Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Spencer Wingrave – Gent Six Day Winner in 1990

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HomeInterviewsSpencer Wingrave - Gent Six Day Winner in 1990

In recent years British winners of the u23 Gent Six Day have raised few eyebrows given the high level of British track sport – Scotland’s own Mark Stewart and Alfie George among the victors. 

But that wasn’t the case in the late 80’s and early ‘90’s when it was the ‘amateur’ rather than ‘u23’ Gent Six Day.

You have to go all the way back to 1967 and the late, great Graham Webb to find a ‘GB’ behind the winner’s name – albeit Maurice Burton should have won it but was unaware that his Belgian partner had ‘sold it’ – but that’s another story.

Until 1990 that is, when the name of Spencer Wingrave appears alongside the Flemish Legend that is, ‘de Pete’ – Peter Van Petegem – twice a winner of de Ronde; he did the magic ‘double’ in 2003 winning de Ronde and on the Roubaix velodrome.

He also won Het Volk three times, De Panne twice and was on the Worlds podium twice.  

Back in 1990 Van Petegem was very much ‘a coming man’ of Belgian cycling – third in the 1988 junior Omnium National Championships and second in both the National junior Points Race and Road Race Championships.

In 1989 he was again second in the junior Omnium and was winning on the road.

The 1990 season saw a raft of road results and silver medals in the senior Points Race and Madison Nationals – he could have his choice of partners but went with the English rider. 

We needed to find out more about Mr. Wingrave.

Spencer Wingrave
Spencer Wingrave on the cover of Cycling Weekly in 1992.

I believe you’re from a cycling ‘dynasty,’ Spencer?

“My grandad was a pro in England after the Second World War and my dad was a club rider, his company was Security Grille Protections which was one of Tony Doyle’s sponsors.

“Both my uncle and dad drove Dernys whilst my grandad devoted a huge amount of time to officiating at races and sitting on various cycling committees.” 

What’s the background to you getting the Gent ride? 

“I started cycling as a schoolboy and won national titles in the sprint and 500 metre time trial.

“I always wanted to be a Six Day man so as a senior rider my club mate Bryan Steel and I went to live and race in Belgium; my dad had a lot of connections over there. 

“We were staying with a family in a stunning house but it was up on the coast and too far away from Gent which meant a lot of time lost in travelling and money spent on fuel, we had to move closer to hub of things.

“The move took us to the famous Mrs Deene’s house but it was pretty grim, I had to put my suitcase under the bed because the mattress sagged so much, there was ice inside the windows, the food was rationed and the dog used to poop everywhere in the yard so you had to be careful where you walked.

“Eventually it cracked Bryan and he went home.”

You must have been riding well to get the ride with ‘de Pete?’

“I can’t really remember how it came about…

“Apparently he was looking for a partner and chose me.

“My helper told me that Van Petegem was good so I agreed to ride with him and it turned out well.” 

Spencer Wingrave
Spencer Wingrave throws Shaun Wallace into the fray. Photo©unknown

Tell us about the race.

“There was a 50 K chase every night, 75 K on the last night.

“We took the lead on the fifth night but on the last night lost a lap and slumped to fifth, but we took the lap back in the last 15 minutes and won the final sprint – which had double points – to take the win.” 

Did you ride many amateur Six Days?

“Oh yes, Antwerp, Berlin, Bremen, Cologne, Copenhagen, Dortmund, Grenoble, Munich and Zürich.

“I remember riding, I think it was Antwerp, with Bryan and we were just hanging on, we didn’t know what was going on but somehow we found ourselves riding on the front of the string.  

“After the race, Lorenzo Lapage’s dad grabbed me and pinned me to the wall, apparently Lorenzo and his partner had been on the way to taking a lap and we inadvertently brought them back. 

“I rode 34 amateur Six Days; apart from Gent in ’90, I won in Paris in ’89 and Antwerp in ’92. 

“I was also on the podium in Bremen and Copenhagen.”  

Spencer Wingrave
Spencer Wingrave on the Derny Championship podium. Photo©suppled

You rode the Gent pro Six in ’92 with Shaun Wallace?

“That was my debut in a pro Six, very hard, we finished 11th to Etienne De Wilde and Jen Vegerby.

“I’d turned pro that year after the disappointment of the non-selection for the Games. 

“I rode Gent again in ’93 with Tony Doyle but I don’t think he wanted to ride with me, putting me in off the front or off the back, I was shattered by the end.

“To be honest though, I was so disappointed not to make the Olympics in ’92 that I was never really the same rider again after that, I quit at 25 years-of-age.” 

And you competed on the road too, riding the Tour of Britain in ’92?

“Yes, as a ‘guest’ rider with the Banana team; but that was hard, I was just trying to get through it.

“But in ’93 I rode the Milk Race with Neilson Tivoli and enjoyed that experience, I was getting stronger as the race went on.

“The team wasn’t great though, it was backed by some guy Tony Doyle knew who had a night club, there wasn’t a lot of money involved.

“I rode my Roberts bike – they looked after me with bikes all through my career, I rode all the Six Days on Roberts frames – but things got messy with the financial side of the Neilson Tivoli team.

“We were supposed to get paid in four instalments but the last one never appeared…”

You were a good criterium rider, second in the ’93 championships…

“That was at Crystal Palace, a circuit I knew well.  

“If the line had been two or three metres further on I’d have won instead of Chris Lilywhite.

“I always wondered if becoming national champion in the crit champs would have changed things and I might have continued? 

“As it was I drifted away from the sport, unsure of what I wanted to do.

“As I said earlier, not going to Barcelona in 1992 was such a huge disappointment which I never really got over.

“I raced in the days before lottery funding and you had to fit in training around work, it wasn’t like it is now with BC supporting riders financially.”

Undoubtedly a man who never realised his full potential – but his name is in that 6 Daagse Vlaanderen-Gent programme and will remain there as long as the pils flows in ‘T Kuipke.