Film Review: The Race for the Yellow Jersey

The nostalgia keeps on coming jongens.

Here's a documentary the "Tour Cycliste de L'Est," a stage race in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, in 1971.  Just put up on youtube courtesy of Kopp's cycles in Princeton NJ.  This period film profiles the Century Road Club team - John Allis, Stan Swaim, Doug Dale, Bobby Phillips and Flip Waldteufel - back before they became the now legendary "Raleigh Boys".

I first saw it on Boston Channel 2 PBS back in '79.   Seem to remember staying up till about 1:30 in the morning to watch it.   (Understand that while I'd probably raced close to a hundred races by then, I could still count on one hand the number of times I'd actually been able to see a bicycle race on film, or on tv!)

I remember that John Allis used to have a film copy he'd bring to project on a wall after giving a coaching talks for Boston area clubs in those pre-VCR, pre web days.  Never tire of watching it...   It's well done, check it out:  (Parts 1 & 2 below)



More links to watch  Part 3,  Part 4,  Part 5.

The 'Tour of the East' wasn't all just US and Quebec Amateurs though.  There were a few 'ringers' in addition to the great John Allis.  

Vincenzo Meco, '62 Giro
Foto: courtesy Wilfried Journée, De Wielersite
The guy who just edged John to win the overall was an Italian ex-professional named Vincenzo Meco.  Meco was a pro from 1962 - 1967 before emigrating to Canada.   He embarked with quite the pedigree.  As a neo-pro riding for Gino Bartali's San Pellegrino team in the '62 Giro d'Italia, Meco started with a bang.  In six days, he was four times in the top ten, taking the Maglia Rosa after Stage 6 for one day. Then, to prove it was no fluke, he soloed through a snowstorm to win the mountainous 14th stage to Passo Rolle ahead of ex-world champion Ercole Baldini and super-scalatore Imerio Massignan.

This was the famous blizzard-shortened stage - a story told so well in Herbie Sykes book "the Eagle of the Canavese."  (Great read, buy it!)  Rik Van Looy, Charly Gaul (who'd won the Giro in 1956 in a similar weather) and a score of others abandoned the Giro that day.  Meco took 3rd in the Mountains competition in that Giro.   So no slouch.  He never really came close to that form again as a euro-pro, but in his second life as a reinstated amateur in Canada, he was a scourge, winning most of the major races in Quebec between 1969 and 1972.  Meco was still riding in his seventies they say, one report just a few years ago said he did 10k km a year.   Hope he's still flying.

Sigi Koch was another guy with a big win list in Canada.  He led the Canadian team in the 1972 Tour de Nouvelle France - a five day, 610 mile stage race.  The Tour de Nouvelle France in '71 and '72 was the first time the big European teams:  (KAS, Molteni, Sonolor, GBC, Flandria) came to North America to race.   Despite the Quebec 'French connection', I'm pleased to report the final overall in both years was a flahute fest:  The rapid Guido Reybrouck won both years -- in '71 over Joseph Bruyere, and in '72 over Herman Van Springel.   And some young guy named Roger DeVlaeminck won 3 stages in '71, back before he became 'Monsieur Paris Roubaix.'

The film puts the non-existent economic return of top level North American racing back then in stark perspective.  I'm pretty sure the three New England cycling legends portrayed in The Race for the Yellow Jersey all gave a helluva lot more to this sport than they ever took from it.   Stan Swaim, John Allis and Doug Dale all paid it forward - in spades!  I'd bet you a Hoegaarden they did more to teach bicycle racing to more young riders, than any other three top riders you can grab off any team today.

Dorset Training Group, mid seventies.  
That's John Howard in the center
(Anne Cram photo, courtesy Ted Furtado) 
A few years after this film, Stan Swaim started and ran the Dorset Training Group in Dorset, Vermont.   Lots of young New England riders from the seventies learned le metier up there in the beautiful but steep rolling hills and white washed villages of southeastern VT.   That green and yellow striped DORSET jersey was a New England secret-society in those days.  I remember that John Howard would hang there at times.  My good pal and neighbor Ted Furtado was a disciple who coached there too.

Dorset was New England spartan.  And, reminiscent of the Biagio Cavanna school that bred Fausto Coppi, Stan's Dorset group was built around that same philosophy of 'big miles.'  Old school baby.  Ride the bike, ride the bike, ride the bike.   The modern coaching 'experts' can scorn LSD all they want, but it works.  Had two junior teammates go in '78.  They came back at another level.   Like many others.

I remember getting some 'on-the-fly' advice from 'Stan the man' while racing the Mt. Washington Hillclimb back in the late seventies.  Or maybe it was 'on-the-grovel'.  I was hammering myself, riding like an idiot.  No sense of pace.  Blowing up, ugly, a calvary.  Stan caught me and taking pity, counseled me to take it really easy on the flatter sections, and save the big efforts for the steeps.   I climbed with him for the rest of the climb, listened, watched, learned.

John Allis training the Harvard University team
(Photo Harvard University Gazzette / Rose Lincoln)
John Allis was a great cycling champion, but is an even greater person.  He still coaches the Harvard cycling team, but he was, and is, the kind of guy that would help anyone...really generous with his time, selflessly sharing his experience.   Most know of his three Olympic teams and national championships, but few remember that this was also a guy who went to ACBB in France years before the foreign legion in the early sixties, and won some big races 'over there'.   Seeing first hand how mentally tough he was, I'd wager John could have won a lot more over there if he'd chosen to.      

I remember once after getting a top result in a  national level race, getting some welcome advice from John.  I was explaining that my bike shop job at the time kept me on my feet all day after training.   He said, "Well, get a stool and try to sit as much as you can, and wear some really tight, knee-high nylon socks. It will help."  This was 30 years before 'compression garments' existed.  The knowledge, you see.   John had a ton, and would impart it for free to those who would seek it.  He'd counsel hard training rides in low gears, wearing lots of clothes while training, the importance of chewing your food to help digestion and save energy, and attacking, generous racing.  Timeless advice.   I'll always fondly remember winter roller racing duels with him at the Bicycle Exchange in Cambridge back in the eighties.  Those were good times.

And you've got to love seeing the young Doug Dale hammering off the front in this film.   Doug went on to later coach the Citius Austro Daimler team that dominated US Junior, then Senior racing between '76 - '81.   I think his guys comprised almost the whole '77 Junior World's road team!  Doug's another really great guy, a rock of the sport who can still make the bike go very, very fast.  I heard he's recovered well from his terrible accident at Battenkill last year, and riding again.   Hope to see him in the masters peloton again.

As a teen discovering cycling back in the seventies, all three of those guys were my heros.

They still are.

Comments

  1. Really look forward to your stories of the old-time East Coast riders. Sometimes they are people I have heard of (Allis, for instance). But being a strictly West Coast racer myself, often they are people I was unaware of, but who clearly had, and apparently still have, a big impact on the sport in the US. Very good.

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  2. Eddie, there's never too much of this sort of story. John Allis is a legend, but we do have one right in your little Rhody.

    Guys like Ted Furtado are few and far between, and I know what a debt I, and so many others, owe him for his selflessness. One of the great things about Ted is he coached outside the sport, in ways of life.

    That whole Dorset group contributed then and continues now. Thanks for the reminder.

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  3. You're so right about that Chris...Ted Furtado is largely responsible for developing an entire generation of RI riders. His RI Velo Club was, along with Austro Daimler, the Junior team to beat back then. Still see Ted out on the bike most weekends here in EP. Ted is definitely another guy in that class, a great teacher, and one I'm very proud to count as a close friend.

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  4. Great Film! Those guys really did it for the love of cycling and competition. I just recently discovered this blog and have really been enjoying it. I was wondering if anyone can confirm if the narrator of 'The Race For the Yellow Jersey' is Jean Shepherd, the writer and narrator of 'A Christmas Story'? I know that Jean Shepherd did a lot of work for WGBH, starting about the time this documentary was made. Part 5 does not seem to have the full credits. Thanks again for the great posts! John S.

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  5. Oops! Watched it again from the start and saw the credits. It is Jean Shepherd.

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  6. This is great!
    Yes a cycle shop provided the film to you-tube, but there should be no confusion, the intellectual and financial heavy lifting was done by the people who created this remarkable film, Tom and Linda Spain.
    They are both alive today and live in New Jersey.

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  7. Hey Eddy

    maybe you would like this little bit of Irish history

    http://www.rte.ie/radio1/doconone/convict.html

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  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  9. Thanks obduro... great film, thanks for passing it on. Mick was a great, after all, he won the Ras!!

    As Stephen Roche famously said to the Cannibal in '87, "But Eddy, you never won the Ras!"

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