Adrian Timmis could do it all: track, stage races, criteriums, cyclo-cross and even MTB.
A talented junior with a British championship to his name, he rode the 1984 Olympics, turned pro with the most glamorous professional team Britain had ever seen, won a stage in the Midi Libere, rode Le Tour with the now legendary ANC team, landed a contract with Z-Peugeot and then…
We’ll deal with what happened next in Part Two of the interview but meantime let’s look at Adrian Timmis’ rise to Tour de France rider.
Do you remember your first race, Adrian?
“That would be March or April 1977 at Walsall Arboretum as a schoolboy, I’d been given the bike as my Xmas present in 1986.
“In the race I got my head kicked in.”
The Los Angeles Olympics 1984 where you rode in the GB team pursuit squad?
“People forget that the track played a big part in my cycling career.
“I was British Junior Pursuit Champion in 1981 and that rather pigeon-holed me as a track rider but I still rode the Peter Buckley races, that was the national, season-long series of road races for juniors where I had my successes.
“The national track squad was much different back then to what it is now, much less organisation and money was available.
“The Olympics were a great experience, Los Angeles was the first of what you’d term the ‘commercial’ Olympics and whilst we didn’t do that well [GB failed to make the last eight with a 4:36 ride in a competition where the fastest ride was a 4:23 by eventual winners Australia in the semis, ed.] it was great to be part of it all and be able to say I’d been an Olympian.
“But that event has moved on so much, I don’t really have the physiology for it, now that it’s the province of endurance sprinters – and I’m certainly not a sprinter.
“After the Olympics that was me finished with the team pursuit.”
You joined the ANC team in 1986, how did that ride come about?
“I was on the Paragon Racing Team in 1985 with the likes of Chris Walker and the late David Rayner.
“I had a good year, winning the Tour of Lancashire, was selected for the Sealink International Stage Race then the Milk Race, where despite illness earlier in the race I won the last stage.
“I’d been chatting to Martin Earley (Irish professional with Tour de France and Giro d’Italia stage wins to his credit, ed.) and he had me fixed up with his old amateur team, CC Fontainebleu in France for season 1986 – going to France to live and race was the thing you did back then.
“But one day I was out on my bike and met Mick Morrison who was on the management side of ANC and he offered me a contract – but I refused.
“Then I met him again and he offered me a contract again.
“I spoke to Martin Earley this time and decided to accept the offer – no mobile phones or internet back then, just two chance meetings on the bike got me a contract.
“It seemed like the best of both worlds, racing in Europe but not all the time with UK races in my programme too.”
How did you get along with the late Tony Capper, the now legendary figure behind the team?
“I first met him in the Autumn of 1985, he was a larger than life character and wheeler-dealer with big dreams.
“He had no background in – or real understanding of – the sport but at that time he still owned ANC and put the money up.
“I got along fine with him and whilst a lot of folk knock him, you must remember that so many people tell you that their team will be in the Tour de France in a year or two and it never is – but he actually achieved it.”
I was looking at your palmarès and a result that jumped out at me was 7th in the 1986 GP Isbergues – that’s far from a ‘climbers race.’
“In my first race of ’86, the Ruta del Sol, I was 14th behind winner, Steven Rooks and had some good stage placings.
“Then I got flu but came round for the Milk Race and rode well in the National Championships where I was second to the late Mark Bell.
“I was ill again with tonsillitis for the whole of July but got back into it in August, rode the Tour of Denmark and was training well, getting six and seven hour rides in.
“I was second to Allan Peiper in the Birmingham Kellogg’s TV criterium and went into Isbergues with good form.
“The final selection saw all the big names in there, Kelly, Anderson, Peiper, Millar, Lubberding, Zoetemelk, Duclos and Van Vliet who won.
“Seventh was OK in that company.
“After Isbergues I took fifth on GC in the Nissan Tour of Ireland, one of my favourite results behind Kelly, Bauer, Andersen and Van Vliet – Irish Cycling was great back then, the crowds were enormous.”
Perhaps the result you’re best known for came in 1987, a stage win in the Midi Libere.
“We did the early season French races in ’87 where Paul Watson got third in the Marseillaise – the plan was to get ourselves noticed in the right races to get into the Tour de France.
“Then in the Classics Malcolm Elliot was third in the Amstel Gold and Paul Watson was sixth in the Fleche Wallone so we were getting recognised.
“I rode the Milk Race in support of Malcolm, who won it, then it was into the Midi Libere which was one of the main build-up races for the Tour de France.
“I won the stage into Beziers; I was in the lead group and Luc Leblanc jumped with a kilometre to go, there was a hesitation in the group and I went after him; there was a 180 degree turn on a dual carriageway with 500 metres to go and as I looked across at him as I went into the turn, I could see he was dying.
“I got up to him and jumped him right away to win by a couple of seconds – my biggest win and it pretty much guaranteed our Tour de France place.”
The famous ANC ’87 Tour?
“The Tour de France was something I dreamed of as a kid, tuning in to French radio, not understanding what was being said but hearing the klaxons on the cars and recognising the riders names; and watching the little bits that used to be on ‘Grandstand’ on the TV on a Saturday afternoon.
“So it was a dream come true.
“But it was also horrendous.
“That Tour was three-and-a-half weeks long, 25 stages with the first ‘rest day’ very early, on July 3rd to facilitate the transfer out of Berlin so it wasn’t much of a rest – the second rest day didn’t come until July 18th.
“And within those days there were nine stage over 200 kilometres, for me it was really just about survival.
“I’m a climber but had never experienced the high mountains before; the Midi Libere took place in the foothills of the mountains.
“Tired though I was I knew I would get through it, there was only one day where I was worried, that was the day after Stage 20 to l’Alpe d’Huez.
“Stage 21 went over the Galibier – which is a 40 K climb and I was dropped straight away but managed to get with a gruppetto.
“When the Tour finished it was an anti-climax, there was no money from the team and I was shattered.
“I rode the Tour of Britain, managed third in the British Professional Pursuit Championships and rode the Worlds – but I shouldn’t have, I was a shell.”
But you got a ride with Z Peugeot for the 1988 season?
“Yes, but it was a season of ups and downs with more downs than ups.
“My contract was for two years but they let me go after one year, it wasn’t like it is now with protection against things like that from the UCI.
“But there’s no doubt that I didn’t get the results I should have.
“Looking back, I shouldn’t have finished the Tour in ’87 but there was no one there who was going to pull me out, like there would be now.
“I rode myself into chronic fatigue – I’d dug a big hole for myself, my body just didn’t want to do it and that had a negative effect upon my head.
“There were no sports psychologists to turn to and I didn’t have a coach or mentor to speak to.
“If I could change one thing from those times it would be to have someone I could discuss my situation with.”
In Part Two of our interview we’ll talk about the second phase of Adrian’s career as a mountainbiker / roadman and his move into bike-fitting and coaching.