Mark Walsham, one of the “Crit Kings and Men of the 80’s” – there can only be one first question:
How many wins in total is it, Mark?
“Just over 200 all included.”
1984, your breakthrough year with a Girvan stage, the Manx International, the Archer – what was that down to?
“The engineering firm I worked for as a welder, making stuff for the coal mining industry went under with all the pit closures.
“This meant I was able to train full time, not so much more miles, but more rest/recovery time.
“I also had a big accident in the autumn of ‘83, fractured my skull in several places, in intensive care on a ventilator for a while.
“I was super motivated after that, training with John Wainwright, Malcolm Elliot and other great riders from the Sheffield area.
“I’d sometimes put in double days, out with the pros in the day and then out again on the evening chaingang.”
1985 and Raleigh – tell us about how you got the ride and what was the adaption to pro racing like?
“In ’84 I was being helped with training advice by George Shaw (Raleigh team manager), but more importantly he believed in me and motivated me.
“It was a natural progression to turn pro for Raleigh-Weinmann for the following year once I’d got the results.
“Season ’85 was my first year as a pro with a lot to learn.
“Pro racing is so much more a team sport.
“I probably learnt the most from Steve Jones as regards training, but you soon pick up the rules, who should ride with who, which team should chase, when to organise a combine to benefit both teams etc.”
1986 and Bilton, I believe ‘Mr. Percy Bilton’ was a ‘character’?
“Ron Groome (CEO) was passionate about cycling, he used to go touring on silk tubs.
“He always backed the team 100%, we used to get our yearly salary in a lump sum in January and full expenses/bonuses monthly on top.
“I remember we won the Mercian Asphalt in 88, which was a local event to where Percy Bilton first started and Ron sent us all a £1000 bonus each the following week.
“We always had the best kit and stayed in the best hotels.
“The way we were looked after really motivated us, we really wanted to repay his faith and commitment and always rode 100%.”
1987: the start of a phase where you were rampant with ’88 bringing you a Milk Race stage, the Crit. Champs and wins all over the country – how did you maintain such consistent good form?
“I think my consistency was mostly down to doing very similar training week in week out, I always felt best doing between 450 – 500 miles per week and always with other good riders.
“The Peak District is great for training, trust me, five or six hours out in the hills with riders like Malc Eliot, John Wainwright, Simeon Hempsall, Chris Creaghan, Gary Speight and John Tanner is no joke, a lot of strong legs.
“The terrain and egos did the rest, I was very rarely ill either, so consistent training and very few lay-offs were the key.
“Oh, and I liked winning!”
But what about all those Champs podiums over the years, any ‘what ifs’?
“It still irks that I never won the National Road Champs. I should have won it several times, but it never happened, silvers and bronze, but no gold.
“Championships can be a bit of a lottery, often with favourites being marked out.
“The last time was ‘97 in Wales, silver again, three man break… I should have had confidence in myself and led out, but I hesitated, Jeremy Hunt got the jump on me, I was coming up his inside when he closed the door.
“I accepted it was my mistake, but the kicker was the following week talking to the chief judge. He told me that if I’d put in a protest he would have upheld it.”
1990: Ever Ready – memories of that team?
“I was offered the ride by Mick Bennett mid-season when Crown-Chafes disbanded due to financial difficulties.
“It was a strange set-up but some great characters in the team, and great equipment…
“I received my ‘split’ of first month’s prize money and had to query it; I thought I’d been given too much but was told the team didn’t split prize money – you got what you won!
“That’s not good for team unity and I never experienced that in any other team.
“Unfortunately Ever Ready didn’t renew the sponsorship for ’91 and the team folded.”
You were second at Knokke that year, did you ever consider a continental career?
“Yes, ’87, ’88 were the years when I would have liked the opportunity, but it never happened and looking back it was probably for the best as I would have had some tough uncomfortable choices to make.
“Overall I’m happy with what I achieved in my career.”
1991: ‘Saville Stainless’ single sponsor – how did you take to not being in a team environment?
“I didn’t have much choice, the UK pro scene was dying.
“Dave Lloyd helped me out that year, building me bikes and using his contacts to get me some sponsorship.
“It was really difficult to win pro races that year though, up against a seven man Banana squad with some great riders, who would only ride with me in breaks if they had at least three men there, then attacked me relentlessly.
“Fair play though, that’s how it goes, any team would do the same, it’s a tough sport.”
1992: IME Bola Wines in the USA, how did that come about and what was the experience like?
“Dave Mann had ridden for them in ‘91 and when he moved on to a bigger team I think he recommended me.
“My stage win in the ‘91 Milk Race helped as well I believe.
“IME was a small team and we struggled to perform at the bigger USA events, but overall the experience was great, really enjoyed the lifestyle and met some great people.”
1993: back in the UK and going well but unsponsored, was it not difficult with no team support?
“That was the year that the sport went open, so the calendar of races opened up and the Star Trophy series became the Premier Calendar series, which I won that year.
“There was still a televised crit series as well.
“I enjoyed riding the Premier races, no one team was dominant so it was mostly every man for himself; good, hard racing mano-a-mano.
“The Banana team also gave me guest rides in the Tour of Lancs, the Niederösterreich Rundfahrt in Austria and the Milk Race, I won stages in all three races and did lots of riding on the front to help team GC aspirations.
“That was a great experience and things were looking good for the following year until the Banana marketing group withdrew at the end of the year.”
1994: Choice Accountancy – tell us about that team.
“I got the call out of the blue, the main man was hyper-enthusiastic, and things quickly escalated into a four man team, with me as rider/manager.
“We had a great team of riders; John Tanner, Simeon Hempsall and Dutchman Patrick Eyk.
“We dominated the home scene that year and even guested Malcolm Elliot in the team for the PruTour.
“It was also the first year the Commonwealth Games was open to Pro’s and I finished sixth that year in Canada.
“The “cheques in the post” scenario meant that I had to go to London to pick up the team cheque every month, which always led to being wined and dined and waking up in a hotel room the following morning, having to find my way back up North – the guy liked a drink or ten.
“Unfortunately the team’s rapid expansion led to financial problems and we had resort to legal action to recover some of the funds owed to the riders and myself – disappointing and demoralising after such a successful season results-wise.”
1995: ‘Powerbar’ and ‘Tritech’ as sponsors – but a good season with The Kingdom and Lincoln.
“Yes, downscaled for ’95, but a great two man setup with John Tanner and a little support from Tritech (later to become Planet X).
“Later on in the year Steve Arch dreamt up a scheme to get us sponsorship for a new Sky TV regional TV crit series, which to get around BCF rules we rode as a ‘Manchester Division team.’
“Gill Airways were the main backer and we repaid their faith in us by winning two rounds of the series, if I remember right.”