TalkingShop: Milk Race Winner Chris Walker

VeloUK talks to Chris Walker who won races in Britain and Europe, inspired champions of today and is now helping the champions of tomorrow.

Chris Walker now, helping son Joey with his number at Darley Moor a few weeks ago. Joey is competing in the Isle of Man Youth Tour this weekend.

Over in the Isle of Man right now is Chris Walker with his son Joey who is riding the Youth Tour. Joey races for the RST Racing Team which has a Youth team as well as a senior one. Chris and his wife Lynne also have a daughter, Jessie, who races for top women’ss team Matrix Fitness/Prendas this weekend.

Cycling is certainly in the genes of the Walker family. Chris and Lynne were both champion cyclists and through their children Joey and Jessie, both are involved in the sport again. Chris, who trains with the likes Russell and Dean Downing, Ben Swift and the South Yorkshire mafia, has already had a victory in a TLI event and local inter club TT but it’s the youth of today where his inspiration lies.

As he explained, ˜today is a better time to be a pro and Chris would rather help the aspirations of young riders wanting to follow in his wheel marks rather than make a name for himself all over again. Something he certainly has the ability and class to do.

Chris came back into the sport through his children seeing the likes of Russell Downing race and wanting to race themselves. The experience of seeing what is on offer for the young riders today has left Chris more than a little jealous.

“It’s brilliant with the amount of coaching and back up they get, just brilliant” Chris says. “I am jealous because I would love to have had that structure.”

“What I did when I first started in bike racing was to take snippets of information from anywhere. I can remember Sid Barras and his tips like always clean your teeth before a race. I can remember the comic asking Robert Millar about training and what time did he go training and he’d said ˜an hour after I get up. When asked what time is that, he replied “˜that depends on how tired I am.”

“I used to take things like that on board because it made more sense than the notion that you had to be out at 8am to be a tough guy. I took on board what Robert said because there are times when your body is more tired because you’ve had a harder weekend so I used to do that.”

“As a youth, it’s important they are doing the right training but not taking themselves too seriously because there are these different levels of growth and you get these under 16s who are massive and then one that’s tiny. It all evens out when they get older so what I tell my kids is, enjoy it, learn from it, you are going to have ups and down but there is a bigger picture.”

In 2011, I paid a couple of visits to South Yorkshire to talk to riders who take part in the chaingang they have there, one where champions are being born around riders who are already champions. In Chris Walker’s heyday, the scene in South Yorkshire was just as vibrant with the likes of Malcolm Elliott doing what a lot of British riders are doing now, making a success of themselves in Europe.

“There was a big chaingang” Chris explained. There were points on it when I used to get dropped because there were guys on it that were winning races like the GP of Essex like Nigel Bloor (team Raleigh-Weinmann and ANC-Halfords), Elliott was up there in national races and I was riding with these guys and couldn’t get anywhere near them”.

“But there were days when I’d get home and think ‘I got over the last climb with them’ and then later, ‘˜I could see them in the sprint’ and it was about making little steps. I used to find the little steps forward important and was proud that I had got to that next step.”

“It was a good time to be riding because there were such good riders in the area that you were comparing yourself to. And it’s like that now. The youth riders can go out training alongside Ben Swift, Russell and Dean Downing and these are the guys that are winning and that’s something they can aspire to.”

The ˜80s
When Chris was riding, the racing scene in Britain was very different. There were pros and amateurs for one thing and being a professional was what Chris aspired to. “When I first turned senior, I went to Italy and for lots of different reasons, that didn’t work out so I came back and was then riding what were the Star Trophies back then (now the Premier Calendar). I was disillusioned”.

From being a kid, I wanted to do the Tour de France and all these different things and then suddenly I was back here. I’d done all the steps like I’d won the Peter Buckley Trophy (Junior National Road Race Series) two years on the trot (1982/1983) and was third in the Tour of the Peak and 5th in the Senior National Road Race champs so I was getting to where I wanted to be and went straight to Italy and won races there.”

It was Olympic year (1984) and I feel I should have gone because I was winning in Italy and thinking this will put me in good stead for getting in the Olympic team. They didn’t pick me because I didn’t do enough of the UK selection races. I did one they made me do and I won that. But I still didn’t get selected. With things like that, you get knocked down but you have to build on it.”

And bounce back Chris did as he explains. “I wanted to be in the pro scene and when I was a young amateur, the team that was in then, the Paragon Racing Team, we used to target an amateur race where the pros were racing because we wanted to get seen and that worked.”

“In 1986, we went to all those races and I think we won every one of the amateur races that were held on the same day as the pros and out of the six riders in our team, I think we all turned pro. There was myself, I went to the team of Watertech Dawes, there was also Kevin Byers, Keith Reynolds and Dave Williams, they got picked by Birmingham Exec Airways, Rob Holden got picked up by Percy Bilton, and Adrian Timmis went to ANC.”

“We went from a team that was winning everything at national amateur level to a team that disappeared because we all turned pro.”

Chris turned pro in 1987 when there was the Kelloggs city centre crits going on and there were lots of teams because of that but going from the amateur ranks to the pro ranks was a big jump and the difference in speed was a shock.

“Comparing that to now, it’s probably like the difference between a local race with the odd Elite rider in it to one packed with Elites all knocking ten bells out of each other on the road like in the Tour Series. I’ve seen riders in that who win races week in, week out and then get shelled because racing at that top level is so much higher”.

Listening to Chris, knowing what he achieved and how talented he was and so many others as well, you can’t help but realise just how lucky young riders are these days now that the pro scene in Europe is more of a level playing field. It is the war on drugs in cycling that has given so many more riders the opportunity to succeed in cycling these days. The damage the drug taking could cause riders who refused to take part in such practices was devastating mentally.

I remember training with a pro in the 90’s who like Chris, went to Italy, didn’t like what he saw and came back to Britain. He then spent a few years here before venturing to Europe as a professional. Riding clean was a choice back then where as now, it’s the done thing for most.

Town Centre Crits
When Chris turned professional, the big thing then, as it is now, were the circuit races in Britain. Back then, the racing on TV saw the professional sport flourish and there were nearly 70 pros and Chris says it was a good scene to be part of.

“We did have road races but they weren’t televised apart from the Tour of Britain so no sponsor outside of the sport was interested because it all revolved around TV which is why we have seen the resurrection now with the Tour Series because you can get the right kind of sponsors back in.”

Chris explained that the number of road races back then was around the same as the number of Prems and the bias was always towards the crits which never really provided them with a good stepping stone for racing in Europe. “All the stars would come and ride the Kelloggs and the Scottish Provident and they got their asses kicked but it didn’t mean anything because they got their pay. Then we’d get to the Kelloggs Tour and the pros you were up against had just come from the Tour de France”

While the city centre crits didn’t perhaps give British pros the springboard for a pro career in Europe, Chris still had success outside the town centre races. The one everyone remembers is the Milk Race but for Chris, a stage race in Italy was an even better performance.

“The win in the Milk Race wasn’t the only highlight. A race I was more proud of was Settimana Ciclistica Lombarda in Italy. There were all the Italian pro teams there like Lampre and good riders at that and it was probably a better category race than the Milk Race.”

Lance Armstrong won it overall but I won four stages and the Points jersey. Everyone thinks of the Milk Race and it was good but it wasn’t the same level as the Settimana Ciclistica Lombarda event.”

Chris is certainly proud of his achievements in pro races in Europe like his stage win in the French race Tour du Vaucluse which Miguel Indurain won overall. With names like Armstrong and Indurain in these races, it’s easy to see just what quality events Chris was succeeding in. But there was no Team Sky for him to go to and of course the pro scene was a lot different to what it is now.

Whilst nowadays the scene is still dominated by circuit racing in Britain, the British UCI teams still give riders here the pathway to make a name for themselves. Everyone seems to point to Team Sky but getting a place in that squad is as much about a person’s face fitting as it is about their talent on the bike. Or so it seems from what I’ve heard from those who have either been it or tried to be in it.

Getting a ride in the team if you’re outside of the GB setup is nigh on impossible which is why the other UCI teams in Britain are actually more important to the riders in the sport. Sure, Team Sky get plenty of internet and TV coverage to give the youngsters of today the belief they too can be riding the Tour de France but for a young rider to make that journey, they need to climb the ladder by getting rides with pro teams.

Adam Blythe from Chris Walker’s neck of the woods in South Yorkshire did that as has Matt Brammeier to name but two. But there are other ways and that’s to get a spot in a British pro team who race abroad.

Youth Team
It is with the youth of today though that Chris is keen to help so they can fulfil their potential as cyclists and take it as far as they can. The Cycle Division created a team for the youngsters including Joey and Jessie Walker.

It started last year and it was about trying to get this team spirit going. “That is so important. You have to pick riders you’re going to get on with rather than he’s better than him. It’s about who’s going to ride harder for his teammate. If you get too many guys who think they are the top guy, they are not going to work together.”

“It was a platform for us to start a team and a chance to give the kids the right advice. A lot of kids do get above their station before they have done anything and we’re trying to keep them calm and point them in the right direction. We have a team get together before races and debrief after the races and we’ll ask the questions.”

“Give them advice after listening to them and it’s a learning process. The kids have to realise you have not done anything until you have turned senior and done something. A lot of riders are lost to the sport, really good youth and junior riders, because people blow smoke up their ass and get them all excited and they think they are something special. But, when it gets to the real racing, they are shocked, and they can’t handle it and pack in.”

“We wanted down to earth, intelligent riders with no egos, we definitely didn’t want any egos. These riders weren’t together six months ago and it’s brilliant what they are doing. They are racing against good riders and they not afraid. I don’t want them to be afraid of anyone. I don’t care if they are lapped as long as they are doing the right thing and they are.”

The team are not only looking to race right, but also look right and with the help of RST/cycle Division, that’s an easy objective for them to achieve. There’s the two transporter vans which are very cool looking and the Trigon bikes that can compete with anything else on the market.

Then there’s the clothing and Chris has had a hand in that as well along with the Trigon Bikes they race on. I think its safe to say that the big difference between now and the 80’s when Chris grew up is that teams like RST help youngsters look and ride like pros from day 1. The guess work has gone. We live in an age of information overload if anything but the stepping stones are there for riders to fulfil their potential if they have the belief.

Just how far Chris Walker could have gone in the sport had he been racing nowadays we can only guess but seeing what the likes of Russ Downing and Ben Swift have done, I think it’s safe to say, we’d have seen him racing and winning at the highest level on a regular basis rather than just the few opportunities he had. Opportunities he took with both hands.

Finally, take a look at the list of his achievements. Chris was certainly a British rider to be proud of and getting behind and we wish him and the team lots of luck. They don’t only look the business, but have one of the most astute riders backing them they could have. Thanks to Chris for the chat

Amateur achievements
1982 Peter Buckley Trophy National Junior Road Race Series Winner
1983 Peter Buckley Trophy National Junior Road Race Series Winner
8th World Junior Road Race Championships – Wanganui New Zealand
5th National Amateur Road Race Championships – Buxton – Derbyshire
1984 Lived and raced for Fanini amateur team in Italy. 3 wins and represented GB team in pro-am Tour of Sweden and 3 other occasions Internationally
1985 17 wins racing for Paragon Racing Team in UK
1986 15 wins including 100km National Team Time Trial Championships setting new competition record

Professional achievements
Turned professional for Watertech-Dawes
6 wins plus TV Times sprints competion in the inaugural Kelloggs Pro Tour of Britain
Awarded Professional Cycling Associations ‘Best new pro’

1988 Raleigh Banana
5 wins plus Wincanton Sprints winner TV city centre cycle series

1989 Raleigh Banana
4 wins including Nottingham City Centre TV race

1990 Banana Falcon
16 wins including McEwans L.A. Lager TV series
Professional Cycling Association ‘Rider of the year’ award

1991 Banana Falcon
19 wins including 5 stage wins in the Milk Race,
Points jersey Milk Race
Combine jersey Milk race
Record 4 stage wins in Settimana Ciclista Lombarda won overall by Lance Armstrong
Points jersey Settimana Ciclista Lombarda
1st Final stage of Tour of Vaucluse won overall by Miguel Indurain

1992 Subaru Montgomery
5 wins including 3 Scottish Provident wins in UK
Bronze medal Professional RR Championship – Scotland

1993 IME Healthshare -USA
6 wins including Lancaster GP – New England
Milwalkeee super week stage win

1994 LEX Townsend
5 wins including Lincoln GP and Aberdeen SKY TV race

1995 Peugeot
8 wins including 3 Sky TV series city Centre races
1st Overall SKY TV City Centre Series
Silver medal National Road Race Championships I.O.M.

1996 Invader- Nexus
5 wins including Five Valleys in Wales

6 wins including Tour of Lancs stage and Tour of five valleys

1998 Team BRITE
8 wins including Havant GP premier race 13th overall Tour of Britain
National Criterium Champion

1999 Linda McCartney
National Criterium Champion
National 100km Team Time Trial Champion
Grand Prix of Essex
Archer Grand Prix
Stage 2 Girvan Stage race
Stage 3 Girvan stage race

Tags: , ,