Enter the Road Men
In the early 70s the Liverpool Century Road Club was mainly a long distance Time Trialing club with a sprinkling of roadies riding local races, however these “testers” were not the pointy hat brigade you see today, they were a bunch of hard men in wooly jumpers and plus fours built on a long established Centurian foundation of long endurance miles in all weathers on fixed and variable gears fuelled by jam butties and pints of tea.. The divisive split in cycling’s governing bodies between the men of “the Union” and “the League” over road racing on the open road was finally fading helped in no small part by Geoff Bewley et al efforts to form the British Cycling Federation. Clubs like the Liverpool Mercury, Port Sunlight, and Kirkby cc were already established as “road clubs” since the sixties but clubs like the Century, Mersey Roads and Merseyside Wheelers retained time trialing at its core…
But change was happening and starting to be chiseled out of this tough Century school was a new breed of Century roadmen. This new breed was fueled by magazines a plenty like International Cycle Sport and “the comic” telling courageous stories of British roadmen tackling the continental greats. The Century men making this conversion had one big advantage, the runs they had been brought up on were ideal for breeding roadmen. Long winter miles spent climbing multiple mountain passes in North Wales and crazy Youth Hostelling weekends bred hard men capable of enduring road and stage races at the highest level. At the end of the winter these winter runs culminated in a series of “speed runs” or “car runs” as they were known in them days (This was usually Geoff Bewley or another club stalwart driving a car behind the bunch to pick up the dead and dying!!!) .These runs fine tuned these guys ready for the early classics such as the Circuit of Ashurst, Grand Prix of Essex, Essex Trophy and Archer Grand Prix.
Stories of escapades in such events kept us fueled in the winter and for the winners proved to be entry tickets for a succession of North West roadmen into the tough world of Continental racing. Names such as Graham Jones, Paul Sherwen, John Herety, John Parker, Bill Nickson, and Dave Lloyd were early benchmarks for our young Centurians. Other clubs such as the East Liverpool Wheelers and Mersey Roads also started to breed roadmen. Like today the “pure racing clubs” existed such as the Liverpool Mercury and Kirkby cc and they would poach riders and then the great performance coaches such as Eddie Soens and Doug Daily would put the final polish to some of these chiseled Centurians…. Riders of the calibre of Dave Lloyd (TI Raleigh professional) , Kevin Apter (British Road Champion) came through this tough Century school and went on to join other “finishing schools” and were part of the early shoots of roadies. At the same time Bill Nickson Milk race winner was emerging from the East Liverpool Wheelers and regularly trained with the Century, some of his team mates including Steve Douglas , Roger Gardiner and John Gilmore defected to the Century as our road credentials became more and more established and our runs became legendary.. Some of the characters to emerge from this school in the mid 70s are legends in Liverpool Century bike folklore…
Geoff Taylor an ex junior sprint champion in his youth returned to the sport and brought his tough no nonsense style to these early days. As a club captain he was fearsome and rode up and down the bunch policing the ride, he could walk the talk as well as winner of the Lincoln Grand Prix and GB rider in the Tour of Slovakia, Tour of Bohemia and the hardest amateur race in the world the Peace race or Warsaw Berlin Prague as it was also known. If Geoff decided that all winter we would ride single freewheel then that is what we did and no arguments. He was an awesome sprinter and was feared by the best sprinters in the country.
Steve Douglas was also a sprinter but could hold his own on the climbs as well and proof of this was his three stage wins in the Ras de Cymru over some of the toughest climbs in South Wales. Steve also won the Galena Two day in Bristol and the Heineken Grand prix amongst his many wins. Steve rode the Milk race in 1978 and such was his toughness he finished the two week event despite illness that had the following ambulance crew begging him to retire. Accompanying Steve in the Milk Race was John Spencer who that year was on a real purple patch having won the Merseyside Champs with a lone break over the Bwlch (scene of many a speed run) dropping the who’s who of North West Cycling on the way. John was also a sprinter and won many races including the Stafford Grand Prix and stages of the Tour of the Kingdom.Joining this threesome to form what became known as the “FAB FOUR” was a young man from a tough environment in Toxteth called Dave Grindley. Dave was from the beginning something special; on those long arduous runs Dave clung on to the established riders and sat listening to stories in the Eureka Café over and over again about racing and feats of bravery. As a junior he was soon into his stride and was winning races in the classic style…alone… Dave’s thirst for victory and knowledge meant he was a great addition to the team and was not just a winner but also a great teammate, chasing breaks down and driving himself into the ground for the team This devotion to the team paid dividends as he moved into the senior classes as the bridesmaid became the bride, Dave went on to do some great rides winning the 9 day Tour of Ireland against a class field with one team mate for company (me). He rode for GB in the Tour of Sweden, Sea link stage race and other events. Dave famously dropped Stephen Roche in the Tour of the Cotswold’s in a 110K lone break only being caught and finishing 6th because of a back injury that was to plague his career. Dave won countless races both hilly and flat, single day and stage race and eventually followed me to Belgium were he became a successful Kermesse rider. Dave’s back injury limited his ability to move into the professional class as anything over 80 miles was a struggle, who knows if he had not done his back snapping a crank at the Easter 4 day what this man was capable of. Dave still lives in Oudenaarde Belgium.
Those winter runs became breeding grounds for more roadies and riders like John Gilmore ,,Chris Nowel, Micky “go fast” Stephens ,Roger “Mr Neutron” Gardiner, Steve Goff (The Black Knight) were all 1st category riders able to match and on there day beat the riders in the FAB FOUR although none of them had the sustained commitment to compete at the highest level week after week. Other riders like Pete Grace (fearsome descender), Brian Nener etc never reached the giddy heights but played there part on those long winter rides in the formation of the character of many of these young roadmen like Grindley.
I came through just after Dave Grindley and was blooded in the same Geoff Taylor school of hard men together with Dave’s brother Paul (still racing today), Paul Maxwell (RIP), Paul Davies, Terry Giblin, Mick Yorke and Paul MacBride all of whom won many races between them including Junior Tours of Ireland stages and eventually Terry Giblin riding the famous Ras Taltain stage race in Ireland, Terry along with Duff were pillars in the establishment and captaincy of the next building block of Centurians. As an out an out climber I brought another dimension to the FAB 4 and we were able to combine effectively especially in stage races to take on the opposition in any terrain. Grindley and I especially were able to carve out wins between us, I also raced in Belgium placed in Premier events and won many hill climbs including a medal in the National Champs on the Horseshoe Pass and was nicknamed the “La puce rose or pink flea” by the French after winning the Col De Aspin stage of the Tour Des Haute Pyrenees . Mark “Wezzo” Westwood joined the club from the Mersey Roads and quickly set the scene alight, winning many races at a young age and often alone he was the new star on the block, at 19 he won the biggest single day race of the year in Ireland the Centenary Classic and went on to score countless other wins including rides in the Ras Taltain. Mark had a successful spell in France and eventually joined Dave Grindley in Belgium. The two of them formed a fearsome partnership against the Belgian mafia in the cut throat arena of Kermesse racing. The riders they rode and often beat went on to be professionals and had Mark not decided to call it quits at this early point in his career again who knows. Many other riders followed on the heels of these Centurians and the winter runs were added to with riders from Manx clubs who we always helped . Riders like “ the pocket rocket” Steve Joughin prolific sprinter and winner of many amateur and professional races , Mike Doyle another Manxman who eventually turned pro, these guys became part of our gang and trained with the Century all year, Duff Fawcett joined from the Mersey roads and soon became a natural Captain of the club, for all his madness Duff and Terry Giblin led the club through the next phase and led the new gang in the best Taylorist traditions through into the late eighties. Like Taylor before him Duff inspired many a champion with his tough school of riding and still does. At this same time more Roadies, appeared, Andy Bennet World Fireman’s Champion , Andy Mills a prolific sprinter and winner of many races through a long career including stage races and single day races.
At the cross over between Taylor and Fawcett captaincy probably one of the best riders the Century ever produced John Yogi Hughes appeared from the Century academy. . John took to the Taylor/Fawcett school like a duck to water, made of Iron this young man was Merseyside and eventually National Champion at Schoolboy Junior and senior level. John after a successful amateur career including winning major stage races in France and Belgium turned professional and rode the DuPont Tour and other big races. John (like Matt Brammeier) later always kept his links with the Century even when he joined other “finishing schools”. It was no surprise when after he won the national champs that he surrounded himself with his old club mates that night in the Big House on Smithdown Road. A shout went up to join him and the jungle drums brought men from all over in whatever they were standing in to toast his victory. This was the spirit that made this club great, the spirit of camaraderie and integrity that goes with people driving for the same goals and part of a single train that rode together through the winter and shared colds and frostbite… Some of us achieved our goals, some of us went down in glorious failure, some of us shared in the glory of others by bringing breaks back, leading out or helping from the side.
Men like Geoff Bewley, George Darlington, Ray Myers., Rob Plevin., Harry Wilcox, Sid Mills to name but a few of many providing a never ending support crew giving up weekends for snotty nosed youngsters ,fixing bikes and putting legs back together. That same spirit exists now and the story continues from those days to more modern times with Matt Brammeier, Mark McNally, Richie Bowen, Chris Penketh ,Jonny McEvoy etc all with great rides and stories under the Century banner. Long may it continue.
Life member Liverpool Century Road Club