May 1980 and Splendor professional Paul Jesson becomes the first cyclist from New Zealand to win a Grand Tour stage; Burgos to Santander, Stage 10 of the Vuelta a Espana in front of huge, entertainment starved crowds in post Franco Spain.
He’d also made the podium, earlier in the season of the hard man’s semi-classic Nokere Koerse.
But just a few weeks after his Vuelta triumph he was riding the prologue of the Dauphine Libere, the Tour de France ‘warm up’ stage race and as he explained to me a few years ago when I interviewed him, this happened;
“I was round the circuit three times before the start to familiarise myself with the parcours, that’s about all I can remember.
“I hit a parked car during the race – a Lancia, apparently – with my knee and was unconscious for a couple of weeks after.
“I learned later that I was unlucky with the medical care: I was admitted as the shifts changed and there was no proper control of my circulation.
“With an injury such as that you have to make sure that the blood keeps moving – if there’s no blood circulation for a period of six hours then that’s a real problem.
“I was operated on by a specialist in Belgium who operated on the likes of Michel Pollentier and top moto-cross riders but eventually the leg had to be removed, it was black, dead.”
His youth, form, and solid contract with one of the best teams of the day meant nothing, he’d gone from being one of the best bike riders on the planet to a ‘cripple’
Jesson has recently finished his autobiography; ‘Oh, THAT Tour!’, the title coming from his introduction to the pro ranks, as he explained:
“Because of the results I’d been getting I received a few offers from pro teams and in ’79 Splendor contacted me.
“They came to see me and said; “we want you to sign a contract with us, we have a tour we want you to ride.”
“I asked how long it was and they replied; ’23 days.’
“I remember saying; ‘Oh, that Tour!’ So that’s how my first race as a full pro came to be the Tour de France.”
The book isn’t a conventionally structured tome, starting with a short chapter about the Paralympics time trial/road race bronze medal he came back and won in Athens some 24 years after his Vuelta stage win.
Then we go back to his roots; in fact, way back to his ancestors, in perhaps a little too much detail for cycle race information obsessed me – but if you’re into genealogy then you’ll love this section.
The young Jesson’s development as a person and rider comes next and then a couple of very thorough chapters on his New Zealand race career; he was 1976 New Zealand cyclist of the year.
That same season he won his home races, the Dulux Tour and the Tour of The Southland, which is still a major race in the southern hemisphere season.
Jesson won the Southland twice off four starts and on the other two occasions he was second.