Tuesday, July 27, 2021
HomeInterviewsJames Cambridge - One of Cycling's Unsung Heroes

James Cambridge – One of Cycling’s Unsung Heroes


“Do you remember the James Cambridge boy we were talking to at that kermis in Sersekamp, four or five years ago?” says Viktor.

“Red Specialized, great tan, pro’s legs and a cool Craft undervest?” I reply.

“That’s him; he was top ten in the Rutland race, last weekend — he’d be a good boy to talk to.”

James Cambridge
James racing in

Why did you go to Belgium, James?

“I first went as a junior, on a Graham Baxter training camp.

“When I was there, I met Alan Peiper and he invited me to stay with him; then a family took me in.”

How many seasons?

“I was there for seven seasons, I stayed in Ninove, near where the Tour of Flanders finishes.

“I only came back to England once during the season in that time — I damaged my back and had to come home to get it sorted out.”

What was your best year?

“In 1998 I had six wins; five kermesses and an Inter Club, a hilly one at Flobecq.”

Was that Inter Club your best result?

“I’d say my best result was the same year, in a pro kermesse; which I could ride on my Belgian licence — at Afflegem.

“I was seventh behind Nico Eeckhout in the pouring rain.

“It was the fastest kermesse of the year — 48 kph and I finished with a huge bubble on my tyre after one of the team cars ran into my back wheel.

“There were eight of us away, but I was loosing ground on every corner because of my tyre.”

Did you get pro teams ‘sniffing?’

“I had talks with teams; in ’99 I came home for the Nationals and was talking to Sean Yates about McCartney; but that in the end they decided to go for ‘bigger’ riders (none of whom ever got paid!)

“Flanders were interested too because I had UCI points, but if you joined a Belgian team, you usually had to take your own sponsor (a rich relative or businessman friend) who’d pay your wages.

“At that time, you had to find about 6,000 euros — which is what you would get paid, plus prizes.

“There was also a situation where, if a Belgian team took on a young Belgian who was unemployed — and most of them who raced were full time on the bike — then the Government would pay half of their wages.

“If you weren’t Belgian it was difficult to get round that; as I recall, only Roger Hammond managed to get a contract around that time — and that was more for his ‘cross abilities.”

James Cambridge
Rain? In the Dominican Republic?

Do you speak Flemish?

“A little bit, not great, I lived with a family for two-and-a-half years, part of the Planckaert clan.

Who were the big hitters, then?

“There were four or five guys; Patrick Chevalier springs to mind, they were in the mafia; it took a couple of years, but eventually I got in with them and made some good ‘arrangements.’

“But some days I got tired of all that that I would say; “let’s just race, today!”

Why did you call a halt?

“I was still keen; but maybe I was tired of giving it my best shot every year and seeing guys who I was better than, getting pro contracts because they had rich uncles.

“Thinking back, I should have spent three years in Belgium, moved to Spain, then Italy — but I liked Belgium and just kept going back.”

What do you miss about Belgium?

“It wasn’t easy racing, but it was easy to race; in ’99 I rode nearly 100 races and I didn’t chuck many.

“I think I had 47 top tens that year; there were guys who’d start three races each week, but not finish any of them — I wasn’t like that.

“I was always winning money; my apartment was provided by the club and I split expenses with my mate, Paul Wilkes — we were friends since juniors, he was out there with me in ’98 and ’99.”

When we spoke to you at Sersekamp, you told us about a Venezuelan connection?

“It was the Dominican Republic, actually; I met my wife there.

“An insurance company out there wanted some European riders to come out and train with the Dominican squad to prepare them for their national tour — the insurance company was sponsoring the team.

“I got the job; I coached them and advised them on race tactics and how to ride as a team, not a collection of individuals.

“They had coaches out there, Cubans, but it was all old Soviet style stuff.

“I had two months out there each winter, coaching, racing myself and staying in a five star hotel; even when I stopped riding in Belgium.”

[What James didn’t tell us was that he picked up four stage wins in the Vuelta a la Independencia Nacional between 2002 and 2006 – Ed.]

But your home in the UK, now?

“Yeah, I work here, have done for a couple of years, I service fire alarms.

“I’m self employed, so I take a Wednesday off and got out with the students from Loughborough University on a long fun.”

Top ten in the Rutland isn’t a bad result.

“I rode the bike though the winter and was in reasonable shape, so I approached the organiser, Colin Clews and he sorted me out with a ride.

“Once my name was down, I got keen and rode some hilly TT’s and road races to get ready for it.

“I crashed on the first lap and bent my ‘bars, but I bent them back and just carried on.”

James Cambridge
James on the top spot.

Will we be seeing more of you in UK racing?

“I’m quite fit, I did a little two day stage race there and was 9th overall with 5th on a stage.

“I do it for enjoyment, it keeps me fit and there’s not the pressure to perform at the level I’m racing at.”

Are you little jealous of the WCPP set up?

“Christ, yeah!

“I help Gary Coltman with the Talent Team, that’s for the kids, but back then we did it all off our own backs.

“I wouldn’t say that the kids are spoiled, but they have no worries outside of cycling.

“Maybe they could be a little tougher; a thing I don’t like is the race radios, they should be thinking for themselves.”


“Everything I did I thought was best for me at the time, but it was a different era and you were racing against a lot of guys who were kitted up.

“I’m jealous of guys entering the sport now because it’s cleaner than it’s ever been – but you can’t ask to born ten years later, can you?”

File under ‘unsung heroes,’ say ‘hello’ to the man if you bump into him at a race — he was the real deal; living and winning in the toughest school of them all.

Thanks to James for his time, and wishing him all the best for the rest of the season.

Ed Hood
Ed's been involved in cycling for over 45 years. In that time he's been a successful time triallist, team manager, and sponsor of several teams and clubs. He's also a respected and successful coach, and during the winter months can often be found working in the cabins at the Six Days. Ed remains a massive fan of the sport and couples his extensive contacts with an inexhaustable enthusiasm for the minutiae and the history of our sport.

Related Articles

Your Comments about Mrs Deene, George, and their cyclists’ Guesthouse

The piece we ran recently by reader John Day about staying with Mrs Deene in Belgium aroused a lot of interest on social media but it was spread over a number of different pages and apps. We thought it would be a shame to let some fascinating and funny comments go to waste so we pulled a selection together for you.

Het Nieuwsblad 2016 goes to GVA

Saturday dawns crisp, cold and sunny for the Omloop Gent Gent. We have a copy of Het Nieusblaad which has all the information we need about the route so its time to head for the start. It's moved this year to the S.M.A.K complex, site of the Gent Six Day. As the car park fills with the now de rigueur coaches, ushered in by whistle blowing attendants we grab a quick pic of world champ Peter Sagan's Specialized before being asked to move on by an unfriendly team staffer...

Peter Hawkins – “if you do the work you do see the fruits of your labours”

Our pal Viktor has been hard at work; it's not everyone who could do his job, those long hours huddled over a computer screen, day in, day out - checking those Belgian cycling results websites. Lifting his head only to make another coffee ("sometimes my fingertips tingle with the caffeine"), or to phone me; "Ed, there's a boy you should be talking to..."

Ian Field: This is a Hard Game

Hey everyone, Ian Field here - it's great to be here on VeloVeritas! Well, after a really good opening race to the season recently it was always going to be difficult to back it up seven days later - and so it proved.

Nokere – Koerse 2012

Francesco Chicchi (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) started his season well with two stage victories at the Tour de San Luis in Argentina in February and the opening road Driedaagse van West-Vlaanderen last week, and he continued his great form with a superb sprint victory in Nokere - Koerse 2012 today

Ross Lamb – “You don’t get so many opportunities to climb in Belgium”

It doesn’t seem like it but it was season 2017 when last we spoke to Ross Lamb, a David Rayner Fund man ‘doing good’ in The Flatlands. Flanders gets under a man’s skin so we were surprised to hear he was moving to La Belle France – that said, times are tough with teams folding everywhere from the UK to Columbia and all points in between. But that was our first question...

At Random

Callum Finlayson – Five Years from Stroke to Scottish Champion

It's not everyday we get emails from Time Trial Royalty, so when BBAR and 100 mile time trial legend Ian Cammish tells us; "Hi, just been involved in a brief exchange of emails with a guy from Moray Firth CC - Callum Finlayson. He's just won the Scottish 100 champs with the 2nd fastest time EVER in Scotland. Got a pretty good story to tell too ... suffered a Stroke a few years ago!"

Deeside Thistle Hilly 10.5 Mile Time Trial

Ali Watt (Granite City RT) broke his own Course Record on the 2 lap 19.5ml Deeside Thistle Hilly 10.5 Mile Time Trial on Thurs 24th May, only to be thwarted by a flying Ray Wilson (Dunfermline CC) who was over a half minute faster. A cool, dull evening with intermittent showers meant that Course Records weren't really on most folks' cards beforehand.

Peter Murphy – “Go To Belgium”

Scottish bike racing; let's face it, no matter how well you do in the Super Sixes, or how quick you can go around West Ferry, you're going nowhere if you stay in Auld Scotia.

Looking back at the 75th Gent Six Day

Coming to Gent to watch the Six Day, as I have for 20 years, is like meeting up with an old friend, a friend you see just once a year but when you meet you are familiar and easy in each others company. Most familiar is the velodrome, Het Kuipke that hosts the Six Days which has, barring a few upgrades in the bar areas, changed very little during the time I’ve been coming.

Al Hamilton – Eufemiano Fuentes and the View from Spain

Eufemiano Fuentes, Jesus Manzano, Operaciõn Puerto, Alejandro Valverde, Alberto Contador... and now Manuel Beltran. All Spanish, all hot topics - but what's the buzz in España? We turned to VeloVeritas Iberian correspondent Al Hamilton for the low down, and asked him some questions on just what the current Spanish perspective is.

Dave Dungworth – 1960’s ’25’ and ’50’ TT Champion – Twice

Dave Dungworth was just a little before my time but when I got into the sport back in 1970 his name was spoken in hushed tones as a twice holder of the ‘Holy Grail’ record in time trialling - the ’25.’ He was also twice a 30 mile record holder and twice a double champion, winning both the ‘25’ and ’50’ titles for two consecutive years.