130 years of cycling – the stories behind our archive photography

Cycling Weekly's heritage range of products includes posters taken from the black and white photography archive that spans decades of racing and riding.

A lone rider struggles up an impossibly steep looking climb as five spectators watch his suffering. His race number and the car following him clearly show to everyone that this picture comes from the Milk Race. And you can just make out WALES written on the back of the jersey. The envelope the picture is stored in simply says ‘Milk Race 1960’. We have no more details than that with which to write our From the Archive page

An online search doesn’t help much as there is no start sheet available for that year’s race, only a final general classification. But that doesn’t include rider numbers. It gives us the name of the riders on the Welsh team, but not which rider used number 41.

Could we guess at the stage perhaps? Several of the stages that year take the riders through the hills, but there is no clue as to what stage this is, therefore we can’t look up stage results and look for a Welsh rider finishing on their own at the front, or at the back.

We’re stuck.

We send an email to Phil Liggett. The former CW writer and Milk Race director has a treasure trove of Milk Race memorabilia, but it’s in his loft at his home in the UK, and when we contact him he is away in sunnier climes.

We decide to run the picture anyway in our From the Archives slot, simply describing the scene and what we think is happening. But a rider in this situation really deserves to be named.

A short time after the magazine comes out our prayers are answered in the form of a letter.

Dear Sir

Regarding the Milk Race Picture in your Sept 13 issue, I believe this cyclist is me – now aged 83! – riding for Wales. I think that picture shows the second stage, Morecambe to Whitley Bay, maybe the climb of Western Hope where I was in the breakaway group which included Billy Holmes, then dropped and left struggling on my own, which I believe is what’s pictured here. At this point Bill Bradley was still leading on his own. I ultimately finished 10th on that stage. I believe this is the case because there was a low cloud on that day which obscured the view and I think that’s what is in the picture. Thanks for printing this historical image. It brings back many memories!

Chris Hughes.

>>> Buy these posters and more in our new heritage range – celebrating 130 years of cycling

Results from that stage confirm Welsh Rider Chris Hughes came tenth on that very stage. It is one of the joys of Cycling Weekly‘s From the Archive page that every time we print a picture without any confirmed details, some featured in the picture, or someone who knows someone featured in the picture, gets in touch to fill us in.

There is a huge variety of black and white photography in our archive stretching back decades. It includes international races from the Milk Race to the Tour de France and local club events in the UK. Many of the great champions like Eddy Merckx, Beryl Burton and Tom Simpson are in there.

In the picture below from the 1966 Paris-Nice, Eddy Merckx would have been just 20 years old. Raymond Poulidor, the rider behind him may not have even known who he was. But there’s something else going on here. Take a look at the riders behind these two greats and you can see them reaching down to their feet. Some of them with a look of concern on their faces.

From other pictures in this series we know that they’re approaching a level crossing that has come down, blocking the road. The riders are reaching down for their toe straps, ready to pull their feet out when they come to a stop. It seems as if only the two greats, Poulidor and Merckx aren’t worried about such trivial matters. If Poulidor and the riders around him didn’t know much about the 20-year-old Merckx at this point, they would a few days later as he used his form gained from riding his first Paris Nice to win his first Milan-San Remo.

Before pro teams enjoyed the air-conditioned luxuries of €500,000 team buses, they had to make do sitting on their upturned handlebars. The next picture shows riders from the Belgian Flandria team relaxing before a stage of the 1965 Tour de France.

Finally, we have two beautifully attired riders from a British race in 1937. All we know is that this is a 50 mile time trial promoted by the Belle Vue cycling club. A South London based club. It’s a wild guess, going on where the Belle Vue may have run such an event, but we think this might be somewhere just south of the north downs, maybe near Sevenoaks.

This picture is made not only by the attire of the helper, but the joy on his face as he hands up a bottle, contrasted with the look of pain on the rider’s face. His look, straight at the camera, almost asking for help in ending the pain. By the look of the road, and the pile of gravel a bike is leaning up against in the bottom right hand corner, it seems the road had been newly laid. A perfect chance for the competitors to set a PB.

We’ve released seven posters to celebrate our 130 years of cycling in 2021 all of which are available now, but look out for some special editions to commemorate occasions throughout 2021.