Phil Edwards was a British Olympian who became known as 'Moser's Gregario' due to the unshakable service he provided the Italian cycling legend. After a five-year pro career, he went on to change the shape of the UK and European cycling industries through his businesses

Phil Edwards, who died in the early hours of Monday morning of a suspected heart attack at his home in Monaco, was part of a crop of talented, ambitious 1970s British amateur cyclists.

Racing alongside, and against, the likes of Phil Griffiths, Bill Nickson, Phil Bayton and Les West, Edwards built his career winning the classic races on the British calendar along with stages in the Milk Race.

His breakthrough ride came at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich after he’d given up a fledgling career as an engineer to train full time.

He won the bunch sprint to take sixth place in the road race – one place and just 30 seconds behind British team-mate Bayton, who was in the break that day.

The result, followed up by ninth overall at the Tour de l’Avenir, should have been Edwards’ ticket to a pro contract. However, the market was flooded with riders who had held off turning pro in order to compete at the Games.

This is where Edwards’ Italian mother stepped in, writing to various amateur Italian teams on his behalf.

The tactic paid off as Ernesto Colnago himself invited Edwards to Italy, sending him a ticket in the post. He travelled out, despite not speaking a word of Italian, and never looked back.

>>>Watch: ITN follow Edwards’ 1972 Olympic preparation

Edwards spent the next three years living in Tuscany, just south of Pisa.

His natural strength clearly suited the Italian amateur scene as the next two years saw him rack up the wins. In truth, he should have been in the pro ranks through the ’73 and ’74 seasons and his brother Mark Edwards said that Phil had always wished he’d turned pro sooner.

Turning pro

Eventually the contract was offered by Francesco Moser’s Gelati Sanson team (Edwards had beaten Moser by two places at the ’72 Olympics) at the end of ’74.

All of a sudden, a young British rider would become the loyal right-hand-man of one of Italy’s cycling legends.

Edwards and Moser rode the same size bike and had an almost identical saddle height. Through five seasons, the Briton was instrumental to Moser’s Classics and Giro campaigns when the Italian won Paris-Roubaix twice, Flèche Wallonne, Ghent-Wevelgem and placed second and third overall at the Giro d’Italia.

Edwards was too big to be a Tour de France rider but supported Moser through five Giro’s and was always the last man riding in support of the Italian over the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix.

He retired from pro cycling during the 1980 season. A bad crash had disrupted his riding, and at 31 he had his eye on his future.

Back in the UK, his brother Mark was setting up a distribution business using his brother’s charm and contacts to bring Italian brands such as Sidi into the UK. Seeing the potential, Phil retired from racing and went into business. Within years their distributor, Caratti Sport, was the biggest in the UK.

According to compatriot Phil Griffiths, Edwards was a master tactician on the bike, and his knack of spotting an opportunity would serve him well in business.

In 1985, he introduced Specialized mountain bikes to the Italian market.

Five years later, when the Californian company took over its own distribution, he switched to Trek, for whom he worked with for 20 years until his retirement in 2010.

Edwards was still riding later in life, often with much younger, fitter riders, but under doctors orders had to give up such intense exercise due to a heart condition that was being managed.

Instead he took up walking, something he would do every day, often heading out for 10km in the hills behind Monaco.

On one of his favourite walks he would stop at La Grotte pizzeria in Roque Brune, Cap Martin for a coffee.

Never one to be idle, Edwards decided to buy the restaurant, which he was still running up until his death.