Seamus Elliott in 1963
|Full name||Seamus Elliott|
4 June 1934|
|Died||4 May 1971
Did not ride
|Irish National Road Race Championship (1954)|
|Infobox last updated on
14 March 2007
Shay Elliott was the first Irish cyclist to make a mark as a professional rider in continental Europe.
Elliott was the eldest son of James and Ellen Elliott. He played Gaelic football and hurling and didn't learn to ride a bicycle until he was 14. He used it to ride to the town of Naas. He joined a small cycling club attached to St Brandon's church, Dublin, when he was 16 and took part in races of about 20 miles that the church organised around the city streets. He came second in his first race,riding a scrap bike with a single fixed wheel that led his pedals to bang the road on corners. The winner had a specialised racing bike.
Elliott joined the Southern Road Club when he was 17 and, on a racing bike, won the Grand Prix of Ireland run over 50 km in the Phoenix Park. The club broke up soon afterwards and Elliott joined the Dublin Wheelers in March 1952. That summer he won the Mannin Veg, a race over one lap of the TT motorcycling circuit on the Isle of Man. He also won the Dublin-Galway-Dublin two-day race, winning the race back to Dublin in a sprint.
Elliott won the 1953 Irish amateur road championship. His second place in the Tour of Ireland that year earned him a trip to the Simplex training camp in Monte Carlo the following spring.
I can not remember all the items in Shay's luggage, of course. But I can hardly forget that one whole compartment in the chest of drawers was devoted to provisions which Shay had brought from Ireland, the chief stock being 2lb [1kg] of tea and 2lb of chocolate creams. I was invited to eat as many of the chocolates as I liked, because his aunt who worked in the place where they were made would soon be sending more.
It would be wrong to say that the company laughed when Shay stood there in his underpants, but there were certainly some smiles because in contrast to his lithe, clean-limbed predecessors at the examination, Shay looked a short, fat boy. Le Bert, however, did not smile. Immediately he exclaimed: 'Ah ha, now this is really rock. He is a real flahute. (Flahute is a favourite French way of describing the old-type tough Flemish roadman.)
Elliott did not return permanently to Ireland at the end of the training camp. He had just finished six years as an apprentice sheet-metal worker and he and his family in Old County Road in Crumlin, Dublin, had decided that he had mastered panel-beating and would have a trade to return to if his efforts to become a professional cyclist failed. He contacted a former French professional, Francis Pélissier, for advice. Pélissier told Elliott to compete in as many races as possible, at least three or four a week – possibly in France, but not in Ireland, a cycling backwater. Elliott planned to move to Ghent in Belgium, where he could race several times a week and, as an amateur, win money denied to him in Ireland. At the training camp, however, he met the journalist and race organiser Jean Leulliot who told him he would burn himself out in round-the-houses racing. He urged him to move to Paris.
Leulliot remembered how Elliott had won the Tourmalet stage of the 1954 Route de France, which Leulliot's paper, Route et Piste, organised. Leulliot asked in his paper for someone to accommodate Elliott in the capital and added "The Irishman is soaked with class and has a great future before him."
The appeal was answered by Paul "Mickey" Wiegant of the Athletic Club Boulogne-Billancourt in Paris, France's top amateur team. Elliott won five one-day amateur classics in 1955 and set the world 10 km amateur record on the Vélodrome d'Hiver in Paris. He became a professional for the 1956 season.
Elliott turned professional for the Helyett-Félix Potin team. Helyett was a bicycle factory. He won his first race, the GP d'Echo Alger in Algeria, outsprinting André Darrigade. He also won the GP Catox and the GP Isbergues. In his first major race of 1957, the Omloop "Het Volk" in Belgium, he made a race-long break with Englishman Brian Robinson. The break was caught near the finish but Elliott's form was noted. He won the Circuit de la Vienne.
In 1959 he won Omloop "Het Volk", the first foreigner to succeed. He attacked on the Mur de Grammont with 30 km to ride and dropped all his rivals except Fred De Bruyne, the Belgian hope. The pair raced together to the finish where Elliott won easily. That season Elliott rode the Tour de France, then run for national teams, in a mixed team that included the Englishman, Brian Robinson. Robinson rode above his level across the Massif Central and next day paid the price. He trailed far behind the field.
William Fotheringham wrote:
In hot weather, these are some of the toughest roads in France, constantly rising and falling. Elliott remained with Robinson, chivvying him, pacing him, pouring water on his head as the Tour's doctor, Pierre Dumas administered glucose tablets. It was the kind of heroic spectacle the Tour reporters loved. Robinson en perdition ran the next day's headline in L'Équipe, which described Elliott's efforts as "attentions de mère poule" – the solicitousness of a mother hen.
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.
In 1962 Elliott came third in the 1962 Vuelta a España, winning the fourth stage and coming second in the points classification. He led the race for nine days.
In the 1962 world road championship at Salò in Italy, he got into the winning break with Stablinski. Stablinksi was a team-mate in the professional peloton but a rival in the championship, where riders rode in national teams. However, Elliott and Stablinksi worked to wear down the other break members. When Stablinksi attacked, Elliott refused to chase and the Frenchman won alone. Elliott eventually broke away to take the silver medal. Elliott admitted he had sacrificed his chance for Stablinski's benefit.
Elliott said: "I'm not supposed to say that I helped Jean, but he's the best friend I've got in cycling and godfather to my son, Pascal. So I couldn't very well go after him, could I?"
Elliott's best result was in the 1963 Tour de France. There the pair's roles were reversed. Both men broke clear in a 12-man group on the third stage, to Roubaix. Neither tried to improve the breakaway group's lead because their leader, Anquetil, was in the main field. The breakaway lasted 150 km, however, and the lead grew to nine minutes. When Elliott twice punctured, Stablinksi controlled the break to allow him to regain his place. With no chance left for Anquetil to catch the leaders or to reduce his disadvantage, Elliott and Stablinski were freed to follow their own tactics. Stablinski led the group on to a cycle path beside one of the cobbled roads for which the area was known. The only rider not to follow was Elliott, he and Stablinski calculating that the others would find it hard to get off the cycle path once then were on it. Elliott sprinted away on the cobbles with six kilometres to the finish in the velodrome in Roubaix. He won by 33 seconds, enough to give him the yellow jersey of leadership. He held it for three days. Another 20 years passed before another Irishman, Sean Kelly, led the Tour.
Elliott spent his career as a domestique a rider who sacrifices his chances for his leader, but with the right to sprint for wins. He made a career from appearance contracts and start money, riding criteriums in Belgium – the races that Leulliot said would burn him out – and races in Britain, including a meeting at the velodrome at Herne Hill in London where the star attraction was the Italian, Fausto Coppi. Elliott also rode and won the professional race on the Isle of Man, the Manx Premier.
Elliott was contracted to ride London-Holyhead in 1965, at 275 miles the longest single-day race in the world not to use pacers. Tom Simpson won, beating Elliott and a domestic professional, Albert Hitchen. Controversy started the moment that Cycling printed a picture of the sprint. Elliott had his hands tugging his brakes before the line. The magazine suggested he was braking to avoid the crowd further down the road. But many thought it a fix. Elliott later wrote a newspaper article admitting that he made more money by selling races than winning them.
Another rider in the race, a domestic semi-professional called Pete Ryalls, said in Procycling in 2008:
The fix was for Barry Hoban to win. Barry was touch and go whether he'd get another contract because he'd done sweet FA all season. And it all went wrong because he didn't have the form anyway and it's a bloody long way if you don't have the legs. And the thing that messed it up was that going across Anglesey a big tall lanky guy called Peter Gordon. He pushed off and caused all sorts of consternation and the only people who could get across to him were Simpson and the guys he'd brought across with him, and Hitchen... so presumably they sorted it out between them afterwards, but that was the fix: that Hoban should win. I know for certain that it was.
Elliott, braking to stop Hitchen behind him, so Simpson could win, was riding in Simpson's pay. Simpson had already offered Elliott £1,000 to help him win the world championship in 1963. Elliott had refused, speculation being that he had been offered more by someone else.
Elliott's career started to fade from the mid-1960s. He moved in 1966 from Anquetil's team to the rival Mercier-BP, sponsored by a bicycle company and an oil company and led by Anquetil's rival, Raymond Poulidor. Elliott planned for retirement by opening a hotel in Loctudy in Brittany. That took so much of his time that he could ride only local races. After promising Mercier-BP that he would make amends in the world championship, the chain came off his bicycle and he finished 15th.
Things grew worse. His marriage to Marguerite, failed. The hotel, too, failed and Elliott lost all his money. To make amends, he sold a story to the British newspaper, The People, telling of drug-taking and bribery. The article went into few details but was enough for him to be snubbed by other professionals. The same had happened to Simpson when he sold his story to the same paper. But while Simpson recovered despite reprimands from his agent, criticism in the cycling press and a threat of dismissal by his team, Elliott's career never regained momentum.
Jock Wadley, who had shared a room with Elliott at the Simplex training camp, said: "I knew times were hard for him but nobody knew just how hard until he had to do that."
Elliott returned to Dublin in 1967 and set up a metal-working business with his father. Marguerite remained in France, with his only son Pascal. Elliott tried a racing comeback in Britain in 1970 with the Falcon Cycles team and came 21st in his first race, London-Holyhead. Domestic professional racing was not as attractive or rewarding as continental. Combining cycling with a full-time job meant he struggled. Despite problems, he continued to ride, train juniors and formulate plans for Irish cycling.
On 21 April 1971 his father James "Jim" Elliott died. Two weeks after his father's death, on 4 May 1971, Elliott was found dead in the living quarters above the family business premises. The cause of death was from a shotgun wound. He was laid to rest alongside his father at St Mochonogs Church, Kilmacanogue near Enniskerry, Co Wicklow.
The Shay Elliott Memorial Road Race is run every year in Ireland in his honour. The race was previously known as the Route de Chill Mhantain (Circuit of Wicklow). It became the Shay Elliott Trophy in the late sixties, then the Shay Elliott Memorial after his death in 1971. The race is still the most prestigious Irish one-day event after the national championship.
- Irish amateur road champion
- 1st GP d'Isbergues
- 1st Semaine Bretonne
- 1st Circuit de la Vienne
- 3rd Paris–Bourges
- 1st points classification Paris–Nice
- 1st GP Sigrand
- 2nd GP de Nice
- 2nd Tour de Picardie
- 1st points classification and 2 stages Four Days of Dunkirk
- 1st Trophée Peugeot (Rennes-Brest)
- 1st Stage 3a GP Ciclomotoristico
- 2nd Circuit de l'Indre
- 2nd Nice-Genoa
- 1st Stage 18 Giro d'Italia (Grand Tour)
- 1st stage 2 Four Days of Dunkirk
- 2nd World Championship Elite Road Race
- 2nd Circuit de la Vienne
- 2nd Paris–Camembert
- 2nd GP du Vercors
- 3rd overall, Vuelta a España (Grand Tour)
- 1st Stage 4
- 2nd overall on points classification
- held the leaders gold jersey for 9 stages
- 3rd Circuit Mandel-Lys-Escaut
- 3rd GP d'Orchies
- 1st GP de Vayrac
- 2nd Paris–Camembert
- 2nd Tour de l'Oise
- 1st Stage 13 Vuelta a España (Grand Tour)
- 1st Stage 3 Tour de France (Grand Tour)
- held leaders yellow jersey for 3 stages
- 1st Manx Trophy
- 1st Tour de l'Oise (1st stage 1)
- 1st GP de Saint-Raphaël
- 1st GP d'Espéraza
- 1st GP d'Orchies
- 2nd London-Holyhead
- 1st GP du Trégor
- Fotheringham, William (2005), Roule Britannia, Yellow Jersey, UK
- Cycling, May 2002
- Bordeaux–Paris was longer but the second half was ridden behind derny motorcycles
- Simpson, Tom, "World champ but they call me a crook", The People, London, 19 September 1965
- Healy, Graham (2011) Shay Elliott – The Life and Death of Ireland's First Yellow Jersey, Mousehold Press
- Fotheringham, William (2002), Put Me Back on my Bike, Yellow Jersey, UK
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