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Derrick Woodings - My Cycling Career (Chapter 1)

Our club president Derrick Woodings has an incredible cycling history and was once riding on the professional circuit. A few years ago he gave a captivating presentation to club members, but if you missed that event, please read on as we aim to publish excerpts from Derrick's memoirs here. Derrick has had many achievements in his cycling career and has kindly agreed for us to publish these memoirs. Start a conversation with Derrick and you will soon realise he is very humble about his achievements and has hundreds of interesting stories to tell.

Over the next few weeks we will publish some of these stories spanning Derrick's cycling history. Whether your racing knowledge is good or not, you will be captivated by the history Derrick has to tell which gives a window into what it was like in the early days of racing in Britain.

We start Derrick's memoirs by setting the scene on how racing in the UK evolved:

Chapter 1 - A brief history of the UK cycling scene from 1850 - 1955

Cycling developed in the UK during this period entirely differently to continental Europe. A book written by Chris Sidwells (Nephew of Tom Simpson) is well worth a read, as it explains all this in graphic detail. Why was this so? When in France, for instance, racing became very popular with massive public support.

I think it was because during the years 1850-1900, cycling being a popular form of travel with large groups of club cyclists on the roads. Some riding recklessly, were causing chaos amongst the village gentry and animals (horses) resulting in complaints, similar to that from motorists today. The popularity of racing resulting in a North Road 24 hour race open to safeties, Ordinaries (Penny Farthings), trikes and tandems, where many of the riders had pacers as well. A 50 mile race in 1894 came into collision with a horse and trap with a woman at the reins, the horse shied, 4 riders crashing under the horses hooves. Miraculously no-one was seriously hurt but a complaint was made to the police who then proclaimed that all racing and ‘furious riding’ must cease in that county.

The NCU (National Cycling Union) worried that cycling would be banned finally declared that all mass start events should take place off road (on closed circuits) henceforth. Thus road racing eventually died out and only time trialling or closed circuit racing took over. Although my colleague Dave Orford suggests it was because on the continent where similar occurrences must have happened, sponsorship and professionalism had been accepted and ‘money talks’ whereas only amateurism was approved over here and would explain how it turned out.

The governing body of the sport was the NCU in collaboration with the RTTC (Road Time Trials Council). Both these organisations were anti ‘mass start’ road racing on the open roads. The NCU would only sanction mass start racing on closed circuits. Of course the RTTC ran events (Time Trials) on open roads with early starts and riders clad in all black kit so as not to attract attention (from the police mainly). This was the case until a certain Percy Stallard came on the scene in the 1930’s. He was advocating open road racing resembling what was happening in mainland Europe.

Eventually In 1942 there was a major conflict between him and the NCU exacerbated by the cycling publication of the time ‘The Bicycle’. There was to be no agreement between these two philosophies and indeed Percy had actually gone ahead and organised a race - the Llangollen to Wolverhampton race to be run on June 7th 1942. The NCU tried to arrange a meeting with Percy to try and resolve this issue, but Percy refused to attend having already sought and gained permission from area police authorities through which the race would pass. The event was run without incident and so I guess Percy assumed that the NCU would now change their policy, but what actually came to pass was: he was suspended along with all the competitors ‘sine die’ (without any future date being designated). This inflamed Percy who now decided to set up a rival organisation - the BLRC (British League of Racing Cyclists).

The UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) eventually had to recognise the BLRC as Ian Steel who was registered under their rules, had won the WBP (Warsaw-Berlin-Prague) Peace Race in 1952 - a major amateur stage race behind the ‘Iron Curtain’. This of course concerned the international body as they could not have two bodies representing the UK. Thus clubs affiliated to the BLRC or the NCU were virtually at war for several years. In my opinion, this period 1900-1960 set cycle racing back in the UK, and accounted for the lack of success by British riders except for a few brave souls who decamped to the continent to take up their careers (Brian Robinson and Tom Simpson, to name the most prominent).

The NCU and BLRC eventually resolved the issue to run road racing in the UK and merged to form the BCF (British Cycling Federation - now British Cycling) approaching the government where an agreement was made under relatively strict rules. Initially the circuit should not be less than 10 miles except in certain circumstances, and fields should not be greater than 40 competitors, that mass start events could be run providing that the relevant police authorities were approached and approved the circuit.

I came into competitive cycling towards the end of this period.

Further reads:

Note: This chapter is a summarised account from Derrick's memoirs, Derrick can expand on any of this so if you have any questions, please reply to this post with a comment and Derrick will respond.


Coming up next time: Chapter 2 - Cycling as a teenager

182 views3 comments


A great read Derrick and I am really looking forward to the next chapter.


Unknown member
Jul 10, 2022

Can we share on FB ?

David Olney
David Olney
Jul 10, 2022
Replying to

Steve, each post will be shared on the Belper FB page. Just awaiting the Belper FB admins to push it there. 🙂. You can also share any post on your own FB account.

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