Kenneth Laidlaw was born in Hawick in 1936. He was destined to become one of Britain’s greatest all round racing cyclists with Olympic, Empire, World and Tour de France honours, as well as many national selections in events at home and abroad.
Ken started his cycling career in 1951 at the age of 15 with the Hawick cycling club. In 1957 Ken joined up for National service. His Cycling career suddenly moved up a gear. He was given time to train and suddenly emerged as an aggressive and courageous all-round racing cyclist. In July of the same year, Laidlaw journeyed to Dundee to take part in the Scottish 100 mile championship. As an unknown on the Scottish circuit, Laidlaw won in a new Scottish record of 4 hours 13 minutes and 14 seconds.
Laidlaw’s progress from here was remarkable – in the space of a few weeks during that summer, he leaped from near obscurity to stardom – something most club cyclists can only dream of. He won the tour of Scotland and the Scottish road race 100 mile championship.
In 1957 and 1958 he again made considerable progress, competing in the Cardiff Empire Games and the Tour of Britain
Milk Race in which he finished 8th. In 1959 he maintained his progress and earned selection in the tour of Tunisia and the Tour of Sweden.
Laidlaw’s amateur career probably reached its zenith in 1960. His s selection for the Rome Olympics was the culmination of determined and single-minded winter preparation, riding over 300 miles per week in training. In the terrible heat of Rome, Ken was the second Briton home in 42nd place from a field of 140. Riding in the world amateur road race championships in Leipzig, he finished a creditable 22 seconds behind the winner and was the 1st Briton home. In the Prague-Warsaw-Berlin race he finished 13th out of 119 starters.
In 1961 Ken Laidlaw turned professional at the age of 25. He was immediately chosen to represent Britain in the worlds toughest race—the 2372 mile, 21-stage marathon classic The Tour De France.
On the 16th stage Laidlaw hit the world cycling headlines. A report in the cycling magazine Sporting Cyclist describes the scene. The pack begins the climb out of Luchon: Radio tour announce an attack by number 90 Laidlaw. He went past the pack moving at a good rate with the French Tricolour jerseys and Anquetil, one of the worlds greatest ever cyclists, in the race leaders yellow jersey at the front and out 100 yards ahead of them was the unmistakable figure of Ken Laidlaw thrashing away for all his worth. Ken was caught with only 8km to go and finished the stage in 19th. After an epic ride over one of the steepest climbs of the tour, for his effort that day he was awarded £145 for the most aggressive rider on the day. After 21 stages, Ken finished in 65th place and is one of only a few British riders ever to finish the Tour de France.
A story told by his Aunt Agnes epitomises his determination and will to succeed. When Ken was on national service, based at
Catterick, on obtaining a 24-hour pass he would cycle up to Hawick in the morning to visit frlends, and then leave at 11pm to be back in camp in time for guard duty at 6pm. lt is a 110 miles from Catterick to Hawick.
edited from the Sport Borders Hall of Fame
see also: Hawick News article 2001