Best of Memories: Neil Martin

Two very different 1970’s memories from former British champion Neil Martin – one with Aussie hero Phil Anderson at the AC BB and the other from his teenage racing days on a tandem!

Best of Memories: Neil Martin

Neil writes … It’s July 1975, the kids school holidays, I’m 15 and my older brother Paul is just 18. We were both racing everything we possibly could then; circuit races for me, road for my brother along with evening track leagues at the fairly local, now derelict, Salford Park as well as local club time trials during the week,.primarily the Birchfield CC events (the Midlands club of choice for the Martin family).

Tucked away and rarely used in the corner of the old garden shed was a track racing tandem frame of my Dad’s. Paul and I had this plan to get it back on the road and hoon around on it and to do a time trial or two maybe.

So, we cobbled this thing together. Big high pressure wheels and tyres that weighed a ton, drilled the fork crown to fit a front brake to make it road legal along with the 92 inch fixed gear that served as the ‘legal’ back brake at the time. Hand painted it with Humbrol airfix paint so it was ready for its maiden event of a Birchfield Tuesday evening ’10’ on the lumpy and far from fast, K18 course.

There was no driving to events in those days so we set off to ride to the start at Fazelely near Tamworth, about 12 miles or so. We’d had the prior argument as to who would steer and who would stoke. I lost as age and ‘responsibility ‘ came into it…plus I was smaller so could fit the stoker’s position better. The fact that my brother’s vision has never been 20/20 didn’t hold any water as far as he was concerned.

Halfway to the start, the long front to rear chain breaks….great! No tools…the only option is for us to hope someone will have a chain cracker so we continue to the start to hopefully repair said broken chain. The only way to do that is for us to both be on the tandem with me churning a 92 inch fixed gear solo from the rear seat.

With my knees still surprisingly intact, we arrive at the start, repair the chain and set off last of probably 30 or so riders and win the event in a time of 23.52 beating the club champion who was solo, by half a minute! Happy days!

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Fast Forward to 1978 and a Phil Anderson Story
After a reasonable first year ‘senior’ season in 1978, I was fortunate enough to gain a coveted place in the Paris based amateur team, the famed A.C.B.B. ( Athletic Club Boulogne Billancourt ), home to many luminaries of racing history such as Anquetil, Ovion, Thevenet and in the more recent ‘golden era’ of the ’70’s and ’80’s.. Graham Jones, John Herety, Allan Peiper, Paul Sherwen, Sean Yates, Robert Millar and Stephen Roche.

I can safely say that I was probably the best failure the club ever had!

My single season there as a 19 year old coincided with a future great of our sport…the Aussie Phil Anderson. From minute one of us both traipsing around Charles de Gaulle airport , on a grim day in very early February, vainly searching for the bloke that was supposed to pick us up, a friendship was formed that exists to this day.

Flatmates and room mates at races, it was evident after a short while that he was a special bloke…even if by mid May he was on his 5th bike of the season due to a particular talent of his that if there was a crash to be had, Phil could be relied on to be involved.

That fifth machine was also special.After writing off so many race frames in such a short period, the management gave him a gas-pipe tubed Peugeot frame complete with brazed-on pump pegs and mud guard eyes that we probably wouldn’t ride to work on these days. Did it bother Phil? Did it hell!

One particular race memory stands out. We commandeered the battered old team car that we were allowed to drive and, along with a couple of French teammates, made our way down to a ‘lucrative’ nocturne crit in the sticks somewhere …lucrative in the sense of if we, the ‘hitters’ from Paris, let the local ‘mafia’ do their thing, we’d do ok out of it too.

Anyway, we get ready for the race in the local village hall and start to line up. I’ve gone front rank to get a good start. Phil meanwhile has had to go back into the hall for a last minute call of nature…
As the rest of the race lines up in front of a sizable crowd of watching public it becomes evident that some local cycling big-shot has recently passed away and the pre race done thing is to have a minutes silence.

Unaware of this, Phil emerges from the hall,. tags on the back of the probably hundred plus strong lined up peloton, spots me at the front and bellows in his best Aussie accent “hey Neil, christ it’s quiet, you’d think some f***** had died or something!”

Couldn’t tell you who won the race lol

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