DISTANCE 33 miles (53km)
MAIN CLIMBS Endon Bank, Sutton Lane End, Danebridge, Gun End, Longsden
TOTAL CLIMB 997m
ACHTUNG! Take care on the narrow lanes. Descents can be tricky with gravel, manure & mud
After a top-flight racing career that spanned the Sixties and Seventies, Les West is still competing. He will be 64 this year, but age seemed no barrier for the Stoke roadman when he added yet another championship to his palmarès at the LVRC Championships back in September.
But West will always be remembered for his two Milk Race wins in 1965 and 1967, second in the amateur Worlds in 1966, and fourth in the professional Worlds at Leicester in 1970.
“I’ve done better rides in races that have been nothing really. Anyway, that’s life,” reflects West in his self-effacing manner. As the morning goes on it is clear that this man from the Potteries has an underlying grit to his modest character, along with a dry humour ever at the ready.
It’s a beautiful, crisp October morning as West and I set out from the Plough at Endon, past Endon Well and up the lane over Endon Bank. The class is evident as West smoothly powers the pedals round on his Pinarello Paris, part of his sponsorship deal with the GS Strada team.
West explains how Phil Griffiths sponsors the team and has supported him in his more recent racing career. “I retired from BT after 25 years as an installation engineer when Phil Griffiths more or less said to me, ‘Do you want to still ride a bike?’
“He looks after me very well equipment wise. He gives me two wheels and Afford Rent-a-Car give me four, so it’s good. I’m looked after from a shoe plate to a wrist-watch. I can’t complain.”
West also works as a handyman for Phil Griffiths since he retired from BT. There was a lot of work to do when Phil’s business, Yellow Limited, moved to Bury Bank Farm near Stoke, as West relates: “I ended up doing a lot of work with him and have been there ever since. I just do three days a week, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. I’ve worked all my life, even when I raced.”
Heading now over Biddulph Moor, with Staffordshire to the east and Cheshire to the west, the great white dish of Jodrell Bank’s radio telescope can clearly be seen out on the Cheshire plain. There’s an opportunity to ask how often West comes out on these roads: “I do this ride about once a month. Though, normally on a Thursday in the season I will do 80 to 100 miles. Llangollen is a good run of mine and also I like going out Matlock way. I always train on Thursdays with a good friend of mine, Steve Strain. He’s a good person to have for motivation.
“On Sundays when I’m not racing I go out with a gang of lads, local club riders, which we enjoy. Always stop at a cafe. A lot of people don’t believe in it but I’ve always stopped for a cup of tea.”
I’d looked surprised when West had mentioned going out to Llangollen. It’s where I’d done the Ride for CW with Rob Partridge in North Wales earlier in the year.
West smiles as he enthuses: “Llangollen, that’s a smashing run. Go through Llangollen, over Horseshoe Pass, Llandegla Moors and back through Chester, 138 miles, spot on. Or turn right out of Llangollen and come back through Ruabon, Bangor-on-Dee, Malpas, Nantwich and home. It’s good.”
As well as doing a long training run on a Thursday, West will train on a Tuesday night after work. “I leave Phil’s at 4.30pm and just do three hours and that’s it. That’s all the training I do. I like enjoying myself a bit more now. I still have a pint with all the lads, which is good. They haven’t a clue about cycling. We just talk football, which gives me a break.”
We head out of Staffordshire and cross the river Dane into Cheshire and on to Gawsworth, taking the lane to Oakgrove and across to the climb to Sutton Lane Ends. It’s been an enjoyable route so far. West agrees: “It’s nice and quiet, away from all the traffic. I also enjoy it because it makes you work hard all the time, constant pressure on the legs climbing — I always feel I’ve a bit of strength in my legs if I’ve been round here. I know how I’m going. If I stay strong all the way round I know I’m going well.
West sets a good tempo along the route even on the climbs. He continues: “It’s a hard ride. A lot of climbing — and the descending, you really cannot descend crazily because it’s too dangerous. I can’t afford to fall off nowadays. You don’t mend the same,” he smiles.
Heading away from Sutton towards Wincle and Danebridge, the telecommunications mast on Croker Hill dominates the horizon. It’s these roads around Danebridge for which West holds a soft spot.
“I always like Danebridge,” he reminisces as we descend past the Ship Inn. “I was only 15 and my uncle took me to Danebridge and back again. That’s the first ride I ever went on. It’s always stuck with me.”
Danebridge also marks the county boundary back into Staffordshire as we head towards Rudyard with its reservoir and miniature railway. Bearing left out of the village to Harper’s Gate, West takes the left up the final short climb of the day.
Over the top, the Milk Race memories start flowing. 1965 was his first win and West picks up the story: “You don’t get anywhere without team support. We had a good set of lads from Liverpool. It was a laugh a minute. The race was not taken seriously at first until we suddenly thought, we really are doing something here, so we had better get down to it. But I think that attitude got us through it somehow. I prevented us from being too strained mentally.
“It was good, though I actually won it because the Spaniards were kicked out through taking drugs. It wasn’t a nice way to win but it wasn’t my fault.”
As we roll along towards Longsdon, West goes on: “Then in 1967 I won it again. I was really flying that year. I did make a lot of cock-ups I must admit. I was leading by so many minutes, and then losing by 16 minutes, and then I won it by 17 minutes I think it was in the end. So losing time, I lost eight minutes each day and then I gained a lot of the time the second week to pull it back again.
“I don’t normally admit it but I was flying that second week of the tour. So, it was a good win; well backed by a good set of lads.”
I ask who he admires on the racing scene at the moment and it’s another Milk Race winner that West immediately relates to: “Malcolm Elliott. When you think of his age, he’s a good lad. I honestly don’t know how he does it actually. He’s so keen he’s unbelievable, it’s frightening.”
West thinks for a moment. “He’s so particular and I’m just the absolute opposite. I think, is it
necessary? But I mean if that’s how he is, that’s how he is. He does well, the lad does, I admire him a lot,” says West and then reveals, “I’d love to have had another go at the Milk Race in my thirties, but I couldn’t,” he says, referring to his change back from professional to amateur status.
“The BCF punished you by making you stop for 12 months. You’d be surprised by how much form and interest you lost. If you’d turned professional it was like you had a disease in them days. So that was it, such is life,” ends West on a philosophical note.
From Longsdon it’s back down the A53 to Endon. Before I leave I ask West what he plans for next season. “I keep saying every year this is my last year, but more than likely, next year will be my last year. My wife is brilliant too. She’s the first in the car every time we go racing, all my life. She is as well known at the races as I am. Everything’s there all the time, food, flask, bike, clothing. She loves going to the races.”
YOUR GUIDE: LES WEST
* Aged 64 and lives with wife Pat in Stoke-on-Trent.
* Born in Stoke-on-Trent.
* Races for GS Strada-Afford Rent-a-Car-Pinarello.
* Milk Race winner in 1965 & 1967.
* 2nd at 1966 Amateur World Championship road race at Nürburgring Circuit, Germany.
* 4th at 1970 Professional World Championship road race in Leicestershire, Britain.
* Numerous national titles. Loved racing on Isle of Man.
* Enjoys DIY, gardening, music and day trips.
Start at the Plough PH at Endon on A53 direction Leek, to TL to Endon church to TR onto unclassified road. At crossroads TL direction Biddulph Moor. Continue from Biddulph to TL to Newtown to TR to the Cloud and continue to A54. TR to TL after crossing river Dane. Continue then TR on to A536.
TR at Gandysbrook into Gawsworth and TR to Oakgrove. Cross A523 to continue to Sutton Lane Ends. TR and continue to TL onto A54 to TR to Wincle and Danebridge. Continue to Gun End to continue then TL onto A523 to TR to Rudyard. TR on to B5331 bearing L out of Rudyard to Harper’s Gate to TL up climb direction Longsdon. TR on to A53 back to Endon.