The Man Who Loved To Climb – Bill Bradley

ATOP of Boundary Hill, nestled in the beautiful surroundings of the Trough of Bowland, lies a modest plaque adorning the boundary stone that once signified the divide between Yorkshire and Lancashire.

Unless you’re directly searching for it, the plaque is barely noticeable and chances are that you’d probably ride past without every knowing it’s there.

There is nothing grandiose in the slightest about its appearance – no overbearing gold etchings carved into the stone or bidons laid down at its base, as if to worship a fallen cycling God.

Like the man himself, this small monument is modest, humble and honest – just like Bill Bradley, whose racing career is steeped in as much history as the hills he loved to climb so dearly in the Trough.

His widow, Joan, said: “He was a natural. Bill just loved to climb. He was like a ballet dancer – he would dance up. Whenever we would go on rides, Bill would ride up to the top and then back down to see where I was.

“Next thing, I would feel his hand on my back and I’d start going up the hill at speed. Once I was at the top, he would go back down to help someone else up who was struggling. We would call it the ‘hand of God’.

“I had just turned 19 when I first met Bill. At one time, the Yorkshire and Lancashire clubs used to go up to Ingleton for Bonfire weekend. I was in the Bradford Racing Club and I had broken my elbow, so I wasn’t able to ride my bike there and thought that I wasn’t going to miss it.

“Later that afternoon, one of the boys in the club, Rolland Potter, had to work late and told me that he was going up in his van and asked if I wanted a lift. I wasn’t doing anything that weekend, so I went up in the van.

“We were in the Wheatsheaf pub, like we always were. I was with one of my friends, who I went running with, Joyce. Bill was sitting with Jack Lowe and Geoff Hornby in the corner. Joyce nudged me and said ‘that’s Bill Bradley’, as he was ‘the’ rider at the time. I just replied ‘oh yeah, I think it is’.

“Anyway, we started to get ready to go over to what was called the ‘institute’, where there was a band playing and we would dance. Before we left the pub, Bill was still sat there in the corner, so Joyce said to me ‘go ask him if he is alright’. I said to her ‘you ask him if he is alright – I don’t want to talk to him’.

“She said it again, so I just asked Bill if he was ‘alright’. He just said ‘yes, I am coming over in a minute’. That’s all I said to him and I walked off. When he came into the institute, he made a beeline for me. That’s what he was like, you see. He’d obviously sat there in the pub and thought about it.

“We chatted a bit and that was it. I didn’t think that I would hear from him again. Later in the week, Bill rang my club’s secretary to find out my name, address and telephone number. Then he rang up and spoke to my father to ask if he could take me to a dinner, where he was a guest of honour.

“That was it really. Near the end of November, I went with the club again to Ingleton and met his family. We were engaged in May, but I didn’t see him again for all that year because it was the Olympics, Worlds, Peace Race and Tour of Britain. Then we were married in the November.”

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Although it has been 18 years since Bill lost his fight against cancer at the age of 64, his memory still lives on thanks to the efforts of his old club-mates at Southport Cycling Club. Every July, they host a popular memorial ride in his honour that retraces one of his favourite training rides through the Forest of Bowland. Bill didn’t just like hills, he loved them.

“Bill had been in the England team with me in the past and was the best home based climber we produced in England in the 50s and 60s,” revealed former British road and track legend Dennis Tarr, who paid tribute to Bill before his own death in 2001. “If he were on the start sheet, you would expect to race 1-2mph faster as a general rule.

“I was in some of the races, which he did some of his best rides in the Tour of Britain, Isle of Man and Tour de L’Avenir, as well as later when he turned independent and then rode in the professional races.

“Bill was a modest man – a gentleman. The action and events around him did not ruffle him, but he was quick to respond by his rides and contributions.”

Despite being regarded as arguably the greatest British amateur road cyclist of all time, Bill worked full-time as a telephone engineer throughout the whole of his career – both as an amateur and later as an independent.

He saved most of his annual holidays until February and March, so as to have days off mid-week when he could go on the long bashes to Settle or Ingleton.

These long rides were the foundation of his amazing stamina and only the brave or foolhardy would accompany him, as it usually meant four hours after a brief lunch stop pedalling into a strong headwind on the way back to Southport.

Like most great champions, Bill combined natural ability, dedication, determination and a love of his chosen sport – something that stayed with him to the end in 1997.

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Strangely, for a man of his talents, it wasn’t until he was 20 that he started racing. Bill would later state that he felt this was beneficial to his future development and, although a certain regime had worked for him, it may not work for someone else. He also seldom offered training advice, but would occasionally suggest that someone should “change down and pedal faster”.

Surprisingly, for a rider who was to become less than enthusiastic about time trials, Bill’s first notable victory was in the 1956 Otley CC Mountain Trial. He beat Stan Brittain’s course record by more than two minutes. Then in July, he was the first rider to beat two hours on Brock, when he took two minutes off the course record held by Billy Holmes.

In 1957, Bill accomplished his most memorable ride to date when he won the Gross Glockner climb in the Tour of Austria. The stage was 89-miles long and the weather very warm that day. Oh, there was also the matter of the route going over the ‘steep’ side of the climb – a distance of 12.5 miles, to an altitude of 8243-ft.

He managed to drop the Austrian Mascha two miles from the summit and topped the Glockner in 56mins 53secs, beating the record held by the Angel of the Mountains, Charly Gaul, by 1min 9secs. Mascha caught Bill on the descent and they finished together at Spittal, where Mascha had the consolation of winning the stage.

During the World Youth Games later that year in Moscow, Bill broke away alone two laps from the end only to be caught 3km from the line. He also managed to find time to ride time trials at home and took fourth place in the BBAR, where his 12-hour distance of 255 miles remains a club record.

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In 1958, there was a rare success for a British rider in May – a stage win during the Peace Race on the 111-mile penultimate stage from Tabor to Brno.

Bill slipped into a seven-man break after just seven miles. Despite the presence of the Russian, Bierienin, who was second overall, the break stayed away. Sensibly, Bill didn’t wait for the gallop and, four miles from the finish, he slipped away to win by seven seconds. Talk about lucky number seven, eh. The British team featured well overall, with the three B’s – Brittain, Blower and Bradley – all finishing in the top 20.

Although Bill seldom discussed training matters, he certainly knew what he required to hit peak form – a two-week stage race. With that in mind, he started the first Milk Race in June in superb condition following his exertions in Eastern Europe.

After third places on stages one and two, Bill held the yellow jersey equal on time with Harry Reynolds. Harry then managed to equal Bill on points, as well as time, to share the leader’s jersey after the third stage.

Sadly, the fourth stage was a bad day for Bill and he dropped to 16th overall. He did not feature again until stage nine – just 74 miles from Weston Super Mare to Ilfracombe.

Ian Sandbach was first over Porlock Hill, but Bill caught him and agreed that his opponent should take the primes, stage and time bonuses – his reason being that he did not want to get take the lead this early in the race from overall leader, Sweecks.

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Imagine Bill’s face when he found out that Sweecks had suffered mechanical trouble, which meant that the time bonuses he had gifted to his fellow escapee in an attempt to avoid the pressure of the leader’s jersey had come back to haunt him.

“It was a privilege to be in the same team as Bill,” revealed Sandbach, who sadly passed away in 1999. “He was quiet and unassuming. He had a brilliant race sense and ability not only to climb, for which he was famous, but he had that special ‘something’ that wins races.

“I rode several times with Bill in the British jersey. We first formed an allegiance in the very first Milk Race. Bill was in a mixed amateur/independent team with Elswick Hopper. Trade team sponsors naturally want maximum publicity, but Bill got no help or favours from the independents.

“After a few days, I was the only survivor of the Midland team. We agreed that I would help him for general classification and he would help me for the King of the Mountain. We both finished in second place in each category. Both the general and the climber’s jerseys going to Richard Durlacher, who was later to become a Tour de France star.

“I ‘retired’ at the age of 22 years to start a University degree course. Bill, of course, went on to achieve remarkable results for many, many years – often against Eastern and Western European teams, who it is generally excepted, were ‘coached’ by guru doctors, etc.

“We both returned to racing again at the Worlds Veteran Road Race Championship in Buxton during 1994. Unbelievably, Bill romped away from the field and was only just beaten by a Belgium ex-professional, who had been racing throughout his career. Such was Bill’s natural talent.”

The next day, Bill made the mistake that was to cost him the race. After just three miles, Richard Durlacher escaped with Stan Brittain, Dave Bedwell, Doug Collins and Johnny Morris.

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In his book, ‘Where There’s A Wheel’, Chas Messenger puts Bill’s reluctance to chase down to him being in awe of Stan Brittain. Some years later Bill admitted that “a good big ‘un will always beat a good little “un” – he was almost certainly comparing himself with ‘Stan the Man’.

“I first heard the name of Bill Bradley one evening at the Bootle Cycle Track,” revealed Brittain. “I was talking to one of Bill’s club mates, Bob Bird, who told me about this young lad who he said was going to be a ‘good un’ and that night he was.

“When Bill retired from racing, he kept riding his bike. He would take it on the family holiday, usually to France, where he would find Col or two to climb, which, as you know, was his favourite pastime.

“During his 43 years with the Southport Cycling Club, he would always be encouraging and took a great interest in the junior members.

“Bill also liked his trips away with the lads, both here in the UK and abroad. Believe it or not, he enjoyed his Thursday night out at the pub with myself and a few of his old pals for half a pint of bitter.”

Bradley’s 1959 season began with an impressive ride in the Berlin-Prague-Warsaw, where the British team was a powerful unit and all six riders finished the race. Bill returned to the UK in great form ready for the start of the Milk Race.

Stage one the previous year was 146 miles, but this time the organisers went one better – quite literally – and increased the distance by a further mile spanning from London to Skegness.

Although a climber himself, Bill was clever enough to escape in a group of 15 containing quality rouleurs Ron Coe, Harry Reynolds, Owen Blower, John Geddes and Vin Denson – not bad company for a long break.

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Bill must have got plenty of shelter from all those six-footers because at the finish, he was either the strongest or the cleverest as he countered an attack by Geddes almost within sight of the finish to win by eight seconds.

Stage four was the Milk Race equivalent of Luchon – Pau in Le Tour. Just to read the names of the stage towns immediately conjures up images of suffering, pain and heroics. Whitley Bay to Morecambe was 200kms of cycling drama. Like many of the great stages that form the history of our sport, it was a tactically simple day.

Within a few miles, a break had formed and, as the early climbs took their toll, just Bill, Brian Haskell and the Belgian De Keyser remained. As the Belgian was dropped, the two grimpeurs continued with their Trans-Pennine epic.

The climb of Deepdale reduced both to walking and Haskell again took the prime. As the race moved from Yorkshire into Lancashire, Bill was on ever more familiar roads. At Bolton-le-Sands, he said goodbye to his weary colleague, riding away to take a momentous victory.

Brian lost two minutes in the last three miles, but had secured the King of the Mountains, Meanwhile, Bill now led the race by almost 10 minutes from his ‘team-mate’ Ron Coe and the order was again reversed for the point’s classification.

The next day’s stage went through Wigan, the home-town of Bill’s mother. No doubt his relations were out in force to cheer him on, but the battle for the stage was between three giants of the road – Geddes, Coe and Brittain, who finished in that order leading in a group of 16.

Strangely, the crossing of the Mersey must have inspired the Merseyside riders. In total, there were six in that group, including Kenny ‘The Captain’ Hill.

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Elsewhere, the remainder of the race was remarkable for two things. On the ninth stage, Bill’s England teammates Harry Reynolds and Ron Coe were sent home by their manager Tiny Thomas for riding in the interests of their trade team, Elswick Hopper, rather than Bradley.

It had been clear from the first stage that the Elswick riders were combining against Bill and things became intolerable on the 139-mile stage from Porthcawl to Bath.

A solid break formed containing Geddes, who was second overall, and three dangerous Belgians, as well as Bill’s two so-called team-mates, Coe and Reynolds.

When England manager Tiny Thomas saw that his riders were working with Geddes, he decided to withhold their feed as punishment. Meanwhile, Bill did his best to organise a chase by the bunch and keep everyone rolling through. Even Bernard Pusey, who had a high overall position and stood to benefit by Bill’s predicament, gave him a helpful push.

John Perks took the stage from de Keyser and Vin Denson. Alas, due to the furore surrounding the withdrawal of Coe and Reynolds by Tiny Thomas, his win went unnoticed. However, he had the perfect answer the following day, when he won again and this time received due credit.

“My first recollection of Bill Bradley was racing in the Manchester area,” explained Perks. “I was an established roadman and honestly thought I would win the event – the main opposition being Pete Ward.

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“I crashed towards the end of the race and quickly regained the break only to find Pete still giving orders like a sergeant major – forgive me Pete. He was remonstrating with the others for not working hard enough and let one rider slip away. You have guessed it, it was Bill. He won the event and this, incidentally, was on a flat course.

“As time went on, I met Bill at more important events and we were both selected for the Worlds at Reims and Zantvoort. I had the pleasure of being in the same team for the Tour of Sweden, where he won a stage to take over the yellow jersey.

“Unfortunately, he lost it the next day – mainly through lack of strong team support. But he never vented his feelings on others that really had let him down.

“As the records show, he had this uncanny knack of reading a race and getting in the winning move quietly. Doing just enough to keep the break running smoothly. Bill would remark ‘now lads keep it together’, encouraging the lesser riders to just roll through to do their bit – even easing a little on the climbs to keep the break together. Then, when he was ready, and with a touch of ruthlessness, he would attack at just the right time, to score yet another win.

“He was one of the most intelligent riders that I have ever met. Amicable, with a quiet sense of humour, always humble, always quick to give praise to others, help and encouragement to riders who were first setting out on their careers.

“I will remember him for the good times that we had together when representing our country, as well as the gentle ribbing he would give me over the time he beat me in a sprint finish, which he said was the highlight of his career. It makes you wonder what Bill may have achieved if the cycling scene had a professional class as strong as that of the Continent.”

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Big Jim Hinds dominated the rest of the race by winning three stages in five days. The last stage was a formality for Bill and was won by Merseysider, John Ryan.

Although Bill had won the Milk Race by a massive margin, it was clear that the man of the second week, Jim Hinds, was also in superb form.

So it proved in the Manx International, when the tall Southerner won and Bill was again second. Later that month, the funniest man ever to race a bike, Bill Baty, had the last laugh on Bradley, who was again second in the National RR Championship.

The 1960 season got off to a flying start with two stage wins – plus the overall victory in the Buxton Red Rose Two day. Bill was in superb form, finishing 10th on general classification in the Peace Race.

On training rides early in 1960, he did not seem to stand head and shoulders above his club-mates. Then when he returned from the Peace Race, Bill was something else. He just seemed untouchable having finished 10th on general classification.

This, you will understand, was a race that killed lesser men. Others would train all winter with riding the Peace Race as their only goal for the season. Most would return destroyed and demoralised for the rest of the year. Yet Bill, who would only have raced four or five days before he went overseas, returned in superb form.

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Two great bits of news awaited Bill when he returned home and prepared for the Milk Race. Firstly, the organisers had restricted the event to amateurs following the shenanigans of the previous year; secondly the opening stage was from Blackpool to Morecambe.

Well, these were hilly roads that Bill knew like the back of his hand, but the second stage was the reverse of the previous year’s monster stage – this time 136-miles from Morecambe to Whitley Bay.

Despite the cold and rain, Vin Denson and Doug Collins broke away shortly after the race was de-neutralised. By the climb of Ribblehead, there were about a dozen in the lead and the dreadful weather encouraged the group to remain intact until Stanhope.

With a tail wind appearing for the first time, Bill decided to strike out alone. His lead increased all the way to the finish, where he crossed the line seven minutes ahead of the Dutchman Lotz, Ramsbottom, Holmes and Hinds, who had got together and managed to limit their losses to nine minutes.

Amazingly, despite the distance, hills and rain, only four out of the 83 starters abandoned. The stage average was 39.5kph for 217 kms, which was pretty amazing given the terrain and conditions.

If you’re not impressed just take a look at the average speed for some of the undulating Tour de France stages and you will see that even today they are no faster.

During the next day to Scarborough, Bill took the prime and then waited for a group including Holmes, Hinds and Denson. Unfortunately, there was a long drag about five miles before the finish. Bill opened a small gap just before the top and, as soon as he crested the summit, he put his head down and rode hard to the line and a second stage win.

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He would later go on to an additional two primes with time bonuses and win the sprint from a small group to take stage 10. Not surprisingly, he would go on to be crowned the King of the Mountains.

Anybody who may have thought Bill was just a big fish in a small pond was shown the error of their ways a few days later when he matched soon-to-be World Champion Bernard Eckstein, of East Germany, in the Manx International.

Despite the presence of England mate Doug Collins, the German convincingly won the sprint, leaving Bill second in the Manx for the third time.

Two days later, the majority of the domestic riders moved from Douglas to Lancashire to ride the Preston Grand Prix. The 100-mile course was a leg-bender round Longridge.

Nine riders formed at the front, including Bill, Jim Hinds, Alan Ramsbottom and Brian Haskell. Then, at the finish, Bill showed that he could convincingly out-sprint the few riders able to stay with him on a hilly course. Although it wasn’t quite the Weekend Ardenais double, a second and a first in two long hilly races within three days highlighted his quite amazing powers of recuperation.

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In July, Bill confirmed that he was far and away the best roadman in the country by out-sprinting Alan Ramsbottom to take the British title. He then finished 17th in a group sprinting four fourth place at the Worlds in Sachenring, East Germany.

His amazing form led him to be selected as an Olympian for a trip to Rome, where the British team time trial squad of Bradley, Holmes, Hinds and Laidlaw were second at the first turn after 10-miles, just 10 seconds behind the Italians and way ahead of the East Germans led by Schur. Sadly, Bill was stung in the eye by an insect and abandoned, leaving his team-mates to finish 14th.

Luckily, there was still the road race – held on a flat course over 109-miles. Bill Holmes rode an attacking race and then crashed, but regained the field. In the finale, Kapitanov and Trape (Italy) had a lead of two-and-a-half minutes over 39 riders, with just a single nine-mile lap remaining.

Bradley had ridden into a field without falling and was a further half-minute behind. At the line, Kapitanov outsprinted Trape by five centimetres and then 20 seconds later, the Belgian Vandenberghen (future Tour de France yellow jersey) won the bronze medal in a sprint from the bunch containing Bradley.

Think about it – over the last lap, the bunch had pulled back more than two minutes on two Olympic champions (Trape won a Gold in the TTT) yet Bill, alone and unaided, had caught the bunch.

Perhaps the leading duo would have finessed on the run-in, but it was still a remarkable ride. Bill finished about 15th in front of Holmes and Hinds, who were also in the bunch. Ken Laidlaw was at 3min 20sec.

Bill started the 1961 season with a change from his previous campaign plan. His aim was not the Milk Race, but the newly introduced Tour de L’Avenir that shadowed Le Tour itself.

Accordingly, he started the season on a lower key – not that his club-mates noticed any reduction in severity of the Southport’s hard-rider runs. Bill rode the Peace Race without unduly exerting himself with fourth in the KOM.

In the Milk Race that year, Bill finished 11th overall and 14th in the climber’s competition. Bradley fans throughout the country were wondering if the great man was over the hill. He knew differently and the two weeks light exertion around Blighty had brought him nicely into form.

The Tour de L’Avenir started at St Etienne with a hard first day that murdered the field. Ramsbottom lost eight minutes, Dalton and Holmes 13 with Bill even further back. Bill rode steadily without doing anything spectacular and finished 20th at 24 minutes.

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After both the Alps and Pyrenees, the undulations of County Durham held no fears for Bill and he crushed the opposition in the Vaux Tankard race to win by almost four minutes having dropped Billy Holmes fifteen miles from the finish.

The National title race was held in August on the Clypse Circuit in the Isle of Man. With 10 tough climbs, the race was ideal for Bill and he duly out-sprinted George Bennett and Keith Butler in a three-up sprint.

Then at the Worlds in Berne, Bill had mechanical trouble and, although he regained the field, he could only finish 43rd. Bill was not normally one for speculating on bad luck.

Many years later, he did reveal that he was on the form of his life at Berne. Bill felt that the effort he made to regain the bunch may have been sufficient to put him in a medal position had he not suffered misfortune.

Bill started 1962 started with a trip south to take second behind Albert Hitchen in the Archer Grand Prix. He again won the Red Rose Two-day and then was third behind winner Albert Hitchen in the Corona Tour of the South-West in May.

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For the Milk Race, Bill was demoted to the North team. He delighted his relatives by winning a prime when the first stage passed through Wigan, but that was it really. Meanwhile, Norman Baty finished fourth and Ken Hill fifth, both winning stages, but Bill finished 17th and the North Country squad finished third just behind England and Poland.

Bill’s modest ride was not unexpected. He had deliberately missed the Peace Race so that he could use the national tour to come to form for the Tour de L’Avenir in July. Managed by Bev Wood, the British team included Bill Holmes, who had finished second in the Milk Race, George Bennett, Arthur Metcalfe, Peter Chisman and Ken Hill. Britain also included a ‘ringer’ in the well-built form of Irishman Peter Crinnion.

Unbelievably, Bill was not selected for the Worlds by the BCF. Luckily, he had his chance to prove his worth during the Usher 112-mile Silver Tankard race near Glasgow, where selected riders Pete Gordon, Wes Mason, Ken Nuttall and Hugh Porter were on the start line in Glasgow.

The Scottish riders also not going to the Worlds were out to gain selection for the Commonwealth games in Perth, Australia. Among the most active were Gordon McNaught and Bert Waugh, then riding for West of Scotland but now a migrant and riding for the Kenton Road Club in Middlesex.

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Bill got in an early move together with Nuttall, Mason, Porter and about four others, but the break was caught. Of the early escapees, only Bill, Nuttall and Gordon made the second split of seven with 75-miles covered.

The seven stayed together until the finish, where Bill beat Nuttall by the width of Dunlop No.2 with a late surge, while Pete Edwards had to settle for third – thereby ensuring that all three podium places went to riders from the North West.

For the World Championship, Dick Goodman and Keith Butler joined the defeated quartet from Glasgow. Again, the BCF ignored Bradley. They believed his results in the World Championships did not justify his selection for this year’s competition in Italy.

But in every title race he ever contested, Bill had been in a potential medal position as the finale developed. Strangely, that was not good enough for the ‘blazer brigade’. Instead, they selected a team that managed two finishers – Goodman (36th) and Gordon (59th ) – and who was the lone victor? Bongioni, who finished two minutes behind Bill in the L’Avenir.

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What the BCF did not understand was that Bill had changed. He was no longer a winged climber, specialising in gruelling stage races, but an all-rounder that could climb.

It was no surprise that in 1963, Bill said goodbye to the amateur ranks and signed as an independent for the four-man team run by his long-term supporter Harry, who had backing from Castrol Everyman Oil. Bill’s first season as a paid rider began with yet another stage win in the Red Rose Two Day, but this time he was only second overall.

Despite having failed his National Service medical, Bill rode and won the Grand Prix de Gezira in May. The next month, he once again travelled to the Isle of Man. However, this time it was to ride the pro race. To no-one’s surprise, Tom Simpson won with Bill finishing 13th.

Every year since 1959, Bill had ridden at least two fortnight-long national tours, but in 1961, he had ridden three – he must have felt at a loose end. However, he did have one long race when he finished third in the 200-mile London -York. He also rode the Tour de St Laurent in Canada.

Predictably, the 1964 season started with a second overall behind Bob Addy in the Red Rose Two Day.

In April, Bill’s home supporters had the opportunity to see him in action on local roads during the Skelmersdale Two Day. On the first stage, a classy break of 11 got away, including three Tour of Britain winners in Bradley, Holmes and Chisman.

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Also included were Holmes’ Falcon team-mates Burns and Hitchen, Barrow boys Cowley and Betttsorr and, from the newly formed Kirkby CC, Paul Rutherford, who was known by all who had seen him in the changing room as ‘Rubberfoot’.

While the break was watching Hitchen, he arranged for Holmes to win ahead of Burns with Roger Gray finishing third.

Meanwhile, the second day started with a 12- mile time trial won by Bill’s Quinn-Everyman teammate ‘Big John’ Geddes. Then in the afternoon, the riders faced six climbs of Ashurst Beacon.

A break of 10 formed and Bill had to again contend with the three Falcons. This time, Burns won and Holmes took the overall by three seconds from his team-mate while Bill finishing sixth.

May saw a repeat win in the Grand Prix de Gezira, then a stage win and third overall in the Tour of East Anglia, where a youthful Brian Tadman revealed many years later that he never once saw Bradley pedal throughout the two days.

Not true of course, but it is easy to understand what ‘Tadders’ meant. Despite his early successes in time trials and an unequalled record of lone wins in major races, Bill was no mug.

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He understood the importance of marshalling his resources and the Holmes style of constant attacking, with little thought of the final outcome, was not for Bradley. Holmes often got into an early break, but his unbounded enthusiasm would see him doing twice the work of his co-escapees.

Bill finished fourth in London – Holyhead that June before winning the Chequers Grand Prix in August for what was probably his only win in the Home Counties. This win prompted the headline “Bradders is Back” in Cycling Weekly, which was odd as Bill had never been known as ‘Bradders’ nor he had ever been away.

In September, Bill lost a two-up sprint to Albert Hitchen in London – York and then won the Tour of the Peaks by three minutes. He then rounded off his season with another trip to Canada for the St Lawrence Tour.

Against strong opposition from the Poles, Russians and Belgians, the British team did a fantastic ride on the final 130-mile stage to Quebec. Sixty miles from the finish, Arthur Metcalfe broke away with a Swiss rider before being quickly joined by Bill.

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They stayed away to the finish, where they worked the Swiss over with Arthur winning alone and Bill out-sprinting the Swiss. For his final season in 1965, Bill signed for Falcon and it was expected that he would spend the year working for Albert Hitchen.

This was indeed the case, but that didn’t prevent Bill from winning the eight day Corona Tour of the South West. That same month, the Falcons faced the ‘continentals’ led by Tom Simpson in the 265-mile London -Holyhead.

A workman-like break escaped, including Simpson, Shay Elliott, Bill and Albert Hitchen. When Simpson proposed to Hitchen that the ‘continentals’ should take the first five places, Albert asked Bill what he thought.

He wasn’t impressed and told Albert not to agree…yet. As the group reached the Nant Francon Pass, Bill went to the front and led all the way up the climb, setting a fast pace.

At the top, Simpson offered Albert third place. Tom won, Shay Elliot, braking as he crossed the line, was second and Albert was third. Bill, sitting up to check that the deal had been kept, was seventh.

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Bill had another brush with the ‘pros’ in the Isle of Man, where Jacques Anquetil out-sprinted a rider who had been professional for less than two months. He was none other than Eddy Merckx. Bill finished 16th. Five days later at Torhont, Eddy won his first pro race.

In July, Bill won the Thornhill Grand Prix before travelling to Chard in Somerset for the championship in August. The Falcons had decided that Mick Coupe from Sheffield was their strongest rival and they tried to cover all his moves.

At the start of the last lap, he and Albert Hitchen were together in the lead until Albert rode away on the last climb to win alone. Bill finished eighth.

Bill’s last win was in the Leicestershire B. Race in September, then he hung up his sprints after coming fourth in the Criterium des Vainquers.

Although it will be for his racing successes that Bill will be remembered, he was also a life-long clubman. He was chairman of the Southport for more than 25 years and helped organised the annual schoolboy races at Victoria Park.

Words by John Scott with help from Ken Beck, Ray Green and Geoff Hornby

Photos courtesy of Joan Bradley

Every July, Southport host a memorial ride in honour of Bill. The Bill Bradley Memorial Ride has two routes – a 40-miles route for beginners and an 80-mile route, which takes in some of Bill’s favourite training rides over Quernmore and Waddington Fell. All the money raised from the event is donated to MacMillain Nurses Charity. In our opinion, this is one of the best kept secrets in the North West. Organised by Ken Beck and Bill’s widow, Joan, it takes in the beautiful scenery of the Trough of Bowland.

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3 Comments on The Man Who Loved To Climb – Bill Bradley

  1. I have just found this wonderful tribute to Bill.
    In the 1950s I rode with the Ribble Valley CRC and the Lancashire RC.
    On several occasions I rode in local events which Bill often won.
    He was very special indeed and to be honest I just wept when I saw the pictures.
    Thank You.

  2. Lovely article about my dad,it’s sad he’s not here to see how popular and successful cycling has become,and all the amazing achievements our male and female British cyclists have gained!

  3. Proud to say that I was one of many journeyman riders who rode in the era of Bill Bradley and Tommy Simpson, and occasionally competed in vain against them. We sowed the acorns from which great oaks have grown.

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