It was Phil Edwards’ friend and former team mate back in their amateur days, respected cycling photographer John Pierce who broke the sad news to us that the big man from Bristol, who won both the British Junior and Professional Road race Championships and was right hand man to Italian ‘campionissimo’ Francesco Moser at ‘super squadra’ Sanson for five seasons had died of a suspected heart attack at his home in Monaco on Sunday, April 23rd aged 67 – he was born 03:09:1949.
Edwards and Pierce were Divisional Schoolboy Champions in the 60’s with Edwards going on to take the British Junior Road Race Championship in 1967.
Through the late 60’s and into the early 70’s Edwards was a dominant force on the British scene, his list of wins in that period is impressive; the Bass Charrington Three Day, the Sogat Two Day, the Ras de Cymru, The Hereford Two Day, the Tour of the Cotswolds – quite a performance for a man of his build – the Greenall Whitley Two Day and Milk race stages to list but a few.
But there were also wins in The Netherlands, where he rode on a scholarship – victories came in Stolwjk and the Boekweitronde.
The Netherlands was the toughest amateur school in the world in those days and to win there was no mean feat.
Season 1972 was his finest ‘home’ season with wins in the Essex GP, the Lincoln GP, Milk Race stages, the Vierzon Two day in France, a top 10 in the Tour de l’Avenir and sixth in the Olympic road race in Munich.
Maria, Phil Edwards’ mother migrated to England during WWII where she met Phil’s father, Brinley who worked at Bristol Aircraft Company but she retained her links with the ‘Old Country’ – including Ernesto Colnago – and was instrumental in getting her son a contract with GS Leone for whom Edwards rode in 1973 and 1974.
In 1973 he found time to win the Milk Race prologue but more importantly took second spots in the Italian amateur semi-classics Monte Carlo-Alassio and the Santagostini Cup.
By 1974 he was finding his feet and there were wins Monte Carlo-Alassio, the GP Grosio, Corsa del lana and Trofeo Carteuropa to name but four.
The 1975 season saw wins come fast and furious on the Italian scene, he was by now with GS Mobigori and the Giro del Casentino, Giro del Friuli and GP Sanosi, as well as a raft of other wins came his way – not to mention a Milk Race stage.
Success such as his doesn’t go unnoticed and he signed with Francesco Moser’s Sanson squad for season 1976, and was plunged straight into the Giro where finished 69th overall.
But in Italy in that era it was all about your ‘Capo’ – team leader – and personal ambition was sacrificed at all times in service of ‘The Boss.’
His Danish contemporary on the Italian professional scene, Per Bausager remembers him thus:
“Phil stood out because he was British. As far as I remember he was the only English speaking rider in the peloton. At least in Italy.
“A few years later Michael Wilson came though. And then George Mount and Gavin Chilcott.
“I had a certain amount of respect for Phil already because he was Francesco Moser’s domestique. That was a strong sign. You wouldn’t be riding for Sanson unless you were good.
“I remember he wasn’t that good on the steeper climbs because he was a big guy. But in cross wind, in the valleys and when Francesco wanted someone to be caught he was a rock. Phil and Simone Fraccaro would be the driving forces under such circumstances.
“Otherwise I remember him at a straight forward guy. Gentle and very serious about his job.
“Actually the last thing I remember was that my teammate Jurgen Marcussen and I were often irritated because Phil was riding very hard – almost brutal – for the positions when he had to keep Francesco to the front.
“He was a very dedicated domestique.”
Whilst Australian professional contemporary, Clyde Sefton paid this tribute;
“We raced together in the Mobigori team, lived and trained together at Crespina and I stayed with his family at Bristol.
“You were admired by the greatest riders in Italy, Phil. Arriverderci.”
Former British Amateur Road Race Champion, Grant Thomas who was a teammate in his amateur days told us:
“Phil was the best UK rider of his generation.
“My memories of Phil span from riding against him in his first ‘senior’ races; riding with him in Holland and Belgium and riding together in GB teams.
“I also worked for Phil in the early 80’s, for the family firm of Caratti Sport.
“Phil’s career really took off after he moved to Italy and later turned pro with the Sanson team.
“He was a loyal ‘lieutenant’ to the great Francesco Moser for many seasons.”
Despite Edwards being ‘in service’ to Moser he had his moments.
In 1977 he finished on the podium in three Italian semi-Classic, the Trofeo Matteotti, the Tre Valli Varesine and the Giro del’Emilia – no mean feat in what was a ‘Golden Era’ for Italian Cycling with the likes of Baronchelli, Beccia, Bitossi, Gavazzi, Paolini and Saronni all active and very hard to beat.
That season saw him ride the Giro again and come home to win the British Professional Road race Championship – to disgust of the home pros who always hated if a Continental ‘glamour boy’ came over to ‘steal’ it from them.
However, the race was run from London to York, in excess of 300 kilometres in duration and right up the big Bristolian’s street, not long out of the Giro.
In 1978 there was the inevitable Giro ride, fifth in the Coppa Bernocchi and his last win, a stage of the Tour of Catalonia.
The Giro again in 1979, second in the Italian semi-classic, GP Citta de Camaiore to Saronni and third in the Boucles des Flandres in Northern France to Belgian hard man, Roger Rosiers.
His last season was 1980, with his last result of note, third to Gavazzi in the Codogno Criterium.
Edwards explained his decision to quit to me in an interview two years ago like this:
“I had a crash in the Giro, broke my wrist and ended up in plaster.
“During the time I was off the bike I started to get involved in importing Italian equipment into Britain.
“My mother was born in Treviso and lived there when she was young; she knew Pinarello, San Marco, Sidi – all those people. Her maiden name was Caratti and my brother Mark and I started an import/export business under that name – I was side-tracked.
“I had a contract with Famcucine for 1981 but I threw myself into the import/export business.
“I was involved in cycling clinics in Texas with Eric Heiden who rode for 7/11; the Giro organisers wanted me for a commentary role because I was fluent in English and Italian – and I did commentary for Italian TV for the Goodwood Worlds.
“But I had to make a decision and put all my energies into Caratti.
“And I introduced Specialized to Italy in 1985 and Trek in 1989 until they bought me out in 2010.”
At the time of his death, Edwards and his daughter Melanie owned and ran the restaurant La Grotte in Roquebrune, Cap Martin, Monaco.
He is survived by his brother Mark, sister Barbara, wife Cinzia, with whom he has two children Melanie 33 yrs and Kevin 23 yrs – he also became a proud grandfather just six months ago.
Last words go to John Pierce;
“When we were just youngsters the British Professional Road race Championships were being held in Chard, that’s about 40 miles from where we lived in Bristol – but we managed to stretch that to 60 miles.
“We weren’t on race bikes, just kids’ bikes.
“After the race a chap called Keith Cummings offered us a lift home but there wasn’t room in the car for Phil and his bike so I got the lift and Phil cycled home. He got back to Bristol town centre but was so exhausted it took him two hours to do the four miles to his house.
“He told me later that it was on that day he decided he was going to be a pro.
“It was my birthday the other day and I got a message from Phil; ‘Fancy a run down to Chard, John?'”
Phil Edwards, British Champion, Olympian, respected member of an elite peloton, successful businessman and gentleman, rest in peace.