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Dave Rollinson – The Road That Led to Gold

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Dave Rollinson
Dave Rollinson.

We recently ran an interview with Liverpool Mercury stalwart, Ricky Garcia; we’re sure that Ricky would agree that perhaps the best rider The Mercury ever produced never really realised his full potential. His name is Dave Rollinson; twice British Amateur Road Race Champion, Tour de L’Avenir stage winner, French amateur Classic winner and twice a Worlds top 20 finisher.

We caught up with Dave at his home in Spain recently to discuss a career which looked headed for continental professionalism – and not just to make up the numbers.

How did you get into the bike, Dave?

“In Liverpool there were no opportunities, I had a second-hand ladies bike and it meant freedom for me, I used to pedal off into North Wales with a bottle of water and a jam butty.

“Before I joined The Mercury I used to pedal up to Anglesey and back, that was 95 miles each way – but I wasn’t sure if I was good enough to join a club.

“I was in Jim Soens bike shop and when I told him about the Anglesey runs he said; ‘I think you’re very capable of being a club cyclist, son!’ and I joined The Mercury.”

Your first big result was second to Les West in the ’67 Tour of Britain Milk Race.

“I was just 20 at the time and Les was an established star, in fact, one of my heroes and a nice guy.

“I’d actually beaten him to win the Archer GP earlier in the year, Danny Horton was second and he was third.

“I won a stage in that Milk Race, beating Peter Buckley who was Commonwealth Games Road Race Champion.”

Dave Rollinson
Dave was winning at the top level from a young age. Photo©supplied

What about the Mercury v. Kirkby rivalry?

“There was terrific competition both in training and in races – we were blue and white, they were red, yellow and black.

“The late Ken Matthews was the main man with the Kirkby, he was a journalist on the Liverpool Echo and wrote for Cycling Weekly so he made sure the Kirkby always got the best press!”

Your British palmarès were huge in 1968.

“Yes, it was a good year.

“I won the Division Championship, was third in the British Championship, won the Star Trophy (equivalent to current Premier Calendar but with more events and more hotly contested, ed).

“I was fourth in the Milk Race, winning a stage and took third on a stage in the Tour de L’Avenir.”

Dave Rollinson
The Kirby / Mercury club rivalry helped to produce some amazing talent.

And of course, 1968 was Olympic year…

“The whole year was about the Olympics in Mexico City, I was flying going into them at my best weight of 10st 7lbs.

“My club mates knew that when I hit that weight I’d be on top form.

“In the Tour of Britain I’d been fighting with Gosta Pettersson – we were pretty evenly matched – but in the Olympics he won a medal in the TTT whilst I didn’t ride well.

“With the benefit of hindsight I think we did too much training at altitude – we were out behind the motorbike – the city is between 7,000 and 12,000 feet above sea level and we didn’t recover properly from it.

“Pierfranco Vianelli of Italy won but then did very little after that as a professional.”

Dave Rollinson
Dave lined up for Peugeot in 1970. Photo©supplied

Was it your stage win in the 1969 Tour de L’Avenir which got you the team place in France?

“No, actually it was when I was in Mexico at the Olympics, a journalist put me in touch with Andre Boucher who was Anquetil’s trainer – and he also coached the English rider, Peter Hill to two second places in the amateur Grand Prix des Nations.

“Boucher invited me to France so I saved up £250 and set off on the boat train to France.

“I got chatting to a French woman who was a school teacher and spoke English, on the train.

“When the train stopped at Rouen there was no Monsieur Boucher there to meet me as was supposed to be the plan.

“The French woman spoke to the ticket master for me – everyone in Rouen knew who Boucher was – and he got it sorted out for me.

“I never got the chance to thank her – Boucher just said; ‘oh, I thought it was tomorrow!’

(At VeloVeritas we’ve heard similar tales about riders arriving at ACBB in Paris and their chaperone failing to show – this was actually the first test of the rider’s initiative and ability to cope with adverse circumstance. ed.)

Dave Rollinson
Dave was a ‘Jolly Maillot Jaune’. Photo©supplied

Brno 1969, the Amateur Worlds, 19th with four GB riders top 20 – you, Pete Smith, Brian Jolly and Billy Bilsland.

“It was a good team but I’d also been top 20 in the Worlds in ’67 at Herleen, we rode out to that one.

“The 1969 season wasn’t my best though I was unsettled; it was a transition season between the UK and France.

“I was on holiday when I heard I’d been selected for The W