When we first sat down to discuss ideas for this week’s anniversary issue of Cycling Weekly, celebrating 130 years, it didn’t take long for us to land on the idea for the cover. There is no one person who could hold the cover and single-handedly carry a list chock full of people who have left a lasting impression on the sport, so we had to go with all of them. Well, nearly all of them.
But how do you get 130 people (we ended up with 123 due to the fact that we were unable to find images of some of the people listed) on the cover? You cut them out of course. And if you’re going to do that, there’s one iconic piece of art to draw inspiration from: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
This is our Sgt Pepper cover. Created by artist Chris Barker (@christhebarker on twitter).
By pure coincidence it was around the same time an email dropped into my inbox from Milltag. The clothing company producing our 130 year heritage range kit. They were just about to launch a kit in collaboration with pop artist Sir Peter Blake. The man responsible for that Beatles album cover. It turns out he was a cyclist in his youth and still follows the sport.
A few emails later and we were able to talk to one of the most influential British artists of the pop art era about his cycling background, this cover and where else his work had seeped into the cycling world.
“You’ll have to have someone with a bike where The Beatles had their drum.” He said of our idea for the cover. As for cutting out the images in photoshop, that was a world away from how Sgt Pepper was created.
"It was all built in a studio.” Blake explained, recalling his work from 1967. “The background was cardboard cutouts, the back two rows were just heads fixed to the wall. Then there were life size mannequins borrowed from Madame Tussauds.”
The idea for the cover was a list of people The Beatles would like to play too. Their fantasy concert in essence.
"We set it all up and they came and put in all the flowers, they’d been booked for a certain night. Then we got a call from their manager saying they couldn’t do it that night. ‘Can we postpone to tomorrow?’ All the flowers had to go away, put in fridges and kept alive.”
The next day The Beatles arrived, got dressed and stood on the stage for the picture taken by photographer Michael Cooper. “It took two weeks to set it up. It’s good to have done it. And I’ve still got Sunny Liston. I was allowed to keep him.”
Blake’s work was also used extensively by The Who who embraced the pop art scene that made use of motives, signage and emblems. It was Blake who used the RAF emblem that was adopted by the Mod movement and then more recently by Sir Bradley Wiggins and used on his Sky jersey among other items.
"It was normal when I was a kid to want to get a bike. It was just after the second world war when I went to art school and one of the teachers gave me an old french racing bike.” Regular riding saw Blake go on to join the Dartford Wheelers. “I did club runs and cycled a lot by myself so did a few ten mile time trials and a few 25s. I would go out to watch some massed start road races in Essex and was about to start riding them when I had a nasty accident one night. That pretty much brought my cycling to an end at that point.”
It was the old Dartford Wheelers kit that inspired the design he did in collaboration with Milltag.
After national service he went to the Royal College of Art then in the mid 50s his interest in the sport was reignited. “I was on a scholarship for a year in Europe, and afterwards we travelled round in a van. We saw Paris Nice, the Tour of Italy and the Tour de France. Coppi and Bartali were the big stars then.
I was always interested in people like Tom Simpson, the English riders. I still keep an interest now. I was thrilled when Bradley Wiggins won and I got to know him a little bit.”
As for the one person that Blake wanted to see in the list? That was easy. A rider who oozed style on a bike. Fausto Coppi, and with Bartali a close second. “They were my heroes. And they would be in the top ten of all time.”
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