Wearwell rider Ken Mitchell races in the Alps for the Great Britain team
On Sunday 23rd July 2017 Chris Froome claimed his fourth Tour de France win upon the Champs Elysses which will also make it Great Britain’s fifth victory in six attempts. Prior to Bradley Wiggins riding into Paris wearing yellow in the summer of 2012 – the concept of a British winner of “La Grande Boucle” was almost unthinkable. Many riders had tried, but ultimately come up short.
In 1955 a British team was sent to compete for cycling’s biggest prize. The team consisted of Brian Robinson, Ian Steel, Bob Maitland, Fred Krebs, Tony Hoar, Bernard Pusey, Stan Jones, Dave Bedwell, Bevis Wood and Wearwell Racing Team rider Ken Mitchell. In addition Wearwell’s John Pottier was first reserve on the team that had been put together using the very best British of cycling talent under the watchful eyes of DD MacLachlan, of Birmingham-based cycle company Hercules.
The 1955 Tour’s Grand Depart started in Le Havre, just a short hop over The Channel for the British team. The total race distance was 2,800 miles (4,506km) and featured 22 classified climbs, nearly all of which were battled over in searing heat.
Frenchman Louison Bobet secured his third consecutive victory of the Tour de France by the time the depleted peloton reached Paris on July 30th – four minutes and 53 seconds ahead of nearest rival, the Belgian Jean Brankart.
Of the starting 10 British riders – only two made it to the finish, Brian Robinson and Tony Hoar. Hoar came in 69th place, picking up the Lanterne Rouge accolade as well as many plaudits for his gutsy performance. This despite being some six hours behind the race winner Bobet.
Yorkshireman Robinson finished in 29th place, just shy of two hours behind Bobet, however his strong performance throughout the race and in particular when on the climbs of the Alps and Pyrenees placed him firmly in the public consciousness. It would be the start of great love affair with the race for Robinson who became the first British Tour de France stage winner in 1958 – just three years later.
Sadly tiredness, crashes and injury prevented the other eight members of the British team reaching Paris. Steel missed the time limit on one stage and left the tour whilst Jones suffered the same fate after a day of several punctures cost him too much time. Meanwhile, Krebs withdrew due to a knee injury and a post-crash injury forced Maitland’s retirement.
For Wearwell’s Ken Mitchell the race proved particularly tough. A painful boil to the saddle region was to be his undoing – but not before he had wrapped a tyre around his saddle in an attempt to try and relieve some of the excruciating pressure. He does however go down as the first Wearwell rider to compete in the Tour de France and holds the distinction of being in the first every British team to compete in the race – which paved the way for future stars such as Mark Cavendish, Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome.
Ken Mitchell on board a Wearwell "Tour de France" cycle. Winner Louison Bobet's brother Jean rides to the right