On Stage 2 of the Tour of Margaret River, I went over to the event owner, Brendon, and asked what car I was getting in to follow the race. I was going to be in the lead vehicle, 300 meters up the road, so I was pretty happy because it would get me to the finish in time. That was all I focused on, just getting to the finish to catch the winner’s name and take photos. I was introduced to Bob and Bryan, and we went on our merry way.
We started it off with a bit of small talk: “Where do you live?” – Perth, “You down for the weekend?” – Just for Saturday, “Drove down early then this morning?” – We were up at 4am to get down here. Then, Bryan chirped up: “Do you know who you are sitting next to?” I had no clue, being a fresh-faced youngster to the cycling scene, I didn’t really know many people, especially older ones. “You are sitting next to Bob Addy – former British champion.”
Bob Addy was a British professional rider, riding from 1965-1973 professionally. He represented Britain at the Commonwealth Games, Olympics, and World Championships. He rode the Tour de France during the Merckx era. As an amateur, he won the British Championships. He won stages in the Tour of Britain – or the Milk Race as it was called back then, and various other British tours. He rode all over Europe – at the Tour l’Avenir, and the old Amstel Gold to name a couple of races. During his riding career spanning over 5 decades, he won multiple veteran titles in Australia, and rode track pursuits and madisons.
So, now I know that Bob has got a bit of experience. “And did you see the picture on the ride of the car? That was Bob racing against Eddy [Merckx].” Okay, this guy has got some serious experience. Not only is he a previous champion, but he has ridden with Merckx.
“Riding alongside Eddy was tough. In that era, he was just so much better than himself, and in the Tour de France, racing was tough.” Over the 1968 Tour, the only Tour de France Addy rode, he was struck by 2 major mechanicals, on top of illness. By stage 10 of the Tour, after back to back days in the Pyrennes, he abandoned. We drove up the final climb on Stage 2, Kindalee Hill. On the road, someone wrote in chalk ‘MOUNTAIN’. “Driving through these hills in Australia reminds me of the Pyrennes. Although when people think these are mountains, it makes me laugh. It’s like this in Europe, except over 25km and not 1km.”
He had many fond memories of his time riding professionally in Europe, especially with Holdsworth Campagnolo. “Back then, pro teams didn’t get invites to a lot of major races. We used to ride for clubs or nations, but never international teams. It was different, riding with people from your home rather than all these teams with riders of all nationalities.” Being good at cycling at those days got you a wage well below average pay – the average for a cyclist was £8 a week in 1968 in the UK. This kept on increasing, as the sport became a lot more focused on the professional racing rather than riding for country.
The 1962 Commonwealth Games was a 200 kilometer circuit around Perth’s iconic Kings Park, just outside the city and around 5km down the road from the track and field circuit in Claremont. “We flew over from the UK to Perth for the Commonwealth Games. You come halfway across the world [which took 3 days by plane] to race for 120 miles. You really wanted to do the race, no matter the circumstances.” On the way over from Britain, Addy contracted a stomach bug. “It wasn’t the most pleasant time, but I just wanted to ride the road race.”
On the day of the race, he had serious stomach pains, and diarrhea. “I was on the start line and I wasn’t feeling great. I just wanted to get through the day.” Addy managed to get through a couple of laps before it really started. “It was on around Lap 3 (around 25km into the race) where I started having troubles. I dismounted a few times to go to the toilet along the race, but every time I did it I kept falling further and further behind.” Determined to not let his training and travel go to waste, he kept getting back on and getting up back into the peloton. “You don’t travel across the world to abandon the race.” However, late into the race, it had gotten too much. “I was quite dehydrated in the heat and with the diarrhea that I had to abandon. It was disappointing, but I loved the trip.”
Coming home, Addy decided to trade his plane ticket for a boat ticket. “I saved £100 (around £2000 in today’s money) by going by boat. It gave me a bit of pocket money for the trip, which got used on the ship. I came back to Europe a bit overweight, so I had to work hard to get to race weight. But, I enjoyed my time on the ship in the sun, so no complaints.” He returned to Britain, and won a stage of the Milk Tour (Tour of Britain) in the same year, and took out the Amateur National Championships the year after. Maybe the Australia sun had something to do with it.
By the time we reached this point of the conversation, I had to jump out to get to the finish. After the day was done, Bryan came up to me and said: “You have a bright future, but you don’t ask many questions for a journalist.” I laughed, it was true, I didn’t ask Bob any questions, but I was mesmerized by his story. I just enjoyed hearing his stories of riding alongside Eddy Merckx and travelling around the world as a racer in the 60s. It was something I won’t forget.