Monday, December 6, 2021
HomeInterviewsLes West - Top British Pro in the 60's and 70's: "West...

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

-

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.

Related Articles

Shaun Wallace – Part One; Worlds Pursuiter in the 90’s

Shaun Wallace was a multiple British champion, twice Worlds silver medallist and three times a Commonwealth Games silver medallist as well as a world record holder on two occasions. High times we caught up with the man; he was at home in San Diego where he settled 22 years ago to ‘escape the winters.’

Grant Thomas Tribute, Part One; Behind the Winner’s Bouquet

Following the sad passing of former British Amateur Road Race Champion and road track star Grant Thomas in The Netherlands we received many words of tribute to the man who defined ‘cool’ on a racing bike. Mr. Paul Kilbourne has featured on our pages before, reliving his memories of his time with the now legendary ANC team, gave us a lovely tribute to Grant, which we publish with pride.

Charlie Quarterman – National ’10’ Champion and a Two Year Contract with Trek Segafredo

It’s been a big week for 20 year-old Oxford man, Charlie Quarterman; he won the British 10 mile time trial championship, promoted under Cycling Time Trial rules and just days later it was announced he has a stagiaire ride with Trek Segafredo for the remainder of 2019 running through into a two year contract.

James Spragg – “this year has just been so much hassle”

It was back in April when we last spoke to ‘Our Man in Oudenaarde,’ we said; ‘It seems as if English pro James Spragg’s luck has finally turned.’

Dave Akam – “With Gis I was chucked straight into two Grand Tours!”

Dave Akam is best remembered as the first man to crack the 30 mph barrier for a 10 mile time trial, recording 19:50 on the Portsmouth Road in 1980 in the colours of the Gemini BC. But there’s a wee bit more to the man than that, like wins in the British Pursuit Championship, the amateur Trofeo Baracchi in Italy; French chrono classics the Grand Prix de France and Chrono de Herbiers, not to mention the prestigious GP Timmermans time trial in the Netherlands and a shed load of road wins in France and The Netherlands.

Harry Tanfield – With AG2R-La Mondiale for 2020

Harry Tanfield signed a two year deal with World Tour outfit Katusha Alpecin at the start of last season and raced from the Mallorca ‘training’ races in early February through to the Tour of Guangxi in late October but the team folded at the end of 2019 with Tanfield moving across to French World Tour team AG2R-La Mondiale.

At Random

James McKay Blog – Season Ended by a Car

Since the last round of the French cup, I’ve been training hard for the Tour of Moselle. The three-day stage race was my main target for the second half of the season. Unfortunately, my preparations were cut-short when I was hit by a car in training last week and that's my season ended.

Super 6 2009 – Round 1, Gifford goes to Mike Nicolson

Endura Racing tried to sign him for the coming year - they saw the sure potential, but the loyal Mike Nicolson decided to stay with Dooleys RT and took another step today towards realising that promise. Attacking early on the first circuit of this 8 lap/65 mile "A" race around the East Lothian market town of Gifford with Paul Coates (now back with Squadra Via Mazzini - RaceTool Bicycles), and joined on the second lap by Collin Humphrey (Sports Cover), Nicolson drove the collaborating trio to a maximum lead of over 3 minutes with two laps to go, before sensing Coates was weakening and Humphrey was a danger. Deciding to go it alone, Nicolson finished in glorious solitude.

Jack Bauer – On His 10th Place in the Olympic Road Race

Continuing with our series of interviews with Olympians past and present, we talk to New Zealand's tenth place finisher in the London road race - Jack Bauer.

Le Tour de France – Day 6: Stage 18, Bourg D’Oisans to Saint-Etienne

Guten dag! We honoured Carlos yesterday, so we best pay tribute to Big Marcus today. It's been a great Tour for Columbia - and it's not over yet. We had to be flexible today, the plot was to do a bike feature - the top GC riders plus points and mountains leaders - but the start at Bourg-D'Oisans was so tight for space, with team buses in the village streets that there was no room for the team trucks. These went directly to the hotels at the finish in St. Etienne, so it wasn't the best day to bike skek.

Hamish Strachan – “I’m missing that last bit of nastiness that you need to be competitive”

‘Sorry, I fell asleep, I need my afternoon nap after one of Flavio’s training sessions – a 90 minute chain gang then six laps of a circuit with a steep ‘kicker’ in it.’ That was Hamish Strachan explaining to us why he’d missed our call – good to hear that the young man is back in the groove after a difficult start to his year.

The Skin Suit – AKA The Olympics in L.A.

The Olympics in L.A. Mission Viejo, Sunday July 29th 1984 and Alexi Grewal wins the 190 kilometre Los Angeles Olympic Road Race for the United States in front of an estimated 300,000 home fans. It should have been the start of a magnificent career for the talented man from Aspen, Colorado, but it didn't work out quite like that. Despite contracts with some of the best teams of the era-Panasonic, 7-11 and RMO-and flashes of brilliance, his Euro career never caught fire and he returned to the USA. The wins came there, but to knowledgeable observers, his was always an example of unfulfilled genius.