Sports | 21 July 2015Forgotten heroes of British cycling: Ian Steel Share article facebook twitter google pinterest As Chris Froome attempts to win his second Tour de France, Robert Dineen profiles five other brilliant but often overlooked British cyclists whose achievements played a pivotal role in the development of the sport in this country. Extended interviews with each of them can be found in his superb new book Kings Of The Road; A journey into the heart of British cycling. Forgotten Heroes of British Cycling: Ian Steel Ian Steel’s story hardly figures in the most popular historical records. He has a short Wikipedia page and only a few interviews with him exist online. Even when he rode most successfully in the 1950s, he earned limited mention in the cycling press. Yet his seminal victory in the 1952 Peace Race is among the most important in British cycling history. To appreciate its significance you need to understand a little of its context. At the time, road racing was banned in Britain by the sport’s domestic governing body, the National Cycling Union, and had been since the previous century. Races took place but, strictly speaking, there were illegitimate and the quality of them lagged sorely behind their equivalents in continental Europe. There there existed a well-developed professional scene while in Britain there was none. When Steel took time out from his carpentry work and travelled to London from Glasgow to meet the British squad picked for the Peace Race, then, few gave them much chance of success. Not only did they supposedly lack the race craft of their strongest foreign rivals but they had never previously raced together and had been asked to tackle what was the toughest amateur race in the world, covering 12 stages, 2,156 kilometres, mountains, long cobbled sectors and roads that not been repaired since the destruction of the Second World War. The six Britons chosen had also to overcome the heavy influence of the event’s Communist organisers, who were determined that an Eastern European should win the event. This unique event was conceived as a glittering propagandist opportunity for life behind the Iron Curtain and would serve that purpose best if a native rider prevailed. But those who discounted their chances underestimated the camaraderie that the six riders quickly forged, the tactical nous of their manager, Percy Stallard, and the raw talent of their team leader. For Steel was no journeyman international but one with rare stamina and, crucially, an awesome climbing ability that not yet been properly exploited. While he held his gunpowder for the first week, Steel decided to demonstrate this prowess on the eighth stage that ran from Leipzig to Chemnitz in East Germany. With sterling support from his henchmen, to use Steel’s own description, he ‘monstored’ the stage and claimed the leader’s jersey from the Czech favourite Jan Veseley never to relinquish it. The 220,000 fans in Prague’s Strahov Stadium were bemused by the sight of this wiry, unknown Scotsman rolling in to claim victory on the final stage. The organisers were appalled and refused to give the Britons the winners’ promised prizes. The UCI, however, cycling’s global governing body, was persuaded that British riders could rank with the best on the Continent and demanded that the NCU dropped its ban on road racing. This was a seminal development. Who knows for how long Steel’s countrymen would otherwise have been deprived his beautiful sport, legitimately? Not until Sir Bradley Wiggins won the 2012 Tour de France did another Briton win a major stage race abroad. Just as the British cycling public long celebrated Wiggins’s achievement, then so they should this unsung predecessor of his. Share article facebook twitter google pinterest If you have any comments on this article please contact us or get in touch via social media.