Monday, September 20, 2021
HomeInterviewsIan Steel - Peace Race WInner

Ian Steel – Peace Race WInner


The story that the East European propaganda machine circulated after the 1952 Peace Race was that the “Westerner” winner Ian Steel had been approached by his country’s intelligence agency before he travelled to the race and was asked to; ‘keep his eyes open’ whilst behind the Iron Curtain – to spy, in other words.

The rider declined and received a telegram from his employer on the day he won, firing him from his job.

All nonsense, of course.

But the Peace Race wasn’t just a bike race; it was where the East could battle with the West in the Cold War – and demonstrate their physical and mental superiority over the decadent Capitalists.

‘The Peace Race,’ Warsaw to Berlin to Prague.

When I was a boy it was spoken of in hushed tones.

Ian Steel
The 1952 East German book devoted to Steel’s win , the only book ever published dealing with a single Peace Race.

The East European riders were the hardest of the hard – as they had no problems demonstrating when they came to the UK to ride the Milk Race and its little brother, the Scottish Milk Race.

Ian Steel
Born in 1928, he’ll be 83 in December 2011, but still slim, fit and sharp as a tack.

They dominated the amateur world championships – road and team time trial; and won every notable amateur stage race world-wide.

During the entire history of the Peace Race from 1948 to 1989 there were few Western winners and no English speaker ever won.

Except one that is, in 1952, the year we mentioned in our opening paragraph – the rider was Ian Steel of Scotland.

As Steel himself says;

“We were very unpopular winners, there was supposed to be a Tatra car for the winner and motorbikes for the winning team – but they never materialised.”

And as VeloVeritas pal and Peace Race aficionado, Ivan explains; “Traditionally the leader of the race would wear a yellow jersey which bore Picasso’s representation of the white dove of peace.

“But not Steel, he wore a plain yellow one while Stablinski, an earlier leader of the race was given one with the dove; the same was true of the blue jerseys of the leading team, no dove on the blue jerseys given to the GB team while earlier leaders, the GDR, were given blue jerseys with the white dove.

“And there were no laps of honour for Steel and the GB team in Prague.”

Ian Steel
Ian Steel at Prague Airport about to fly home in 1952 after having won the Peace Race.

Steel takes up the story;

“There had been Danish winners in the past but they weren’t seen as being as close to the Americans as the British; and Britain was a member of Nato, unlike Denmark.”

Ian Steel
Official East german program cover 1952.

Despite the lack of enthusiasm for their performance the team was well looked after;

“We had a great interpreter with us all the time and at the end of every stage there was a boy or girl scout there for you to take your bike and give you a blanket to wrap yourself in – and hot mug of tea.”

The win may have been an unpopular one with the East Europeans but the British Government didn’t want the team to go in the first place;

“‘If you go over there on a British passport then we wash our hands of you’ they told us,”

says Steel. He recalls that it was an alternative British group which met the team in Poland, not official embassy staff.

Ivan explains; “there was GB consular representation in all three Peace Race cities but they would not be interested in looking after some cyclists.”

And Steel’s BLRC (British League of Racing Cyclists) team was the ‘second choice’ GB squad for the race – the original invite went to the BLRC’s bitter rivals, the NCU (National Cyclists Union) who refused it.

The welcoming of the teams fell to Marshall Konstantin Rokossovsky, Marshall of Poland and Polish Defence Minister.

Steel remembers;

“He was very animated – but that was probably the vodka!

“All of the teams had a greetings message prepared for the Marshall, but of course, we didn’t.

“Bev Wood suggested ‘bollocks!’, so when it came round to our turn to meet the Marshall, we chanted in unison; ‘Bollocks!'”

Ian Steel
Konstantin Rokossovsky, who the team greeted with the cry of ‘Bollocks’. It’s no exaggeration to say he was one of the most powerful men in the world in 1952, illustrated by the fact that he presented the great Victory over Fascism parade in Moscow in 1945.

Steel also recalls that the squad had no team uniforms;

“Les Scales was the only one with a blazer so he was chosen to lay the wreath at the Soviet monument.”

The roads were every bit as bad as legend suggests;

“We had to wear goggles to protect our eyes from the coal dust.”

He also remembers that the Belgians had many mechanical problems;

“They were constantly breaking frames. The Italians were on lovely bikes, I remember that their spokes gleamed – ours were dull.

“They offered the Belgians their spare bikes, which had Campagnolo Paris-Roubaix gears; I had to teach the Belgian riders how to use them!

Ian Steel
Official East german program cover 1952.

There was a French/Polish team too – for second generation Poles living in France.

“They were good but didn’t ride in a coordinated manner; they had Jean Stablinski on the team who went on to be world professional road race champion.”

The GB team made friends in the right places, as Steel says;

“The German TV reporters took to us and before the Berlin stage they said to us,’the GDR (East German) team is going for it today.’

“We were in the second echelon and held them, but it was a very hard stage with the cross wind and the pavé.”

The mountains of Czechoslovakia suited the GB team better. Steel took the jersey on stage eight and defended it until the bitter end.

Steel recalls that team manager Percy Stallard had the situation under control;

“He could fall out with anyone but we could get round him and he was very good tactically.

“We all had four danger riders numbers marked on our stems and those were the ones we had to keep an eye on.

“Whilst Frank Seal’s job was to stay with me all the time, he had the same size of bike as me.

“Our tactics on the last stage were simple; Percy Stallard said; ‘whatever happens, don’t let Vesely get away!'”

Vesely was a national hero in Czechoslovakia, winning the Peace Race overall in 1949 and 16 stages over the years he rode it – as well as the Tour of Slovakia in 1955.

“At the finish in Prague, Vesely congratulated me.”

recalls Steel.

Ian Steel
The victorious GB team in the Strahov Stadium in Prague after the final stage of the 1952 Peace Race , there were 225,000 spectators present that afternoon, the riders are , left to right : Les Scales , Bev Wood , Ian Greenfield , Ian Steel , Frank Seel and Ken Jowett.

In the book on Vesely by Josef Pondelik, ‘A Life in the Peloton’ the Czech rider said that he; ‘admired the GB team’s solid teamwork, cool under pressure and their stone confidence.’

There was very little fuss made over the individual and team victory in the UK, Steel remembers;

“It was no big deal, there was a 12 word Reuters report; the left-wing ‘Daily Worker’ (now The Morning Star) covered it and there was a photo in the ‘Picture Post’ magazine.”

But East/West divide or no, the Peace Race remembers its own and in 1968 he was invited to the 20th anniversary race, Steel remembers;

“Gustave Schur started the race, he released the doves of peace. I sat in a press car for the first stage, the reporters were all asleep, they’d been boozing!

“Tave Schur was a real character, he won the race in 1955 and 59.

“The year I won he was awarded a piglet as a prize on one stage; he let it loose at one of the official dinners – chaos!”

Ian Steel
Gustav – Adolf Schur with the pig he won as a prize in the 1952 Peace Race.

On the 50th anniversary of Steel’s win one of his friends contacted the Largs & Millport Wee Paper who interviewed him.

Then Glasgow Evening Times picked up on the story – ‘Forgotten Hero’ was the headline.

VeloVeritas can but agree with those sentiments.

We’d like to acknowledge the help given to us by our friend Ivan, whose knowledge and enthusiasm were essential in our preparation of this piece.

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

The VV View: Eight Cycling Medals for Scotland in the Commonwealth Games

Eight Cycling Medals for Scotland at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games; Scottish cyclists hit the jackpot with gold for the inimitable Katie Archibald in the pursuit and for Mark Stewart in the points race.

Callum Skinner – “I’d like to ride all four sprint events”

The Gold Coast Commonwealth Games next year is an interesting proposition for Scotland, with Katie Archibald and Callum Skinner now Olympic champions, Mark Stewart a double under 23 European Champion and Neah Evans on the top step of a World Cup podium - and don't forget 'left fielder' Jonny Wale, reigning British team pursuit champion and 1:01 kilometre man. VeloVeritas spoke to all of them about their 2017 seasons and prospects in Australia come the spring, and we start with Callum Skinner...

Richard Davison – “Personalised coaching employing genomics is the coming thing”

It’s not often we have a professor in the pages of VeloVeritas but that’s exactly what Richard Davison is; as well as Assistant Dean (International) at the University of the West Coast of Scotland. He was also instrumental in the setting up of British Cycling’s current coaching system and does ‘one on one’ coaching with riders. Richard was also a successful rider on the Scottish scene a year or two back – and that’s where our interview starts...

“The Flying Scotsman” by Graeme Obree-Putting the Record Straight

Let me first say this is firstly a review of the Graeme Obree autobiography, the book - not the film - "The Flying Scotsman", and also my version of the events at the world cycling championships in Sicily in 1994. I was the Great Britain team mechanic for those championships, but Mr. Obree didn't remember to mention this fact in his book. You could call this the bitter out-pouring of a man scorned, but rather it's just my memory of what happened.

Jimmy Rae – National Tour Winner

'I cycled from my house in the West End of Glasgow to Larkhall, that would be around 30 miles, rode a 140 mile road race - it went away down over Beattock - won it, then cycled home - so that was around 200 miles for the day.' Things were different in Jimmy Rae's day. VeloVeritas took a run up to Crieff Hydro to interview one of the very few Scots to have won national tours - Mr. James Rae. Ours neat list of questions went out of the window and we decided it would be best to let Jimmy off the leash, year by year, popping in questions where we could...

Sarah Phillips – Scottish and British Champion in the 90’s

She’s Sarah Rowe these days but in the world of cycling she’s remembered as Sarah Phillips; Scottish Champion at 10 and 25 miles in 1988, 1990 and 1991 with Scottish records at 10 miles with 22:43, 25 miles with 57:18 and 50 miles with 2:00:51 achieved during 1990. Here’s her tale...

At Random

David Walsh – Part 1, “We know what you did Lance. I want to know why”

Chief sports writer for The Sunday Times, Irishman David Walsh is best known in cycling circles for being one of the people who have doggedly sought out the reality of Lance Armstrong's Tour de France victories, not believing the "fairy tale" that defined the American's recovery from cancer and record series of wins in the world's toughest race. The award-winning journalist is the author and co-author of a number of books on the shamed American rider's career and his subsequent fall from grace, the most recent being "Seven Deadly Sins" which Walsh describes as 'more light-hearted' than the others!

Off to the Berlin Six Day 2011 – but first, a few thoughts

I'll be glad to get to the Berlin Six Day 2011 and enter my six day bubble - these last couple of weeks have affected me badly. I love the sport, all of it fascinates me, road, track, cyclo-cross; I'd get into mountain biking but I have to stop the reading, interviewing and writing, somewhere. Lance, Floyd, Alberto, Trent, Matt - and now, Graeme.

Le Tour de France 2007 – Day 4: Stage 15, Foix – Loudenvielle Le Louron

The sun is hot even at 07.15, the autoroute is quiet, straight and fast; we're headed for le Tour and Loudenvielle Le Louron; Millie Jackson is telling us that her man is a "fine man" - what more could you want from life? It's 10.00 am now and we're on the descent off the first climb of the day, the second cat, Col de Port or Portet, depending on which sign you look at. Martin got his first look at le Tour village this morning, as always, the scrambled eggs were great and the coffee strong.

Tour de Trossachs 2009 Preview

- by Janette Hazlett - I rode round the course for the Trossachs time trial the other day - ouch... now I'm feeling just a little bit guilty that I make them race round it! There were no crowds for me on the Duke's Pass - and I was flying up it too, honest!

John Herety – Gearing up for Girvan

John Herety has won a Peace Race stage, French amateur classics, the British pro road champs and was robbed of the GP Pino Cerami-the judges gave it to local hero Rony van Holen-but photos later showed that the Englishman's wheel was first across the line. Now he's passing all that experience on to a new generation through his role as team manager of London squad Rapha-Condor Recycling, who are north of the border to recce the hills, gravel, rain, wind farms and sheep that are-Girvan.

The Primavera Démare Affaire

It’s been branded a ‘tame’ version of the Classicissima but we’re all still talking about it days later. Bouhanni didn’t sleep for two nights after dropping his chain in the finale and losing what for many looked like the win, Gaviria crossed the line in tears, a moment’s inattention wasting seven hours of being in the right place at the right time. And the ‘Démare Affair’ has split the pundits down the middle; some want him DQ-ed and others say there’s not enough evidence – and even if it did happen, the commissaires didn’t see it so it didn’t happen.