At our recent pilgrimage to the Belgian Elite road race championship we took time-out to visit Eke, not far from Ghent, where Yorkshire born Peter Stevenson has a bike shop. In 1983 he was just another amateur, riding for Midridge CRT when he and a friend decided to go to Belgium.
You can’t fault Scotland’s track performances — Chris Hoy, Craig MacLean, Ross Edgar and James McCallum have all done the business at Commonwealth and World level recently.
What about the road though? Can anyone think of a decent ride by a Scottish roadman outside of Britain this year? I can’t.
It’s hard to break-in to the continental road scene though isn’t it? A rider couldn’t just go abroad and be riding with a big team within a couple of years, could they?
What was behind your decision?
“I was an industrial engineer, but back then there were a lot of redundancies flying around, so we decided to go over and try it. We just rode in our Midridge kit and were there for three or four months in ’83 and ’84.”
What was your first contract then?
“In 1985 I signed a very basic contract with Dutch pro team Viditel.
I rode the Milk Race that season in a composite team, unfortunately crashing-out with a broken elbow.
In 1986 I rode a predominantly English programme, but by 1987 I was back globe-trotting, including a spell in the USA.”
As happens in cycling, you met people and made contacts?
“Yes, one of whom was an American, Tom Schuler who was a rider with the 7-11 team. By October 1987 I was pulling-on their red, white and green jersey to ride the Tour of Ireland on a ‘paid by the race’ basis. At the start of the 1988 season I was on a contract with the team, albeit an eight month one — March to October.
“I started the season in March in Sicily and rode right through to Lombardy in October. I rode every classic except Milan — San Remo. My job was to work for our Norwegian team leader, Dag-Otto Lauritzen. The team was well organised and you were always paid on time — not like Belgian and English outfits.”
Stevenson is a pragmatist; when asked for recollections of good and bad days with the team he recalls:
“There weren’t any great days, but there weren’t any really bad days either.”
When pressed for ‘special’ moments he remembers:
“When Lauritzen was going well that made the management happy.
“He got 3rd in the Tour of Flanders in 1989 and that was a good experience, although we had to work hard that day. Vegerby, Eriksen and I were told that we could climb-off at the feed but Lauritzen punctured twice and we had to get him back up.”
It never worked-out that Stevenson rode any of the Grand Tours, but he did ride the national tours of Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, Ireland and the Basque Country. After two seasons with Motorola, there was no contract-renewal for 1990 and it was time to take stock.
What happened then?
“I sat down and worked-out how much money I would have to win to live-on, racing as an amateur in Belgium. I found that I could win that much and rode the kermesses for a few seasons.”
Stevenson’s later years saw him turn to cyclo-cross; again that Yorkshire practical approach to the job — and to money, played its part.
“I started riding cross in the winter of ’93. The thing about cross is that you do your own work so it’s your own money at the end. It’s hard though, you have to stay on the same lap as the top guys to be in the money.”
“I’ve won the British vets cross champs twice and I still do a bit in the winter. In fact, I reckon I’m the last Englishman to win an international cross — I won a big one in the Basque country in 1995. I’d just lapped Olano as I crossed the line so I didn’t give any big victory salutes – I didn’t think it was respectful to a rider of his stature.”
You did some mountain biking didn’t you?
“Yes, but it wasn’t cost effective: £25 to enter and the prizes weren’t that hot.”
During his time with 7-11 he raced with some of the sport’s iconic characters, such as Andy Hampsten (Giro and Tour of Switzerland winner).
Tell us about Andy…
“A naturally gifted climber, he was using that high-cadence, low gear climbing technique years before Armstrong made it famous. He struggled a bit over 160 kilometers though because he was so frail. I also knew Chris Carmichael (the man who coached Armstrong to his 7 Tour victories), he wasn’t a great rider, but he was a nice guy.”
And Bob Roll (the man who helped Lance re-discover his love for the bike) was also on the team?
“Bob…mad, completely off his head, you never knew what he was going to say or do next.” (Roll once told an Italian newspaper that he had been abandoned in the woods as a baby, the Indians had found him and brought him up as one of their own in their tepee village. Not a word of this was true, but the story was headline news in Italy).
“Sean Yates was there when I joined, and with him being a southerner I didn’t think we’d get along but we hit it off fine, in fact he sometimes comes to the shop to see me.”
I also asked about Alex Steida, the Canadian rider who took the yellow jersey in the 1986 Tour for 7-11. I had heard that he partied for the whole of the rest of that year after his success but Peter corrected me:
“No, he partied for the whole of the rest of his life!”
We left him to get on with running his busy bike shop — Flanders it may be, but the tea bags are from Yorkshire. It could never happen now, could it — an amateur goes to Belgium, does a bit, makes a few contacts and gets a contract? No, I guess not, but who was that guy that won the British champs — Hamish something? …
Thanks for your time Peter, it’s been great to chat to you, and best of luck with the shop.