DISTANCE 31 miles (49.5 km)
MAIN CLIMB Undulating with no significant climbs
TOTAL CLIMB 448m
ACHTUNG! Take care on the narrow lanes. Crossing main Shifnal Road A464.
Hugh Porter has been involved in cycling for most of his 68 years. Having had a great career on the bike, highlighted by four world professional pursuit titles, he retired at 40 to go on to become the voice of cycling for the BBC for the past 27 years. Born, bred and still living in Wolverhampton, he is passionate about his roots and how it gave him the foundation for a lifetime’s involvement in cycling.
“I’m still crazily in love with the sport. It’s an unquenchable thirst, really. I have uncontrollable passion for it. I love it,” enthuses Hugh in his inimitable style that is familiar to those who have followed cycling on the BBC or at the stage starts and finishes of races like the Tour of Britain. It’s infectious. Like the names he’s given the stars over the years, such as ‘Pocket Rocket’ for Steve Joughin and ‘Manx Express’ for Mark Cavendish.
“When I go to the Beijing Olympics it will be my seventh consecutive Olympics for the BBC. I’m in the privileged position to having called every modern Olympic gold medal winner on the track for our country,” Hugh says with a proud smile.
Down your way
I meet Hugh at Wolverhampton’s Aldersley Stadium, close to his Tettenhall home. Gratifyingly, the road leading into the stadium is now called Hugh Porter Way in recognition of Hugh’s cycling and broadcasting achievements.
We set off in cold, overcast conditions and are soon out in the countryside, heading towards the village of Pattingham. Pattingham was where Hugh and his wife Anita Lonsborough lived during their early years of marriage and also the place he lived when he won all his pursuit titles.
Anita is a sporting champion in her own right. She was the Olympic 200m breaststroke champion in 1960, held five world swimming records in her time and was the BBC Sports Personality of the year in 1962 — the first woman to take the honour. It was in 1964 on the journey to the Tokyo Olympics that Anita and Hugh first met, and the following year they were married. “When I went to the Olympics in 1964, it’s the one blemish on my career that I didn’t win an Olympic medal. I had bronchitis when I was there and I couldn‘t breathe,” recalls Porter, “I think I would also have liked the opportunity to attack the Hour record in my career.”
Rural lanes cut through the rich farmland of this area as we head for Badger. It’s a beautiful little village and has a large, distinctive thatched cottage overlooking the village pond. “It’s just gorgeous,” enthuses Porter as I grab a couple of photos. As we leave Badger we pass the gates to Badger Hall. “That’s a place where I’d love to live,” Porter reveals.
Carrying on just a short way, “This next section of road reminds me of when I used to live in Belgium and Holland. Just when you come off this little elbow here it’s very flat and exposed and just typical of the type of road I would race on,” Hugh explains.
There are more characterful villages on route in Beckbury, Ryton before passing through Kemberton where Hugh says: “Kemberton: the style of some of the buildings here reminds me of a sleepy French-type place.”
Cycling is for keeping in shape these days, says Hugh: “I never believed I’d ever slow up. But you can’t do anything about it. I ride a bike for up to a couple of hours, occasionally two-and-a-half in the summer if the mood takes me. I’m a victim of a lot of wear and tear with osteoarthritis in my spine, so sitting on a bike for hours and hours gets quite uncomfortable. I just go out for that period of time and I enjoy it. It’s therapy.”
Hugh ends with a comparison of his training methods against those of today. “I’m a stickler for never stopping at cafes. I never stopped as a pro; I don’t believe in it. The way I trained as a track and road rider was really a crude version of the way they train now.
“In other words, everything now is monitored by computers and various measurements, whereas in our day it was a little bit more intuitive. Certain drags on the run we are doing today I would power up — 42×16 most of the time — and then super-set the effort at the top. In other words, where before your heart was working by feel, which now would be controlled by HRMs, I’d super-set the effort like they do now. I could always tell how I did in my efforts by what I could do in the next one during the run. So you had the same feelings — I could measure my preparation.
“When I was preparing for a world pursuit title, then for a month before, I would always train behind a Derny on the track. Four afternoons every week for 35-40 minutes on top of the 100km of road work in the morning. And the way they use tours now as a base of the pyramid of preparation, I’d do exactly the same. For instance, when I won the Commonwealth pursuit title I rode the Star Trophy events and the Milk Race as my foundation, before putting in the final preparation prior to going to the Games.”
It’s worth noting here that in Hugh’s day, the professional pursuit was run over 5,000m and the amateur and Commonwealth race over 4,000. Today, all the senior men’s pursuit titles are run over 4,000. So Porter — the only man holding four pro world titles at 5,000m — has a record that can’t be broken.
Pedalling on, we pass Boscabel House, renowned as the place where Charles II hid in an Oak tree to escape the Roundheads after the Battle of Worcester in 1651, before making his escape to France. From Boscabel it is just a short way back into Wolverhampton, passing through Oaken to finish back at Tettenhall.
It has been an enjoyable journey around the lanes and there’s just one last question for Hugh, which he offers himself. “What one ambition do I have left before I hang up the microphone with the BBC? Well, if the brain stays sharp enough I would like to call the 2012 Olympics in London.”
YOUR GUIDE: HUGH PORTER
* Hugh is 68 and lives with wife Anita in Wolverhampton
* Born in Wolverhampton in 1940
* Worked as a draughtsman in his amateur days
* Works in broadcasting for BBC Sport since retiring from cycling
*As well as cycling, Hugh has commentated on football, swimming, speed skating and triathlon
* Commonwealth pursuit champion in 1966. Held the Commonwealth pursuit record for 12 years
* Turned pro in 1967
* Four times World Professional Pursuit Champion in 1968, ‘70, ‘72 and ‘73
* Awarded the MBE in 1973
* Wolverhampton Wheeler for over 50 years. Life member and past president
Start at Tettenhall to join unclassified road to Pattingham. Continue direction Ackleton. At Patshull Hall golf course continue for one mile to crossroads to turn right (TR) then turn left (TL) to Badger. TR at pond towards Beckbury and Ryton. In Ryton TL then TR to Grindle and Kemberton.
Out of Kemberton take road to Evelith to a T-junction. TL to TR in the direction of Shifnal. Cross A464 and continue on unclassified road to Cosford. Cross A41 and continue in direction of Shackerley and Boscobel House. TR at Boscobel House to continue to Oaken. Out of Oaken TL on to A41 for Tettenhall.