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‘No one had ever heard of a road race’
The story of Percy Stallard, the rebel behind the revival of the road race in England
For very many years in this country (UK) there had never been what we now call ‘cycle road racing'. It all goes back to the 19th century when flashy types on penny farthings built a reputation as 'road scorchers' and cycling took fright of being banned. Well, that's the way it stayed until about 1933 when Percy Stallard's career as a road racing cyclist really took off in dramatic fashion. At about this time the Charlotteville C.C. hit on the idea of running road races on the motor-racing circuit at Brooklands in Surrey. Percy Stallard, a strapping 24-year old from Wolverhampton, entered his name.
No-one had ever ridden a road race before and the whole distance of 63 miles was like a kick-and-rush football match. Tactics were non-existent and limited to hanging on. Ten thousand people turned up in the rain to watch. Vividly recalling the action, Percy says, "The test-hill main climb (one-in-four) that you had to go up five times was such a test of stamina that on the first lap I pulled my foot out of the pedals and ran up. I was in the lead then and several other riders passed me. I couldn't get back on my bike at that steep angle, so I ran past these other riders and won the prime at the top running with my bike. I won three laps like that".
His strength and determination to win that first eventful race at Brooklands, and his successes at Donnington Park, another circuit, earned him an invitation to ride for his country at Montlhery, a similar road race track in France, and he finished 11th, despite crashing. A year later in Leipzig, he came sixth, which makes him one of the best international riders of a racing cycle we've ever had.
However, his career has not always been without controversy. In his determination to see road racing authenticated he ran up against authority in the form of the National Cyclists Union on more than one occasion. In 1942, in spite of the N.C.U's refusal to give their support, he organised a road race of his own from Llangollen to Wolverhampton, over a distance of 59 miles. 34 riders took part in the race, including two Dutchmen serving in Britain, and they were all promptly suspended by the N.C.U. Percy was summoned to an N.C.U. meeting a week later, decided not to turn up, and was banned for life. The decision to suspend all riders in this race was a blunder from which the N.C.U. never really recovered. It meant that they had no races, so all they could do was to form another organisation, which eventually became known as the British League of Racing Cyclists.
Percy then became intensely and successfully involved in the sport, but there was really only utter administrative confusion until 1959, when after the start of British road racing and the birth of the Milk Race, the British Cycling Federation was born.
Percy's brushes from time to time with the so-called authoritative body of cycle racing left him very bitter indeed. He'd been the leading light in promoting road racing in this country from 1933 over a period of more than 25 years. He had single handedly been midwife to British road racing. He rode with distinction in the world championships of 1934, 1936, 1937 and 1939. He managed national teams, including Britain's only win in the Peace Race (Warsaw-Berlin-Prague). He launched Britain's longest road race, the London to Holyhead. But in spite of his success in the sport and his extraordinary achievements, the newly formed B.C.F. did not extend to him an invitation to participate in their future plans. He was justifiably deeply hurt by being completely ignored. It was not until 1988, perhaps seeking an excuse for their extraordinary behaviour, that the B.C.F. offered him their gold badge of honour, but characteristically Percy refused to accept it. For further details of Percy Stallard's exceptional achievements in the world of cycle road racing over a career spanning 63 years, try to get hold of the video 'Up the League'.
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