned substances were effectively slapped on the wrist and fined. No surprise, then, that the 1987 Tour went off at an alarming pace that only relented once the Champs-Élysées had been reached. No surprise that only four of the ANC nine made it to Paris.

Connor had unwittingly stumbled on a brilliant story, packed full of bickering, backbiting and cock-ups: a writer’s dream. And team boss Tony Capper – a bear of a man who would, according to directeur sportif Phil Griffiths, squeeze behind the wheel of the team car surrounded by copious quantities of food for the day ahead – was a gift to a journalist looking for an angle. Connor’s remit from the Star was to cover the Tour and the (hopefully) glorious debut of this British professional team. If he could ride a stage or two himself – hence the non-smoking requirement – that would be a bonus. Both the Star and Connor clearly had a few things to learn that July.

Capper was a man in a hurry. His ANC parcel delivery company was looking to expand into the Continent, so what better way to advertise than via the vehicle of the Tour de France, with a TV audience of millions? What often reads in Wide-Eyed as a rich man’s ego trip was based on sound business principles. Another year and ANC might have been in a position to at least survive the Tour intact. As it transpired, the race finished the team off forever. ANC-Halfords crashed and burned as spectacularly as any dot-com startup at the turn of the 21st century.

Yet the squad had prepared for the main event that year with a series of European races starting in February and gained sufficiently impressive results to earn a Tour place on merit. How did events take such a calamitous turn for the worse in such a short time? Was the team’s performance actually as bad as Connor portrays in Wide-Eyed? After all, Malcolm Elliott came within a whisker of a stage win in Bordeaux, and ANC was not alone in having only four finishers: Sean Kelly’s KAS squad and two other teams were in the same boat, while Supermercati and Ryalco only managed a pair apiece. It was a brutally fast race, covering 800 kilometres more than the 2011 edition. It left grown men broken at the roadside – ANC’s Graham Jones and Adrian Timmis, for differing reasons, remain convinced that the 1987 Tour was effectively the end of their cycling careers.

The team selection for the Tour consisted of five foreign riders (Steve Swart, Shane Sutton, Kvetoslav Palov, Guy Gallopin and Bernard Chesneau) and four British (Graham Jones, Adrian Timmis, Paul Watson and Malcolm Elliott). We gathered together the British contingent, plus directeur sportif Phil Griffiths, to revisit the ’87 Tour and discuss the effect of Wide Eyed and Legless on the team.

Extract from Rouleur issue 25, on sale now

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Badge of Honour

July 21, 2011

Words and X-ray: Guy Andrews

A broken collarbone seems harmless enough when you’re watching the Tour on TV and it’s reported over the airwaves after the peloton has folded into a heap and the casualties have been fully assessed. It never sounds so bad, be back on your bike in no time… Well, that’s what I always thought.

The first I remember watching was during the Tour of 1987.

Sean Kelly is a tough guy, I trust you’ll agree. Jeff Connor’s description of the Irishman, in the excellent book Wide Eyed and Legless, had him down to a tee, especially when receiving short shrift when asking him for an interview. Connor wrote: “Kelly said nothing, climbed slowly off the car bonnet (where he had been sitting) and on to his bike, pulled his gloves on tighter and, without even looking at me, rode slowly away.”

Kelly was a mean rider too. The over-used expression ‘he let his legs do the talking’ perfectly described the taciturn man from Tipperary. Kelly was a class apart. One day, however, all this fell apart.

On stage 12 of the 1987 Tour de France he broke his collarbone, and although he tried to remount his bike and continue (at one stage riding off in the wrong direction), he eventually succumbed to the pain and collapsed into the arms of his DS in floods of tears. It can’t be the pain, I thought: Kelly’s too tough. I reasoned that perhaps he was just realising his chance for that year’s green jersey was over.

To say this was moving was an understatement. Kelly was stripped bare for all to see and he just wept. We stared at the TV with our mouths wide open. Kelly was crying. It was like seeing your dad upset when you were a kid, or watching Ring of Bright Water for the first time (it’s a film about otters… a really sad one… no? Just me then). We were all close to tears for him ourselves and it was a defining moment in the history of cycling. We all remember where we were the day Kelly cried…

Tyler Hamilton suffered the same bone break at the Tour a few decades on. Whatever he got up to behind the scenes, I can’t comprehend what Hamilton managed to put himself through to continue the 2003 Tour and even win a stage. For such a ‘nice looking boy’, it seems that he had a love of the pain. He loved it so much that when he had carried on riding in the previous year’s Giro (with a broken shoulder, eventually finishing second overall) he managed to grind his teeth so hard to mask the pain that he allegedly had to have 11 of them capped or replaced after the race. Ouch.

And then there was Fiorenzo Magni. I can’t imagine that Magni ever cried. He looked like he was made from granite or iron – Signor Magni’s made of different stuff to you or I. But he had his fair share of crashes and the 1956 Giro is still the stuff of legend. After crashing and breaking his left collarbone, not only did he climb out of the ambulance and refuse to go to hospital so he could finish the stage, but he also crashed again a few days later and fainted with the pain. Then his mechanic (incidentally, Faliero Masi, who Magni rated “the best bicycle mechanic ever”‚ and his bike brand is the subject of a feature in issue 25) tied an inner tube to his handlebars that he could pull on with his teeth when he climbed. Tough? We don’t know the meaning of the word.

“The day after the end of the Giro I went to an institute that specialised in bone injuries,” Magni explained later. “They said I had two fractures – I thought I had only one – and forced me to put a plaster cast on. The next day I went to my machine shop and asked my mechanic to cut the plaster cast away with the special scissors he used for sheet metal. This way I could start training again. Well, my shoulder is a little crooked now, but that’s that.”

Please don’t try this at home.

As for recent collarbones, Bradley Wiggins suffered the cyclist’s badge of honour in this year’s Tour and it was clear the minute the cameras revealed him from under a heap of riders what his injury was. Bradley put a brave face on it that’s for sure. I don’t know if he cried (I doubt it), but his teammates all stopped, threw their own races out of loyalty to the team leader and, however tactically stupid this may sound in retrospect, I can now fully appreciate their concern.

You see the reason why I’m wibbling on about busted clavicles is that I recently did mine too. Not in a race, not even falling off. I was car-doored, hardly a race situation, but the result was the same, and despite my earlier thinking that it’s ‘just a collar bone’, the classic cyclist’s injury seems to be perfectly fitting to a sport that hurts like hell. And yes I cried. Not for the fact that there was a peloton fast disappearing into the distance, or that the rest of my season was in doubt. I cried because it hurt like hell.