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.
And that’s before we mention riding two Giros and one Vuelta.
He’s 59 years-old now and retired but back in the late 70’s and 80’s he was a force of nature; high time we spoke to the big man from South London…
Your PE teacher at school and mentor was John Clarey, Tour de France lanterne Rouge and ‘not to be messed with’ roadman sprinter.
“When I was a youngster, I wasn’t good at sports but when I was about 17 years-old I shot up.
“I used to go to Herne Hill with my school and ride the track for PE lessons and John spotted my potential.
“I won the British junior ‘25’ and pursuit titles and went to the junior Worlds and 1978 Commonwealth Games.
“John Clarey was a man I respected and listened to, along with Jan Gisbers at Jan Van Erp and PDM he was one of the men who influenced my career.”
But you were disappointed not to go to the Moscow Olympics.
“I crashed in a kermis in The Netherlands and suffered a hairline fracture of my hip; the original squad was me, Tony Doyle, Sean Yates and Tony Mayer – who was very quick but went down with glandular fever.
“Glen Mitchell came in to replace him and Malcolm Elliott replaced me but I still felt strongly that I was fit enough to go at least as traveling reserve.”
[The GB team in Moscow broke the world record in Moscow with 4:19.73 in qualifying but that was only good enough for fifth fastest with the team meeting Czechoslovakia in the quarter finals where they went out 4:23 to the East Europeans’ 4:18, ed.]
The page opposite the ‘Cycling Weekly’ magazine’s Moscow report, Aug. 2nd 1980, features you with a 19:50 to put a minute into the late Tim Stevens and take the 10 mile record.
“I had my ‘angry head’ on because of the Moscow non-selection.
“The race was promoted by the Surrey RCC and conditions were good with low air pressure over the Portsmouth Road, I rode a 55 x 13 top gear.
“A lot of people remember me as a ‘tester’ for that ride but I didn’t actually ride a lot of time trials and if I did ride them I preferred ‘sporting’ courses.”
You were second in the famous Trofeo Baracchi two-up TT with Steve Jones riding for the Dutch Jan Van Erp team.
“Steve had won the amateur Baracchi with his Dutch team mate Johnny Broers the year before but the organisers changed the rules so that both riders had to come from the same nation so Steve phoned me up and asked if I’d like to come and ride it with him so I went over and trained with Jan Van Erp.
“Steve and I were fourth in 1980 and second in ’81 but that year we won another big two-up in Italy, the GP of Europe.”
[Steve Jones spoke to VeloVeritas about that performance: “We’d been second in the GP Europe the year previous but when we won we broke the course record which had been held by two of the famous four Petterson brothers who had been World TTT Champions – we averaged 50.88 kph.” ed.]
Steve told us about a race at Fayt-le-Franc where you were away for most of the day with two Belgians, dropped one and then beat the other in the sprint to win.
“Yeah, I was good at those sort of days.
“I won a lot of races in Belgium and The Netherlands albeit you had to sell a few to survive, that way you got the first prize money from the guy who won, plus you had your money for second place.
“I had 28 wins in two seasons and 10 second places – but I sold most of those.”
Why leave Jan Van Erp in The Netherlands to go to ACBB in France?
“The truth is that before the Etoile des Espoirs, which was a late season stage race, Jan Gisbers my manager at Jan Van Erp, got a bit carried away and doctored my race licence to state that I was Dutch.
“I won the King of the Mountains, the Dutch Federation found out and weren’t best pleased, so they stopped foreigners riding for Dutch teams.”
You won the 1982 GP de France and GP Timmermans then in 1983 the Chrono des Herbier and were second in the GP des Nations to Philippe Bouvatier.
“The Grand Prix Timmermans in The Netherlands was perhaps the one which gave me most satisfaction; the Swiss national squad was there to win but I beat their top guy, Richard Trinkler – he was a silver medallist in the Worlds and Olympic 100 kilometre TTT.
“They were well pissed off!
“Jan Gisbers said to me that with Steve Jones, Sean Yates, me and maybe Tim Stevens we had a really strong squad for the ‘81 Worlds TTT but the squad was Bob Downs, Ian Cammish, Joe Waugh and Eddie Adkins…”
Gis Gelati-Tuc-Lu for 1984 rather than Peugeot where one might expect an ACBB man to end up?
“I was riding the 1983 Tour of Norway and Moser was there too, he hadn’t had a good Giro that year, he’d been DNF.
“It was an ‘open’ race so I was there with ACBB.
“I was away all day on one stage, only caught late on and on another day I gave him a bit of help so he could see I had talent and he kind of took to me.
“He said to me that if I made the podium in the GP des Nations then he’d give me a contract.
“I got second behind Bouvatier in the Nations, and that was how I ended up with Gis.”
Is it true you stayed with Mamma Moser?
“Yes, I was over there early but had a knee injury so I was easing back into training.
“Mamma Moser said I was over-weight and put me on a diet.
“I was over-weight – but when you’re young and start training properly, the weight just falls off you.
“And besides, I just used to go to the ice cream parlour down the road!”
Into the Vuelta on three weeks training?
“By the time my knee injury had cleared up I only had three weeks of proper training before they out me in the Vuelta.
“It was April back then, not late season like it is now, I did half of it, nine or ten stages, then came home and trained, going back for the Giro del Trentino which was a selection race for the Giro.
“I went pretty well in that, I think I was 22nd and was climbing quite well – but they wanted me in the Giro for the 55 kilometre TTT, I was a big, strong boy.
“But really, I should have had that year out, I’d had hepatitis and my doctor back in England had advised a year of just light training – but here I was riding two of the biggest stage races in the world.
“The thing was though that I felt I might not get another chance like that and should grab it – it might not come again and I was getting older, at 24/25 most of the continental teams would think you were too old to turn pro.
“I worked hard in that Giro and didn’t really recover, my job was to cover moves and sit on them – which obviously didn’t endear me to a lot of other riders.”
I have to ask, ‘the Moser’s muesli anecdote?’
“Whatever was in it, I can tell you, I went well that day!
“But you know, I can’t for the life of me remember which race that was, but it was a stage race of course.
“I’d come down for breakfast, De Vlaeminck was there already – he was past his best by then but still a very good rider – and there was a bowl of muesli there, obviously for Moser but De Vlaeminck smiled and nodded at it as if to say; ‘on you go!’
I knew I shouldn’t really have it but thought; ‘sod it!’
“I was flying that day, I remember leading the sprint out.
“But some of the guys from that era were just so fast; I remember being in a break of about 13 riders one day with guys like Serge Demierre and Roberto Visentini and I could barely hang on to them.”
You rode the Baracchi again in ’84 but the professional one.
“On paper that result isn’t worth a mention, seventh.
“But I rode practically the whole of that race as a solo time trial, my Italian team mate Palmiro Masciarelli only came through at the end when the TV cameras started to appear.
“Kelly and Roche were sixth, they beat us by four seconds; Micheal Wilson and Serge Demierre were fifth, they beat us by seven seconds.
“I was originally supposed to ride with Wilson but ended up with Masciarelli – that was one of my best days on the bike, I was ‘super’ and I’m convinced that if I’d ridden with Wilson we’d have challenged Moser and Hinault for the win.”
You crashed out of the Giro in ’85.
“There’s a famous photo of that one, the camera helicopter came too low and the down draft blew guys off, I was one of the first to go down so was at the bottom of the pile with cracked ribs.
“I flew home to watch the Milk race on tele!
“The second half of that season we didn’t get paid, I actually went back to being a bench locksmith for July, August and September of that year.
“Roger De Vlaeminck got paid, he was a big name and he threatened to got to the papers and divulge what Moser was up to – as we now know: blood doping.”
PDM in ’86.
“I got that ride through Roger De Vlaeminck, he was speaking to my old manager from Jan Van Erp, Jan Gisbers and mentioned to him that I was available.
“I got a call from Jan and signed for ’86.
“They liked to have a big, strong boy on the team; but I got weaker as the season went on, I hadn’t recovered from the hepatitis.
“But despite that they offered me a place for the 1987 season but I decided to ride for ANC back in the UK.”
So how did ANC go for you?
“I couldn’t really find my legs that year, my morale wasn’t good and the team wasn’t properly organised after coming from the likes of PDM.
“One thing I was right about though was that if they put Adrian Timmis through the Tour it would be the finish of him; you could see the man was at his limit.
“Then Capper did a runner at the Tour and I didn’t get paid, again.
“I signed an agreement with the new owners and got a payoff but it wasn’t anything like what I was due in wages.”
The hepatitis we’ve discussed, how do you think you contacted it?
“There was a restaurant I used to frequent in the Bois de Boulogne area which I came to realise had appalling hygiene and sanitation with cockroaches everywhere; there’s a good chance I picked it up there.”
You came back to riding time trials a few years later?
“Yes, I rode 10 mile time trials and the odd ‘25’ – the 10’s suited me because they were usually afternoon events, that was from ’94 to around 2000 when I stopped enjoying it.”
I know you’re not a man for hindsight but…
“They were different times but I should have had a year out just doing an easy hour each day on the bike?
“And maybe I should have gone with Peugeot?
“I’ve never told anyone this before but one of the reasons I didn’t go to Peugeot was that they told me that if I came aboard, they’ probably have to let another ‘Anglo’ go – probably Sean Yates and I didn’t want to be the author of that.
“Peugeot tended to ease their young riders in, with Gis I was chucked straight into two Grand Tours!
“The best times I had were with Steve Jones in The Netherlands, the Dutch were friendly, black and white about things, but friendly.
“But when I look back – no regrets.”