Talkingshop: Malcolm Elliott – Milk Race Winner


VeloUK speaks to former Milk Race winner Malcolm Elliott about an event that is one of the most well known sporting events in the history of cycling in Britain.

RST Cycle Clothing & Trigon Bikes

There’s lots of talk about the Milk Race with a proposed invitation only event on May 26 in Nottingham. Two races are said to be organised, invitation only both of them, for Elite Men and Women. The person in charge of the selection process is former Six Day star Tony Doyle.

The circuit races in Nottingham are though a long way from what the Milk Race is known for and that is a round Britain stage race. It was born in 1958 and was run for 35 years, said to be the longest sponsorship of a cycle ever in the UK.

ElliottMilkYel83 @PhSpt

Malcolm Elliott in yellow in the Milk Race. Photo: PhotoSport International UK USA Asia

Over those years, the winners have come from many countries with many famous names. The first was from Austria followed by three from English riders. Winners then came from around the world as well as from Britain.

Well known names in British cycling such as Les West, Chris Walker, Bill Nickson, Joey McLoughlin, Chris Lillywhite and many others made their name in the race. As did a certain Malcolm Elliott who VeloUK spoke to in the North East recently at, ironically enough, a memorial road race to former Milk Racer winner Peter Chisman who was from the North East.

“I rode it five times between 1982 and 1987 and won a record 17 stages” the Points winner from the Tour of Spain explained. Six stages in 1983 and another five stages the year he won it overall in 1987 when Malcolm led from start to finish. He won the Points and Hotspots a few times as well including the year he made his debut (Hotspots).

The year he made his debut in the Milk Race (1982), Malcolm was on fire. He won two Commonwealth Games titles in Brisbane where I lived at the time. It still amazes me that way back then I spoke to Malcolm as a 22 year old in what was my home town and now so many years later, our paths still cross in the world of cycling.

ElliottMilkPod87 @PhSport

Spoils of victory on the podium for Elliott. Photo: PhotoSport International UK USA Asia

Asked what does the name Milk Race mean to a rider who went on to ride the Tour de France and podium in the Amstel Gold race in Holland, he replies “for me the Milk Race was a household name even before I was even a bike rider.”

“Every man, woman and dog knew what the Milk Race was so that was a career milestone when I first rode it (1982). It was the big target of the season, the pinnacle of the year for us back then”.

Unlike today when races like the Tour of Britain face obstacles from not just the local governing body but also the UCI, back then the Milk Race never had such problems and as Malcolm explained, it spent 13 days going to far flung places throughout Britain and was a big deal in the sport of cycling and the public at large.

“It was up there with the Tour de l’Avenir and the Peace Race” Malcom explained. “These races were of a similar duration and with the best East Germans, Russians and Polish riders racing them, were equally prestigious.”

The Milk Race also proved to be useful in preparing Malcolm and others for the long Tours. These days, a 13 or so day stage race is rare with most a week or less in length which makes the jump to the Grand Tour a big one. Going from the two weeks of the Milk race to the three weeks of the Grand Tours was not such a big jump for Malcolm and the riders of that era.

ElliottMilkPlog83 @PhSpt

Photo: PhotoSport International UK USA Asia

Asked for a highlight, Malcolm explained that the race itself was the highlight. “It was a comfortable race to be in, you’re in your home country, sights and sounds were familiar and traffic management was good with a rolling road closure.”

That didn’t mean there were not problems and one that sticks out in Malcolm’s memory was a bad smash involving two riders from the USA. As Malcolm explained, even rolling road closures are not perfect and that is something to this day cycling has to deal with.

“We were coming downhill into Whitby with two Americans on the front coming into a long sweeping fast right hand turn past the opening of a petrol station. A car came out and they stoved into it. I thought they were dead but thankfully they were okay”.

There are though plenty of great memories like winning the race in 1987. “Winning the yellow jersey means a lot” he says “I won the prologue round Newcastle and then won the first three stages. I then missed out when it came to Sheffield (his home city of all places!) but then won into Derby the next day”.

Lincoln, home to Britain’s biggest ‘classic’,is also the venue for another great memory and for anyone who has been to Lincoln, one to make you smile as you imagine the scene.

“I won into Lincoln which finished as the Lincoln GP does now” the Node4-Giordana manager explained. That finish is at the top of a long cobbled climb, one in six and the finish of the Lincoln GP is outside the Cathedral and Castle. Few backgrounds will better it but as Malcolm remembers, it was also rather intimidating for some visitors!

“It was the first time that Michaelgate was used in the Milk Race and I remember reccing that finish the week before hand and knowing I could go from the bottom. So the race barrelled up to the bottom of the hill and I had a Russian either side of me. They saw this cobbled climb rearing up and they took a deep breath and thought oh my god! I just punched it from the bottom and had two or three seconds over everybody at the finish. The homework paid off”.

It is a memory that is just one of thousands that riders will have from this iconic race. I’m not sure there will be such memories from the circuit races but it’s a start. With a shortage of proper road races, we can only hope that the Milk Race becomes more than simply a few town centre races and captures the public’s imagination once again.


After the Milk Race came the Kellogs Tour and Elliott returned from the USA where he was racing. Photo: PhotoSport International UK USA Asia

RST Cycle Clothing & Trigon Bikes

Other Results on VeloUK (including reports containing results)

Other News on VeloUK

Tags: , , , ,