Friday, July 19, 2024

Steve Jones – Pro in Belgium in the 80’s; “You had to sell a few races to make ends meet!”


HomeInterviewsSteve Jones - Pro in Belgium in the 80's; "You had to...

Steve Jones is one of the ‘forgotten men’ of 70’s and 80’s cycling but he was British Junior 25 Mile Time Trial Champion – a Dutch Champion too, a serial winner as an amateur on the roads of Belgium and The Netherlands, an Olympian, winner of the amateur version of the Trofeo Baracchi, a team mate of some of the sport’s biggest names and a professional for a decade. Oh yes, and he rode for Mr. Capper’s ANC team.

Unfortunately, when we spoke to Steve he was recuperating from a nasty encounter with what he thinks was a van on our ever more dangerous UK roads…

What happened, Steve?

“I was going up a little climb on a quiet road, came over the top, started the descent, I was conscious of seeing a van but then I lost four or five days – I don’t remember a thing.

“I was slurring my speech when I got out of hospital and I get double vision if look to the right, the doctor says I have damage to my fourth cranial nerve which hopefully will get better over the next few months.”

We wish you a speedy recovery Steve; you were originally a time tester, 1975 Junior ‘25’ Champion and ‘up there’ in the Cycling Weekly “Campagnolo ‘25’ Series.” 

“It was an easy way into cycling, originally I rode mostly time trials and track, the time trials teach you how to suffer.”

A transition in ’76 to the road and a win in the Birmingham Division Road Race Championships.

“I had a burning desire to race in Europe and at the beginning of 1978 I packed my bags and headed to France but that went pear-shaped.

“However, in ’77 and ’78 I had raced in The Netherlands and in ’79 I got the opportunity to ride with a team sponsored by the Jan Van Erp tile company.

“I rode for them for three years, racing not just in The Netherlands but in Belgium and Italy too – we actually had a team reunion the other year.

“Jan Raas and Henk Lubberding were both on the team and my usual roommate was Adrie Van Der Poel.

“Bert Oosterbosch also came up through Van Erp, they produced seven World Champions if you include team time trial winners.”

The Netherlands was a hard school.

“Yes but those were good days, the team was very well organised and ahead of its time with energy drinks and hi-carb food/drinks designed for the space programme.

“We had monthly health checks at the hospital and nutrition was well thought out; rice and pasta for breakfast before races to load on carbs – not like when I turned pro where we had to eat a steak with a raw egg on top of it in the morning.”

And I’m right in saying you were a Dutch Champion?

“In The Netherlands you had amateur trade teams where you didn’t get a salary but you got win bonuses, clothing and your bike.

“In 1981 we won the Dutch Trade Team TTT Championships but there was also a Club Team TTT Championship for six man teams; we were second in that but we only had three men most of the way, three riders went off after just five K so it was down to David Akam, Bert Oosterbosch and me.”

Steve Jones

You were something of a TTT specialist with a win and second and fourth places in the amateur Trofeo Baracchi.

“The amateur version of the Baracchi was called the Trofeo Valco; I won it in 1979 with Johnny Broers, my Dutch team mate.

“The amateurs did a 70 kilometre loop which the pros also did but then they did another loop of 27 kilometres to take the full pro distance up to 97 kilometre; at the end of our 70 K loop we’d only conceded 19 seconds to Francesco Moser and Giuseppe Saronni who won the pro race.

“Johnny Broers turned pro and went on to ride the Tour de France and finished third the 1985 Amstel Gold Race behind Gerrie Knetemann.

“Then the organisers changed the rules that you couldn’t have ‘mixed’ teams, both riders had to come from the same nation.

“I rode it in 1980 with David Akam and we were fourth, then again in ’81 when we were second.

“In ’81 the week before the Baracchi Trophy, Dave and I won the Grand Prix of Europe two man TT over 70 kilometres, also held in Italy.

“We’d been second the year previous but when we won we broke the course record which had been held by two of the famous four Petterson brothers who had been World TTT Champions – we averaged 50.88 kph to win that one. 

“Dave was a very strong guy, I remember a race at Fayt-le-Franc in 1981 where he took off with two Belgian guys and was away all day but without much of a lead, the Belgians began to sit on but he dropped one and then out-sprinted the other to win.” 

You were also in the 1980 Moscow GB Olympic TTT squad which finished ninth.

“That should have been better – Des Fretwell’s saddle broke so all he could do was sit on and it was down to Joe Waugh, Bob Downs and me.

“Back then British Cycling wasn’t like it is now, there were no spare bikes on the team car roof.” 

And a nice ride in the 1979 GP de France individual time trial.

“Yes, I was fourth, Hans Henrik Orsted who was world amateur hour record holder at the time won it from my team mate Johnny Broers and Tony Doyle.”

Steve Jones
Steve Jones (r) with Sean Yates at the 1982 Grand Prix de Cannes. Photo©unknown

Pro with Wickes-Bouwmarkt-Splendor for 1982.

“I’d been consistently getting in the top three or four in the four years I’d been in The Netherlands and Belgium.

”I had 39 wins but I wasn’t a good sprinter, I had to keep attacking until I got a gap then used my time trialling abilities.

“And of course you had to sell a few races to make ends meet.

“The funny thing about selling a race was that you had to go to the guy’s house after the race to get your money – and he’d have you sign a receipt for it to keep his accounts right; ‘to services given in the race.’”

There were some big names in that team.

“Yes but it was a bit fragmented and didn’t function as well as a team as Van Erp had, it was a little bit cliquey.

“When I think about it I was a bit in awe of the guys I was team mates with, here I was, on the same squad as the guys I’d been reading about in the glossy magazines as a schoolboy – Claude Criquielion, Eddy and Walter Planckaert.

“Criquielion was actually a nice, down to earth guy, I can remember him sticking a chocolate bar between two bits of bread and having a chocolate sandwich. 

“My roommate was Benny Van Brabant who won stages in the Dauphine and Vuelta – and I believe he’s still the last Belgian rider to wear the leader’s jersey in the Vuelta?”

But just one year there?

“I was supposed to sign with them for another year but one of the other Belgian teams folded and all these guys came ‘on the market’.

“They signed Gery Verlinden and Patrick Versluys which meant there wasn’t a lot of money left for the likes of me.” 

Steve Jones
The winning break at the 1983 National Professional Road Race Championships, Steve Jones (left), Sean Yates, Tony Doyle, Keith Lambert, Graham Jones and Dave Jarvis. Victory went to Phil Thomas (out of shot) from Lambert and Mick Morrison (out of shot). Photo©unknown

You rode for ex-pro Alan Lloyd in ’83 and notched up a lot of placings in the UK.

“Alan helped me out, yes.

“I had a lot of podiums in the UK but he also gave me the freedom to race in Belgium where I spent two months; I was only outside the top five twice out of all the races I rode.

“I sold a lot of races but still had good results like second at Burcht to Jos Jacobs and third at Wachtebeke to Patrick Versluys.

“During that time I got offers from teams in Belgium but they were all based on a low salary with win and placing bonuses, but you can’t help but think; ‘what if I lose form or crash?’”

Steve Jones

Then for ’84 you were with Raleigh-Weinmann.

“I had less results that year because I was doing a lot of work for Malcolm Elliot but I did have some results of my own like a win in the Sealink International Stage race.

“It was a well organised team and I enjoyed my two seasons there.”

You went to ANC for ’86, how did you get along with Mr. Capper?

“I went to ANC with Malcolm, yes.

“I got on OK with Tony Capper, his problem was that he was too ambitious, he was always trying to get more money, get into more and bigger races.

“I think the problem was that he used the team’s 1988 budget to get into the ’87 Tour and he ran out of money.

“I didn’t ride the Tour because I was injured, at the time it didn’t trouble me but when I look back it would have been a great experience to ride it.”

ANC collapsed after the ’87 Tour so you went to PMS Dawes for 1988.

Keith Lambert was the manager and it was well organised, I rode mostly for Shane who had a good finish and was good at motivating you.”

Steve Jones leads Tony Doyle (winner), Chris Walker and Chris Lillywhite at the Tour of the Marshes. Photo©Stewart Clarke

And finally KJC Carpets in ‘90/’91.

“Yeah, I knew the family and by that time I was getting a bit fed up with the sport.

“If I’d been on a big European team I would have carried on longer, I was only in my early 30’s.

“The follow up to that is that Shane Sutton and I started a carpet business together but I wasn’t cut out for running a business.

“I still work for that family, Andy Collis is the founder’s son and I do carpet sales for him three days each week.

“I used to work for him at the bike shop he had but the internet killed that off.”

And you’re still on the bike.

“I guess the accident happened at the right time because none of us can do much anyway; but I try to keep in decent shape; I usually take groups out for rides in Mallorca in the spring but obviously this year that couldn’t take place.”

You’ve had some great results Steve but always been a ‘low-key’ kind of person.

“I never ‘bigged myself up,’ not like some but that’s just the way I am, albeit there are some rides when I look back I’m pleased with…

“One would be the Ronde van Limburg in 1979 where my team mate, Johan Wellens and I rode well and I had a spell in the leader’s jersey.”

And if you had your time over?