Friday, May 27, 2022

Colin Lewis


The year was 1970 and I’d just got into cycling, my buddy, Ronnie Temple gave me a big bundle of his old ‘Cycling Weekly’ magazines.

The continental pros – Merckx and Co. had me in awe but they might as well have been on the moon – Belgium, France, Italy all seemed so far away.

But the British professionals were far more attainable, just the other side of Carter Bar – and some of them looked so damn cool.

The team that really caught my eye back then was Holdsworth with their ‘kingfisher’ and orange all-Campagnolo bikes, those beautiful jerseys with matching liveried Ford Corsair then Ford Cortina team cars – beautiful.

Colin Lewis
Colin Lewis and his Holdsworth team. Photo©unknown

In those pre-compulsory crash hat – and shades – days those chiselled, tanned team riders looked God-like to a youngster from Fife; big Bob Addy, Mike Cowley, Dave Nie, Les West and Colin Lewis.

Lewis was class, not a ‘crit king’ – he said of criteriums; ‘too much chasing round straw bales all the time,’ but when the parcours were tough he, along with team mate West, was the man.

Colin Lewis
Les West, Colin Lewis and Geoff Wiles. Photo©unknown

Sadly, with the passing of Colin Lewis this week at 79 years-of-age, another part of my youth has gone, Les West had this to say of his former team mate’s demise; 

I was devastated when I got the phone call this morning. 

“Even though I was expecting it, it still came as a great shock. 

“It feels like losing a brother. 

We had such great times together; I will never forget him. 

“RIP Colin.”

Colin Lewis was Welsh by birth, born in Abertysswg outside Caerphilly on 27th July 1942, and until Geraint Thomas came along was the first and only Welshman to ride the Tour de France.

Lewis got into cycling as the result of a bet, in 2019 he told the excellent ‘Cyclist’ magazine; 

“When I was a teenager I used to go out drinking in Torquay on Saturday nights. After one night out, I woke up late and a friend was downstairs.

“He said, ‘Come on, get up. It’s nearly midday. We’ve got to change this pattern.

“He was a decent footballer and he bet me that in two years he would play for Torquay United’s Colt team. Then he said, ‘What are you going to do?’

“The 1960 Olympic Games were on so I said, ‘I bet I’ll go to the Olympic Games in four years.’

“That afternoon I fished my old bike out the shed and rode to Teignmouth. After four or five days back cycling I began enjoying what I was doing.

Lewis’ name first appears in the results in the palmarès websites in 1961, the ‘Wikipedia’ website incorrectly states that he rode the Milk Race on 1960, finishing seventh but his Milk Race debut was in fact 1963 where he finished a creditable ninth overall. 

He spent time in France in the early 60’s and won his bet on Olympic participation, riding in Tokyo in 1964, finishing 25th in a blanket finish won by Italy’s Mario Zanin.

He won a Milk Race stage that same year, beating Spaniard Vicente Lopez Carril, who would go on to win Tour, Giro and Vuelta stages.

The following year Lewis rode the Tour de l’Avenir with some solid stage placings, a feat he repeated a year later in the Tour of Austria where he placed top 10 on GC.

Colin Lewis
Colin Lewis was with Jackson in 1967. Photo©unknown

He turned pro in 1967 for £4:00/week with the British Mackeson-Whitbread team riding alongside Dave Bonner, Derek Green and pursuit star Hugh Porter.

Colin Lewis
Colin Lewis at the Tour de France with Tom Simpson. Photo©unknown

He rode and finished the Tour de France that ill-fated year of 1967, rooming with the late Tom Simpson who would lose his life on the cruel slopes of Mont Ventoux.

Colin Lewis
Colin Lewis, Tom Simpson and Barry Hoban at the 1967 Tour de France. Photo©unknown

The British National Championships came after the Tour that year and whilst initially feeling terrible on the day, he grew stronger as the race went on and captured the white jersey with red and blue hoops.

He rode the Tour again in ’68 but was eliminated early after missing the time cut, however that didn’t prevent him from defending his national champion’s jersey. 

He finished 27th in the World Championships in 1969 off a UK criterium-based race programme which ill-suited him to a 262 kilometre race against the best in the world. 

He took the season long Golden Wheel competition that year a feat he would repeat in 1971 and 1972.

In 1970 he donned the kingfisher and blue of Holdsworth and would remain with them through to his last professional season in 1974.

Colin Lewis
Colin Lewis in the classic Holdsworth colours in 1972 on Burrington Combe. Photo©John Pierce / PhotoSport International UK USA Asia

The records show 38 pro wins – out of a total of some 250 victories – for Lewis but he was rarely out of the top six in races, taking ’70 as an example: second in the Vaux and third in the Manx Premier, Tour of the Peaks and National Championship, all hard fought races.

In ’71 he won the Tour of the North en route his second Golden Wheel.

The following season his amazing consistency took him to another Golden Wheel and again he far from disgraced himself in the Worlds, finishing 25th in a baking 272 kilometre, seven hour epic at Gap won by Mr. ‘10,000 Volts,’ Marino Basso.

Seasons ’73 and ’74 saw him pile up the placings but the wins became scarcer and at the end of ‘74 he called ‘time’ on his pro career.

But that was far from the end of his bike race winning days – he came back in ’77 as a reinstated amateur and for the next decade was a dominant figure on the British amateur scene, winning everything from hill climbs, all manner of time trials, to road races and stages in quality races like the Tour of Wales.

He was president of Mid Devon Cycling Club and opened his bike shop in Paignton in 1976 which became a Mecca for local cyclists with Lewis always free with his advice.

Colin Lewis
Colin Lewis, R.I.P.

* * *

Colin Lewis, Olympian, Tour de France rider, British Champion and boyhood hero to many, including me, rest in peace.

With thanks to John Pierce / PhotoSport International UK USA Asia for the use of the main photo of Colin climbing the Col Portillon.

Ed Hood
Ed Hood
Ed's been involved in cycling for over 47 years. In that time he's been a successful time triallist, a team manager, and a sponsor of several teams and clubs. He's also a respected and successful coach and during the winter months can often be found working in the cabins at the Six Days for some of the world's top riders. Ed remains a massive fan of the sport and couples his extensive contacts with an inexhaustable enthusiasm for the minutiae and the history of our sport.

In Memoriam

John F Murray – Sponsor of GS Modena in the 1990’s

It's always sad when you lose a friend - when it happens on Christmas Day it makes it all the more painful. So it's with particular sadness we report the loss of John F. Murray, sponsor for several years of Scottish cycling team, GS Modena / M & M Windows. John and I set up M & M in 1988; hitherto GS Modena had been sponsored by CR Smith.

Film Review: Pantani, the Accidental Death of a Cyclist

Matt Rendell narrates much of the Pantani, the Accidental Death of a Cyclist film – but I’m a little puzzled by his ‘Marco the martyr and victim’ stance. In his well researched book – upon which the film is based – "The Death of Marco Pantani", Rendell leaves us in little doubt that the Italian rarely raced ‘clean.’ And Greg Lemond’s pronouncements are hard to fathom; ‘even without the drugs Pantani would have been one of the best’ or words to that effect. That’s from the ‘they were all at it, so what’s the difference?’ – school of thought to which I used to subscribe. There’s a ‘but’ or two to that one, though...

Alan Hewitt

I wasn’t privileged enough to call Alan Hewitt a close friend but he was certainly a pal and on the infrequent – unfortunately for me - occasions I met him in recent years he would always greet me as a long lost brother with that smile, a hearty chuckle and a big, strong handshake. Alas, there’ll be no more of those.

Laurent Fignon

'Unluckiest man of the race was Laurent Fignon (Renault) who escaped alone on the climb of the Cote de la Madelaine, only to crash when leading by 37 seconds with only 18 kilometres to go.'

Gert Frank

Not long after the loss of Andreas Kappes and Dieter Kemper the world of Six Days mourns the loss of another of the greats with the news that Denmark’s all time number two Six Day man, Gert Frank passed away on January 19th at the age of 62.

Wouter Weylandt R.I.P.

Wouter Weylandt tragically lost his life today, in a crash on the twisty, steep dangerous descent of the Passo del Bocco climb, about 12.4-miles from the finish of stage three of the Giro. The briefest of pictures of the scene were shown on live TV before the broadcasting director wisely stopped showing any more, but that was enough to be able to tell that the situation was grave.

E.V. Ernie Mitchell – R.I.P.

We learnt recently that Ernie Mitchell, or 'E.V.' as he was known, Scottish star of the 1950's has passed away. As a tribute to him we thought we would re-run the interview he gave us last year where he told us about being the first man in the country to break the two-hour mark for 50 miles, virtually owning the pursuit crown and motor pacing behind his brother's bus ...

John Woodburn

John Woodburn passed away quietly in his sleep on Good Friday at 80 years-of-age. His career was a remarkable one; he won the British 25 Mile Time Trial Championship in 1961; the first to do so on a geared bike, before that the championship had been the preserve of high revving, fixed wheel pursuit riders. Woodburn loved riding a bike and racing and at 70 he could still return 21:48 for a 10 mile time trial, and in July 2002, he broke the 50 mile time-trial National Age Record for over 65s with a 1:47:40 ride, breaking the record by nearly three minutes.