Eileen Sheridan (cyclist)

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Eileen Sheridan, née Shaw (born 18 October 1923) is a retired English cyclist who specialized in time trialing and road record breaking. She broke all the records of the Women's Road Records Association during the late 1940s and 1950s. They included Land's End to John o' Groats, set by Lilian Dredge. Eileen has lived with her family in Isleworth, Middlesex since 1952.

Amateur career[edit]

Eileen Sheridan, 4 ft 11in tall as an adult and described by historian Bernard Thompson as "a dainty lady",[1] was an athletic girl at school in Coventry. Cycling dominated other sports at the age of 15 and in 1944 she joined the Coventry Cycling Club.[2] There she went touring and joined club rides without being interested in racing.[3] She said: "It is on club runs that the club spirit is found, if they have a spirit at all, and retained for all time. Coventry club runs number among the happiest moments in my life."[2] She rode her first race, an informal 10-mile time trial, in mid-1940 and finished in 28m 30s "to the great amazement of the club as well as myself."[2] She intended to race formally that summer but the event she entered was cancelled. She began racing instead in 1945[4] Her first race was a 25-mile time trial run by the Birmingham Time Trial Association and she was seeded to start first. She hoped to ride 1h 15m and finished in 1h 13m 34s,[2] breaking her club's record and winning the event.

She then won the national time trial championship at 25 miles, saying she "rode as never before."[2] She married Ken Sheridan and gave birth to their son, Clive, in April 1946. She started cycling again seven weeks later and within five months won a club time trial.[2]

She reduced her 50-mile time to 2h 22m 53s in 1947 and rode 25 miles in 1h 7m 35s. She won the Birmingham and Midland track championship. She moved to a conventional racing bike on her 21st birthday in 1948 and, in the words of The Bicycle, "rocked the racing world, setting up completely new standards for women's records."[2]

She won the women's British Best All-Rounder time trial competition in 1949 and 1950. Her ride in the Yorkshire Cycling Federation 12-hour race in September 1949 set a national record with 237.32 miles. Only four men bettered her distance, the winner of the men's event, Des Robinson, by only six miles. She also took national championships at 50 and 100 miles in 1950. She broke records at 30 miles (1948: 1h 19m 28s), 50 miles (1949 and 1950: 2h 14m 16s), 100 miles (1950: 4h 37m 53s) and 12 hours (1949: 237.62 miles). But her time for 25 miles never fell below 1h 5m; she said it took her at least that far to get warmed up.

She was awarded the Bidlake Memorial Prize in 1950 "for creating a new high standard in women's cycle racing with an outstanding series of three championships and five record performances on the road in 1950."[5]

Professional career[edit]

Hercules Cycle and Motor Company signed her in 1951 for three years to break distance and place-to-place records.[6] These included in 1954, the 12 hour record where she covered 250 and a half miles and the 24-hour record in 446 and a half miles. She broke all 21 of the women's records by large margins. Five have yet to be beaten, including the London-Edinburgh record of 20h 11m 35s, set in 1954.[7] Her 1,000-mile record of 3 days and 1 hour stood for 48 years until it was broken in 2002 by Lynne Taylor [8]

Land's End - John o'Groats[edit]

In 1954, on the 9. 10 and 11 July, Sheridan reduced Marguerite Wilson's record for Land's End to John o' Groats, from the southwestern tip of England to John o `Groats (the northernmost part of mainland Scotland actually being Dunnet Head), to 2 days, 11 hours and 7 minutes.

Cycling historian Ramin Minovi said: "Hercules supplied the most bizarre support vehicle ever seen until the Mad Max movies. A caravan was strapped to a vast Bedford low-loader, and a large toilet ostentatiously installed on the front. Access to the monster was via a ladder, and when Eileen needed a comfort break, then the whole world knew about it. Her hands were blistered because there was no padding on the bars, just a winding of rough tape, and she kept going on blackcurrant juice, soup, sugar and chicken legs."[6] Also adding bananas, honey and salt when needed.

The bicycle she used is on display in Coventry Transport Museum[6] It carries the Hercules name but was made under contract by another supplier because, Minovi said, "Hercules' frames were so heavy."

Disallowed record[edit]

The Women's Road Records Association disallowed her attempt on the Land's End to London record, in 1952, because the Daily Mirror had published a story announcing her attempt. The association's rules forbade publicity before a ride.[9] She had beaten the record by 23 minutes.

Outside racing[edit]

In 1952 she featured in a documentary film made by Dunlop called Spinning Wheels: Cycle Sport '50s Style. The film also featured Reg Harris, Ken Joy and Cyril Peacock as well as scenes from the Tour de France. In 1955 she featured in an advertisement for Player's Players' cigarettes. Eileen is a Life Member and President of the Coventry Cycling Club, from which she has enjoyed great help and friendship over the years. Finally in 1955 at the end of her professional career, she had her daughter, Louise.

Assessment[edit]

The cycling historian Bernard Thompson wrote:

The 100-mile championship was introduced in 1950 and won by Eileen Sheridan, Coventry CC, with 4h 37m 53s. The reign of Eileen Sheridan had begun some five years earlier when in 1945 she won the 25-mile title with 1h 8m 38s, and although there had been many highly talented women time-triallists throughout the early years of the sport, it was Eileen Sheridan who set about pushing out the frontiers of women's records to the point of almost complete domination. [She] was a dainty lady and belied her strength and stamina. It was written in 1950 after Eileen Sheridan's second successive Best All-Rounder championship that "It may well be that Eileen Sheridan will go down in cycling history as the greatest of all women riders."[10]

Bibliography[edit]

  • Hilton, T. (2005), One More Kilometre And We're In The Showers, ISBN 0-00-653228-4
  • Woodland, L. (2005), This Island Race, Mousehold Press, ISBN 1-874739-36-6
  • Wonder Wheels; The Autobiography of Eileen Sheridan. ISBN 978-1-903088-49-4
  • Whitfield, Peter, (2006), "Eileen Sheridan: a Cycling Life", out of print
  • Whitfield, Peter, (2007), "12 Champions", out of print

References[edit]

  1. ^ Thompson, Bernard, Alpaca to Skinsuit, Geerings of Ashford, UK, ISBN 0-9513042-0-8, p15
  2. ^ a b c d e f g The Bicycle, UK, 18 November 1953, p27
  3. ^ The Bicycle, UK, 27 February 1946, p6
  4. ^ Sheridan, Eileen. Wonder Wheels; The Autobiography of Eileen Sheridan.. 
  5. ^ http://www.bidlakememorial.org.uk/Recipients.htm>
  6. ^ a b c "An Evening with Eileen Sheridan: The Mighty Atom". Association of British Cycling Coaches. 2005. Archived from the original on 27 September 2011. 
  7. ^ "Records Place to Place". Road Records Association. Retrieved 2010-09-16. 
  8. ^ "Three Days of Sleepless Nights". Association of British Cycling Coaches. Archived from the original on 2010-08-20. 
  9. ^ The Bicycle, UK, 29 October 1952, p16
  10. ^ Thompson, Bernard, Alpaca to Skinsuit, Geerings of Ashford, UK, ISBN 0-9513042-0-8, pp15-16

External links[edit]

(N.B. Galway-Dublin, Sheridan broke the men's as well as the women's record)