Plaudits have poured in for Sir Paul Smith’s subscriber cover for the 50th edition of Rouleur, but for one cycling insider, the image of a seemingly jumbled collection of memorabilia, titled ‘Inspiration’ by the British fashion legend, has real resonance.
Stuart Hallam, Executive Chairman of Cosaveli, the company behind the Trois Etapes event series, was a childhood friend of Sir Paul’s, and a member of Beeston Road Club when the pair, along with Stuart’s brother, Ian, who would become a three-time Commonwealth champion and double Olympic bronze medalist on the track, turned out for the Nottinghamshire club.
Hallam, a former Chief Executive of Cycling Ireland and a former director at British Cycling, who has supported many of the recent luminaries of British cycle sport, including Mark Cavendish and Sir Bradley Wiggins, recognised many of the items chosen by Sir Paul for the subscriber cover of Rouleur #50.
The first item to catch his attention was the picture of the former double world road race champion, Rik Van Looy, winner of all five Monument Classics, and a hero in the early 1960s to the young members of Beeston Road Club. For Hallam, Sir Paul’s decision to include the ‘Emperor of Herentals’ on the cover is no surprise.
“His [Sir Paul’s] hero and my hero was Rik Van Looy. In recent years, I got to know the guy who brought him on, a real star of the Classics, known as Jef Schils. Josef Schils had Rik Van Looy as a domestique. I spent a couple of hours talking in French to Jef in his latter years and going through all his scrapbooks. What a magical evening that was!”
Further evidence of Van Looy’s influence – and that of Sir Paul – on the young Beeston Road Club riders can be found in the various names by which two-time national motorpace champion, Richard/Rik ‘Crater’ Notley is known, according to Hallam.
Notley lifted the Derny title in 1976 and 1977, and was inspired to adopt ‘Rik’ as the diminutive of his name by the Belgian legend, according to his old friend. Sir Paul, however, might be responsible for the nickname, Crater, after Notley struck a giant hole in the road – one the track champion immediately insisted was more crater than pothole.
Hallam is reminded of the story by Sir Paul’s inclusion of the blue and white GBC jersey on the Rouleur #50 cover. “To this day, Rik is known as Crater,” he remembers, “and GBC all of a sudden stood for Great Big Crater.”
Another rider featured on the cover to strike a chord with Hallam is Patrick Sercu, the 1964 Olympic kilo champion, multiple Grand Tour stage winner and 1974 Tour de France green jersey champion, who partnered some of the finest road talents to ever grace the track in countless Six-Day victories: Merckx, Post, and Altig among them.
“I can understand [Sir Paul’s] love of Partick Sercu, because I remember he was a fan at the time. Sercu won the Olympics in 1964; he was both a track and a road man. He looked incredibly cool,” Hallam remembers – and so of obvious appeal to the fledgling designer. “Paul always did look the dapper man,” Hallam smiles.
It is Sir Paul’s musette from the 1970 world track championships in Leicester that has the greatest resonance of any item on the cover for Hallam, however.
It was here that Ian Hallam, aged 21 and recently crowned men’s individual pursuit champion at the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, would ride brilliantly to reach the final, only to lose narrowly in the ride for the rainbow jersey.
Ian would bury the heartbreak of defeat with more gold medal-winning rides at the 1974 Commonwealth Games in New Zealand, this time winning the individual and team pursuit titles. Ian and Sir Paul would meet by chance decades later in Tuscany, his brother recalls, and have remained in contact.
While the saddle that graces Sir Paul’s cover image is unlikely to have stemmed from his Beeston Road Club days (“When he first started, he rode Brooks saddles,” Hallam recalls) the racing licence almost certainly does.
Hallam remembers filing into Sir Paul’s home with his clubmates to have photographs taken by the designer’s father, Harold Smith. The black and white image captures Sir Paul at an age when he and the Hallam brothers would frequently ride together; in fact, the designer is responsible for their love of cycling, according to Stuart.
“We found out that what we thought was a youth club that met in the British Legion at the end of our garden wasn’t a youth club at all, but was a cycling club. I was 15 and my brother was 13. We went over the fence and said, ‘Excuse me, can you tell us what goes on?’; ‘Yeah,’ says this chirpy chap, and that was Paul Smith. The first person that we met in that cycling club was Paul.
Hallam identifies the designer as chief instigator in an annual event called the Hobo Run, where young members of Beeston Road Club would ride from the town post office to the Hemlock Stone.
Elsewhere on the cover, Hallam identifies the issue of VeloSport as evidence for the friends’ passion for the Continental road scene, and for the scarcity of news of their heroes’ exploits in mainland Europe. Memories of the tragic death of Britain’s first world road race champion on the slopes of Mont Ventoux still resonate.
“We all followed Tom Simpson, and that was a tragic day in our lives. It was a Thursday – Thursday July 13, 1967. I was riding a road race that evening. I’ve never known anything as eerie in my life as the atmosphere in that changing room,” he remembers. “No television pictures, of course, back then. I was riding at a place called Redmile in the Vale of Belvoir. I remember racing and not feeling like it at all.”
The success of his old clubmate brings happier memories, however. Hallam recalls how a crash suffered by the young designer may have served as an unexpected gateway to his future success.
“Paul had a crash in a road race in a place called Bagington, near Coventry. He broke his femur, and when he came back to Nottingham, he was put in traction for several weeks. While in traction, he befriended a student from the local art college.
“When he got better, he did the design course himself, and very boldly, I must say, he started his first shop in Bridlesmith Gate, Nottingham. He’d have been 20; perhaps younger. He and a girlfriend went and bought a shop in Carnaby Street just as it was all starting. And the rest, of course, is history.”