Jan 12, 2008


{words reed}

Over the last 120 years Raleigh has had the great fortune of being associated with a number of great teams and athletes; their successes have been part of Raleigh’s heritage from the start. Arthur Augustus Zimmerman or Zimmy , as he liked to be called, was an American rider who won Raleigh it’s first world championship in 1892. Building on Zimmy’s success, riders on Raleigh bicycles have won countless races and championships including the 1980 Tour de France and a Gold Medal in Women’s Road at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles – just two highlights from many. We’ve been planning to do a number of postings, based roughly in chronological order, on highlighting some of theses athletes and teams.

But...as Robert Burns wrote (roughly translated) “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry” and Velonews has pre-empted our plan with a few wonderful videos with footage from the 1973 Tour of Ireland; this footage highlights the participation and successes of the “Raleigh Boys”, an American team riding in that Tour of Ireland.

Video 1

Video 2

Not only are these videos a great insight to road racing but they are fun to watch. This footage also gives somewhat of an over due recognition to the legacy of “The Raleigh Boys” who brought US cycling back up to the top levels in America (more on this in a later post).

It is hard to explain to those who have become accustomed to American successes in events like the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia, etc., just how different it was for American racers before 1986 when an American racer won the Tour de France, something that when I started racing in the late 1960’s us American racers only dreamed and fervently hoped might some day happen. Frankly, if you had asked me in 1972 “would an American ever win the Tour?” I would have said “no”.
*Note: My personal view and knowledge of the history of American bicycle racing is limited to my personal experience and what I have learned from others – I am not a historian and certainly no expert. I would recommend for those who are interested in the history check this book out: The Heart’s of Lions: The Story of American Bicycle Racing by Peter Nye, which provides a great overview and starting point for further study.*

Early American racers were among the world’s best, the stars from that era include Raleigh’s own Zimmy” Zimmerman and other racing giants like Major Taylor who overcame racial prejudice to become world champion. The success of early America racers and bicycle racing as a spectator sport here probably reached its zenith in the 1920’s when “six-day” races filled Madison Square Garden and bicycle racers were the highest paid athletes in the US. The popularity and success of American bicycle racing was interrupted by and overshadowed, like most sports, by World War Two and did not really recover until the 1980’s.

International success (and by that I mean success in Europe) largely eluded American racers for over 40 years. Except for a few passionate, brave and intrepid racers who came back from Europe with tales of speeds and crowds unheard of here (and a few moderate successes), American bicycle racing was mostly a domestic affair.

During the late 1960’s America’s interest in the sport of cycling and bicycle racing began to grow dramatically and ultimately culminated in what many now call the “bike boom” of the early 1970’s. It was during these heady times that Raleigh began to sponsor the Century Road Club of America racing team. America’s oldest bicycle club, The CRC of A/Raleigh team became one of the best, if not "the best" teams in the US and former members include at least three members of the US Bicycle Hall of Fame John Allis, Dave Chauner and John Howard and many other of the best racers of that era.

In 1973 one of the primary sponsors of the Tour of Ireland, Raleigh, arranged for an invitation for the CRC of A/Raleigh team and a four man team including Allis, Howard, along with riders Stan Swain and Bill Humphreys (www.bikeguy.biz) to head to Ireland. The rest as they say is history: John Howard won a stage and finished third in the general classification and John Allis finished fifth overall.
Here at Raleigh Head Quarters
we are honored to have a CRC of A/Raleigh jersey
hanging on our wall signed by the team.

*Note: For more information along with photos of the “Raleigh Boys” go to Bill Humphrey’s site (www.bikeguy.biz).*

It is hard to describe how exciting these results were at the time for many of us here in the US and a surprise to “the experts” in Europe. It took a while for the news to reach the US, in those days you were very lucky to find the top three finishers at the Tour de France listed in small print buried at the back of the sporting section of a few major news papers. I personally remember the sense of awe, surprise, pride and hope I felt when I heard the news. In Europe the results were looked upon as a fluke, but we now know they were really the first of many more to follow. The “Raleigh Boys” were really pioneers in many ways and the impact of their success cannot be overstated – American racers began to believe they could succeed at the highest level.


No comments: