Thursday, July 17, 2014

BON CHANCE, LE SAGE..


The gentleman pictured left, puffing his way up a steep French incline, is Brian Robinson, seen taking part in the 1958 Tour de France.  He has been in the news today because, at the age of 83, he was knocked off his bike by a car whilst out for a ride in his native Yorkshire.   He has been kept overnight in hospital suffering from a suspected broken collar bone and cuts and bruises.   Just what you don`t need when you`re 83.

There`s no doubt that Robinson was a trail blazer for British cycling on the Continent and he became the first Briton to finish Le Tour in 1955 and the first to win a stage in 1958. The report of his accident held a resonance for me for a couple of reasons.

As you can see, he was riding a very smart bike - blue frame; 1" wheels; Superhood brakes and even a bottle of water in a nifty holder on the handlebars.  At just about the same time as this picture was taken, I `inherited` £25 from a family heirloom and went to a bike shop in Maidstone and asked the owner to make a bike up for me.   So he did, complete with blue Norman Invader frame, GB Superhood brakes, 1" wheels and even a nifty holder on the handlebars for drinks bottles.   I really felt the part and spent many happy hours touring the highways and byways of deepest Kent.

Now in professional cycling in those days, I doubt if `performance enhancing drugs` had even been invented let alone taken and I`m pretty sure the training regime was as much to do with sheer grit and determination as anything else.   And Brian certainly had those qualities in abundance, but also a clever tactical brain that helped him judge a race, judge the opposition and judge when to make his move, all of which saw him dubbed as `Le Sage` by his growing band of French admirers, especially after that historic first ever stage win by a British cyclist.

I recall not long after that triumph being called upon by my father, who kept a pub at the time, to help out by `conversing` with a party of Frenchmen who had stopped off for some refreshment.   Now my French was very much pidgin, so too was their English, but we managed to pidgin our way through a drinks order and then turned the conversation to the one subject that stood any chance of uniting us - Le Tour and Le Sage.  The entente quickly became distinctly cordiale, thanks to our shared admiration for Brian Robinson`s contribution to one of the many things for which the French demonstrate their passion.

I still recall that incident very clearly and so I was sorry to hear of Brian`s accident and hope he makes a full and speedy recovery from his injuries.  

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