Simpson’s place in sporting history strengthened
Sporting royalty visited the north-east last September (16/9/17) as one cycling great paid homage to the legacy of another.
The sleepy, idyllic village of Haswell, County Durham, was filled out with cyclists young and near old, cycling fans, and the ‘odd’ journalist or two as Sir Bradley Wiggins arrived to unveil a memorial plaque in memory of Haswell’s favourite son, Tom Simpson.
A story of sporting achievement tragically cut short on the climb of Mount Ventoux during the 1967 Tour de France, Simpson is a hero to many, including Wiggins.
Born in Durham, Simpson was raised on the edge of Nottinghamshire before moving to Belgium (coincidentally where Wiggins was born) and became the first Briton to wear the yellow jersey at the Tour de France, doing so in 1962, and the first World Road Race champion, three years later in 1965; he also medalled previous to those honours at the Olympics and Commonwealth Games.
As the first cyclist to win the BBC Sports Personality of the Year in ’65, a feat matched by Wiggins shy of half-a-century later, in 2012, Simpson already has a memorial on the Ventoux climb, the spot where he died at the age of 29.
(Sir Bradley Wiggins being interviewed for TV)
Before the unveiling ceremony, which had in excess of 200 patrons present, Wiggins said: “I didn’t expect so many people turning out.
“It’s fantastic, and to see so many young people as well.”
And there were a few there, more than the organisers, and Sir Bradley, could have imagined.
At the end of the day though Tom Simpson, and his legacy, is important to many, especially here in the north-east, and, irrespective of your level or passion, his is a name you’ll fast become accustomed to, well his and Bradley’s anyway.
Both became history-makers in their respective eras of cycling and afterwards the former Olympic champion said: “He was my hero as well.
“If you were into football as a kid you idolised Bobby Moore; if you were into boxing you idolised Muhammad Ali; and Tom is like that in cycling for me.
“He transcended the sport and his personality back then was different to so many.
“In today’s day and age he would have been a superstar for he had that star quality in a time and a day when there was no social media, there was no internet and yet he was one of the most popular cyclists in the world.
“I don’t think there’s ever been anyone like him in cycling and I don’t think there ever will be because times have changed now.”
Half-a-century is a long time and, in the world of sports and entertainment, it can be easy to forget or hard to remember. The advent of the internet meaning the youth of today can have a glimpse of the past, the history of something and, in County Durham, it’s that youth factor that touched on Sir Bradley.
He added: “To see the turnout today is fantastic, that he still means so much to so many people and that, even 50 years on, his memory is still this great and being remembered – especially the amount of youngsters that are here today.
“I think it’s important for the heritage of cycling. The way cycling is now these days, it’s so much about results and the here and now.
“A lot of people don’t know that much about the history of the sport anymore.
“The reason why cycling is so popular today is because of people like Tom. They paved the way for many of us.
“Without that cycling wouldn’t have the popularity it does today.
“So I think we need to remember it and continue to remember it for another 50 years.”