This week in cycling history

To my delight, the Velocast is back with a music-and-cycling banter show called Velocast Race Radio. Check it out.

One of the gems of the show are the ‘this week in cycling history’ snippets from Irish fount of historical cycling trivia, Cillian Kelly. He posts good articles over at his Irish Peloton blog, but the radio snippets are something interesting and different that you won’t find elsewhere. Every week he will enlighten us with facts from cycling history, ranging from the 1880s to the 1980s. His twitter feed is also good for some really interesting facts and trivia during the big races.

In 1975, Sean Kelly, Pat McQuaid and Kieran McQuad and two Scots broke the apartheid boycot and travelled to South Africa incognito to get some winter racing miles in the Rapport Tour. If you don’t know, all sporting contact with South Africa (and trade imports and exports for that matter) was banned. This boycott was in force right up until the mid-90s and the end of Apartheid. I remember my Mum tutting when Cape and Jaffa oranges began to appear in the supermarket.

The Scots were Henry Wilbraham and John Curran – some mention of them along with other Scottish riders banned for various other transgressions are mentioned on a typically delightful misty-eyed thread on the Braveheart forum.

They were photographed by a journalist covering then A-Listers Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton’s second marriage. The photo of the riders alongside Burton and Taylor was published and the riders recognised. The Irish initially got 7 month bans and lifetime exclusion from Olympic competition. (although Pat McQuaid now apparently sits on the Olympic governing body)

There’s more on this story over at the Cyclismas blog. Thanks to Cillian for flagging it up.

  • Wilbraham1

    Hi,
    Henry’s brother, James, here.
    Henry and John knew exactly what they were doing when they went to race in South Africa at the time, hence the change of names. But, understandably, they were very bitter about the sentences they received for their misdemeanour in light of everyone else’s treatment. Banned for 5 years (might just as well have been sin die for athletes at the height of their sporting prowess) when the Irish got as little as 6 months, and others far less.
    They felt, at the time, that it was the SCU flexing their wee muscles and making an example of them; a bit of political “wee man syndrome” if you like.
    Anyway, Henry’s life kind of went off the rails following that and John died of pneumonia following years of alcohol abuse about 15 years ago, so, well done the SCU, I guess that they proved their point. They even had the downright gall to send a wreath to his funeral.
    Just thought I’d keep everyone abreast of things as they are.

  • Owenphilipson

    Thank you for taking the time to comment James. That is a sad conclusion to what is all in all quite a shocking story.

    I’d hesitate to say a ban wasn’t deserved but as you point out it was harsh alongside what the Irish received. Political factors at work perhaps, as well as in McQuaid’s case – someone who seems to have a knack of getting around the rulebook.