Tom Simpson

professional cyclist (1937-1967)

Thomas Simpson (30 November 1937 – 13 July 1967) was an English road racing cyclist who died of exhaustion on the slopes of Mont Ventoux riding the 13th stage of the Tour de France in 1967.

Tom Simpson
Tom Simpson wearing a white cycling jersey with horizontal rainbow stripes across the body
Simpson c. 1966
Personal information
Full nameThomas Simpson
NicknameMajor Simpson
Born(1937-11-30)30 November 1937
Haswell, County Durham, England
Died13 July 1967(1967-07-13) (aged 29)
Mont Ventoux, Vaucluse, France
Height1.81 m (5 ft 11+12 in)[1]
Weight69 kg (152 lb; 10 st 12 lb)[1]
Team information
DisciplineRoad and track
Rider typeAll-rounder
Amateur teams
Harworth & District CC
Scala Wheelers
Club Olympique Briochin
Gentse Wielersport
Saint-Raphaël VC 12e
Professional teams
1959Saint-Raphaël–R. Geminiani–Dunlop
1962Gitane–Leroux–Dunlop–R. Geminiani
Major wins
Grand Tours
Vuelta a España
2 individual stages (1967)

Stage races

Paris–Nice (1967)

One-day and classic races

World Road Race Championships (1965)
Tour of Flanders (1961)
Bordeaux–Paris (1963)
Milan–San Remo (1964)
Giro di Lombardia (1965)
Medal record
Representing  Great Britain
Men's road bicycle racing
World Championships
Gold medal – first place 1965 San Sebastián Road race
Olympic Games
Bronze medal – third place 1956 Melbourne Team pursuit
Representing  England
British Empire and Commonwealth Games
Silver medal – second place 1958 Cardiff Individual pursuit

The post mortem found that he had taken amphetamines. Added to brandy, the hard climb up Mont Ventoux, the hot conditions, and a stomach complaint, the doping was fatal.

Early life change

Simpson was the youngest of the six children. He was born in Easington, County Durham. After World War II, the Simpson family moved to Harworth in north Nottinghamshire, another mining village, where Simpson grew up and became interested in cycling. He attended the village school and later Worksop Technical College and in 1954 was an apprentice draughtsman at an engineering company in Retford.

As a cyclist he joined first Harworth and District Cycling Club and later Rotherham's Scala Wheelers, and by his late teens was winning local time trials. He was then advised to try track cycling, and he travelled regularly to Fallowfield Stadium in Manchester to compete. He won medals in the national 4000m individual pursuit discipline.

When he was 19, Simpson was part of the Great Britain team pursuit squad which won a bronze medal at the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia. Two years later, he won a silver medal in the individual pursuit at the 1958 British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Cardiff.

In April 1959, Simpson went to France to live in the Breton fishing port of Saint-Brieuc. He hoped to win enough local amateur races to get noticed by a professional cycling team. It was in Saint-Brieuc that he met Helen Sherburn. They married on 3 January 1960.

Professional cyclist change

Within two months, Simpson had won five races and in July 1959 was offered terms by two professional teams; he decided to join the Rapha Geminiani team, which already had a British cyclist, Brian Robinson, in its squad. His first event as a professional was a small stage race, the Tour de l'Ouest (Tour of the West). He won two stages and finished 18th overall - a major achievement for a new pro who would normally be expected to be a domestique to the team's leader.

He competed in the 1959 World Championships in the Netherlands in the individual pursuit and professional road race, finishing fourth in both events. Simpson turned down an invitation to ride in the 1959 Tour de France, because he thought he was not ready. He rode in the 1960 Tour, and finished 29th, and was third in stage 3.

In 1960 he also competed in his first Classic races: he had top ten finishes in La Flèche Wallonne and Paris-Roubaix - he led the Paris-Roubaix for around 40 km before running out of energy and being overtaken less than 10k from the finish, ending up 9th.

In April 1961, however, Simpson won his first Classic . He won the tough Ronde van Vlaanderen after a two-man sprint at the finish. That year he also finished 5th in the "Race to the Sun" - the Paris-Nice stage race, and 9th in the world championship, but he abandoned the Tour de France on stage 3, because of an earlier knee injury.

In 1962, he became the first Briton to wear the maillot jaune (the jersey of the leader of the Tour de France) and eventually finished 6th overall. That was highest final placing by a Briton until Robert Millar was fourth in 1984). Simpson had been third until a crash.

Earlier in the season, he again showed how much he likied for the tough Belgian Classic races. Simpson finished 5th in the Ronde van Vlaanderen and 6th in the Gent-Wevelgem.

1963 and 1965 were probably Simpson's best years for Classic races. He was riding for the Peugeot BP team in 1963, when he won the gruelling motor-paced event Bordeaux-Paris, was second in Paris-Brussels and Paris-Tours, third in the Ronde van Vlaanderen, 8th in Paris-Roubaix, and 10th in both La Flèche Wallonne and Giro di Lombardia.

In 1965, Simpson became the first Briton to be world professional road racing champion.

In 1967 he won the early season Paris-Nice stage race (taking two second places and a third place on different days) and the Tour of Sardinia. He also rode in the Vuelta a España for the first time, collecting two stage victories en route to an eventual 33rd place overall.

Thursday 13 July 1967 change

At the start of the 1967 Tour de France, Simpson thought that he could do well in the event. After the first week he was sixth overall, but a stomach bug began to affect his form, and he lost vital time in a stage including the Col du Galibier. In Marseille, at the start of stage 13 on 13 July, he was still suffering the bad stomach as the race headed into Provence on a blisteringly hot day.

On the day's main climb, Mont Ventoux, Simpson broke away early, but was soon passed by the eventual stage winner, Julio Jiménez, and four others. About two kilometres from the summit, Simpson began to zig-zag across the road, eventually falling against an embankment. While his team car helpers wanted him to retire from the race, Simpson insisted on carrying on. He went another 500m or so before again beginning to fall; he toppled unconscious into the arms of his helpers. Despite mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and the administration of oxygen, plus a helicopter airlift to a nearby hospital, Simpson died. Two tubes of amphetamines and more empty tubes were found in the rear pocket of his racing jersey. He died of heart failure caused by dehydration and heat exhaustion, with drugs a contributing factor.

On the next day, the other riders did not want to race so soon after Simpson's death and asked the organisers for a postponement. In the end, they agreed to ride but with the condition that they would allow a British rider to win the stage. This honour went to Barry Hoban. Hoban later married Simpson's widow.

Memorials change

British cyclists paid for a granite memorial to Simpson near the spot where he died.

Harry Hall, the team mechanic, said that Simpson's last words were "Go on, go on!". The words "Put me back on my bike!" were invented by Sid Saltmarsh, a journalist writing about the Tour for "The Sun". Saltmarsh was not present at Simpson's death.

Simpson is buried in Harworth cemetery. A small museum about him was opened in August 2001 by former Tour de France rider Lucien van Impe in the Harworth social club. A small version of the Mont Ventoux Simpson Memorial was put outside that club in 1997, to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Simpson's death.

Achievements: a summary change

Simpson's professional achievements include four Classic one-day victories:

In addition to these victories, Simpson frequently finished in the top ten of Classics, and won numerous criteriums and other events.

As an amateur he also won an Olympic Games team pursuit bronze medal (1956), silver in the 1958 British Empire and Commonwealth Games individual pursuit, silver (1956) and gold (1958) medals in the British 4000m individual pursuit championship, and was British League of Racing Cyclists hill climb champion in 1957, picking up a silver medal in the same event the following year.

Sources change

  • William Fotheringham (2002). Put Me Back on My Bike: In Search of Tom Simpson. New York: Random House. ISBN 0-224-06187-9.
  • William Fotheringham (2002) Put Me Back on My Bike: In search of Tom Simpson (Yellow Jersey Press, London)

References change

  1. 1.0 1.1 Fotheringham 2007, p. 229.

Other websites change

Preceded by
Jan Janssen
World Road Racing Champion
Succeeded by
Rudi Altig
Preceded by
Mary Rand
BBC Sports Personality of the Year
Succeeded by
Bobby Moore