Friday, May 27, 2022
HomeInterviewsGed Dennis - 1980's Pro who rode "a la musette"

Ged Dennis – 1980’s Pro who rode “a la musette”

"In 1981 I had a really good season with 16 wins, the Cycling Gods must have looked down and thought; ‘this boy’s been banging his head off a brick wall for 20 years, let’s give him a decent season!’

-

Without us you ain’t gotta race!

Les West, Sid Barras, Keith Lambert, some of the coolest guys of the 60’s/70’s/80’s British pro scene are all men who have featured on VeloVeritas‘ pages.

BUT, we can’t all be big sprinting/hard climbing/glam winners who get our faces on the pages of Cycling Weekly and International Cycle Sport.

Enter Ged Dennis; 80’s professional racing cyclist with a tale of monkeys, IOU’s, unheated bedrooms, gifts from the Gods and … choreography. 

Ged Dennis
Ged Dennis. Photo©supplied

How did you get into cycling, Ged?  

“It was a long time ago!

“That would be when I was five or six year-old; but when I went to secondary school at 12 or 13 we were lucky because we had a national schoolboy champion to look up to – Jeff Shaw, he was the British schoolboy cyclo-cross champion, a protégé of the great ‘cross rider, Mick Stallard.

“Jeff gave us someone to idolise and try to emulate.” 

Ged Dennis
Ged Dennis (l) had great role models when he started in the sport. Photo©supplied

You were a good junior in the late 60’s and progressed into being a good roadman in the 70’s.

“I stuck at it and was passionate, I used to read everything I could about the sport, devour all the magazines.

“I wasn’t a bad runner as well but used to cycle to school then cycle home for lunch and back so I was doing maybe 25/30 miles every day.

“Then on the weekends we’d do 100 mile runs – no problem.

“As a senior I won a lot of local races, I guess my best result was a stage win in the Tour of Ireland.”

Belgium?

“I’d been seduced by tales of Belgium from guys like John Aslin and had to experience it for myself. 

“The first time was 1967, one of my buddies and I packed saddle bags pedalled to the ferry with just 30 or 40 quid between us. 

“We rolled off the ferry, picked up the road to Ghent but couldn’t understand why people in the passing cars were tooting their horns and gesticulating at us.

“Then the police pulled us in and explained that we were on the motorway!

“We stayed at a well-known cyclist hotel but the guy who ran it, despite the hype around him – he’s no longer with us so we won’t name him and speak ill of the dead – wasn’t a nice person.

“And the racing was savage. I’d been a capable schoolboy and junior in England but when you went over there it was just so aggressive; and the road surfaces were terrible – cobbles and concrete section.”

Ged Dennis
Ged Dennis turned Pro for Xavier Coffee-Viner-Regina-Tigra. Photo©supplied

How did the pro contract come about?

“As a senior I used to win local races but when I’d ride the Star Trophy events I’d be top 20 but not capable of winning them – but you were up against guys like Bob Downs, Steve Lawrence and John Clewarth.

“However, in 1981 I had a really good season with 16 wins, the Cycling Gods must have looked down and thought; ‘this boy’s been banging his head off a brick wall for 20 years, let’s give him a decent season!

“Patrick Schils who was an equipment importer noticed me and it through him I got the contract with Xaveer Coffee-Viner-Regina-Tigra for 1982.

“The Viners were nice bikes, very popular with the East Europeans whilst Tigra was a London based equipment import company.”

Tell us about life with Xaveer Coffee…

“Best described as, ‘living on your wits!

“The guy behind the team had figured out that whilst you perhaps couldn’t get teams into the very highest level races there were a lot of quality second string races which paid good start money – and that went straight into his bank account.

“He’d smooth talked his way into getting the equipment for the team supplied and he owned some houses in Belgium – one in Leuven and one in Aarschot so it didn’t cost him anything to accommodate us.

“And he owned a restaurant where we got fed, the grub was OK but the rooms were unheated; occasionally, very occasionally he’d actually give us some money.

“The thing is, you’re there and fighting to get some results so maybe you can move up to a better setup?

“The French used to call that sort of thing riding ‘a la musette’ – you got a jersey, a bike (if you were lucky), but no tyres.” 

Ged Dennis
Ged Dennis was in the top half of the result sheet in some big races as a pro. Photo©supplied

Any palmarès to speak of?

“I cracked the top 50 in Het Volk and top 30 in Fayt-le-Franc, now that’s better known as the ‘Memorial Samyn’ which Matteo Trentin won recently.

“Remember though that you were up against some of the finest riders of the era – Fons De Wolf, Marc Sergeant…

“I rode some famous races though – Paris-Camembert and the Tour du Midi Pyrenees in France, for instance

“But it was hard. The unheated room didn’t help, and it seemed to rain every day – you would look in the mirror and ask yourself; ‘why am I doing this to myself?

“But you know, there were guys there with a worse lot – the Aussie and Kiwi guys were just so hard, they’d sleep in a garage or in the back of a van and fight for a few primes to make ends meet.

“The team folded and I came home, dispirited.”

Ged Dennis
Photo©supplied

But you were back on the British pro scene in ’83, ‘Ged Dennis Signs’ on the maillot? 

“I organised some sponsors for myself and Poyner’s bike shop in Wolverhampton supplied me with equipment, they then became my title sponsor for the next two years.

“People saw me race on the Poyner frame and it brought trade in. I guess some of my other sponsors saw me banging away and took pity; ‘we’ll give this guys some help…

I still get folks remembering me from my time on the British pro circuit.” 

The British pro scene perhaps wasn’t at the strongest in that era?

“No, a lot of the guys on ‘big’ teams were on a pittance and sometimes the fields were so small, maybe two dozen of us might turn up for a crit.

“The big hitters knew the score though – great riders like Les West, Sid Barras, Keith Lambert and Phil Bayton – if it wasn’t for guys like me making up the numbers then there would be no races.

“There was a little ‘choreography’ going on; we’d get our opportunities but we didn’t take liberties when it came to the finish though. 

“Some of the guys who organised the races were monkeys. One chap – another who’s dead now so I won’t name and speak ill of him – used to get the prize money from the sponsors and use it to pay his bills.

“When you approached him to get your start money you’d get a brown paper envelope from him with a little bit of paper in it, ‘I.O.U. £25.

“That happened all the time and you practically had to pin him to the wall and threaten him to get any money out of him. 

“I quit before the ‘86 season.”

Ged Dennis
A great image of Ged Dennis plying his trade. Photo©supplied

But at 69 years-of-age your still banging the miles in?

“I’m closing in on 70 now but it’s my passion, I still love it, I do about 200 miles each week but I’m not so keen to go out if it’s raining – getting soft!” 

We heard you had a health scare a year or two ago?

“About 10 years I knocked on my mate’s door for us to go out for a ride and the next thing I remember I was waking up in hospital – I’d had a heart attack.

“I was lucky, a para-medic was passing and was with me in four minutes, he saved my life.

I’ve always kept my self quite trim so it wasn’t to with my life style, ‘congenital cholesterol’ caused it – I’m on all sorts of pills now.” 

Looking back, anything you’d do differently?

“Not really, I’ve come to realise that basically, I was born with a crap body! 

“Unless you’re born with the right ingredients you’ll never be a superstar; what got me through was my passion and the fact that I’m a fighter – I just kept going!”

Ged Dennis
Like a lot of cyclists Ged Dennis just loves two wheels, whether powered or not. Photo©supplied

It just goes to show, the best interviews don’t always come from the biggest stars – with thanks to Ged for an entertaining and informative telephone conversation.

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.

Related Articles

The Edinburgh Nocturne – It’s Millar’s Night

The Face Partnership, the guys behind the Revolution Series on the track, brought an evening of exciting, all-category and professional racing to Edinburgh last night, in the shape of their successful Nocturne format.

Paolo Bettini – World Road Champion

Some times it's difficult to get an interview, especially if your target is World Road Race Champion, Paolo Bettini. He has a Quick Step entourage with him and he's testing his new Specialized road bike for 2007. But us VeloVeritas guys are persistent, and after stalking him all afternoon I was granted just five minutes of his precious time.

Laurence Morgan and the TI Raleigh Vintage Cycling Club

Laurence Morgan from Perth was a team TI Raleigh fan back in the 80’s having fallen in love with a 753 Raleigh he saw at the 1982 Scottish Health Race. It’s been an enduring love affair and this year he started the TI Raleigh Vintage Cycling Club – good timing with ‘retro’ the word of the moment. At VeloVeritas we like a man who’s obsessed with 70’s and 80’s bikes and riders; we decided we’d best ‘have a word...

Mauro Gianetti – Remembering the 1995 Amstel Gold Race

The Amstel Gold Race normally signals the start of the Ardennes Classics and the climbers come out of the woodwork. Raced over the hills, dales, and forests of south eastern Holland, the course selects its own worthy winner. Twenty-five years ago it was Mauro Gianetti who was making the news.

Michael Mørkøv talks Dwars Door Vlaanderen

One of the men of the Classics Season this year has been Saxo Bank’s Danish star Michael Mørkøv. He was away for 240 kilometres in the Primavera – it would have been longer but for the 'mad breenge' in the peloton to make sure Cav didn't get back after his crisis on La Manie.

On The Road in Vigo at La Vuelta a España 2007

Here we are at the start of this year's Vuelta a España in the Galician Town of Vigo - if you don't know where that is, its on the most westerly coast at the most northern bit, just above Portugal, in fact it's only 30 kilometers from Portugal.

At Random

At La Vuelta 2009 in the Low Countries

I've been out here for the weekend, and I thought more people would have made the easy journey from the UK to Holland for a Grand Tour depart but so far the only ones we've bumped into are Neil and Maria Martin who are here for obvious reasons.

Le Tour de France 2017 – Stage 13: Saint-Girons – Foix, 101km. Barguil on Bastille Day!

VeloVeritas soothsayer, Viktor and I have long been critics of Warren Barguil (Sunweb & France) as a ‘one hit wonder,’ with his two stage wins in the Vuelta in 2013 then very little else; but in this Tour he’s certainly been reborn. He was so close to Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale & Colombia) last Sunday after being the hero of the day and today, on Bastille Day he scored the biggest and most beautiful win of his career with a historic stage victory. 

James Moss’ Guide to Food and Training Camp Eating Etiquette

James Moss has always loved eating but more recently, food has become one of the most important things in his life. He's sure this is the case with most, if not all, cyclists out there but he can't get enough of the stuff...

The Colin Sturgess Story – Part One

Colin Sturgess exploded on to the UK cycling scene in the 80's - within a couple of seasons he was world professional pursuit champion. But his enormous potential was never full realised.

Scottish Hill Climb Championship 2008

On a mild but blustery day on the north side of the Ochil Hills, Ben Abrahams (equipe Velo Ecosse - Montpeliers ) finally realised some of his potential and gave new team sponsors Harley Haddow engineering and Warners solicitors value for money with a surprise 17 second win in the Scottish Hill Climb Championship.

Copenhagen Six Day 2011 – Day Six, Alex and Michael 3rd win in a row

Copenhagen Six Day 2011, but first... Ricco - you have to respect his 100% commitment to being a moronic little twat. There was a piece about him on CyclingNews having a 'kidney problem,' when I checked the site in the morning, I thought it was a tad strange - how does a super fit young man have a kidney problem? But the press release I received from Vacansoleil a little later revealed the true horror of the situation...