Words: David Evans | Date:
This year’s Rapha Rising challenge is inspired by three of the ranges that the pro peloton will visit this year – the Yorkshire Dales, the Alps, and the Pyrenees. As you start your climbing this Saturday, here are three key stories from the three ranges.
Yorkshire – Training on Holme Moss
The recent racing and festivities in Yorkshire were delivered to fans with an undeniably French flavour – the magnificently renamed Côte de Blubberhouses, miles of yellow bunting and adoption of the phrase ‘Tour de Yorkshire’ are testament to this. But long before the great race descended on Yorkshire, one of the county’s cyclists brought his distinct style to bear on continental racing. Brian Robinson was born in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, in 1930. We recognise him now from team publicity photographs and race reporting, wearing broad-collared shirts and catwalk-worthy sunglasses while racing up Europeans cols, his hair elegantly slicked. He cut his teeth as a teenager on Yorkshire’s climbs, riding out in the war years with group from the NCU-affiliated Huddersfield Road Club. It’s on these rides – 150 mile escapades fueled by cups of tea and heavily rationed snacks – that Robinson developed his reputation as a rider who could climb, sprint and time trial, depending on what the occasion demanded. In photographs from his days in Yorkshire, Robinson, astride a Johnny Berry frame, had plump cheeks that belied the strength of legs that could ride 70 miles to a race, win, and ride home again. By the time he raced against Fausto Coppi, those plump cheeks were gone, hollowed out by one of the most successful and demanding careers of any post-war British cyclist.
The Alps – Col d’Izoard’s Monument
The Izoard is one of the great climbs of the Alps, regularly featured in the world’s biggest race and spoke of with reverence by amateurs and professional alike. Newcomers often remark on its two faces – the north side is lush and green, the south side an arid, rocky monotone. On the slopes of the Izoard is a memorial to Louison Bobet and Fausto Coppi. It’s said that Bobet idolised Coppi, and written accounts make much of his matinee idol looks and winning disposition – something he shared with his idol. Incidentally, they fought on opposite sides of the second world war, – Bobet is rumoured to have ferried messages for the French Resistance, while Coppi was unwillingly conscripted into the Italian ranks, spending a couple of years as a prisoner of war after fighting in the African campaign. The memorial is made up of two plaques featuring the riders’ likenesses in profile – for some reason, they face away from each other. It’s not far away from the spot where Bobet, riding in a breakaway with his team-mate Adolphe Deledda on their way to securing the yellow jersey, the Frenchman spotted Coppi cheering from the roadside, and took a moment to thank him for his support.
The Pyrenees – The Tourmalet and Merckxissimo
On 15th July, 1969, Eddy Merckx rode 130km solo in the Pyrenees, winning the day’s stage by almost eight minutes. He’d go on to win the race, and become the last rider to be first over the Tourmalet and to be crowned victor in Pairs in the same year – perhaps this should be a note to riders with aspirations in the general classification. The story goes that Merckx attacked to spite a team-mate who had agreed to sign for a rival team. Instead of allowing the team-mate to take the KOM points, Merckx attacked. The Cannibal, it seems, valued loyalty and publicly punished disloyalty. His adventure over the Pyrenees enamoured journalists and fans, who were delighted to see the young Belgian attack despite comfortably holding the leader’s jersey. That day, Merckx added eight minutes to his advantage n the general classification. This year, the cyclo-sportif riders will be tackling the same ground on which Merckx launched this blistering attack, but the rocky outcrops are unlikely to be the backdrop to any further examples of Merckxissimo.