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John Kennedy – Helping Simpson in Le Tour

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July 1960, the GB Tour de France team hotel somewhere in France. Britain’s white hope for Tour de France glory, the late, great Tom Simpson is discussing the events of the day with team mate, Brian Robinson. Simpson had punctured during the stage and one of his GB team domestiques had brought him back up to the bunch; “I’ll tell you what, Brian – that John Kennedy is strong, he was riding like ten men today when we were coming back from that puncture.”

The 1960 season was Scotsman, Kennedy’s fourth as a professional on the continent. He turned pro in 1957, after several successful seasons as an amateur in Belgium. It was just as hard to sign a pro contract then as it is now; there were hundreds of young Belgians keen to stave-off the inevitability of the coal mines or steel works as long as they could. Kennedy rode as a professional for six seasons; with Bertin-d’Alessandro, Bertin-Milremo, Flandria-Wiels, Wiels-Flandria and Bertin-Porter 39.

He didn’t finish the 1960 Tour, abandoning on stage 12. Perhaps if he had been less selfless in his efforts for Robinson and Simpson then he might have made it all the way to Paris. Kennedy had been pre-selected to ride the “Grand Boucle” that year but a bad saddle sore had caused him to withdraw before the final team line-up was decided.

However, the selectors were struggling to fill the eight places assigned to them by the Tour organisation and Kennedy received a telegram at his Belgian home, offering him his place in the world’s biggest bike race, just three days before the start. Kennedy told ‘Sporting Cyclist’ journalist, Russell Galbraith, just before the Lille start;

“It’s a do-or-die attempt, but I am feeling well and have been racing regularly in Belgium.”

In the magazine’s next edition, the ‘Tour Special’, Kennedy gets few mentions. Editor, J.B. Wadley saves most of his copy for Simpson, Robinson and Vic Sutton. It is true that the Glaswegian made few headlines in his one and only Tour and didn’t talk much about the race subsequently; but he did feel that he had been worked hard by Robinson and Simpson for little recognition.

The John Kennedy story is one of “little recognition” and isn’t easy to piece together. Unlike Robinson and Simpson there are no grand palmares to use as navigational aids when charting his career &