Saturday, April 20, 2024

Colin Lewis


The year was 1970 and I’d just got into cycling, my buddy, Ronnie Temple gave me a big bundle of his old ‘Cycling Weekly’ magazines.

The continental pros – Merckx and Co. had me in awe but they might as well have been on the moon – Belgium, France, Italy all seemed so far away.

But the British professionals were far more attainable, just the other side of Carter Bar – and some of them looked so damn cool.

The team that really caught my eye back then was Holdsworth with their ‘kingfisher’ and orange all-Campagnolo bikes, those beautiful jerseys with matching liveried Ford Corsair then Ford Cortina team cars – beautiful.

Colin Lewis
Colin Lewis and his Holdsworth team. Photo©unknown

In those pre-compulsory crash hat – and shades – days those chiselled, tanned team riders looked God-like to a youngster from Fife; big Bob Addy, Mike Cowley, Dave Nie, Les West and Colin Lewis.

Lewis was class, not a ‘crit king’ – he said of criteriums; ‘too much chasing round straw bales all the time,’ but when the parcours were tough he, along with team mate West, was the man.

Colin Lewis
Les West, Colin Lewis and Geoff Wiles. Photo©unknown

Sadly, with the passing of Colin Lewis this week at 79 years-of-age, another part of my youth has gone, Les West had this to say of his former team mate’s demise; 

I was devastated when I got the phone call this morning. 

“Even though I was expecting it, it still came as a great shock. 

“It feels like losing a brother. 

We had such great times together; I will never forget him. 

“RIP Colin.”

Colin Lewis was Welsh by birth, born in Abertysswg outside Caerphilly on 27th July 1942, and until Geraint Thomas came along was the first and only Welshman to ride the Tour de France.

Lewis got into cycling as the result of a bet, in 2019 he told the excellent ‘Cyclist’ magazine; 

“When I was a teenager I used to go out drinking in Torquay on Saturday nights. After one night out, I woke up late and a friend was downstairs.

“He said, ‘Come on, get up. It’s nearly midday. We’ve got to change this pattern.

“He was a decent footballer and he bet me that in two years he would play for Torquay United’s Colt team. Then he said, ‘What are you going to do?’

“The 1960 Olympic Games were on so I said, ‘I bet I’ll go to the Olympic Games in four years.’

“That afternoon I fished my old bike out the shed and rode to Teignmouth. After four or five days back cycling I began enjoying what I was doing.

Lewis’ name first appears in the results in the palmarès websites in 1961, the ‘Wikipedia’ website incorrectly states that he rode the Milk Race on 1960, finishing seventh but his Milk Race debut was in fact 1963 where he finished a creditable ninth overall. 

He spent time in France in the early 60’s and won his bet on Olympic participation, riding in Tokyo in 1964, finishing 25th in a blanket finish won by Italy’s Mario Zanin.

He won a Milk Race stage that same year, beating Spaniard Vicente Lopez Carril, who would go on to win Tour, Giro and Vuelta stages.

The following year Lewis rode the Tour de l’Avenir with some solid stage placings, a feat he repeated a year later in the Tour of Austria where he placed top 10 on GC.

Colin Lewis
Colin Lewis was with Jackson in 1967. Photo©unknown

He turned pro in 1967 for £4:00/week with the British Mackeson-Whitbread team riding alongside Dave Bonner, Derek Green and pursuit star Hugh Porter.

Colin Lewis
Colin Lewis at the Tour de France with Tom Simpson. Photo©unknown

He rode and finished the Tour de France that ill-fated year of 1967, rooming with the late Tom Simpson who would lose his life on the cruel slopes of Mont Ventoux.

Colin Lewis
Colin Lewis, Tom Simpson and Barry Hoban at the 1967 Tour de France. Photo©unknown

The British National Championships came after the Tour that year and whilst initially feeling terrible on the day, he grew stronger as the race went on and captured the white jersey with red and blue hoops.

He rode the Tour again in ’68 but was eliminated early after missing the time cut, however that didn’t prevent him from defending his national champion’s jersey. 

He finished 27th in the World Championships in 1969 off a UK criterium-based race programme which ill-suited him to a 262 kilometre race against the best in the world. 

He took the season long Golden Wheel competition that year a feat he would repeat in 1971 and 1972.

In 1970 he donned the kingfisher and blue of Holdsworth and would remain with them through to his last professional season in 1974.

Colin Lewis
Colin Lewis in the classic Holdsworth colours in 1972 on Burrington Combe. Photo©John Pierce / PhotoSport International UK USA Asia

The records show 38 pro wins – out of a total of some 250 victories – for Lewis but he was rarely out of the top six in races, taking ’70 as an example: second in the Vaux and third in the Manx Premier, Tour of the Peaks and National Championship, all hard fought races.

In ’71 he won the Tour of the North en route his second Golden Wheel.

The following season his amazing consistency took him to another Golden Wheel and again he far from disgraced himself in the Worlds, finishing 25th in a baking 272 kilometre, seven hour epic at Gap won by Mr. ‘10,000 Volts,’ Marino Basso.

Seasons ’73 and ’74 saw him pile up the placings but the wins became scarcer and at the end of ‘74 he called ‘time’ on his pro career.

But that was far from the end of his bike race winning days – he came back in ’77 as a reinstated amateur and for the next decade was a dominant figure on the British amateur scene, winning everything from hill climbs, all manner of time trials, to road races and stages in quality races like the Tour of Wales.

He was president of Mid Devon Cycling Club and opened his bike shop in Paignton in 1976 which became a Mecca for local cyclists with Lewis always free with his advice.

Colin Lewis
Colin Lewis, R.I.P.

* * *

Colin Lewis, Olympian, Tour de France rider, British Champion and boyhood hero to many, including me, rest in peace.

With thanks to John Pierce / PhotoSport International UK USA Asia for the use of the main photo of Colin climbing the Col Portillon.