Brian Robinson (cyclist)
|Full name||Brian Robinson|
3 November 1930 |
Ravensthorpe, England, United Kingdom
|2 stages Tour de France
Dauphiné Libéré (1961)
|Infobox last updated on
8 July 2008
He was the first Briton to finish the Tour de France and the first to win a Tour stage.
Robinson's grew up during the Second World War, which began when he was eight years old.
His family lived in Ravensthorpe and moved to Mirfield in 1943. Both his parents worked at a factory producing parts for Halifax bombers, Henry at night and Milly by day. The family had a small area of land, known as an allotment, where they kept rabbits and two pigs. Robinson had a brother, Des, and a sister, Jean.
Early cycling career
Robinson rode with the Huddersfield Road Club at 13 and joined when he reached the club's minimum age the following year. His elder brother, Des, and his father were already members. His father, however, would not let Robinson start racing until he was 18. His first race was a hilly 25-mile time-trial in March, which he completed in 1h 14m 50s. His ambition was not to ride against the clock, but in massed road races. Opportunities were limited. Views on British road racing were polarised between the British League of Racing Cyclists, which wanted road racing on open roads, and the National Cyclists' Union, which feared police and public reaction and confined racing to closed circuits.
Robinson was an NCU member. He worked for the family building business, training before and after work, and frequently raced on roads in Sutton Park, Birmingham, where races had to end by 9.30 am so the public could use the park. In 1948 he went to Windsor to watch the Olympic Games road race in Windsor Great Park "little realising that four years later I would make the next Olympics in Helsinki".
He was fifth in the NCU massed-start championship and third in the Road Time Trials Council (RTTC) hill-climb championship in 1950. The following year, he was equal 7th in the Isle of Man International, 10th in the NCU massed-start championship, and second in the RTTC hill-climb championship. In 1952 he was fourth in the NCU title race, won the hill-climb championship, and was fifth in the Isle of Man International.
In spring 1952 Robinson rode the Route de France, amateur version of the Tour de France, in a joint NCU/Army team. Robinson was at this time doing his National Service. He rode well and was fifth with three days to go, but poor days in the Pyrenees saw him slip to 40th. "I had never seen mountains like that before," he said.
The following August, he represented Great Britain at Helsinki in the Olympic Games road race. Robinson finished 27th, one place behind his brother, to André Noyelle of Belgium. The future Tour de France winner, Jacques Anquetil, was 12th, and Robinson raced against him again in the world cycling championship in Italy in September 1952 where they tied for eighth.
The new professional
In 1953, Robinson left the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry and joined the Ellis Briggs team as an independent, or semi-professional. He rode the Tour of Britain in 1952, wearing the leader’s yellow jersey before finishing fourth.
The following year, 1954, he improved to second, and second in the mountains competition.
The British cycle industry, fighting in a dwindling market, competed for sales by sponsoring riders. Hercules and BSA had supported long-distance record-breakers when there was no other professional racing on the road and now wanted to have road-racing teams.
Tour de France
Hercules planned a team that would be the first from Britain to ride the Tour de France, then based on national teams. The riders in its colours grew season by season until in 1955 it had Robinson, Bernard Pusey, Dennis Talbot, Freddy Krebs, Clive Parker, Ken Joy, Arthur Ilsley, Derek Buttle (the founder of the team) and Dave Bedwell. The team raced in France, the Netherlands and Belgium in preparation. Robinson was 8th in Paris–Nice, fourth in La Flèche Wallonne and led the Tour of the Six Provinces to the sixth stage. The eventual Tour team was a mixture of Hercules riders and those from other sponsors.
The Tour de France proved tough and only Robinson and Tony Hoar finished, Robinson 29th and Hoar lanterne rouge or last. They were the first Britons to finish the Tour, 18 years after Charles Holland and Bill Burl were the first Britons in the race in 1937.
Robinson told Jock Wadley of Sporting Cyclist that it was easy for an English professional to get into the Tour de France in 1955. "Indeed, when it came to selection time there were hardly enough riders available to fill the places." Hercules and other British sponsors dropped their sponsorship at the end of 1955. Robinson, who had married the previous October, set up at the start of 1956 at Les Issambres, the area of the French Riviera that Hercules had used for its training the previous year and which was close to the spring criteriums. He and another professional, Bernard Pusey, suffered because the first races were cancelled because of snow.
In 1956, the Tour allowed mixed teams. Robinson joined a squad which included Charly Gaul. He took third on the first stage, and by the end of the Tour was 14th, Gaul 13th. He also rode the Vuelta a España in Hugo Koblet's Swiss-British team, and was second after the fourth stage. He punctured on a climb on the 10th stage when in a break with Italy's Angelo Conterno, the race winner, but managed to recover from 11th to eighth.
Milan – San Remo
In 1957 he scored his first professional win, in the GP de la Ville de Nice, beating Louison Bobet by 50 seconds. Then he finished third in Milan – San Remo to Spain's Miguel Poblet, whose 29th birthday it was. Cycling called it "by far the greatest achievement by a British roadman in a single-day race since the halcyon 19th-century days of George Pilkington Mills and the Bordeaux–Paris". There was commercial intrigue behind the result, however.
Robinson crashed on wet cobbles early in the 1957 Tour de France, injuring his left wrist. He recovered to finish 15th in the world championship won by Rik van Steenbergen.
First Tour stage win
In 1958, Robinson won stage seven of the Tour de France, to Brest. Arigo Padovan crossed the line first, but was relegated to second for his tactics in a hot sprint. Robinson showed his victory was no fluke by winning the 20th stage (from Annecy to Chalon-sur-Saône) of the 1959 Tour by 20 minutes. Next day he paid the price, trailing far behind the field with his Irish team-mate, Seamus Elliott, beside him.
Both finished outside the time limit and expected to be sent home. But the team's manager, Sauveur Ducazeaux, insisted the judges apply a rule that no rider in the first ten could be eliminated. Robinson had started the day ninth: it was Elliott who was sent home. "The mother hen was cooked; the chick avoided the pot", Fotheringham said.
Robinson finished the Tour 19th, having at one time been ninth. That year he helped get his professional Rapha Geminiani team to sign Tom Simpson. Within weeks, he was watching Simpson win two stages of the Tour de l'Ouest.
Robinson finished 26th and 53rd in the Tours of 1960 and 1961. In between he won the 1961 Critérium de Dauphiné Libéré, winning two stages. He was part of the winning team in the team time-trial, then third in the individual time trial at Romans. He won the following day's stage at Villefranche. He kept control of the race as it passed through the mountains and won the race.
Robinson retired when he was 33, not having made much money from cycling despite his successes.
Assessment and later years
The magazine Cycling placed Robinson ninth best British rider of the 20th century.
Robinson, at 74, helped organise a dinner in August 2005 to mark the 50th anniversary of the first British competitors in the Tour de France. The event aimed to attract all British riders who have raced in the Tour since 1955.
- 1st British National Hill Climb Championships
- Stage win, Tour d'Europe.
- 1st Tour of Pennines
- 1st Grand Prix de Nice, La Forteresse
- Tour de France:
- Winner stage 7
- stage win Tour du Sud-Est
- 1st pursuit and omnium, de Guecho, with Jacques Anquetil
- Tour de France:
- Winner stage 20
- Criterium Du Dauphine Libere - Database - Brian Robinson
- "Database record for Brian Robinson". Velo Club. Retrieved 2012-07-23.
- Fotheringham, William (2005), Roule Britannia, Yellow Jersey, UK
- Cycling, UK, 25 April 1992
- For more details of the civil war, see British League of Racing Cyclists
- "Brian Robinson Olympic Results". sports-reference.com. Retrieved 2012-12-29.
- Cycling, UK, 28 March 1957, p239
- The rule was created in 1926 when a single rider, Lucien Buysse, eliminated the entire field. He finished so far ahead that everyone else was outside the limit. The organiser, Henri Desgrange, extended the day's limit to 40 per cent of the winner's time and ruled that nobody in the first 10 could be eliminated.
- Cycle Sport, UK, June 2002
- "50 Cycling Heroes Named in British Cycling's Hall of Fame". British Cycling. 2009-12-17.
- Graeme, Fife (2010). Brian Robinson: Pioneer: The Story of Brian Robinson, Britain's First Tour de France Hero. Norwich, UK: Mousehold Press. ISBN 978-1-874739-57-9. Retrieved 2 November 2013.
- Brian Robinson profile at Cycling Archives
- Official Tour de France results for Brian Robinson
- "Tour de France: Brian Robinson began British success" Feature on BBC Sport; 17 July 2012