REMEMBERING A SENSATION
|His death was plagued with controversy
Tommy Simpson was one of Britain's
most successful cyclists, yet his memory is plagued with controversy
after he "rode himself to death". Tommy's nephew Chris Jackson
joins Inside Out to follow the story and see how it has affected the
Cycling has been one of the more controversial sports
for some years, with rumours and scandals erupting on a regular basis.
Certainly the death of Tommy Simpson rocked the profession
all those years ago, but has anyone learnt from his story?
As a cycling enthusiast like his uncle, Chris Jackson
follows in the footsteps of Tommy's final days before turning his attentions
to modern cycling as a whole.
A sporting giant
In 1967 Tommy Simpson was at his peak. He was 29 years
old, fit, strong and had an instinct for winning as his first training
partner Len Jones can testify.
"When I did beat him he sometimes wouldn't talk
to me for a week or a fortnight," he says.
Tommy Simpson was the first British person to make his
mark in the world of European cycling and became known as a sporting "giant".
But for some, the way he died has tarnished his name
and diminished his achievements.
The first Briton to wear the yellow jersey and finish in the top 10
in the Tour de France|
Friday 13, 1967 was the 13th day of that year's Tour
de France and racers were tackling the treacherous 6,000ft (1829m) Mt
In the searing heat Tommy Simpson began weaving across
the road before slipping off his bike.
After ordering onlookers to, "Put me back on my
bike" Tommy continued only a short distance before he collapsed and
He was airlifted to a local hospital but never regained
consciousness and died later that day.
Tommy Simpson's death shocked participants and those
involved in the race, but it was the discoveries after his death that
shocked the world.
An autopsy showed that Tommy had traces of amphetamines
in his blood. Investigators also discovered more of the drugs in his hotel
room and the pockets of his jersey.
The way things were
In the wake of Tommy Simpson's death the International
Union of Cycling (UCI) banned the use of any performance enhancing drugs
in the sport.
Yet many people don't think it was taken far enough and
a blind eye was still turned to drug use.
Len Jones told Chris that his uncle certainly wasn't
alone in taking performance enhancing drugs.
|"I was told 'you're nearly there
on your own abilities but if you just start taking a little bit
you'll win the big races'."|
Len was also pressurised to take part but refused.
In the years leading up to his death Tommy Simpson was
based in Belgium, where he became close friends with Albert Beurick who
ran a bar and hostel for cyclists.
After 37 years Albert still finds it hard to talk about
the death of his friend but he does tell Chris that his uncle spoke about
drugs often and that it was not a taboo subject.
Kimmage lifted the lid on drug taking in his book "Rough Ride"|
Yet now it has become a taboo subject. Many people involved
in cycling admit there is a problem, yet few want to speak out about it.
One person who doesn't want to sweep drug use under the
carpet is Irish cyclist Paul Kimmage.
"I have used amphetamines on three occasions and
I wouldn't have believed the difference it made until I tried it.
"It was astonishing really," he comments.
Having noticed such a difference when using the drugs
Paul can fully understand how they could lead someone to push themselves
beyond their limits.
But with few others who are willing to openly admit to
the problem more people could find themselves pushing that step too far,
as Tommy did.
"People talk about the dangers of Formula 1 and
climbing Everest but the numbers would bear no comparison to those who
are killed each year as professional cyclists," says Paul.
It seems scandal is never far away from the sport of
David Millar, perhaps the UK's most successful cyclist
since Tommy Simpson, was given a two-year ban in August 2004 for using
banned substances, and many top European stars have faced drug bans during
Yet interest in the sport is on the up. After Britain's
medal winning efforts in Athens the public have become interested in cycling.
September 2004's Tour of Britain attracted huge crowds
nationwide, with fans turning up to watch their Olympic heroes strut their
But do even Olympic stars turn a blind eye?
Britain is making a point of keeping drugs out of the sport|
David Brailsford from the GB team comments, "I think
it's fair to say the problem exists
and I think once you accept
there is a problem you can go out and openly try to do something about
David says that Great Britain is doing something about
it, with new programmes being put into place that will affect anyone who
wants to represent their country in the sport.
Under the new system all riders in Team GB will have
to submit to monthly drugs tests.
"That way we can ensure that anyone who rides for
Britain is clean," explains David.
Paid for results
Part of the problem in cycling circles is that many teams
are sponsored, so they have to show results to survive.
It is a different environment to national teams and competition
for that elusive sponsorship dollar is fierce.
Even David Brailsford from Team GB admits the difficulty.
"If people feel there is a possibility of fast-tracking results it
can be difficult to resist the temptation."
|"The only way to combat it is if
all sponsorship companies refuse to give contracts to riders involved
Tommy Simpson was a cyclist who pushed himself to the
limits to keep winning as that would ensure the continuation of his own
sponsorship, but have things changed?
The only way to stop widespread drug usage is for the
money to stop, after all - money talks.
Looking to the future
There is no doubting that Tommy Simpson's drug use wasn't
a one off.
It is widely known that cyclists of his era used performance
enhancing drugs on a regular basis, partly because there was no stigma
attached to it.
like Chris Jackson want the sport's image improved|
What is surprising though, is that the sport still hasn't
got rid of drug use.
Chris Jackson is hopeful for the future of cycling and
feels that there is some progress being made, albeit slowly and perhaps
The International Cycling Union is getting tougher on
drug users and events such as the Olympics, where drug testing is prolific,
can only help to keep drug use in check.
Lets hope that in the near future this sport, often plagued
by controversy, can become one famous for its heroic feats of athleticism
and known for its clean image.