Sports | 23 July 2015Forgotten heroes of British cycling: Alf Engers 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. In January of 2015, an audience of seasoned cyclists filled the Phoenix Cinema in Finchley, north London, to watch a documentary about a man who would once have been a hero to most of them, but whose name will be unfamiliar to recent converts to the sport. Alf Engers, the subject of the film, was present too, dressed nattily in blazer, waistcoat, smart jacket and oversized scarf. Those who knew Engers in his pomp would not have been surprised by his attire because he presented himself carefully at 1970s time trials too, oft wearing a sheepskin suit and piratical ear ring while turning up in a sports car. You could afford such ostentation when you destroyed the field with such frequency that you became known as the King. You will not find Engers mentioned much in the records of the most distinguished cycling competitions of his time. He did not compete at World Championships or Olympics and he barely troubled the British team. He only flirted with track racing and hardly bothered with massed-start events. Instead he earned himself a singular place in cyclists’ affections for the manner in which he dominated the time trial scene. For historical reasons related to the rescinded ban on massed-start road racing, time trials remained by far the most popular form of cycling competition in Britain then. A baker from north London, Engers concentrated on the 25-mile event, the blue-riband distance, and claimed six national titles. He almost certainly would have won more had he not been repeatedly banned for infringing the rules of the sport, usually in relation to slipstreaming and holding up traffic. This determination to push the boundaries of the sport was evident in his approach to aerodynamics, too. Engers, for example, asked his frame-maker to adjust almost every moveable part on the bike to reduce its wind resistance. Often he turned up to events with an unmarked bike that had been built only the night before. He wore a skin suit before anyone else he knew did. Most famously, he drilled holes in his frame. His career-long ambition was to become the first cyclist to break 50 minutes for 25 miles, a milestone that would require him to average 30mph. After years of trying, he finally managed it on the August Bank Holiday weekend in 1978 with a magnificent ride along the A12 outside Chelmsford. Goodness knows what the car passengers made of this long-haired, strangely determined figure pedalling along the hard shoulder. The cycling community, however, was in thrall to the achievement. It was their equivalent of the four-minute mile. Engers, who retired immediately after the ride aged 38, even said the thought of Roger Bannister’s landmark had inspired him to spend years in pursuit of his own. That, like Bannister, he eventually had a film made about him was then fully deserved. Share article facebook twitter google pinterest If you have any comments on this article please contact us or get in touch via social media.