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HomeCyclingPeace Race Rider Phil Cheetham Tells His Story

Peace Race Rider Phil Cheetham Tells His Story

A Rider’s Story: Phil Cheetham was a prolific winner on the British scene and in France, he represented his nation in lots of races, however Ed Hood caught up with him to listen to about his experiences within the hardest of newbie stage races – the Peace Race.

Phil Cheetham together with his mom after profitable the Kentish GP

The Peace Race, aka the ‘Japanese Tour de France.’ Not only a bike race, an opportunity for the Communist East to exhibit superiority over the decadent capitalist West.

The race is the stuff of legend, what was it wish to journey ?
Englishman, Phil Cheetham was a top quality rider, greater than able to beating one of the best Frenchmen of the day however was unprepared for the 1972 Berlin-Praga-Warszawa ‘Course de la Paix.’

Phil Cheetham – Nationwide championships received by Dave Rollinson. Cheetham on the left third and Bayton on the suitable 2nd

1972 Behind the Iron Curtain:
On the seventeenth of February the BCF inform me that I’ve been chosen for the Peace Race, the twenty fifth version. I actually wish to give it a go this yr.

Early in February I run out of cash. I’d solely labored seven days on the Submit Workplace for the reason that finish of the final season. I ask my earlier sponsor, André Vistel, who runs a helicopter crop spraying enterprise if he can take me on for some time. His agency known as Phitagri and his slogan is “du veau à l’hélicoptère” (from calves to helicopters). I used to be by no means actually positive what that meant. He says he can. I’ll be serving to the mechanics in his heat, well-lit workshop the place about half a dozen helicopters are being overhauled. However I must clear the bogs every day. That’s the kind of man he’s. He didn’t wish to see me being handled like a privileged employee in entrance of all his different workers. He’s a kind of bosses who will give his employees a hand unloading a lorry if he passes that manner.


I work there part-time for 9 weeks till the 2nd of April. I take each Thursday off to get in an extended coaching journey within the morning. Within the afternoon I’m going out with the “Ecole de Cyclisme” (the biking faculty) sponsored by Phitagi. It’s run by Patrick Odin, the son of William Odin who was the mechanic for the French nationwide squad within the Tour de France in the course of the time our Sports activities Director, Marcel Bidot, was the selector and supervisor. Over 100 schoolboys flip up each Thursday the place they participate in bike dealing with workouts, sprints and quick races.


On the opposite days I journey to and from work usually taking an extended route the get dwelling, so I’m driving about 75 km per day. I’ve a foul crash within the membership’s second coaching race on the twelfth of March. These are actual sponsored handicap races with prize cash though the quantities are pretty small. I fly over the handlebars within the dash for the road and fall closely on my again which quickly turns all colors of black and blue. My bruised again hampers me for some time however doesn’t have an effect on my coaching programme. The English journalist, John Wilcockson drops in to see me in the future within the workshop and writes a two web page article about my build-up for the Peace Race and the Phitagri biking faculty within the Worldwide Biking Sport journal. By then I’ve already completed 3000kms in coaching.

Because of the new French Federation rules we don’t journey our first race till the nineteenth of March. Two weeks later it’s already the membership’s basic, Paris-Troyes. Alan Mellor and Bryan Edwards arrive two days earlier than the race. I puncture while within the main echelon and abandon after 60km; following staff automobiles aren’t allowed – Jacques Esclassan wins the race. Then Alan and I actually start to step up our coaching and get in a great deal of kilometres regardless of the climate. The Tuesday after Paris-Troyes Alan and I’m going to Paris to get our Polish and Czechoslovakian visas. Within the Polish embassy they inform us it would take at the very least per week and that we must come again once more. That was till they see on our software varieties that we’ll be taking part within the Peace Race – 10 minutes later we now have our visas. Now we have two races the following weekend. I end fourth in Azay-le-Ferron and second in Chateaurenard the place I’m going to the doping management.

The Milk Race

The subsequent weekend is the Tour de l’Aube.
There’s a great discipline with 101 starters together with three riders preselected on the French squad for the World staff time trial championships. I end second on the primary stage and fourth on the second. I’m mendacity fourth total earlier than the 14km particular person time trial on Sunday afternoon. My DS, Marcel Bidot involves see me, “I’ll observe you” he says “however I wish to see you win the time trial and the general classification”. It had by no means crossed my thoughts. I used to be considering I’d do effectively to hold onto my fourth place. Marcel Bidot has already adopted Jacques Anquetil, Raymond Poulidor and Roger Rivière within the Tour de France time trials. He repeatedly shouts at me out of the staff automotive window. I can’t let him down and gave all of it I’ve. I come dwelling with one of the best time beating the three French Olympic squad riders, Jean-Claude Meunier by 21 seconds, Alain Meunier by 25 seconds, Claude Duterme by 31 seconds and the general chief Roland Eloi by precisely 1 minute. Sufficient to take the general classification by 19 seconds, because of Marcel. I now know the distinction between driving as exhausting as you suppose you may and driving on the excessive restrict of your bodily capabilities.

Cheetham TT type

The subsequent weekend we journey a world three day occasion in Sedan close to the Belgian border; three separate races with an total classification on a factors system. My teammate Claude Chabanel wins the primary stage, the Prix de Slavia, on Friday. I win the dash for second on the observe in Sedan. On Saturday I win the second stage, the Prix Erika, 54 seconds forward of Alan Mellor within the chilly, wind and rain. I take over the race chief’s jersey. We management the third stage, the Prix de l’UCI, received by Alain Bauchet from the Pédale Châlonaise. I win the bunch dash for fourth and maintain on to the white jersey. Alan finishes third total. A British staff is driving, one in every of them a sure Pat McQuaid who finishes tenth total. He had a great newbie profession (he received the Tour of Eire twice) earlier than turning professional for Viking cycles. In 2005 he was elected president of the UCI within the troubled occasions of mass EPO doping. We journey one other race on Monday however with out a lot success (I end tenth).

Cheetham with Peter Buckley

Two days later, Alan and I go away to journey the Berlin-Prague-Warsaw Peace Race. My kind can’t be higher. We fly first to Prague then board an outdated decrepit airplane, with smoking engines and bald tyres, for the quick flight to Berlin. We’re housed in a big high-class multi-storey lodge. A number of flooring are reserved for the riders and employees. A big group of police motorcyclists are posted on the forecourt to escort and keep watch over us each time we go away the lodge for a journey. Late within the afternoon, I’m going out to check my bike; two outriders clear the way in which and wave the visitors apart. I instantly flip proper and lose them. I journey unhindered by way of the tram-lined streets and large avenues of East Berlin. The featureless buildings look gray and dreary. All of the sudden I’m reverse the Brandenburg gate. A inexperienced garden lies earlier than me guarded by barbed wire, journey wires, armed patrols and watchtowers. West Berlin on the opposite aspect seems engaging, recent and alluring with the 368-metre excessive Fernsehturm, TV tower constructed simply three years earlier than, towering proud within the distance. The sky is darkening, it’s getting late; I flip spherical and journey again to the lodge. No one bothers me.

peace race

The subsequent day we do a 50 km journey, this time effectively escorted by the outriders and the staff automotive. That night there’s an enormous reception at a venue about 4 kilometres from the lodge. Tom Pinnington, our “newbie” staff supervisor and the remainder of the squad resolve they’ll do some sightseeing and stroll again to the lodge. I can’t consider it, you don’t stroll any distance, not to mention 4 Ok, on the eve of an vital occasion. I hitch a journey with the French staff. The British and French groups typically have a mutual settlement, if one of many staff automobiles strikes as much as cowl the break the opposite automotive will cowl the 2 groups within the peloton. I do know their supervisor Robert Oubron and their mechanic André fairly effectively. Andre’s solely shortcoming is that he doesn’t like oiling the chains because it makes the bikes harder to scrub however the British mechanic, if requested properly, will normally oblige.

peace race
The ‘helpers’

Again on the lodge, it’s fairly apparent that our baggage have been searched. Whoever it was, they made no effort to hide the very fact. The groups competing are from the Soviet Union, Germany, Czechoslovakia, France, Italy, Poland, Morocco, Cuba, Yugoslavia, Belgium, Finland, Denmark, Bulgaria, Hungary Romania, Norway and Nice Britain. That makes 17 groups in all and 102 starters. The Peace Race is dubbed the Japanese Bloc Tour de France. The crowds are huge, as much as 60,000 on the finishes, totally on cinder tracks that are very difficult to barter, particularly as I’ve by no means ridden on one earlier than. Flags and pennants are flying in all places you look. Even after we take the bus to drive to the beginning, the roads are lined with clapping flag-waving crowds. We wave again as we go previous, just like the Queen in her stately carriage. Every morning we go away our baggage in our rooms and discover them already ready for us after we transfer into our rooms after the stage; every time they’ve been tampered with. On the finishes, like every rider, I’ve a chosen boy sporting my quantity. He seeks me out, provides me a drink and one thing to eat, places a blanket over my shoulders, takes care of my bike and takes me to an extended line of ready buses which set off nearly instantly for the lodge, even when just a few riders are on board.

peace race
Crash for Gilchrist

The primary stage is a 9 kilometre out-and-back time trial in Berlin. 120,000 folks line the course. I’ve picked up a bout of bronchitis and my respiratory isn’t too good. I end twenty ninth, 22 seconds down on the joint winners Takacz from Hungary and Neljubin from the USSR. Ian Greenhaigh finishes seventieth, Alan Mellor (affected by hay fever) 72nd, Sandy Gilchrist 82nd, Mike Potts 88th and Howard Darby 93rd. Perhaps I used to be proper to not stroll again to the lodge the earlier evening. The textual content in italics under is from Biking Weekly and written by Richard Froude.

‘The next day’s second stage circuit race round Berlin was vital for the violent switching all through the 121 kilometres and two of the principle hopes, Janusek of Poland and Labus of Czechoslovakia, got here down within the melee and broke their collar bones. The East German Michael Milde comes dwelling first.’

We’re all positioned equal twenty sixth within the bunch.

‘Violent switching and crashes have been once more the order of the day on Stage Three and that’s the place Régis Ovion (the reigning world newbie champion and Tour de l’Avenir winner) stated goodbye in a significant crash three kilometres from the end in Magdeburg. It was clearly not one of the best of days for the French for Man Sibille got here down in the identical crash and broke his collar bone.’

peace race

It occurred simply three or 4 locations forward of me, Régis Ovion was switched right into a roadside submit.

‘Britain’s fortunes have been blended, with Cheetham and Mellor ending within the main bunch. Mike Potts misplaced contact at Burg, after 139 of the 163 kilometres and completed alone at 4-55. But it surely was Sandy Gilchrist and Ian Greenhaigh who supplied the spotlight of the day. The prepare of occasions began at Burg when Gilchrist was introduced down and wrecked his handlebars. Greenhaigh was on his wheel on the time and in addition got here down. Gilchrist obtained a spare bike and the pair began to chase, however they have been additional delayed when Greenhaigh collected a puncture on the time when the staff automotive was forward with the bunch. After affecting repairs they linked with a chasing East German, who for some purpose was unwilling to work.

Ultimately he was pressured to the entrance, however solely to modify Gilchrist into Greenhaigh, with the end result that the Scot’s rear wheel was smashed. He borrowed a motorcycle, full with vacationer handlebars, from a younger bystander then he and Ian rode the ultimate eight kilometres to the stadium end. As they emerged from the tunnel an incredible roar erupted from the 45,000 spectators. However behind these two was one other Briton Howard Darby who had been delayed by a crash and was the final rider to complete, nearly 34 minutes down.’

Milde once more wins the stage, I end thirtieth and Alan thirty ninth. Total Milde retains the chief’s jersey in fact. I’m twentieth at 2-1, Potts is 77th at 7-34 and the others are effectively down.

peace race
Gilchrist completed on a purchasing bike

Stage 4 from Ascherleben to Erfurt is 170 km lengthy.
Michael Milde, East Germany’s surprise 23-year-old, scored his third consecutive victory when he out-sprinted a gaggle of 40 riders at Erfurt Stadium, with no British rider sturdy sufficient to search out his manner into the group when the crunch got here with 20 kilometres remaining. “I knew I ought to have been in one of many two main echelons as quickly as I felt the wind, however there was no room for me and I used to be simply blown off the again” stated Phil Cheetham.

For Briton it was a tragic story, with second finest man Howard Darby dropping 5-9, whereas poor Potts, who punctured, was left ready for his staff automotive, sixteenth within the convoy, and misplaced at the very least 2 minutes earlier than restarting in firm with Ian Greenhaigh, who was already trailing and affected by his accidents of the day prior to this.

Sandy Gilchrist and Alan Mellor have been even additional again they usually nursed accidents and hay fever, which plagued Mellor all through. I end forty eighth at 1-40 and drop from twentieth to fortieth total. I knew the race was going to be troublesome. There aren’t any skilled ranks within the Japanese bloc international locations to cream off their finest amateurs, so we’re driving towards the easiest of their state-sponsored riders and we’re utterly unaware of the state-organised doping programmes, these being extraordinarily refined, particularly in East Germany, as we now know.

peace race
The Polish staff

Stage 5 is 151 km from Erfurt to Gera.
A glimmer of hope filtered by way of on this stage, with Darby getting dwelling in the principle bunch solely a minute behind East Germany’s Karl-Heinz Oberfranz, who took the stage, from 9 others, however Gilchrist and Mellor have been eradicated.

“I used to be feeling good for the primary time immediately,” stated Cheetham “so I went for an extended one on the first prime to check myself and located that my bronchitis had disappeared”. However his pleasure was short-lived, as a result of after 26 km he crashed as he tried to keep away from two Poles and to make issues worse Potts hit him within the again. Servicing Cheetham was sluggish, as a result of a damaged wheel developed right into a stripped spindle and a spare bike needed to be given, and by this time the bunch was miles up the highway. The stage is once more received by an East German, Uberfranz.

peace race

I end 87th at 35-31 and drop once more within the total standings to 82nd. All through the day I’m with a small group making an attempt to get discreetly to the end. However each time we journey by way of a city or village the native band ready patiently within the bandstand strikes up once more and performs rousing music as we journey by way of the cobbled streets dodging the tramlines. Every day throughout our night meals a small orchestra hid behind potted crops performs chamber music whereas we eat. They’re uninteresting and staidly dressed. On the third night we resolve we’ll give them slightly clap on the finish of one in every of their items, the Poles sitting subsequent to us take part. Pale faces peer out from behind the inexperienced vegetation. Quickly extra groups be a part of within the clapping. They start to smile broadly, their music turns into much less sedate and improves vastly. The Russians will not be amused. There may be at all times an infinite bowl of fruit on every desk. We will see that there’s none within the native outlets. We quickly get into the behavior of leaving the desk with a a lot fruit as we will carry. We hand it out on the forecourt of the lodge to whoever’s there. There are at all times folks ready hoping to get an autograph or a memento of some type.

The subsequent day is a relaxation day in Gera.
We’re taken to see a contemporary mannequin manufacturing facility. The images of one of the best weekly and month-to-month employees are displayed proudly on the partitions. We’re given presents. We additionally go to a uninteresting mannequin condo the place a trainer and his household are housed. Now we have no time to go for a journey.

peace race

Stage Six is 159 kilometres from Gera to Karlovy Range.
We’re heading for the mountains. I’m going to see André, the French mechanic, to search out out which gears we’d like, Tom Pinnington has no thought. It seems to be very chilly, we’re unaware of the climate forecast and haven’t any applicable clothes. I’m going fairly effectively till, with no warning, I’m down and sliding alongside a cobbled road. I get again on, catch the bunch and on an extended straight hill then bridge the small hole as much as the break. All of the sudden I start to shiver most likely from the shock of the autumn and the extreme chilly which has now set in.

A BLACK, black day for Britain, when of the six who began just one, Ian Greenhaigh, reached the end – a quagmire at Karlovy Range that just a few hours earlier had been a cinder observe. Satirically, Mellor and Gilchrist had been reinstated on enchantment and at first, though the rain was falling steadily, there was no indication of the drama that was to unfold within the subsequent 4 hours. In truth, it wasn’t till the stragglers arrived, some in pathetic situation, that anybody realised simply how dangerous it had been. The extreme chilly, the cobbles and the rain killed many a will, and when Darby clawed his manner into the frontier submit on the Czechoslovakian border he discovered he was effectively down the queue.’

peace race

I make it to the highest of the climb however my complete physique is trembling and my tooth are chattering. I start the descent however can’t really feel a factor. I’m numb throughout. I see one other rider working down the hill to attempt to heat up so I do the identical. It makes no distinction. I sit down huddled towards a pine tree. The subsequent factor I do know, a medic helps me stroll to an ambulance, my bike is being put within the broom wagon. I wish to cease them however can’t react. They go away me on the frontier submit, I’m not alone. There’s an enormous wooden range burning. We’re all shivering. A few of the guards exit to scrounge some dry garments from the inhabitants of the border city. We glance an odd odd lot dressed like Hungarian refugees our soggy racing package strewed on the ground.

“Potts, Gilchrist, Darby and Mellor all sought the sag wagon, already full to overflowing whereas others, just like the Belgian Isidore Weemans, arrived on the end fairly actually blue”. My tooth are nonetheless chattering after we get to the lodge within the stunning spa city of Karlovy Range. It takes me hours to get some heat again into my physique. The file exhibits that 27 riders abandon that day. In order that’s it for the Peace Race, I’m bitterly upset, we simply weren’t ready for the situations that day.

peace race

We’re staying in an impressive imperial-style lodge with huge rooms and stylish balconies; the bathroom is up on a pedestal alone in a big room. I’ve a kilo of sugar lumps in my bag that I’ve introduced over from France; we have been instructed that it’s a uncommon commodity. I give it to the maid when she comes to scrub the room. She will get down on her knees to specific her gratitude, saying “thanks, thanks” over and over. In order that is kind of the top of the journey. The subsequent day we journey to Prague by bus. We keep there in a single day earlier than flying again to Paris. Clearing immigration in Czechoslovakia is intimidating. The official appears to be like at each single web page in my passport for at the very least 5 seconds then appears to be like me straight within the eyes for one more 5 seconds with out blinking as soon as. The Russian Neljubin takes over the race lead from Milde however in the long run loses it to the Czech Vlastimil Moravec.

GB sole survivor, Ian Greenhaigh finishes the race in fifty fifth place.

peace race

# ‘UCI Climate Protocols?’ not within the Peace Race. . . With because of Phil for an ideal story and all of the photographers, largely unknown. #

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