A s well as stories of great champions, for whom winning races seems a logical progression, cycling is full of amateur riders like Chris Parkinson. He was a good rider, very strong, and he put in the work. Boy, did he put in the work.
But something always prevented ‘Parko’ breaking through, and often it was something bizarre. Take the Manchester to Rhyl race. It was a two-day race for national and regional teams, plus good club riders, and Parkinson rode it in 1972 for the North Midlands team.
Stage one ended with some tough Welsh hills, where Parkinson escaped with Norway’s Knud Knudsen, who took the gold medal in the pursuit at the Munich Olympics later that year. Knudsen also went on to win stages in the Giro and other races.
But Chris Parkinson kept with him, never missing a turn until the pair had built a good lead. The stage finished on the seafront at Rhyl, it was Parkinson’s big chance because just finishing with Knudsen would be good. And Parko looked like doing that, until… well, until he overcooked the last corner, ran wide and rode down the slipway onto the beach.
Knudsen won, and by the time Parkinson got back on the road everyone had passed him.
Another time Parkinson was riding a 50-mile time trial on the very fast Boroughbridge A1 course in Yorkshire, and towards the end he was well inside the British record.
Parkinson was trying so hard he’d moved into the overtaking lane of the dual carriageway, and traffic was stacked up behind him. The police saw him, stopped him to tell him off, and by the time Parkinson got going again the record was long gone.
The thing is, Parkinson enjoyed recalling the bizarre things that happened to him, and when I knew him for a brief time as a club-mate in 1979, all I remember is his smiling face and his love of cycling. He really stacked in the miles when he was at his best, and thought nothing of riding from South Yorkshire to Scarborough and back — well over 120 miles.
In fact, nothing stopped him. He once had an operation on his foot, after which the foot was put in a plaster cast to keep it still. That would probably stop anyone, but not Parko. He simply nailed a cleat — or ‘shoe plate’ as they were called then — to the bottom of the cast and carried on riding.
Problem was he had to do rides with no stops until he returned home, because he couldn’t carry his walking stick while on the bike. Or did he strap it to the top tube? It’s been a while.
Jacques Anquetil’s records speak for themselves, but it was his talent for racing against the clock that really set him