1950’s Biographies - Dave Bedwell
A Tribute to Dave Bedwell
by Roy Green, Sporting Cyclist, October 1964
IS there an age of "peak performance" in cycle racing? Recently we have been shown by youngsters like Peter Hill that teenagers can produce superlative staying power as well as speed. In the Tour, dear old "Baha" proves that he is as good as ever at 36. And evergreens like Nim Carline and Arch Harding are showing that there is still room for improvement at 40, even 50, years of age.
I spent a most interesting evening recently talking about road racing developments since just after the war up to the present. Dave Bedwell was my companion, a man who has raced in almost every country in Europe, and is still, at the age of 36, winning sprints in the best company.
Occasionally I meet people who were clubmen in the early 1950's who have lost touch with the sport. Mention of Dave sometimes brings raised eyebrows. "He's not still going, is he?" Ask this of Albert Hitchen or any of his other independent or topline amateur rivals and you will get quick confirmation that Dave, who won his first road title in 1949, and who started racing about the time Peter Hill and new junior "25" champion, Dennis Brown, were born, is still going very well indeed!
Nowadays a youngster starting off is quite likely to ride his very first race "in line." In 1945, when 17-year-old Dave Bedwell joined a club, road racing was a very thorny subject indeed. This was one of the most tempestuous periods in cycle racing's history, with the newly formed British League of Racing Cyclists telling the National Cyclists' Union that bunched racing on the open roads was a practical proposition. The Union, then our main governing body, replied by "outlawing" all who dared to try.
Dave started in conventional fashion. He was getting a lot of fun out of riding a bike around with friends on trips to the seaside and rivers and lakes in the area to go swimming, the big craze of his young days. East London cycle dealer Rory O'Brien. Bedwell's present sponsor, started Dave off in the racing world by introducing him to a local club.
The first "25," a 1-8, was not bad for a beginner then. Several following rides, if not outstanding, showed that he could make a useful racing man.
Like all lads starting then Dave's dream was the "25" record, standing at 59-18 to Cyril Cartwright (that "dates" Dave, doesn't it?). But a few rides on grass and hard tracks showed that young Bedwell's sprinting prowess could take him places quicker than unpaced riding.
He won a Junior Sprinters' Medal Competition, run over a series of meetings at Paddington. He took an Essex five-mile junior championship, followed it up a year later with the senior title. So he started dabbling at bunched racing, riding the closed-circuit Stapleford Tawney events, and caught the flavour of "massed start" racing
But his sprint did little to help Dave then, for he was rarely up in the leading bunch. "I was a miserable failure as a roadman at first, don't know what made me Join the League," he recollected.
Perhaps it was the fun of being labelled a "rebel" that attracted Dave and many others then to the B.L.R.C.'s cause. They certainly considered themselves a cut above the more staid Union men. The League boys were the "Mods" of cycling then, in appearance and ideas.
As a "League boy" you rode a stripped bike, with underslung stem, "South of France" bars, with little forward reach (popularised by ace climber Rene Vietto). A down-tube bottle-cage was a definite mark of the "gen" man, so too was a pair of tinted goggles, which could be worn on the arm (because Bobet did so). A gear-iron was de rigueur; the more French cycling terms you could throw in' the better; there was even a "Leaguer" style of sitting on the bike.
"The League boys got a lot of fun out of riding a bike," Dave recollects. "The Union crowd seemed to stick to their own particular clubs, but in the League things seemed more friendly, everyone joining forces for training and runs after racing."
Flamboyant they may have been, but the B.L.R.C. types had a lot of ideas, did plenty to influence racing's future pattern, Dave Bedwell certainly found the change helped him, for after his first year he won the B.L.R.C. national amateur road title. He had formed the Romford Racing Club, which proved to be one of the most successful League clubs in the area, with riders like Tony Phillips, Bill Bellamy and Dave Robinson putting the Essex club on top. (Like Bedwell, Robinson is still in current competition.)
After his title win, Bedwell did not spend much more time as an amateur. He took out an independent licence for Frejus, the continental cycle firm who were exporting 'machines to Britain.
"This was not so surprising as it would be nowadays," Dave explained. "Since the League were outlawed, their titles were unofficial, and therewere no selections to be gained by staying amateur. The big idea of League boys was to get a professional class going."
Big names Dave remembers from that era were George Lander, his Frejus team-mate ("a very good time trialist, with a good sprint, too"), Len West, George Kessocks, Geoff Clark (who crashed on the final stage of a Tour of Poland when lying second), 1952 T.O.B. winner Ken Russell, Bev Wood, Ken Jowett and Les Scales, manager of this year's Tour de I'Avenir team.
London-Battle and back; Dover-London; these were some of the early League races, won by Dave, which caused such adverse comment from the anti-League cycling Press, but in which Dave started to make himself much feared. In 1951 he made his first trip abroad, selected by the League to ride the "G.P. de l’Humanite," Humanite being the French "Daily Worker."
This race, held near Paris, was one of the few open to B.L.R.C. riders, as it was promoted by the F.S.G.T., a "rebel" sports organisation. Dave remembers there was quite a good field, with many of the top "regular" F.F.C. French roadmen riding (a small fine being their only penalty). By the finish, Bedwell's name was known farther afield, for he caused quite a sensation by winning the race.
There were some more big changes for Dave the following year, 1952. Back to the track; back to the N.C.U., and a change in status, to full professional. The motive was to join an impressive venture started by Norwood Paragon journalist-track star Johnny Dennis. With the idea of bringing Britain's professionals together more, to help them break through on the Continent later, Johnny started a "Professional School" at Herne Hill.
The pros. divided into two-man teams for the season, riding omniums every fortnight. Dave was paired with another Romford rider, Derek Buttle. Interesting to note that there were more than 20 full professionals in those days.
Dave showed he had track potential, for beside his sprinting, he set a professional tandem-paced hour record of 31 miles 1,560 yards (beating Frank Southall's amateur best by 103 yards), which still stands. He believes that his 5,000 metre time of 6min 35sec is the fastest done on the track to date.
A good sprinter is always at home on the track, and in single-day races, but what about stage racing? Dave was in at the birth of the Tour of Britain, riding the first "Daily Express"-sponsored race in 1951. A look through results shows he left his mark on the race as much as any other rider.
He has started in five Tours, finished three. But look at his stage-winning record. Four stages in 1951, three in 1953, four in 1954 and two in the first "Milk Race" in 1958. A total of 13; next-best total is Ron Coe who has six wins, followed by five to Les Scales, Bill Bradley and Peter Chisman.
Dave's best overall place was third, in 1954. To achieve this, he had to produce a ride on the final day of which I have heard many witnesses cite as the best thing they have seen in cycle racing. Dave says it was certainly his best-ever effort.
With just two miles remaining to the finish, at the top of the steep climb up to London's Alexandra Palace, Maitland and Belgian Guldemont had about a quarter-mile lead on the main bunch. Bedwell, lying seventh, knew that by winning the stage, with several seconds over several danger-men he could climb up to third. He jumped clear of the madly chasing bunch along the North Circular road.
The dense crowds at the finish saw Bedwell soaring up the steep climb to Alexandra Palace like a man possessed. He left the tiring Maitland as though he were standing still, and just caught the Belgian before the line.
"At the yellow 220yd flag, I was still 50yd down," Dave recollected. "I was completely drained by the effort, and collapsed over the line - but I'd won, and got my third overall place too."
In between those track meets of 1952 he paid visits to Belgian kermesses and Northern France. He rode the Tour de I'Oise, finishing second in one stage. Then he and Clive Parker, Derek Buttle, Les Wade and Alec Taylor rode in the 1952 World Pro. road championships at Luxembourg, won by the German, Heinz Muller.
The results were dismal, only Clive Parker finishing, last, Dave himself puncturing in the first lap, never to see the field again. But it was a step on the ladder. "And don't forget we had all ridden little else but track that year," Dave said.
The following year he rode the championships at Lugano, dominated so magnificently by Fausto Coppi. He punctured with a well-placed group near the end. "I think I would have been in the first 12; instead, they did not even place me officially." Dave's only official "World's" placing was 19th, in the 1956 championships at Copenhagen, won by Rik van Steenbergen.
The fight to get established on the Continent continued in the following two years, but in a rather disorganised manner. But there were some successes. In the 1954 Tour of Calvados, Dave won the first stage, finishing fourth overall. Perhaps the air (or the cider!) of the area suited him, for the following year he won stage one again, finishing third finally.
"I think if we had established ourselves firmly in these years we could have got somewhere," Dave reflected.
A highlight was Dave's riding in the 1954 Paris-Nice. He was finishing well up most days, but sickness put him out before the final stage. He remembers favourable reports on his strong riding in .he first stage, when he lead a counter-attack to a break near the end with the great Fausto Coppi.
In 1955 the powerful Hercules concern, which Bedwell joined in 1953, decided to sink a lot of money into the venture of keeping a team on the Continent, with Tour de France participation in mind. They hired a chalet for the team down on the C6te d'Azur for early season training. Riding in the "prologue" events there, Dave found he could certainly hold his own.
"At Frejus, I finished second to Anquetil, with Stablinski third. The following day at Marseilles, I finished third - but outsprinted Anquetil for the place! And I beat Andre Darrigade in a sprint later, in a stage of the Tour of Picardy."
Came the 1955 Tour de France, with the dream of a full British team in the great event realised at last. It could have been the start of big things for the little Romford rider. But for Dave it only meant disappointment and despair. Dave was out on the third stage.
He had punctured, and packed after dropping steadily further behind. But Dave had known that it would be but a question of time before he pulled out right from the start.
"I just started with no morale. I hadn't then the will to succeed, I was a bit too temperamental for the kind of life we were living, I had a few worries about heart trouble, which afterwards turned out to be false. But, thrown in at the deep end with Europe's top pros. as we were, you needed real determination to succeed. My one big regret now is that I was just not keen at that time to take my chance - I think I could have made the grade."
Looking at his record before and since that bad year, I could not help but agree with him. For Dave has obviously the one golden asset for success that every madman prays for. A rider may be able to outclimb the rest, speed like a demon for long stretches on the flat, possess stamina that keeps him going while the rest are flagging. But the man who has the really electrifying finishing sprint will climb the winner's rostrum more times than the climber, rouleur or stayer.
Two men finished that Tour. Brian Robinson, 20th, went on to a great career. "Robbo was by no means the best we had then," Dave remarked. "But his mind got him there. He had iron determination - and he knew that there was plenty of 'brass' to be made!"
Courageous Tony Hoar fought on to the end, to finish "Lanterne Rouge." Dave thinks we would have had another finisher, and possibly another bright future hope, had not misfortune in the shape of the Tour-man's worst enemy, saddle boils, caused Ken Mitchell to abandon in the mountains.
"Ken was one of the best we had then, a man with real class. He was one of the worst descenders in the race, but he was a great climber, able to hold his own on the big cols."
After that highspot year, there were some hard times ahead for Dave and the rest of the independents and professionals in this country. For the big Hercules concern withdrew their support and many other firms followed suit. For the next two years he rode unsponsored, riding in Belgian kermesses a lot, but not making much money for the amount of hard work he put in.
One peculiarity he remembers from those days. The "split" was still in operation; Dave rode abroad on an N.C.U. professional licence, and used his B.L.R.C. independent's licence in this country!
Dave paid a trip behind the "Iron Curtain" in 1959, selected for the Warsaw-Berlin-Prague race. Flat roads, fast racing, bunch finishes, are the pattern of the Peace race, apparently right up Dave's street.
"But the best I could manage was third on one stage," he told me. "I couldn't master the technique of cinder track sprinting - and every stage finished on one!" But he still finished ninth overall.
His experience of the Peace race heightened his admiration for one of the "greats" of the early '50's, Ian Steel, who won the first W.P.B. in 1951. "A lot of people have tried to say that Steel's victory was not much as the race was not so good then. I don't believe this from what I have heard. I think that much of it was sour grapes from the non-Leaguers."
With racing experience all over the Continent and in most areas in this country Dave, a master tactician, would make an ideal teacher for any road racing aspirant. He has, in fact, been active in the training sphere lately; he coached at a week-end training course for Essex roadmen.
He usually starts training at the beginning of February each year. He comments: "I start with a week-end run of about 60 miles, steady on low gears, below 66, increasing each week in distance and severity up to around 120.1 prefer Saturday, since it gives Sunday as a rest-day, which is as important as training, and there is the alternative of Sunday riding if Saturday's weather is bad."
Mid-week training starts with two 20-mile runs, one bit-and-bit, one steady, increasing to around 55 miles. During the season he does about 20 miles bit-and-bit each Tuesday and Thursday, with a steady run of about 60 miles on Wednesdays.
Tactically, he thinks madmen in this country have a lot of wrong ideas. "Some races are strangled by exaggerated tactics," he said. "How often do we have the sight of half a dozen or so men away in a break, gaining steadily on a bunch who do nothing about it. You've got to work in the bunch too. Some teams have the idea that they're racing well if they get one man away in the break. The other three should try to get there with him, not just sit around behind.
"There is a lack of technique too. That's not to be confused with tactics. Very rarely do bunches form up into several echelons. Usually there is some semblance of a first one, then a long tail. There should be several more working groups behind the first line."
One idea which Dave thinks would improve racing would be to change the prize distribution. "We don't want a huge top prize, with a much lower second, and few others. Spread the prize list and you'll get harder racing."
He has some definite ideas about courses. His ideal stage race is the Tour of the South West. "The stages are a sensible length, which usually produces a hard race every day.
"There is a place for a few tough single-day races, like the Vaux. But we don't want every race organiser looking for the hardest course possible. What is needed is a lot of fast criteriums on small circuits.
"I rode an evening kermesse at Colchester recently which in my opinion was the ideal race. Small, flattish circuit, plenty, of corners which need lots of short, sharp efforts - suits me down to the ground. Only mistake often made by organisers on these short circuits is to cut the distance. Ideally it should be around 70 to 80 miles.
"I'm pleased to see more of this type of event being run lately. The Morecambe prom. races, Southend kermesses, and other such races do the sport a lot of good, because they take place where the public can see them.
"Another way in which we would catch the public eye and win a lot of goodwill for the sport, as well as helping others, would be to promote town circuit races in aid of Oxfam and similar causes. Local shopkeepers could be approached for prizes and to take collecting boxes, and collections could be made round the course."
One course Dave dislikes is the Crystal Palace circuit. "I don't think it has much spectator appeal; the road is too wide, with those sweeping bends giving no chances for much change in pace, so there is no impression of speed."
Despite his dislike, Bedwell is reasonably successful at the Palace; he out sprinted the bunch, outclassed by the professionals, at this year's Corona meeting, then just lost to Bernard Burns in the sprint for the big Mackeson G.P. prize in August.
"One thing in British racing that gives a false impression is the high average speeds of many events. That doesn't mean a thing; it's how the race is run that counts. Around 1954, we had a tight `circus' of pros. and independents racing, and were developing a good style of racing on Italian lines, with a modest average speed, but very fast racing over the final miles. That is the pattern on the Continent; most races there reach over 30's in the final miles."
Tips on sprinting? Dave's talent is obviously more of a gift than an acquired thing, so teaching this is difficult. He thinks the biggest mistake is sprinting on high gears. This is said often, but the fault remains. "I make that mistake myself," Dave grinned, "Especially if tired after a long race, when sometimes a big one is the only way. Generally I use about 92; sometimes in the 70's if it is uphill, like the Criterium des Vainqueurs.
"Having a good jump gives me a big advantage. I prefer to wait until past the 220yd flag. I like to come off a wheel, but if nobody has jumped then, I go alone."
The men he fears most currently in a sprint? "Well, this depends on course and race. For example, Tarr and Willison are the men to watch at the Palace. Generally, I rate Alan Jacob and Albert Hitchen as the most dangerous men."
For a bike rider as small as Dave, who is 5ft 2in, weighing 10 stone, there are problems regarding equipment. Dave's frame size is only 19 1/2 - surely the smallest big-timer in the game? He has a steeper angle at the head tube than at the seat, to give a shorter top-tube. He used to use specially made 6 1/8in cranks. "But I don't think this made much difference; in fact I now use 6 3/4in cranks."
Dave is the type who does not keep records, photos or souvenirs, other than in his mind. But he is obviously the type of rider who uses his mind, both concerning his own career and racing generally. For instance, he is definitely all in favour of the "Open" category, to abolish all categories.
"What is an amateur nowadays? I do a full week's work, and train afterwards, which is more than many top amateurs can say."
What a wealth of experience Dave has in this game. To date, he has had seven different sponsors. He now rides for Rory O'Brien again (he was with him in 1958-59), the man who helped him start in the game. At the time I spoke to him, evergreen Dave had notched up ten wins in the current season. How much longer can he go on at the top?
Answer to that is that this may be the final season for the "Iron Man" of Essex. "I feel that I could go on for a few more years," he says. "At 36 you're just as fit as ten years earlier. But the mind is not as keen as when you are young. At times now I think that I really do not like cycle racing; it's almost a habit. Trouble is the big mental strain it puts on you. I have little time now besides riding a bike and looking after my wife and four children. Only hobby besides the bike is experimenting with home-made wine."
Next year, Dave contemplates a move from his Brentwood home to the Midlands. He plans to start a small business up there.
A cycle shop, naturally - what else?
THAT BEDWELL SPRINT AGAIN!
Beats Roe In Havering Race
Credit: Paul Bach - Cycling 16-Apr-1958
LONG overdue spring weather and a top-class mixed amateur-independent entry made a simultaneous appearance east of London last Sunday for the Avenue C.R.C.'s Circuit of Havering promotion, over a testing 92 miles of "bumpy", narrow, loose-surfaced Essex lanes, almost devoid of flat stretches.
Dave Bedwell's sprint has brought him many victories; it brought him another on Sunday when, after a quiet start, he. successfully chased, with D. Robinson, Romford R.C., a secure-looking breakaway group of Bill Seggar, recent Isle of Wight animator, L. Morris, Harold Hill and L. Cook, Tottenham Ph., who had resisted all other chasing attempts with the notable exception of a terrific lone effort by Ron Coe. The hard, uphill finish suited Bedwell, and although the margin was close, half-length was the nearest Robinson and Coe could manage.
After six miles, Cook. Morris and Seggar had jumped away to a slight lead. This brought no reaction from the bunch, for their margin was never a large one in the early stages. Came the second circuit and with the three still away, six riders had formed a workmanlike chasing group; independents Coe, D. Hutton, J. Morris and amateurs J. Brackstone, W. London, J. Buck, Leyton, and J. Cooper, Avenue, But with Coe - " I felt 'lousy' early on " - probably feeling the effects of a 62-mile road race win the previous day they fell back after eight miles.
Not until lap four was there any indication of something unexpected to come. Then Coe strung out the bunch with a surge of power, took Robinson with him as he went away from the front, dropped the Romford rider on the ascent of winding Orange Tree Hill and began his epic lone chase of the leaders.
Meanwhile, Robinson had paired with Bedwell and was chasing Coe. In less than a lap, Coe had pulled back a three-min. deficit and joined the break, just as Morris dropped back, obviously tired by his long spell at the front. Bedwell and Robinson were fast pulling back ground too, and at the beginning of the penultimate lap, had joined Coe, Seggar and bearded Cook, doing the "ride of his life". Thus the final pattern of the race was formed, despite one or two tentative attacks by Coe on the final lap - "I wanted to see how strong they were and found they were all very strong!" So they remained to the finish, where 400 or so spectators left no more than a lane six feet wide in which the sprint was contested.
D. Bedwell, R. O'Brien Cycles, 4-22-8, 1; D Robinson, Romford R.C. at 1/2 length, 2: R. Coe, independent, 3; L. Cook. Tott. Ph. 4: W. Seggar, Suffolk Roads, 5: G. Wilson, Elswick-Hopper, at 3-32, 6: J. Brackstorie, W. London R.C., 7; R Thorpe, Romford R.C., 8: D. Hutton, Independent 9; R. Meadows, Tott. Ph. 10.
DAVE BEDWELL STILL ON TOP
DAVE BEDWELL is still a top roadman at 35! The Romford "Iron Man", who was the B.L.R.C. national senior champion 15 years ago, confirmed this when he beat a first class field of London, Midlands and Home Counties riders to win the Nottingham Road Club's 74-mile Tour of Belvoir on Sunday.
Dave made it a double, too, leading Rory O'Brien cycles to win the team race. with Jim Grieves (7th) and Bob Newell (19th) in support.
The decisive move came 16 miles from the finish of the race on the undulating roads of Leicestershire hunting country when Bedwell and Alf Engers, Shorter Cycles, jumped into the lead.
Soon they were 30 seconds up, but the lead dwindled as Alan Jacob, Ryall-Raxar; Dave Paling, Oundle Velo; Jim Grieves, Rory O'Brien, and Johnny Chance, Wilson Cycle, took up the chase.
But before the quartet could make up the deficit, they were caught by the chasing bunch and in a dramatic finish Bedwell and Engers clung to their lead.
On the uphill finish, to the top of Harby Hill. Bedwell left his younger rival to press on for a ten seconds win - and leading in the bunch close behind was Sheffield independent, Peter Ryalls, Woodrup-OvaItine.
Derrick Woodings was the best amateur, in fourth place, and next best of the amateurs was Dave Paling, leading Oundle Velo to second place in the team race.
D Bedwell, Rory O'Brien Cycles, 3-6-37, 1; A Engers, Alan Shorter Cycles, at 10 sec., 2 ; P Ryalls, Woodrup-Ovaltine, at 15sec.. 3, D. Woodings, Derby Wh.. 4: J. Chance, Wilson Cycles, 5 ; J. Grieves, Rory O'Brien Cycles, 6. Team.- Rory O'Brien Cycles.
Obituary - Cycling Weekly 6-Mar-1999
Bedwell the 'Ironman' dies aged 70. The 'Mighty Atom' of professional-independent British road racing in the late 1940s and 50's, died suddenly on Sunday. He was taking part in a Cyclists' Touring Club ride near Torquay. Bedwell is reported to have sprinted away from the group on a hill near Kingskerwell. Shortly afterwards, his companions found him collapsed at the side of the road.
In 1949 Bedwell won the British League of Racing Cycling's national road race title. He also wore the yellow jersey in the Daily Express Tour of Britain. He was famed for his electrifying sprint and earned a reputation abroad where he beat the likes of French road champions Andre Darrigade and Jean Stablinski. In one season at home, Bedwell was beaten only twice.