Monday, September 20, 2021
HomeInterviewsHugh Porter - Pursuit King

Hugh Porter – Pursuit King

-

It’s 44 years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday; my mum and dad had gone to bed in our ‘cooncil hoose’ in Cross Street, Kirkcaldy and I was sitting alone in front of the TV.

The World Track Cycling Championships were being held at Leicester on the big outdoor track, the English summer had lived-up to expectation, rain had wrecked the schedules and the racing was taking place late in the evening.

I was captivated, I knew nothing about bike racing, but this was the coolest thing; a tall, slim guy, was on this sleek bicycle, the spokes gleaming under the floodlights, it was hard to tell man and bike apart, they looked like one, his back was parallel to the track and he wore a snarl, like a tiger.

He caught this other guy who had started opposite him on the track, the gun fired and the commentator told me that; “Hugh Porter from Wolverhampton is the 1970 world professional pursuit champion!

Right there and then, I knew there would never be any other sport for me.

It’s not often you get to interview your hero, so when I saw he was at the Worlds in Stuttgart a few years ago, commentating on the races for BBC 2 TV, there was no way he was getting away.

Hugh Porter
Hugh has been at home in the commentator’s box for many years. Photo©Daily Mail

How old are you, Hugh?

“That’s classified!”

(We both laughed, a good start, the ice was broken)

You’re a broadcaster now?

“Yes, I’m commentating on the Worlds for BBC 2 television. I started in local broadcasting in the 70’s, I did a weekly sports programme I covered football for five years.

“I moved-on from there and now I get paid to talk about what I love! I did the Tour of Britain and Mountain Bike Worlds for the BBC television too.

“I also do a lot of “speaking”, for example I did the opening ceremony for the Tour in London. I commentate on other sports – swimming, speed skating and triathlon, but cycling is my first love.”

Four world titles; seven years straight on the podium of the world pro pursuit championships?

“Yes, that’s right, plus I was third in the world amateur pursuit champs in 1963 and I won the Commonwealth title in 1966, it was 12 years before my Commonwealth record was beaten and that was by a rider on a low-profile machine.

“I won the pro title in ’68, ’70, ’72 and ’73.

“The silver medals were ’67, ’69 and the bronze was ’71.”

Which title gave you most satisfaction?

“It’s hard to pick one out, but obviously the first is always special.

“The third one was special too; in 1969 I suffered the embarrassment of Ferdi Bracke – who was a Vuelta-winner – catching me in the final at Antwerp on the tiny track there, so when I beat him in the final in ’72 to take my third title, it was revenge!

“The last title was a special one too, because it meant I had set the absolute record for pro pursuit title wins.”

(Track racing is now ‘open’, so Porter’s record of four titles cannot be broken).

How did you compete against guys like Bracke, Ritter and Pijnen on a diet of British domestic racing, with it’s one hour criteriums format?

“I get asked that a lot, but if you think about it, regular short criterium racing isn’t such bad preparation for pursuiting. It’s a good way to get sharp, the tempo is high and you’re working your cardio system hard.

“But I enjoyed training and I was religious about my preparation. I’d do road work in the mornings then I’d be behind the motor bike in the afternoon. I guess you would say that I trained by ‘touch and feel’, listening to my body, seeing how I felt, watching how I was sleeping.

“Now, it’s all about laptops, but I think it’s just a different approach, the end results are similar.

“Despite the fact that I wasn’t riding a continental programme, I was arriving at the championship in as good shape as any of them.”

Hugh Porter
Hugh’s aggressive, aero position was unique. Photo©supplied

Why did you never go abroad, there must have been offers?

“I did spend the winters abroad, I based myself in Belgium, near Ghent; I used to ride a full programme of winter sixes and stayed over there from the end of September to March.

“I did get an offer from an Italian road team, and it would have been nice to be a ‘big roadman’ but there’s the possibility you would end-up a little fish in a big pool.

“Plus, I was happy living my life as I did, I enjoyed my training and racing as it was.”

What do you think of the track worlds date change to early in the year?

“I think it’s hard to come to terms with; the world track championships were always the pinnacle of the season and to have them coming out of the winter isn’t a good idea.

“It was supposed to be so that the roadmen would ride, but that hasn’t happened.

“The road worlds date change wasn’t good either; it’s too late in the season. It’s been cyclo-cross weather for these time trial championships.”

In a world of SRM cranks and pulse monitors, how do your old training plans compare?

“Like I was saying, I placed a lot of store on how I felt.

“I was a great believer in training on low gears, 42 x 16 usually, I only ever went as high as 50 x 15 in pursuits.

“I think I was doing a lot of work which they say now, would give me good ‘thresholds’, but it was all down to knowing myself, gauging how fatigued I was and training accordingly.”

Hugh Porter
Hugh still rides as much as he can. Photo©ShropshireStar

How about bikes?

“My wife bought me a Colnago C50 for my birthday, and it’s amazing, compared to my old bikes.

“The bike I won my titles on, is still hanging on the wall at Raleigh.

“I have this notion to get one of the top British track guys, like big Rob Hayles (former madison and team pursuit world champion and worlds individual pursuit medallist) to go for five K on that old bike; conventional position, 531 steel tubing, with the same gearing and toeclips and straps.

“It would be interesting to see what he would do.

“I used to be able to do sub-six minutes on it for five K, but there’s not many could; just me, Bracke and Faggin at that time, I think.

“When Chris Boardman went for the ‘Athletes Hour’, his first five K was 6-04.

“I remember talking to Graeme Obree and he said; ‘5-59 on an ordinary bike? That’s quick!'”

Any Regrets?

(Without hesitation) “I wish had gone for the world hour record.

“Bracke and Ritter both broke it and I beat both of them to win the Worlds.

“People said I had the speed, style and souplese (French, meaning flexibility or lightness of pedalling style) to go for it, but it’s just such an expensive thing to organise and it’s not like you can just go out and do it.”

In the ‘bible’ of the world’s greatest cyclists, ‘Gotha‘, it says of Porter; “Wonderful cycling athlete with a remarkably harmonious style.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have someone write that about you?

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

Steve Beech remembers Grant Thomas

Steve Beech sent us in his memories of his friend Grant Thomas and his ‘Golden Era’, the 70’s. Whilst he’s perhaps best remembered for winning the British Championship, his greatest triumphs came in The Netherlands – on road and track.

Adrian Timmis – Part Two; Life After Z-Peugeot

When we left Adrian Timmis at the end of the first part of the interview he’d taken a stage in the Midi Libere in 1987 and survived a gruelling Tour de France the same year but had just completed an unfulfilling 1988 season with Z-Peugeot who, despite having signed him for two years, cut him loose after just 12 months.

Shaun Wallace – Part Two; Pro Crit Racing in the U.S.ofA.

In Part One of our interview with Shaun Wallace we covered up to the end of his international pursuiting successes. But there were more honours to come on the big stage before he slipped the tyre covers on for the last time...

Jonathan Dayus – “I just rode without asking myself too many questions”

There I was, researching Peter Doyle’s palmarès for his recent interview with us, checking out his big French win, in the Essor Breton. I was looking at the race’s roll of honour and was surprised to see that Englishman, Jonathan Dayus had won the race twice.

Michael Broadwith – British 24 Hour TT Champion with a distance of 537 miles!

If you go out for a ‘steady state’ run of perhaps three hours and you average 22.4 mph then you’ve not been hanging about. But how about holding that tempo for 24 hours ? that’s ‘twenty four’ hours, a full day or three consecutive shifts at work? That’s exactly what Michael Broadwith (Arctic Tacx) did in the recent British 24 Hour Time Trial Championship, recording an event record for the Merseyside course of 537 miles; we felt that anyone who can average 22.4 mph for 24 hours has to be worth speaking to...

Phil Edwards

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. Phil Edwards, British Champion, Olympian, respected member of an elite peloton, successful businessman and gentleman, rest in peace.

At Random

Giro d’Italia 2011, Stage 8: Sapri – Tropea 217km

Just one stage to go - I'll miss the race, the coffee, the weather, the Gazzetta - but not the time spent sitting in the car, before, during and after stages. Saturday was a monstro - Salerno was where we spent the night; we had a two hour drive to the start, then a 217 kilometre stage followed by a mad breenge to the Sicily ferry, on the very toe of the Italian boot. At least the ferry was very straightforward, no dramas; and we did get a chat with Paolo Bettini - a nice guy.

Daniel Holloway – “it would be cool if I could start putting my hands back in the air”

Californian Daniel Holloway, aka ‘Hollywood’ was a surprise addition to the ranks of Raleigh, this season. Known as a man who likes to have fun, his jokes and vast array of "Oakleys for every occasion" disguise the fact that the 24-year old is a quality athlete.

Giro d’Italia 2012 – Stage 21: Milan (ITT) 31.5km. Ryder takes it, JRod impresses.

Giro d’Italia 2012. It’s over, a great race from start to finish. Even the ‘flat boring sprinter stages’ all had terrific finales – and the time trial was a cracker.

Gent Six Day 2010 – First Night, De Ketele-Lampater Take It Up

Last night at the Gent Six Day 2010? It's tonight, already! No-one stood out, the home boys had to be seen to do well and De Ketele, Mertens, and of course Iljo, all did the biz.

Mark Stewart – This Young Scot is British Points Race Champion 2014

At the next Commonwealth Games there’ll be no David Millar or ‘Jamesie’ and even the perennial Evan Oliphant might not make it to Gold Coast City, Australia in 2018. But Dundee’s Mark Stewart should be there; at just 19 he took sixth place in the 20 K Scratch Race in Glasgow behind New Zealand’s World’s Omnium medallist, Shane Archbold with the distance being covered in 22:43 @ 52.819 kph – that’s quick.

Trinidad & Tobago – Day Nine, Back to School

Tobago is hot, real hot, damn hot - it's just the strong breeze which is preventing certain parts of me from spontaneously combusting. We're staying in Viola's at Lowland, which is the flat coastal strip between the capital of Scarborough and where we are now - Pigeon Point at the south west tip of the island.