Pro bike riders from the 70’s – they’ve always got a good tale to tell.
Our chum, Graham Robson suggested we catch up with Neil Mapplebeck who raced in the tough school that was 70’s and 80’s Dutch ‘Total Cycling’ with ‘all-time greats,’ Kuiper, Raas, Knetemann, Schuiten and Zoetemelk just some of the names from that era.
Neil also raced three season with UK professional team, Carlton Weinmann.
Here’s what he had to tell VeloVeritas:
How did you get into the sport, Neil?
“When I was a schoolboy I used to go with the family on caravan holidays to Bridlington, it was a Milk Race stage town and I used to see riders like Les West; that was a big influence on me – and an inspiration.”
Looking at your early UK palmarès you had a good season in 1974, whey then?
“I was a good junior but it took me a wee bit to get into the way of senior racing, ’74 was a good season and in ’75 I rode the Girvan Easter Three Day.
“But ’75 was the year I finished my apprenticeship and was on the ferry to Belgium the next week, it had always been my dream.”
You rode a full season in The Netherlands in ’76, how did that go?
“I had a job as a welder over there and I struggled a bit to find my feet in the first races but by May I was going well.
“Between May and October I never touched my wages, I was living off my prize money.
“I figured out that you could make good money off the primes and I became a bit of a ‘prime hound’ – I guess that if I’d concentrated less on prime chasing then I may have been able to get better placings?”
Where did you stay in Belgium and The Netherlands?
“In ’75, initially I stayed at the famous Mrs. Deane’s in Belgium like so many did but I met some other lads and we rented rooms.
“In ’76 I lived with a family in The Netherlands, unfortunately the gentleman of the house contracted cancer and I had to find another family – they were great people and I should have stayed with them for another year.”
The palmarès websites show you riding for Carlos Gipiemme in 1977, tell us about that team.
“I’ve heard that but I don’t know where it came from, I was actually with Carlton Weinmann that year and for the next two seasons.
“It was a good team and I rode with some good guys – Reg Smith, Bob Cary, Alan McCormack, Mick Bennett…
“I had heard whispers that a top Dutch team wanted to sign me for ‘77 – something that I found out years later that was actually true – but nothing came of it and I signed with Carlton.
“It didn’t help that I had a bad crash in my first race – which was at Aintree, won by Sid Barras – for Carlton and after that I lost confidence and it took me a while to find my feet.
Were you a full time pro?
“It varied but I worked more or less full time during my pro career, I was a welder and there was plenty of work around.”
The Drifter Ski team for 1980.
“I didn’t have a sponsor for 1980 so went to race in Belgium and in June of that year I got an offer to ride for the Dutch, Drifter Ski team.
“The guy who owned the team also owned the HB Alarms team and was a bit of a ‘wheeler dealer,’ as well as the alarm company, he imported skis.
“But it was good for me because it meant I could get into the pro criteriums in The Netherlands.
“They were all good guys in the team, riders like Jan Breur, Jan de Jong who won the Dutch sprint championship one year and Theo Gevers who was an Olympias Tour stage winner.
“But there was no real structure, we all just raced for ourselves.
“The fact that I spoke Dutch was in my favour, it helps greatly in being accepted in the peloton.
“At the end of that 1980 season I came back to the UK and had a bad crash in a race, I broke bones and thought to myself; ‘that’s it, enough!’”
But you were back with Rossinni Cycles for season ’83?
“Russ Wake had a shop in Rotherham, he sponsored me and I rode under the Rossinni Cycles name.
“Russ looked after me well – there were ideas of taking the set up bigger but they never materialised – ’83 was good though, I enjoyed it, racing for fun with no pressure.
“I did some decent rides that year including seventh in the Criterium Championship, the top six was Keith Lambert, Dudley Hayton, Steve Jones, Phil Bayton, Tony Doyle and Phil Thomas – no ‘dead wood’ there!
“In 1984 I got married and that was the end of my pro career.”
When you look back on your career, which rides give you most satisfaction?
“That 1983 Crit Champs was a good ride and some of my best rides when you look at them on paper don’t look that much, but I rode well in the Scottish Milk Race in 1977 and in 1978 I did a lot of work in races for Reg Smith; that was very satisfying.”
And what about ‘civilian’ life after you finished racing?
“As I said, I was a welder but there wasn’t a lot of work about in South Yorkshire in the early 80’s so I moved to The Netherlands.
“I worked for a guy who had a shipyard but he also hired me out to other companies.
“We were there for 15 years, coming back to the UK in 2000.”
“I should have stayed in The Netherlands for another year, there was a place for me on a team but I didn’t know that at the time.
“I knew a lot of the guys in the Dutch pro peloton, I’d raced against them as amateurs and was accepted; I spoke the language and fitted in there.
“I still watch a lot of cycling on TV but always on the Dutch channels, the commentary is so much better and I still have my subscription to Wieler Revue magazine.”
With thanks to Neil, the man has the T-shirt.