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Les West – Top British Pro in the 60’s and 70’s: “West Was Best”

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Les West
Les West.

Our recent chat with 70’s pursuit king, Hugh Porter having been well received we thought you may like to hear what another ‘man of the 70’s’ – Les West had to say to us a year or two ago.

West is best!” is what his fans used to say and most of the time they were right; twice British amateur road race champion and twice British professional road race champion.

Despite never taking the plunge and embarking upon a full continental pro career, West twice made the finalé of the world road race championships; in 1966 as an amateur and in 1970 as a pro.

Where were the Worlds in 1966, Les?

“The road Worlds were held on the Nürburgring motor racing circuit in Germany.

“It was a great circuit for me because it was so tough, there were 50 to 60 corners per lap and lots of climbs.

“If I remember rightly, there were 100,000 people there; it was the best Worlds circuit I ever rode.”

Les West
Les finished the Worlds twice at the head of affairs. Photo©Ron Good / Photosport International

Talk us through the race …

“It’s a long time ago now!

“Great Britain had a good team entered and we kept attacking all the way through.

“I got away with six others and that turned-out to be the break of the day.

“I attacked with 5 kilometres to go and was on my own, until 500 metres to go when the Dutchman, Evert Dolman got-up to me.

“I was cramping-up and he won the sprint, he just crossed the line and his back tyre exploded – so he was lucky!

“But it was silver for me.”

I believe that Dolman later admitted he had “help” during his ride?

“I had lived and raced in The Netherlands so I wasn’t naïve; at the finish Dolman asked me; “what did you take?”

“I said; “nothing!” and he laughed. He had taken three separate ‘preparations’ …

“He died aged 47, addicted to drugs.”

How did he get through the test?

“He said he was shy and couldn’t pee in front of people; so he was allowed to go into a little side room, with – the president of the Dutch Federation!”

Did you get pro offers after that ride?

“I got an offer from Anquetil’s team, Bic.

“But there was an article in one of the continental papers saying that the Dutch team, Willem 11 had signed me – I hadn’t even spoken to them, but Bic must have read it and I never heard from them again.

“To be honest, I wasn’t that fussed, I liked my home comforts; it’s a hard life on the pro circuit, living out of a suitcase.

“You were up against guys like Merckx, but having said all that, if I had my time over, I would jump at the chance.”

Les West
Les rode professionally for Horldsworth for nine years.

You were also 4th in 1970 pro worlds at Leicester, which ride gave you most satisfaction?

“The silver medal ride gave me most pleasure.

“At Leicester, I was lucky. I was dropped around mid-race and it was so windy that I couldn’t breathe properly, the wind was gusting into your mouth and it was really tough.

“I thought; “I’ll give it a lap, then climb-off.”

“Just as I thought that, the bunch eased to eat and drink, I got back-on and went straight through to the break!

“There were six of us away and that was the break of the day.

“I thought to myself, “they’ll think I’m just some unknown English guy and I’ll get a soft ride.”

“But not a bit of it, they rode alongside me immediately and said; “come-on now, Lesley, you must ride with us in the break!”

“I was quite flattered because they all knew who I was.”

It must have been good riding the Worlds on home ground?

“It was brilliant, I still get folk coming up to me and saying; “I was at Leicester in 1970 – that was a great ride you did!”

Some people said that the Mallory Park racing circuit that they used wasn’t hard enough?

“No, it wasn’t, but the conditions made it tough, it was very, very windy.

“It’s a cliché, but it’s the riders who make the race, not the circuit.

“That said, it would have been a better circuit with a climb on it.”

Les West
Hammering on in 1976.

It must have been tough trying to prepare for the race in England?

“It was hopeless; the programme for those of us on the English pro circuit in the 60’s and ’70’s was largely 40 mile criteriums with an 80 mile road race maybe once-a-month.

“The thing about me though, was that I “came alive” if I was in the break.

“I might be sitting feeling terrible, but if I got into the break, I forgot all about how bad I felt and my legs stopped aching!”

Tell us about the finale.

“We all rode well together, but at the finish, Monsere (the late Jean Pierre Monseré of Belgium – ‘Jempi’ to his many fans) was outstanding, he jumped at around a kilometre to go and left us all standing.

“I responded, but Mortensen (1969 world amateur champion, Tour of Belgium and Barrachi Trophy winner, Leif Mortensen of Denmark) and Gimondi (Worlds, Tour, Giro and Vuelta winner, Felice Gimondi of Italy) got round me.

“I beat the two French guys that were in the break though, and I think that I did as well as I could in getting fourth.”

Les West
Les the cover star of the beloved International Cycle Sport magazine in 1974. Photo©John Pierce / Photosport International

Monseré was classy wasn’t he?

“He was an outstanding rider.

“It was tragic what happened to him – he died whilst wearing the rainbow jersey the following March, when a someone driving a car got onto the circuit at a race in Retie, Belgium and collided with him.

“I think he would have gone on to build a great career.”

Mortensen alleged after the race that Gimondi had tried to bribe him to let him win.

“They were definitely talking to each other, I saw them, but I don’t know what was said.

“It wouldn’t surprise me though, the bigger the rider, the more cash they have available, don’t they?”

Some say that if you hadn’t reacted to Monseré’s jump you might have got a medal?

“I don’t know, I was blocked in the sprint but I got round the French guys; like I said, I think that fourth was the best I could have done.”

Les West
Les still rides regularly. Photo©CyclingWeekly

Do you still follow the sport?

“Not like I used to.

“I still ride, and race in vets races but my interest in the continental side of the sport comes and goes.

“I used to ride senior races, but you could see the young rider’s folks thinking; “that old bloke should have more bloody sense!'”

They obviously never saw Les dueling with Gimondi and Co. in 1970.

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.

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Les West – Top British Pro in the 60’s and 70’s: “West Was Best”

Our recent chat with 70’s pursuit king, Hugh Porter having been well received we thought you may like to hear what another ‘man of the 70’s’ - Les West had to say to us a year or two ago. "West is best!", that's what his fans used to say and most of the time they were right; twice British amateur road race champion and twice British professional road race champion.