Background

International Cycling Week began in 1936 with a single day race. Here - in articles by Ken Matthews, Stuart Slack and John Wilkinson - we look back over some of the history of this festival of cycling.

Scroll down the page, or click the title below to go directly to your chosen article:

The Silent Ones
The TT Course
The Mountain Time Trial
Boardman & Obree
Wilko's Fastest Lap
The Manx International

The Silent Ones

Ken Matthews, Press & PR Officer for Cycling Week, takes a look at the origins of the event in an article which originally appeared in the May 1998 edition of 'Manx Tails', the in-flight magazine of Manx Airways.

The locals call them 'the silent ones’.

Following the roar and smells of the motor bikes in the T.T., the human powered two wheelers, sometimes referred to as "push bikes", take to the roads of the Isle of Man, not only for competition but also for easy riding over 500 miles of unspoilt roads.

The Isle of Man International Cycling Week started back in 1936 when a young man called Curwen Clague organised a single race for 100 riders round one lap of the famous T.T. course on open roads. Many famous stars of the day came across for the unique experience in the style of the racing on the Continent, not allowed on the mainland of Britain where "Private & Confidential" was the password of early morning trials against the watch.

First winner was Charles Holland from the Midland C.& A.C. who took one hour 42 minutes 57 seconds for the 37.75 miles course, taking in the big climb of Snaefell mountain. In 1937 the race was extended to two laps when Jack Fancourt from Yorkshire Road Club was first home. By now the Manx race was attracting world wide attention and in 1938 it was Chauzaud of France who notched the first of many foreign victories.

Bill Messer of London's Marlboro A.C. won in 1939 as organiser Curwen Clague sailed off to war with the Manx Regiment. Captured in Crete, Curwen spent four years in a German prisoner of war camp but on returning to his beloved island it was not long before he revived the big cycle race.

Jean Baldassari of France won in 1946 and again in 1947. With the restrictions on petrol and a lack of cars after the last war it was an opportunity for cycling to become more popular and there was a boom for both utility riders and for racers. They came over in thousands for the Manx fixture in June, by now growing each year until there was something on every day for a whole week.

In addition to road races and time trials, the track at Onchan was a sell out with stars like world sprint champion Reg Harris challenged by top track men from the Continent. Curwen Clague's boldest move was to fly in a big party of star men from the Continent, Tour de France riders and the like, headed by the great Italian Fausto Coppi.

The British fans could hardly believe that here, before their eyes, were the men they had only read about in books and seen on film. They raced over the Clypse Circuit, passing the grandstand each lap. Irishman Shay Elliott from Dublin sprinted in to win the first full professional race with Yorkshire's Barry Hoban and Germany's Rudi Altig in the minor places. The Manx Premier professional race was an immediate hit and boosted the festival considerably.

In 1963 there was a popular winner in the constant rain when England's Tom Simpson headed in what was left of the 70 starters as only 16 completed the full course! Sadly, Simpson was to die tragically on the 13th stage of the Tour de France on July 13 when climbing the tortuous Mount Ventoux in blazing heat. His last race victory was in the Isle of Man.

The Isle of Man International Week is supported by the Isle of Man Department of Tourism and provides a cycling paradise under ideal conditions. This year's event reflects the ever-growing mountain bike scene with both off road and ‘round the houses’ kermesse races.

So, more than sixty years have passed since Curwen Clague was instrumental in starting off what has become recognised as Britain's greatest festival of its kind each June. Today, the family tradition continues with Curwen’s son Des Clague now the International Race Week Organiser assisted by his brother Colin.

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The TT Course

Famous as the circuit used for the Tourist Trophy (TT) motorcycle races which take place just a fortnight before Cycling Week. It's 37.75 miles contain a rich variety of racing conditions - including the strength sapping climb of Snaefell - which is tackled three times during the Manx International.

Unique in British cycling, the roads are completely closed to traffic for all the road races which take place on the circuit.

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The Mountain Time Trial

John Wilkinson looks back at some of the epic rides over the world famous TT Course.

The British passion for time trials may be a source of bewilderment to our continental cousins, but the Race of Truth plays a key role in any of the major Tours. Great all-rounder that he was, it was Miguel Indurain's supremacy against the watch which made him the undisputed king of the Tour de France in the 1990s and his time trialling prowess was a source of both envy and wonder.

Wouldn't it be something to have seen Big Mig in action on the TT circuit? I have often wondered what the Spaniard and other giants of the European peloton would make of the classic 37.75 mile test. It will never happen, unless perhaps the Tour de France organisers can be persuaded to start the race one year with an oversize prologue...or perhaps a National Lottery winner would care to use the money to bring the stars over for a one-off promotion? It's nice to dream, and of course plenty of the big names already figure in the annals of the Isle of Man week.

Three years before the first of his two Tour de France wins, Laurent Fignon finished second in the Mountain time trial to Dave Lloyd, going round in 1-40-22. Lloyd won again in 1982 when that teak-tough Norwegian Dag-Otto Lauritzen recorded 1-32-21 for fifth place, Ronan Pensec also finished fifth in 1984, negotiating fog along the highest part of the course to get home in 1-36-23. And, of course, there is Chris Boardman, winner in 1987 at the age of 18, again in 1989 and finally 1993 when he set that fabulous record of 1-23-54 which, even Graeme Obree admitted, was going to be very hard to beat.

Boardman came over in 1993 as the Olympic pursuit champion and has developed into one of the world's leading road-men. Wouidn’t it be nice to know if Indurain could have gone any faster? Until 1997, no overseas (that's not counting the Irish Sea!) rider had ever won the traditional curtain-raiser to Isle of Man week, but the roll of honour contains world and Olympic champions like Boardman and Obree alongside many of the great names of domestic racing.

Midlander Bob Maitland was the first hat-trick winner, lowering the record from the inaugural 1947 time of 1-46-26 to 1-40-31 over the next three years. Ron Jowers carried Twickenham CC’s colours to victory three years in a row between 1955 and 1957 before returning to win again in 1960. The next three-timer was Tour of Britain winner Les West, between 1963 and 1966, bringing the record down to 1-35-40. Riding for Kirkby CC, Jon Burnham equalled West’s time in 1968 and his second win in 1970 triggered off a run of eight straight victories for the Liverpool club - Lloyd (twice), John Clewarth (twice), Kevin Apter, Graham Harrison and Dave Cumming following on.

In between Burnham's two victories, Brian Roche recorded the only home win so far in 1-39-27. His son Andrew was a minute faster in 1988 at the age of 16, finishing 13th. Since then Roche junior has chalked up a string of top three placings, but is still searching for that elusive win.

Lloyd brought the record down to 1-33-21 in 1972 and the 90-minute barrier moved closer when Phil Griffiths clocked 1-32-09 in 1978. Now riding for Birkenhead North End, Lloyd won again in 1980 and - in the blue, red and white of Manchester Wheelers - broke the record in each of the next two years, 1-30-08 in 1981 (when Manxman Steve Joughin achieved the first 25mph ride with 1-30-30 for second place, finishing a few minutes before Lloyd) and then historically, 1-29-20 in 1982.

The Wheelers ran up 11 consecutive wins. Darryl Webster, an out-spoken and often controversial rider of immense talent, followed Lloyd with four successive wins and a record-breaking 1-27-37 in 1983: Boardman (twice), Paul Curran and Scott O'Brien (twice) came next. Obree's unconventional style and machinery proved no obstacle as he won in 1992: he was back to win again in 1995 in succession to Boardman and Welshman Matthew Postle.

The world one-hour record and two world pursuit titles came Obree's way after his first win; the Scot returned in 1996 - en route to the Olympic Games in Atlanta - and with a new lightweight bike which he hoped would help him get up the climb from Ramsey a little bit quicker than before. Splitting the circuit into the four timed sections, the record stands at 1-21-44. Webster covered the 7.3 miles from the Grandstand to Ballacraine in 15-50 in 1986: in 1995 Obree went from Ballacraine to the 23.6·mile check at Ramsey in 32-36 for an aggregate 48-54, the first recorded spilt inside 50 minutes and an average speed of 28.95 mph.

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Webster skipped up the five mile climb to the Mountain Box in 17-55 on the way to his 1983 record; Boardman completed the remaining 9.1 miles back to the Grandstand in 15-23 in 1993.

The course configuration guarantees that the best of conditions over one section means not so good conditions elsewhere. But records are made to be broken, and one day that time might not seem so impossible.

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Boardman & Obree

Stuart Slack compares some of the best Cycle Week performances from Britain's big two.

In which three areas do the following great riders have a common link - Fausto Coppi, Eddy Merckx, Ercole Baldini, Chris Boardman and Graeme Obree? If this question turned up in a Trivial Pursuit game could you as a cyclist provide the answer?

Yes, we all know they have been World Hour record holders and we can identify each of them as having won a world championship. What you may have missed is that they have all competed in Manx International Cycling Week races. Coppi rode the first professional race here in 1959. Merckx was a member of a Belgian team in the 1963 Manx International and finished 18th and Baldini won the same race in 1956 before going on to become Olympic champion later that year in Melboume, Australia. It is, however, the Isle of Man performances of the two Britons that we are concerned with here.

Chris Boardman first came to compete here as a brash 16 year old in 1985. He raced with some success every day of the week, the highlight being his win by 2.40 in the Onchan Cup race for juniors. He was second in the one lap race around the Mountain Circuit (the Mannin Veg) to New Zealand junior Peter Harding and was just beaten by another Kiwi in the junior 10 mile time trial. He had started the week off with seventh place in the mountain time trial, an event in which he was to re-write the record book seven years later. To fill in the week, he was also second in the two-up 10 mile time trial and third in the 25 mile time trial with a modest 58.00. Having tasted victory on that first visit, he was never again beaten in a Manx race taking 16 straight wins over the next few years. Chris made no mistake in the one lap Mannin Veg race in 1986 riding to victory by over two minutes, and he also won the junior criterium at Ramsey and the junior time trial in the first of his Manx records.

The following year saw him graduating to the senior ranks and establishing a pattern of only riding time trials. This he did with some success, taking the mountain time trial on a windy day in 1.31.32, and the open 10 and 25 mile time trials. He missed the mountain time trial in 1988 but again triumphed in the 10 and 25 mile time trials, the latter with a record 55.10, and towed his father Keith to victory in the gentlemen's event.

He repeated his 25 and two-up wins in 1989, was fastest in the mountain time trial in 1.31.42 and chanced a ride in the international criterium in Douglas also taking the chequered flag. Chris had other commitments in 1990 but he was back the following year, again taking the two-up with his father and bringing the 25 mile time trial record down to 53.07. He missed 1992 but was back in 1993 and produced the highlight of his visits. He only rode the mountain time trial - but what a performance! He reached Ramsey (23.6 miles) in a record 50.08 and stormed up the mountain to record an incredible 1.23.54, taking almost four minutes off Darryl Webster’s 1983 record.

Although overshadowed somewhat by Boardman’s record over the TT course, Graeme Obree also has an almost unbeaten record in the Isle of Man, being a good supporter of the week since 1990. He electrified the spectators on that first visit when he powered his strange looking machine around both the 10 and 25 mile courses in record times of 21.34 and 54.11 respectively. He was back in 1992 to take more than two minutes off his 25 mile time trial record covering the distance in 51.45 and also had his first ride on the TT course to win in 1.28.15, the second fastest circuit at that time.

The following year was the first and only time Boardman and Obree were on the island at the same time but they were careful their paths did not cross. Chris had started the week off with a win on the TT course in his only event that year but Graeme took the 10 and 25 time trials in record time and also the gentlemen’s two-up with super veteran Mick Ives. He was back in 1994 and rode the same event with local girl Marie Purvis, winning of course, and he also took the 10 in a slowish 22.39.

It was in the 25 that he suffered his only defeat here when he was pipped by seven seconds by the in-form young Welshman Will Wright. In 1995 he was back with a bang taking the mountain time trial in 1.28.19 after covering the 23 miles to Ramsey in an amazing 48.54. He was a mere six seconds off a 30mph ride in the 10 mile time trial with 20.06 and he took a few seconds off his 25 record with 51.45, which proved to be essential in his qualifying for the British championship in 1996.

This then is the story of the two home grown British cyclists who have gone on to become world and Olympic champions but who have never forgotten where they made their first claims to fame - The Isle of Man.

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Wilko's Fastest Lap

On Friday 20th June 1996, Andy Wilkinson of Ellesmere Port CC completed the fastest ever lap of the TT Course in a human powered vehicle.

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Setting off shortly before the Manx International Road Race, 'Wilko' reached speeds of 76mph on the descent to Creg Ny Baa to record a time of 1 hour 18 mins 38 secs for the 37ū mile lap. This is of course faster than Chris Boardman's record of 1 hour 23 mins 54 secs, but remember that Chris set his remarkable time on a conventional bike!!

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The Manx International

John Wilkinson reflects on some of the big names that have featured in this famous race.

The riders in the Manx International’s of today owe a considerable debt to the Isle of Man and the pioneers of road racing.

Apart from a few events on the Brooklands and Donington motor racing circuits,. massed start racing was a new experience when the first International was held in 1936. Billed as the Push Bike TT, the race - on Thursday. June 18 - was a mimicry of the well-established motorcycle TT (Tourist Trophy) and was in fact run over one lap of the 37.75 mile circuit immediately after one of the TT races.

Time trials had existed locally on the circuit since the mid-1920s when the Viking Wheelers, and in particular their father figure Curwen Clague, began to explore the opportunities presented by the on-course facilities already in use for the motorcycles. The National Cyclists' Union greeted the idea enthusiastically and, wishing the race success. In his programme notes, the editor of The Bicycle, W. J. Mills wrote: 'It can be of incalculable value to the cause of English cycling in international races. For many years English riders who went abroad to compete in international events such as the world championships were at a disadvantage owing to lack of experience in massed start racing. There is no possible doubt that given a suitable opportunity, and acquiring the necessary technique, English riders will soon be able to hold their own with the world's best amateurs’.

The first race cost two shillings to enter (20p) and was truly an international affair with riders from the home countries joined by one A McCartney of Shanghai Wheelers, China! The newspaper headlines it attracted would do justice to any of today’s tabloids. 'Thrilling finish to spectacular race’….'10 out of 80 competitors taken to hospital - five detained' . . . ‘Dangers of Bray Hill'…'Riders' nasty crash at Creg-ny-Baa'.

Thousands of motorcycle racing fans stayed on to witness the race and, as the headlines suggest, it was packed with incident. Bray Hill, less than half-a-mile from the start, was the first point of trouble - a lorry forcing two riders to change direction and crash (unlike today, the roads were not closed). At Quarter Bridge one rider hit a motorcycle and sidecar and there was another spill at Glen Helen. Two more riders collided travelling towards Kirk Michael and fell off. At Sulby a broken chain produced a bunch crash in which 10 came down. One more went at The Bungalow, two at Keppel Gate, and at Creg-ny-Baa Londoner Reginald Green cornered too fast, missed the sandbags, hit a stone wall face first and broke his nose. Another rider, F Smith of Roockery Cycling Club, unshipped his chain at Governors Bridge and eventually carried his bike to the finish to generous applause.

But, despite interference by a group of motorcyclists who rode along with the leaders for some distance, 48 of the 81 starters made it to the finish where Charles Holland of Midland CAC beat Bill Messer (Marlboro AC) by a length. Scot Jackie Bone was third, at three lengths, and the lap was covered in 1 hour 42 minutes and 59 seconds, a speed of 22mph.

The race moved to two laps in 1937 when the winner was Jack Fancourt (Yorkshire RC) who, a crash victim the year before, dropped his last two rivals, Glasgow Wheelers clubmates Bone and Donald Morrison, on the final descent to Douglas. France sent a four-man team in 1938 as news of the race spread and they provided the winner in Pierre Chazaud. Messer finally mounted the podium as winner in 1939 before war intervened and brought a halt until 1946 when the programme was expanded.

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Some of the greatest names in the sport, professional and amateur, have since cut their teeth in the International, which was increased to three laps in 1950. Eddy Merckx rode in 1963 finishing a modest 13th behind Great Britain's Ken Hill who returned to the Isle of Man to win the national veterans' championship in 1978. The great Belgian climber Lucien Van Impe, second overall to Bernard Hinault in the 1981 Tour de France, took fifth in 1967 and the great Irishman Sean Kelly was eighth in 1975. Robert Millar lost out to Steve Lawrence (GB) in the final sprint in 1978, returning to win the race and the British professional championship 17 years later at a record speed. Laurent Fignon rode in 1980, finishing 12th, three years before he first rode into Pans in the yellow jersey of Tour de France winner.

The overseas influence has waned in recent years with only two long-distance winners since 1984. New Zealander Brian Fowler rode the final 50 miles alone at the front to win in the golden jubilee year, while after finishing second in successive years, Frenchman Christophe Mengin (now a professional), moved to first place in 1991. Commonwealth Games gold medallist Paul Curran won on his debut ride in 1985, beating Isle of Man hope Steve Porter by the width of a tyre, and again in 1988.

Wayne Randle's three-lap time of 4-42-41 in 1989 took the average speed beyond 24mph for the first time. David Hourigan was the surprise winner in 1992 and was Ireland's first for 25 years. But if the strength of the overseas contingent is diminishing, fresh impetus was added in 1993 when the International was opened up to professional riders for the first time.

Three subsequent editions of the race allowed riders who went close to winning in their formative years to fill a gap in their honours list. Adopted Manxman Brian Smith, third as an amateur in 1989, won from 1984 victor Mark Walsham in 1993. In 1994 it was Simeon Hempsall's turn, making up for his 17 seconds defeat by Mengin three years earlier. And in 1995, when the race incorporated the British professional championship, Robert Miller returned with possibly the finest ride of all. Leaving the main field the second time up the mountain climb, he closed a gap of nearly four minutes to a leading group of six riders before dropping them, one by one, on the final ascent from Ramsey. At the line Millar was over two minutes clear, and his race time of 4-32-53 was a record by nearly 10 minutes.

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