The Brits are coming (back)

With the confirmation of Team Sky’s selection for the Tour de France one thing is almost July already: Sky will do better than the last British team to take part.

Blue Peter greenhorns
(image from Cycling Weekly)

Back in 1987, for near-inexplicable reasons, the Tour de France invited British team ANC-Halfords. Allied National Couriers was a trucking business and Halfords exists today, it’s a car parts and cycle retailer.

The team began in 1985 after team manager took Tony Capper – who turned a minicab business into a national trucking business and became a millionaire along the way – to see the Tour de France on Alpe d’Huez. One glimpse of the crowds convinced the mercurial Capper that there was money to be made and adventure ahead.

Results were rare. Sprinter Malcolm Elliot took third place in the Amstel classic in 1986 but the team’s main successes remained in the backwater of British racing. So their participation in the Tour de France was a massive step up.

The 1987 Tour de France started with a prologue in West Berlin and the poor British squad only had four disc wheels, meaning a frantic effort by the mechanic to ensure a finishing rider gave up their wheel so another rider could start. The next day saw the team’s best result with Elliot taking third spot. But that was about it, four riders made it to Paris and the best placed on GC was Adrian Timmis in 70th place. Boss Capper was with the race but with a week to go he vanished and riders found their wages unpaid. To this day nobody knows where he is.

As much as the race marked a first for an English team, note that US squad 7-Eleven had been invited in 1986 and that the 1987 Tour was won by Irishman Stephen Roche. English speakers were at the fore, but ANC-Halfords wasn’t exactly leading the charge.

The team collapsed with unpaid wages but Malcolm Elliot spoke of fond memories:

“Even though I rode for some big teams, a lot of my best memories are from ANC Halfords. We have a good team and a great atmosphere, and we were also the first British team who got to ride the Tour de France, which was really groundbreaking at the time.”

If Elliot found the window to showcase his sprinting talents, few riders went onto better things. Only Elliot and Kiwi Steve Swart would return to the Tour de France. Timmis signed with French squad Z but that didn’t work out. You can read the full tale of the 1987 Tour in a book, Wide Eyed and Legless.

Finally, note that one rider with ANC-Halfords was Shane Sutton. He’s part of Team Sky today so he will be come full circle. Team Sky can be sure of having more than four disc wheels.