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Steve Sefton – Pro in the 80’s and 90’s; “I love Belgium and loved to race there”

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British Cycling in the 80’s and 90’s: televised Kellogg’s city centre criteriums, the Milk Race, the Nissan Tour of Ireland; and to go with Sue Ellen’s big hair and shoulder pads on the TV, those Campag Delta brakes – and then there were… Kirk Precision magnesium frames.

Steve Sefton was that soldier…

Steve Sefton
Steve Sefton with his Kirk Precision bike in 1990. Photo©supplied

You had some nice results in Belgium in the early 80’s, Steve?

“I’d go over after the Lincoln Grand Prix and stay for three months.

“In one of my first races over there, which was at Overijse, I was third, after the finish a local family overheard that I was looking for a place to stay, they wanted their son to learn English and were cycling fanatics so they took me in.

“I had a lot of podiums but you know it works in Belgium; you get in the break and the local ‘hero’ or a lad who’s trying to get a pro contract, needs a result so…

“I made a good little living over there.

“Perhaps my best result was third in the Omloop van de Vlaamse Scheldeboorden, Jan Bogaert won, Adrie Van Der Poel was fourth with Johan Museeuw seventh.

“It’s not until I look back that I realise the quality of the guys I was riding against. 

“I was riding for an amateur team which was sponsored by Tonissteiner mineral water, my last year over there they said they’d be sponsoring a full pro team the next season and offered me a ride on it. 

“I turned it down but underestimated the level they were coming in at thinking it might be a ‘Mickey Mouse’ affair but in fact they rode the Tour de France.

“The thing is though if you turned pro in Belgium in those days you were under pressure to engage in stuff that I just didn’t want to do.”  

Steve Sefton
Steve Sefton (r) rode the 1984 Peace Race for Great Britain. Also in the team were Hugh Ashworth, Vincent Smith, Alan Gornall, Tim Harris and David Smith. Photo©supplied

But you didn’t just ride in Belgium, you rode the legendary Peace Race.

“Yes, the 1984 Peace Race, a very hard and fast race with the best amateurs in the world, poor weather, freezing rain in the mountains, massive crashes…

“You’d go in to a town absolutely flat out and there would be cobblestones with loads of tramlines going in every direction, the two stroke engines in the cars back then covered the road surfaces in lots of oil, it was like ice, total carnage at 70kph, I used to just try land on the bodies, not bikes or the ground!

“I had three top 20 finishes and came 50th on GC… a big Spaniard called Miguel Induráin came 74th.

“The Russian, Sergei Sukhoruchenkov won; he was the reigning Olympic champion at the time and one of the best amateur riders the world has ever seen.”

You turned professional with Ever Ready in 1985.

“I’d been riding well and had some wins including a win in the criterium series in De Haan, Belgium where I was second overall.

“It was just past half way through the season and I got a call from Mick Bennett asking if I’d like to join the team for the rest of the season; one of their riders had left the team for some reason.

“It was a good team with guys like John Herety, Steve Fleetwood and Graham Jones 

“The first race I rode with them was the Whitby Regatta Pro-Am Road Race in August; John Herety won, his first victory in three years and it was the team’s first win in quite a while, I was fifth so that was a good start to my pro career.

“Late season we rode the GP Denain and GP Isbergues as preparation for the Nissan Tour of Ireland, Kelly was riding and the crowds there were unbelievable.”

Steve Sefton
Steve Sefton (r) in 1987 riding single-sponsored for Rawlinson. Photo©supplied

No renewal for ’86 so you rode for Rawlinson, and in ’87 too.

“Yes, Ever Ready folded and I was single-sponsored by John Rawlinson. He was a cyclist who owned a big printing company in London.

“Tony Mills supplied my bike and clothing and Alfa Romeo gave me a car; it was a good set up and the money was good but obviously I had no team and there were a lot of good sprinters around in that era so my game plan was to ride aggressively and get my sponsor’s name on the television.

“In the Kellogg’s race I’d go on the attack and get the Rawlinson name out there; John would invite clients to the races and be delighted when I had his name to the fore.”

The Percy Bilton team for ’88 and ’89.

“That was a good team, run by a chap called Ron Groom who took the reins of the company when Percy Bilton died in 1983.

“The company was a big player; it built much of the M25 London Orbital motorway and was involved in the building of the Channel Tunnel.

“Ron was a real character, he said to my team mate, John Herety; ‘what’s a professional cyclist’s biggest fear, John ?’ John replied that the team, folding and not getting paid was always a worry.

“Ron said; ‘Right, I’ll pay everyone their salary for the year, up front, on January 1st!

“And he did, that meant we raced hard to get our bonuses – the team had good performance bonuses in place – and prize money.

“I was able to pay my mortgage from our bonuses and prize money.

“He was a fair guy but I remember getting a dressing down from him; I mentioned to him that I really liked riding a carbon fibre ALAN frame, I’m a big guy and climbing wasn’t my forte but the super-light ALAN gave me a bit of a lift on the climbs.

“Ron said; ‘aren’t our bikes good enough for you?!

“But then he went out and bought carbon fibre frames for us for the Milk Race.”

Steve Sefton
Steve Sefton (r) and his Percy Bilton team mates do the ‘album cover photo shoot’ in 1988. Photo©supplied

A nice Milk Race stage win for you with Bilton.

“That was ’88, Stage 12, my role was to lead out our sprinter Mark Walsham for the hot spot sprints and stage finishes.

“Mark had won stage 11 Coventry Circuit race after we’d given him a perfect lead out so our morale was sky high.

“It was the  last stage from Warwick Castle to Birmingham, 106 miles, there were nine laps of a finishing circuit and I was policing the breaks, there were two away and I got up to them then realised bunch