'Mr Tom' by Chris Sidwells. Mousehole
Press £13.95 ISBN 1-874739-14-5
When I was a kid I read Tom Simpson's autobiography, 'Cycling Is My Life', borrowed from my sister, when I was a schoolboy rider in the late 60's and early 70's - it gave me added inspiration and motivation to train in the winter months and early season cold. It did what it should and made the riding worthwhile. Looking back, I found my level having a few minor wins and places in various events, but I never made the top flight by any means. My 'palmeres' are something akin to the width of a pin-head if I compare myself to someone like Geoff Cooke - and I beat him once in a heat of the '76 National Sprint Championships - but that's another tale.
Last year I decided to try to get a copy of Tom's book for myself. The 2001 edition of the Velodrome Cycle Fair was a busy event and the only opportunity to ask around was with George Shaw's son (who advised me that he had a single copy of his own - signed by Tom). The going price was about £30 - it was originally 21 shillings.
After the Fair I phoned around the vendors to see who might have it and eventually bought a copy. The reprinted edition published after his death has an extra chapter, 'The Final Milestones', written by David Saunders. I put it on one side with a view to reading again at a later date.
I only got around to re-read the autobiography a few weeks ago - but from a completely different viewpoint as an older person - much older than Tom ever aspired to. What a waste of talent - I still regard Tom as a hero even though I understand the circumstances of his death - he paid the ultimate price in trying to match his peers - but the circumstances and pressures were a bit different then (or were they - Festina?).
What struck me was that there was something missing from his book. Tom picked out the stories about bigger triumphs and tragedies but the 'palmares' were missing. Also, and for obvious reasons, he didn't say anything about the use of drugs.
Last year I was told about a book published a couple of years ago, 'Mr Tom' written by Tom's nephew Chris Sidwells, and that it was a very good read. At this year's Cycle Fair I came across the book and acquired it without hesitation. Whereas his own book lacked in his 'palmares', this had most if not all of them - he was quite modest in some ways. As his nephew, Chris has been 'knocked' for giving a biased account of Tom's career but having read the original and the fact that Tom's death is always mentioned somewhere in reporting drug use in sport - I think Chris had taken the time to put the record straight and giving Tom the credit he was (and is) due as our only World Road Champion to date.
Above all it is an informative read. Any aspiring rider should read 'Mr Tom' as a matter of course (for the do's and the don'ts). The reader can then judge for themselves where, when and why he decided to take drugs. We have all heard stories about riders (some of whom retired not that long ago) who have taken that step.
'Mr Tom' would make a good film - even though we know the ending.
PS. Years later, sometime in the
early 70s, Harry Hall showed an 8mm film of Tom in his last Tour
to members of the Manchester Wheelers at the 'Clubhouse', adjacent
to Fallowfield track. I recall that he said he had never shown
it publicly before this. Harry had shot it from the back of his
Mini pick-up, the team service vehicle if my memory is correct.
The pictures of Tom weaving across the road on Mont Ventoux road
before his first collapse still lives with me. Mostly I remember
turning around to see Harry in tears by his projector!