Keith Lambert pauses at the piano in his living room and tickles a note-perfect étude from its keys. For the genial Yorkshireman this instrument is where a lifetime in cycling, from pro rider to manager to mentor, all began.
Having found an old bike at a tip, the young Lambert continued to press his parents for a proper bike. They eventually capitulated — on the condition he passed his piano exams, which he duly did.
"That was it really, I was smitten," says our 2021 Lifetime Achievement Award winner. "Unfortunately the piano took a bit of a backseat after that, but yeah, that's really how it started."
In little more than 10 years Lambert had turned professional, winning dozens of races as a rider before taking up a management career and shepherding his charges to many more.
He is also a trustee and founder member of the Rayner Foundation, helping young riders as they forge a career on the continent.
Throughout his career Lambert rode some of the world's biggest races — the World Championship on eight occasions, including at Goodwood in 1982; and in 1977 he took on, and finished Paris-Roubaix, still while working the day job. It may have been one of the biggest races of his career, but, says Lambert: "All I remember thinking at the end of it is I need to be quick here to get to the boat, because I've got to get to work tomorrow morning!"
In 1988, having taken on a 'player-manager' role the previous season, Lambert finally moved into Act II of his career, which turned out to be as successful, and even more enduring than the first: management.
"I always felt like it was something I'd like to do, managing a team. Because being a team captain for a few years, the way you talk to riders, I felt like I could get the best out of them."
Lambert went on to manage one of the most iconic teams of the Nineties, Banana-Falcon, where he looked after Jonny Clay, Dave Rayner and Shane Sutton among others.
It was in Lambert's final year at Banana that tragedy struck, when Rayner, then riding for Lex-Townsend, died after being assaulted by a night club bouncer. Desperate to find some meaning in his senseless death, Rayner's friends — Lambert included — formed the Dave Rayner Fund with the specific intention of helping young riders in their road careers.
"The success we're enjoying now [on the road], some of that has come through help from the Dave Rayner Fund," Lambert points out. "And his name is not forgotten, for what he did himself. He was a good rider."
Lambert may now be retired, but that word would probably be better off in inverted commas. He is still in touch with BC, lending his advice and experience; still a trustee at the Rayner Foundation, helping out the young stars of tomorrow — and he certainly still rides his bike.
We look out of his kitchen window over a perfect West Yorkshire panorama. In the field below, Lambert's donkeys, Rosie and Daisy (he got them off Sean Kelly — true story), graze quietly. Between looking after them, the cycling stuff, and indulging in a spot of bird-watching, there's plenty to do.
And that piano isn't going to play itself.
We've got a full interview with Keith Lambert in this weeks' Cycling Weekly magazine, in stores from Thursday, December 9. Subscribe online and get the magazine delivered to your door every week. (opens in new tab)
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After cutting his teeth on local and national newspapers, James began at Cycling Weekly as a sub-editor in 2000 when the current office was literally all fields.
Eventually becoming chief sub-editor, in 2016 he switched to the job of full-time writer, and covers news, racing and features.
A lifelong cyclist and cycling fan, James's racing days (and most of his fitness) are now in the past, although that doesn't stop him banging on tirelessly about "that one time" he nearly rode a 20-minute '10', and planning the big comeback that everyone knows will never actually happen.
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