British cycling recently lost one of its unsung but great riders and personalities with the sad news that Pete Smith has died at the age of 76 after being in collision with a motor vehicle.
If you were around the cycling scene in the mid-60’s to mid-70’s it was hard not to be aware of the man.
His list of achievements was long and varied and we touch here only on the career highlights of a man who could do it all; time trials over all distances and parcours, road racing at world championship level and arguably his strongest suite, team time trials, a discipline where he excelled and was the ‘strong man’ in the GB team which finished 11th in the 1968 Mexico Olympics.
Season 1966 saw him second in the National ‘50’ Championship and third in the Best British All Rounder competition.
The following season, 1967 saw him collect no less than four silver medals as runner-up in the 50 mile, 100 mile, 12 hour and BBAR championships.
But that season saw him twice break the 50 mile record, becoming the first man to dip sub 1:50 with 1:49:22 then lowering it further to 1:48:33.
As a team player he led the Clifton CC to the team title in the British Best All-Rounder competition in 1965, 1966 and 1967, and was again part of the winning team in 1969.
He led Tony Boswell and Alan Hargreaves to the national 100-mile team title in 1965 and 1967; in ’67 he teamed up with John Watson and Mike Potter to the national 50-mile team championship.
He was also a member of Clifton line ups which broke team competition records at 25, 50 and 100 miles and 12 hours.
Olympic year, 1968 saw him post a raft of top domestic time trial and road results, including the Cleveland Two Day and John Peel Grand Prix in Cumbria, beating quality riders like Geoff Wiles and Brian Jolly in the process.
He also won a stage in the Tour of Morocco where he was crowned King of the Mountains.
Smith’s close friend and team mate in many road and time trial events, John Watson told VeloVeritas in an interview which will be featuring on the site that Smith should really also have been in the team which rode the Olympic Road Race in Mexico but ‘politics’ were in play.
It’s arguable that Season 1969 was Smith’s finest.
He won the time trial classic, The Circuit of the Dales and set a new 100 mile record with a 3:50:20 ride.
In the World Amateur Road Race Championship in Brno he finished an excellent eighth against the very best in the world, Denmark’s Leif Mortensen won from the late, great Jempi Monsere with Smith the principle animator in the race.
Moretensen’s winning attack came just as Smith swung off after his spell; the Briton reacted, taking Monsere’s Belgian team mate, Staf Van Roosbroeck with him.
Smith gestured for Van Roosbroeck to come through – but in true Belgian style there was no ‘spell’ forthcoming, rather than drag the Belgian clear, Smith sat up with Van Roosbroeck eventually taking the bronze medal in the group sprint.
With little left for him to achieve in the amateur world, he turned pro for 1970 with the controversial Clive Stuart team.
He announced his arrival by breaking the Road Records association straight-out 50 mile record.
There were wins as a pro, like in the Wolverhampton-Aberystwyth-Wolverhampton stage race but the wily UK pros were only too happy to have a rider among them who would work tirelessly, while they thought about the sprint finish.
We close our obituary with the words of his friend, Clifton CC, Worlds and Olympic team mate and former time trial champion, John Watson:
“It’s with immense sadness that I have to inform you all that Pete Smith passed away yesterday following a tragic road accident.
“Pete was out on his bike, on his own, on Monday, when he collided with a vehicle. He suffered catastrophic injuries – a cardiac arrest and extensive damage to his neck and spinal cord. He was air-lifted to Leeds Hospital, where he was placed on a life-support machine but he never came out of the coma, and yesterday the support was withdrawn.
“I’m utterly devastated. I was only talking to Pete a week ago. He told me that he and Margaret were going to Lanzarote for a month in November, and that he was still riding his bike three times each week.
“Pete was my best friend, best mate, someone I always looked up to, and wanted to emulate.
“I owe him so much.
“How lucky was I to have Pete and the late Roy Cromack as friends and Clifton CC team mates at the same time. Pete was three years older than me, and when I started cycling at 18, he immediately took me under his wing and we became inseparable.
“Although we would train in a group, if the weather was inclement there would just be the two of us; we never missed the ride, side by side, in all weathers.
“We would ride the early season two-up time trials, which escalated to the four man 100 Km Team Time Trial selection events for the GB team in the Mexico Olympics in ’68, and the Worlds in ’69.
“I’ve said this so many times before that Pete was always the strongest rider in the many events we rode, irrespective of all the different riders who tried out for the various teams.
“He was never a “Show Boater”, he’d just do longer turns on the front – no problem, and he would never take credit from Cycling Reporters or the Media at the finish.
“Pete was a class act in every way.
“Roy Cromack always said that Pete would have slotted easily into the Dutch team which won gold in the 100 kilometre TTT in Mexico.
“Pete was Old School Cycling, starting with the Clarion and the CTC, before joining the Clifton CC. Apart from when he was a professional at Clive Stuart and then Raleigh, he always worked full-time, as a joiner. He worked for a company based 14 miles from his home in York; of course, he rode there and back every day, before coming out training.
“I could write so much about Pete’s career but will single out one week-end in the early season of ’69 which epitomises his legendary status.
“We travelled to Lancashire on Saturday, and in the afternoon rode a 60 mile Road Race in which we finished first and second. We then drove down to Essex, and on the Sunday he won the Essex Grand Prix; I was second. After the race we made the five hour journey back to York, arriving home after 11pm. Next morning he was back at work at 8:00 am, having ridden there in pouring rain.
“This was the legend that was Pete Smith.
“I have so many more memories, that I can recall later, but for now l feel utterly shocked, devastated, and so sad,
“My thoughts are with Margaret and all the family.