Percy Stallard: Decoding the enigma

Percy Stallard British League of Racing Cyclist BLRC Cycling Tour of Britain Wearwell

Percy Stallard: A British cycling pioneer
The Wearwell Racing Team's victory in the 1953 Tour of Britain would never have occurred had it not been for a small group of visionary cyclists determined to create a national race that emulated the Grand Tours of Europe. One of the main forces behind the creation of this event in 1945 was Percy Stallard, perhaps the most enigmatic and interesting figures in British cycling during the mid-20th Century.

Born in Wolverhampton - the home of Wearwell - in 1909, at his father’s Boarding House on Broad Street (which would later become his Bike shop), Stallard became a member of the Wolverhampton Wheelers Cycling Club and a keen competitor in cycle races. He went on to compete for Great Britain in International races during the 1930s, including three World Championships  from 1933-35.

Up until 1932, Stallard only rode in time trials. Lone racing against the clock was something of a British speciality, and was coincidentally also the manner in which the Olympic road race was conducted. However, soon after the 32 Olympics in Los Angeles there was an announcement that henceforth the Olympics would be run as a massed-start event, a form of racing which had been banned in Britain since the 19th century and at which British riders therefore had no experience.

In response, the National Cyclists’ Union (NCU) permitted massed-start races on tracks, and later circuits such as airfields, which were closed to traffic, but did not allow such races to be held on open roads. Having raced on open roads in France, Germany, and even the Isle of Man, Stallard felt that races on car circuits and airfields were merely a shadow of the real thing, and was disappointed by the NCU’s unwillingness to allow massed road racing.

When war broke out in 1939, the introduction of petrol rationing saw a vast decrease in the amount of road traffic. Stallard insisted that if there were few or no other road users, then massed road racing was unlikely to raise any objections. In December 1941, he wrote to A.P. Chamberlain of the NCU:

It is amazing to think that this is the only country in Europe where this form of sport is not permitted... There seems to be the mistaken idea that it would be necessary to close the roads. This, of course, is entirely wrong... There would be no better time than now to introduce this form of racing to the roads, what with the decreased amount of motor traffic and the important part that the cycle is playing in wartime transport.

Though Chamberlain was unimpressed with his protests, Stallard continued to voice his displeasure, complaining that the airfields and car circuits, which were the only places permitted by the NCU to hold massed racing, had been taken by the Army and RAF.  On Easter Monday 1942 he called a meeting at the foot of the Long Mynd hill in Shropshire, and announced his plan for a 59-mile race from Llangollen to Wolverhampton. He gained sponsorship from Wolverhampton’s Express and Star newspaper, offering any profits to the papers’ Forces Comfort Fund, and recruited 40 riders to take part.

Percy Stallard Llangollen Wolverhampton West Park Cycle Racing Tour of Britain

Percy Stallard crossing the finish line at Wolverhampton's West Park
The plan bought strong opposition from the cycling establishment. One of the most controversial aspects of Stallard’s plan was his request to the Police for permission to hold the race.  The fear of the NCU was that this would end the freedom of cyclists to hold races without any interference. As a result, Stallard was banned by both the NCU and the Road Time Trials Council.Regardless, Stallard persevered with the event, which finished without incident, in front of a crowd at West Park in Wolverhampton. All those involved in the race were suspended by the NCU, whilst Stallard was banned indefinitely.
Despite being left out in the cold, Stallard remained insistent that massed racing was the future, and was instrumental in the creation of a breakaway organisation, The British League of Racing Cyclists in November 1942. This brought together regional groups already forming in the Midlands and the North. During his time at the BLRC, he was one of the main forces behind the organisation of the fledgling Tour of Britain.

Percy Stallard and Miss London Tour of Britain Cycle Racing

Percy Stallard with Miss London whist fellow cyclist Ernie Clements looks on during the 1945 Brighton to Glasgow marathon.

Ironically, Stallard was later expelled from the BLRC, due to his criticism of the standard of race organisation. When the BLRC agreed to merge with the NCU to form the British Cycling Federation, Stallard branded the move as treason by “just three people [who] were allowed to destroy the BLRC”, and until his death viewed the BCF as merely a reincarnation of the National Cyclists’ Union.   

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