Tag Archives: Ian Steel

Ian Steel visit

Thanks to Steven Turbitt from Glasgow United CC for pointing me in the direction of these pictures by his clubmate Richie MacPherson, who went to visit Ian Steel recently. Steel won the Peace Race and the Tour of Britain in the 1950s and also rode the Tours of France and Spain. I’ve done quite a bit of digging on him over the past year or so, check out the Ian Steel tag for my other posts.

A nice quote from the GUCC forum: He still very much has that sparkle in his eye when talking about the bike. He was presented with the latest GUCC jersey, and was delighted and very quick to put it on and get his photo taken. Anyone who got their hands on Rouleur 18 will know this already- his enthusiasm for cycling and passion when telling the old stories is evident.

Thanks to Steven and Richie for permission to reproduce. Click through for the full photo set with Ian Steel’s other tropies.

Peace race 1952 extended footage

This film was mentioned in the Rouleur 18 article about Ian Steel, but disappeared from Y0uTube. It has since reappeared- It’s in four parts, in Polish, but patience will reward enthusiasts of this era. It’s the most sustained footage of one bike race from that age that I’ve seen. You get to see the bikes, kit, pace and attacks all at close quarters. And of course Ian Steel won it – the toughest amateur stage race in the world.

Part 1 is mainly background and preamble, but worth a watch for the ceremonial start in the Polish Army Stadium, at 7min. The sheer number of spectators, and the noise, is incredible, and gives you a sense of the scale of the race. Part 2 focuses on riders I don’t know, but by parts 3 and 4 you are getting good chunks of Steel against his rivals.

I’ve blogged quite a bit about this, mainly as I share the discoveries I make. It’s a part of our cycling history that few seem to know about, and should be celebrated. Almost like the Tom Simpson of Scotland. Thanks to “Ivan” from the Braveheart forums for the heads up. Read this thread for the story of the race.

Ian Steel’s 1952 Peace Race win

Last year I really enjoyed researching and posting on Ian Steel’s career in the 50s, one of Scottish Cycling’s first greats.

One of the best places I have found for information on Scottish riders from this time is a thread on the Braveheart forums, where a member called Ivan shares his memories and extensive konwledge on the era.

Ian Steel, 6 feet, V2 cycling rocket from Glasgow, won the 2135 km 12-stage Warsaw-Berlin-Prague race which ended on May 13th , 1952, in a shower of glory, for he not only dominated the field of 93 other riders, but led his 5 team mates (Ian Greenfield from Edinburgh, Bev Wood from Hyde in Cheshire, Ken Jowett from Bradford, Londoner Les Scales and Frank Seel from Manchester) to the head of the team race in which exalted position they stayed from the end of the 6th stage to the finish.

The above paragraph is the introduction to a 4-page special supplement which appeared in June 1952 in The Leaguer (The official publication of The British League of Racing Cyclists), written by Charles Fearnley. Fearnley was well placed to comment on Steels’s rocket-like performance because he was masseur to the 1952 PR team.

The team, led by the BLRC founder Percy Stallard, with Bob Thom as mechanic, arrived in the Polish capital on the 26th of April after a journey which started two days earlier with a send-off from the British-Polish Friendship Society in London, before flying via Copenhagen to Warsaw.

The ceremonial start to the race took place at the Polish Army Stadium on the 30th , watched by a crowd of 60,000 people, with the 14 teams lined up on the playing field being presented to the crowd following the playing of the national anthems. With the release of thousands of white doves ( the symbol of the race), the teams made their way to the official start for the 1st stage, a circuit of Warsaw over 105 km.

With most of the riders unknown to the British riders, Stallard’s instructions were to simply observe and take stock of the opposition, there would be no rash action on the part of the British team. Steel and the rest of the team survive the hot, and fast (at over 28mph) stage which was purpose built for Belgians, being mostly over cobbles and tram lines. Belgians took 1st, 2nd and 5th, with Steel and all his team mates at 37 seconds, in the same time as Jan Vesely from Czechoslovakia, 1949 PR winner and one of the favourites.

Ian Steel and his team mates were highly praised in the press of all three organising countries, Bogdan Tuszynski of Polish Radio, the doyen of Polish cycling reporters, described his victory as being in the ” Style of an English Lord “. BT meant this as a complement, further describing Steel’s performance as being without fanfare, extremely efficient, cool and elegant, and the team as the revelation of the race. In all the Polish media of the time, Steel is portrayed by Polish cartoonists as an English gent, often sitting astride a penny-farthing, it was if they had no appropriate Scottish caricature which was flattering, even though Poles, Germans and Czechs were all aware that he was Scottish, but they all had problems with the name Ian, the Czechs insisting on Ion, and the Poles and Germans on Jan.

Even the DDR reporters were full of praise , if a little less enthusiastic than the Poles and Czechs, this was more for political reasons than nationalistic ones ie this was at the height of the Cold War and Steel and his team were from the West, but in the only book published in any language which dealt exclusively with the 1952 PR , the classic “Warschau – Berlin – Prag” by the DDR journalist Adolf Klimanschewsky, the coverage is fair-minded.

One thing common to all coverage of Steel’s victory was the fact that he never won a stage of the race, later German coverage was often quick to point that out, as if it even mattered. All these references stopped when DDR hero Gustav Adolf Schur won the PR without winning a stage.

Text by Ivan on Braveheart forums

Ian Steel winning Tour of Britain 1951


Click the image to go through to the British Pathé website, an archive of old newsreels for a 2 minute clip of Ian Steel taking the overall win at Hampstead of the Daily Express Round Britain Cycle Race, 06/09/1951.

It was a 14-day stage race. Below is a great photo of Ian hoisted aloft the shoulders of fans after winning the second stage in Plymouth. It’s a Getty image and I thought I would be risking castration by posting it but I’m assured Getty Legal are more bothered about infringement on billboards than blogs. You can license the image for newspapers, books, posters etc by clicking on it to go through to the Getty site.

More info available on Tour-Racing.co.uk including the full route, the victors of each day, and summaries of the racing on each stage.

Scots in the Peace Race

After doing a couple of posts on Ian Steel I recalled a thread on the Braveheart Forums that began as an inquiry for somebody’s email address and wandered off on a wonderful tangent about Scottish racers on the continent.

The summary below, of all the Scots who took part in the Peace Race, comes via a guy called Ivan from Belgium who is a great contributor on the Braveheart Fund forums. The Peace Race, if you don’t know, was an extremely hard amateur stage race that crossed the iron curtain from communist Eastern Bloc and back. Non-communist countries took part by invitation.

1952 Ian Steel and Ian Greenfield, first and only English-speaking winner in Ian Steel, first British podium for Ian Greenfield with a 3rd place on the crucial 8th stage from Leipzig to Karl Marx Stadt, where Ian Steel took the leader’s jersey. The BLRC team also took the team class.
1957 Jimmy Rae, podium in 1st stage Prague – Brno
1959 Joe Christison
1960 Ken Laidlaw, second in KOM clas.
1961 Ken Laidlaw, fourth in KOM clas.
1962 Hugh McGuire
1963 First and only Scottish team in Peace Race, Drummond, Gardiner, McGuire, Murphy, McNaught and Waugh.
1964 Jim Hendry
1966 Billy Bilsland
1967 Billy Bilsland, first Scottish stage win in Liberec in CZ.
1968 Andy McGhee
1972 Sandy Gilchrist
1973 Sandy Gilchrist and Denis Mitchell
1985 Ken Clark
1987 Martin Coll
1989 Martin Coll

There’s no need for me to cut and paste from the thread- it’s a fascinating read with stories about Chernobyl, Slovak stage races, the whereabouts of former Eastern Bloc riders and

As often happens when I post, I am inspired to write more entries- now on my to-do list are things about Sandy Gilchrist and Jimmy Rae.

More information on Ian Steel

Wikipedia, the internet’s semi-reliable source of information, includes plenty of background on the Peace Race, his win’s effect back in Britain, and Steel’s ill-fated ride in the Tour de France in 1955.

Ian Steel’s results on cycling archives, which include the image above, has a database with data on his 1951 Tour of Britain win, and more historical information to be explored, including Tour of Britain stage wins.

William Fotheringham’s book, Roule Britannia covers a history of British racing cyclists in the Tour de France. Ian Steel, who rode for Viking Cycles but went to France as part of a cobbled-together Hercules Cycles team, went home after ignoring team orders to drop back and help a weaker teammate. There’s a review of the book by Ramin Minovi on the Association of British Cycling Coaches website.

History of Viking Cycles – an interesting trip down memory lane with some references to Ian and the 1955 team photo below.

Rouleur references a video of “Wyscig Pokoju 1952″ (Peace Race 1952) but I can’t find it anywhere.

Scottish Cyclist: Ian Steel

Ian Steel is one of Scotlands greatest ever cyclists. I wanted to put him in my Top 10 of all time back when I started this blog, but I didn’t know enough about him. Since then I have found more has made me come to realise his achievements.

A brilliant article in Rouleur edition 18 by Herbie Sykes and Ben Ingham. A thoroughly researched story of the man’s life and cycling career, with memories direct from the horse’s mouth.

What is remarkable is that the inspiration cyclists in Britain took from Ian Steel’s win in the 1952 Peace Race (Warsaw-Berlin-Prague), the hardest amateur race in the world at the time, was responsible for the emergence of road racing over here. Up until that point the National Cycling Union ruled the roost- only time trialling was allowed and mass start road races did not take place. Soon afterwards, the British League of Racing Cyclists started up and road racing began to get established in Britain.

1951 – Age 22, Pattern maker, 1st SCU Championship Road Race 1951, 1st West Scotland Championship Road Race 1951, 1st Glasgow Wheelers RR, 1st Edinburgh Comet RR 1951, 1st Glasgow Wheelers 25-mile 1951, 1st Tour of the Chilterns 1951

1952 – (Independent). There can be no doubt that this six-foot Scotsman is the outstanding British road cyclist of the century. He leapt to fame in the first 1951 Tour of Britain, when he scored a brilliant win. This year he went to the Continent, and beat the finest amateur and independent Continental riders on their own ground, finishing on top in the tremendously gruelling Warsaw-Berlin-Prague stage race. Shortly after, he went to France, and startled the Continentals by finishing a very close 2nd in the Paris-Lens classic road race. He has been time trial and road race champion of Scotland, and is a winner of the Tour of the Chilterns, besides his many other successes. A cycle-frame builder, Ian is aged 23. [1]

1953 – (Independent). This six-foot, unassuming Scot will always be remembered for his brilliant win in the first Daily Express Tour of Britain, and for his equally sensational victory in the gruelling Warsaw-Berlin-Prague race later that year. Also finished as leading British rider in this year’s Six Provinces race. He is the current British road race champion, and is captain of his team. He is 24 years old. [24]

1955 – 25 years. Rode in Tour de France and Tour of Spain, 1955. National Road Race Champion, 1953. 1st Warsaw-Berlin-Prague. 1st Tour of Britain, 1951.

I got the biography and palmares information from tour-racing.co.uk, a site with a pretty phenomenal archive of cycling race information.

The Ian Steel article in Rouleur 18 is highly recommended, and to top it off you get a great piece on climbing by Robert Millar.

Tour de Trossachs

October kicks off with the Tour de Trossachs mountain time trial, run by the Glasgow Ivy CC and stalwart race organiser Jeannette Hazlett. It is a true classic in the Scottish, and in fact the British racing calendar. Amazingly it has run since 1943.

The former winners read like a who’s who of Scottish Cycling greatness: Ian Steel in the 50s, Billy Billsland in the 60s, Robert Millar in 1978 and the 80s, Graeme Obree breaking the record on a fixed gear in the 90s, and and Jason McIntyre winning in 2005, 2006 and 2007, and breaking Obree’s record.

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My Top 10 Scottish cyclists of all time

I was listening to an old podcast by the two johns, who were discussing a Top 10 list of American cyclists. I thought it would be interesting to try to do the same thing for Scots.

My main criteria for this list are achievements on the international stage- be that Grand Tours, Olympic Games, World Championships or Commonwealth Games. This has been deemed by some as a limiting factor- favouring racing cyclists. But after all, isn’t racing a way to measure greatness? Anyway, some acknowledgment has been given to Scotland’s touring greats, but I doubt if I will please everyone.

In addition to medals and results, other Scottish qualities are also valued, including: hard work, innovation, determination against bigger, stronger opponents, honesty, and other “underdoglike” traits such as riding well but not winning, or being a contender for a big victory.

As ever, this type of list is never definitive, all about opinions, and really just a bit of fun. Please feel free to comment.

1. Robert Millar
Robert Millar palmares
Robert Millar’s King of the Mountains win, and his fourth overall place in the 1984 Tour de France puts him ahead of any other Scottish (or even British) cyclist, so for those two achievements, he is the #1. But he also has three Tour stage wins to his name, as well a Giro and a Vuelta stage win. He might have won the Vuelta a Espana, had Spanish riders (of different teams) not worked together against him to preventing him retaining his time advantage in the GC.

Millar is known an enigmatic and elusive character. It is the stubborness of this quality (also displayed in several of Scotland’s other top cyclists) which afforded him the single-minded determination to succeed in the sometimes unwelcoming world of European cycling.

Tour de France
3 stage wins
KOM winner 1984 Tour De France (first time a Briton had won a major Tour classification)
4th overall 1984 Tour De France (highest Tour classification of any British rider, ever)

Giro D’Italia
1 stage win
KOM winner 1987
2nd overall 1987.

Vuelta a Espana
1 stage win.
2nd overall in 1985 and 1986
KOM winner 1987

2. Sir Chris Hoy

Track champion Chris Hoy’s three gold medals on the track at Beijing 2008 speak for themself. 3 golds at a games is was the best medal haul for any Brit, for over 100 years. This is before you mention his numerous world championship medals at the kilo, the team sprint and the keirin. And his valiant attempt at the outright kilo world record, where he came up 0.005 seconds short at altitude in La Paz in 2007. He has simply dominated short-track racing for almost the past decade. And he made it look so easy.
Good luck for 2012 Sir Chris, we’ll be rooting for you.

3. Graeme Obree
Graeme Obree
The value of Graeme Obree‘s achievements is heightened by the fact that he undertook them as an amateur and in the face of great adversity. For me this embodies the Scottish underdog spirit. He broke the hour record and won world pursuit championships on a bike he designed and built himself, and in the face of obstruction from the UCI. He overcame personal problems to achieve these results and as such, is an inspiration to cyclists and people everywhere.

After the records, he entered the pro cycling world at the height of the doping era. When he refused to take anything, he was unceremoniously dumped- a great shame that we did not get a chance to see more of him.

Now in 2009, he has announced he will attempt the hour record again. As before, he has pushed the bounds of innovation and created his own bike, to meet the UCI regulations but to match his riding style. He has massive gear ratios, a custom hand position, but traditional frame and wheels. Good luck Graeme!

Selected palmares:
World hour record: twice holder, in 1993 and 1994. Beat a nine-year record held by all-time great Francesco Moser. Beaten first by Chris Boardman, before regaining the record and then Miguel Indurain.
Individual pursuit (4000m) world champion 1993 and 1995.
British 10mile Time Trial record holder- 18:57.

4. David Millar

David Millar, Tour of Britain 2008- Garmin-Chipotle (now Garmin-Slipstream)

David Millar, Tour of Britain 2008- Garmin-Chipotle (now Garmin-Slipstream)

David Millar’s career as a whole must unfortunately be viewed in the context of the 2-year ban he received in 2004 for admitting the use of EPO. However his honesty and determination to spread an anti-doping message have set him apart from other banned riders, and he is now seen as an ambassador for clean cycling. For me, he took the punishment and then went on to make significant amends- not only being outspoken, but working with WADA, and helping to establish a stringently clean, independently-tested team in Slipstream.

Although the suspension does tarnish his reputation, he won Grand Tour stages and races before and after it and these results still put him amongst the most successful Scottish cyclists of all time. He was the youngest ever holder of the yellow jersey in 2000. It is tempting to ‘relegate’ him a place or two for the doping, but I feel his anti-doping work have made up for it, and even the non-doped results are still stronger than any other Scottish road racer.

There is a slight question over his Scottishness though- he was born in Malta, and has lived in Hong Kong, England and Spain. His parents are Scottish and he was selected (but did not compete) for Scotland in the 2002 Commonwealth Games. He is generally known as a Scot (as listed as Scottish on the Garmin-Slipstream site, and frequent media references). I would be very interested to know his personal feelings towards Scotland and whether he has a connection to the place.

Tour de France 1 stage win: 2000 stage 1. (2 stage wins during doping period? 2002 stg 13, 2003 stg 19)
Vuelta a Espana 2 stage wins: 2006 stage 14, 2009. (2 stage wins during doping period? 2001 stg 1, 2003 stg 17)
UK Time Trial champion and Road Race champion 2007
Tour of California 2008- 2nd place overall.
various other palmares

5. Ken Laidlaw

image: Tim A. Rutherford / Ken Laidlaw)

Laidlaw is somewhat of a forgotten man of Scottish cycling. He is not frequently mentioned (apart from the best efforts of Fun Run Robbie but finishing the world’s greatest bike race is a big achievement in itself. From a British point of view, this might sound like a ‘plucky loser’ tag, but it isn’t. Over the Channel, the French afford considerable respect to the last man- the Lantern Rouge- because to finish the Tour is such a feat.

Read Tim A. Rutherford’s interview with Ken, inlcuding Ken’s account of the 1961 TdF, and what racing was like then here: “In my tour, we averaged 139 miles a day – flat out”. In those days, the tour was 800 miles longer than it is today.” Without the nutrition, sports science and bike technology of today, it would have been significantly more difficult.

Selected palmares:
First Scot to finish the Tour de France 1961.
Most aggressive rider of the day during stage 16 1961- led the stage but fell back with 7km to go to finish 19th. 65th place overall- only 72 of the 132 riders finished.

6th Briton to finish the Tour? ref

6. Billy Bilsland
Billy Bilsland
Twice on the podium of the British Road Race championships (1972 and 1974), he flew the flag for Scotland in the continental peloton in the 1970s.1 2
A stellar international amateur career ensued with stage victories in The Tour of Czechoslovakia, the Peace Race, the Tour de l’Avenir, the Scottish Milk Race and the Milk Race. He rode the 1968 Olympics, making it into the winning break until a puncture ended dreams of a medal. -He recounts his 14th place in the 1971 world championship road race in an interview here.
He raced for three years as a pro with Peugeot, finishing 11th in Paris – Tours and 10th in the Tour of Lombardy. Making it on the continent in those days was not easy- as Ken Laidlaw, Robert Millar and Graeme Obree could attest to.
After retiring, he set up a bike shop, which his son now runs.

Other palmares
2nd British national road race 1974
3rd British national road race 1973

7. Brian Smith

Brian Smith, image © Graham Watson

Brian Smith, image © Graham Watson

Brian Smith won the 1991 British professional road race championship (his first pro season) and went on to complete the 1994 Giro d’Italia for Motorola, on a team that included Andy Hampsten and a young Lance Armstrong. Internationally he represented Scotland at the 1984, 1990 and 1998 Commonwealth Games and Britain at the 1996 Atlanta Games. He also won races in the USA for Plymouth Racing Team.

He continues to have an influence in the Scottish cycling world through the Braveheart Cycling Fund, which supports young Scottish riders of all disciplines. A worthy cause- I look forward to seeing the next Scot challenging for the Tour de France!

Selected palmares
3 Commie Games ’86, ’90 + ’98
Twice GB PRO Champ ’91 + ’94 (2nd ’92 +’93)
1994 GP Midbank first European victory for Motorola CT

8. Craig Maclean

Image © John the Scone

Image © John the Scone

Craig Maclean raced, and won, at the top of the track scene for several years in the late 90s and early 00s. As such he will always be in Hoy’s shadow somewhat, but with Ross Edgar he was part of a formidable Scottish team sprint team at the 2006 Commonwealth Games. His other medals include UCI Gold and Olympic Silver- Craig was a very strong rider and a consistent performer for many years.

Gold Team Sprint 2002 UCI World Track Championships
Gold Team Sprint 2006 Commonwealth Games (Scotland)
Silver Team Sprint 2000 Sydney Olympics
Silver Team Sprint 1999, 2000 UCI World Track Championships
Bronze Team Sprint 2001, 2003, 2004 UCI World Track Championships
1st place: various individual and team sprints events, British National and World Cup series level.

9. Mark Beaumont

image © Mark Beaumont

image © Mark Beaumont

Mark Beaumont’s round the world record- 18,297 miles (29,446 km) in 194 days and 17 hours- is sometimes hotly debated as a cycling achievement, but for me it embodies the ultimate in the cycle touring tradition.

For some it is a feat of logistics as much as cycling, but consider this- 100 miles a day for nearly 200 days, in all weathers and conditions. Carrying 30-4kg of equipment. Unsupported. Logistics is naturally a challenging part of this feat, but then logistics is a part of any cycle tour, or even a road race. The team support for the Tour de France is a vital part

He didn’t just cycle around the world at a leisurely pace. He did it faster than anyone else, ever, smashing the previous record by 80 days. Beaumont took the round-the-world to another level, and it is being attempted in 2009 by another cyclist,

Compare this to Ellen McArthur, who sailed round the world in record time- an achievement that necessitated overcoming logistical problems as well as supreme endurance. The world sailing circumnavigation record is a prized goal, but for some reason, the cycling equivalent was not. Beaumont’s record has taken this event to the next level, and I’d say Beaumont is the McArthur of the cycling world, and his feat should be recognised more prominently.

10. Jason McIntyre
Jason McIntyre
Jason McIntyre’s achievements came in the face of adversity, and this often typifies Scottish sport. Tragically his career was cut short by a fatal road accident, which ended his life just as his career was belatedly taking off. 10th spot in my list could have gone to any number of riders, but I give it to Jason for the way he battled back from hardship in his personal life to become a National champion in his 30s, achieved so much from a relatively remote base in the highland, with little support, and looked to have much more to offer before his career was cut short.

15th Commonwealth games road race 2002
first Scot to win the British 25-Mile Championship- 2006 and 2007
Beat Graeme Obree’s 10 mile TT record.
Tour of the Trossachs 50 mile TT – great write-up here on Pez

Evan Oliphant, currently a pro in the british peloton, is going well and can progress further. He was three-time Scottish road race champion riding for Plowman Craven although he has recently switched team to Scottish-based Endura Racing (June 2009).

Ian Steel was a Glaswegian rider who won international recognition as winner of the Warsaw-Prague road race (Peace Race 1952?), and he also won the Tour of Britain in 1951, including three stages, and the British National Road Race championship in 1962.

Jackie Bone of the Glasgow Wheelers acquired national fame when he became the first British cyclist to attain an average speed of more than 20 mph in a 12-hour race. Jackie also rode as a member of the British team in the road race at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

George Berwick is another great in the touring/randonneur tradition, and although not a racer with competitive palmares to his name, he still holds numerous records for touring routes and annual mileage totals.

Tommy Chambers– cycle touring great who would ride 18,000 miles a year, and was once credited in the Guinness Boook of Records.

Davie Bell, pioneering off road cyclist and tourer/randonneur extreme, now has one of Scotland’s toughest one-day races held annually in his honour.

Ross Edgar, a prolific track racer who also represented Scotland but was born and lives in England.
Silver: Keirin 2008 Beijing Olympics, Team Sprint 2007 UCI world champs; Bronze Keirin 2007 UCI world champs; Gold 2006 Team Sprint Commonwealth Games.

Caroline Alexander, born in Lancashire but represented Scotland. Good palmares, and the only mountain biker in and around this list- strange with the quality of Scotland’s trails.
British National Mountain Bike Champion (XC) 6 times, 1995 European Cross Country Champion, 1998 British National Cyclo-cross Champion, 2nd UCI Mountain Bike World Cup Series 2 times (according to wikiP).