This is my tribute to someone who I think is the best British cyclist, so far. You may not agree but I do hope you enjoy.
This a LONG post, so get a drink and settle in.

An Ode to the Very Best of British

The best British cyclist? We each have our fave
The one we think best, about whom we rave
Many words have been written, and many more said
And arguments raged, so let’s put this to bed.

Is it Wiggo or Cav, perhaps Major Tom too
Reg Harris or Vicky, to name but a few
If it came to a gamble, then I’d stake my shirt on
The legend that is, the late Beryl Burton.

For those who don’t know, what she strove to achieve
Let me tell you her tale, it’s quite hard to believe
That this once-sickly child, with rheumatic fever
Left an arrhythmic heart, that never did leave her.

Yet from the late 50s, for thirty plus years
She stayed at the front, far ahead of her peers
A seven-time World Champ, on the road and the track
She won first time out, and never looked back.

13 was her tally, of world championship medals
That came as a product, of turning those pedals
Plus 96 titles, here in the UK
Plus numerous records, what more can one say.

So how did she do it, this Yorkshire housewife
No money, poor health, no great start in life
She overcame all, in her rise to the top
With a burning desire, which no-one could stop.

In her early career, when money was tight
Hubby Charlie and her, must decide what was right
A cyclist himself, they could run just one bike
“No, you tek it love”, that’s just what he was like.

He’s now chauffeur, mechanic, child minder you see
As he put it himself, “She were faster than me”
In those old macho days, that was quite a brave choice
They decided together, they sang with one voice.

They set about planning, to get her in shape
By getting the most, from their local landscape
Those wild Yorkshire Dales, they can make you quite tough
And will make sure you know, if you’ve got the right stuff.

No sports science then, no intricate plan
No monitor, meter, nor turbo with fan
Just hard Yorkshire roads, and hard bloody slog
And in rhubarb fields, where she worked like a dog.

To build up her strength, her endurance as well
So that out on the road, she could give them all hell
Which she usually did, as her rivals well know
As she led from the front, with the rest all in tow.

At her very first try, to become a World champ
She entered a bike, but then had to revamp
The marshals decided, her bike was unsafe
Unsure of her wheelset, which they thought might chafe.

Her second-hand wheels, were cracked and too old
So she borrowed a set, and promptly won gold
And that set the scene, for the next thirty years
As she hoovered up wins, and beat all her peers.

As titles were won, as records did tumble
No bragging, no boasting, just ever so humble
If you went to her house, you’d never have guessed
Here lived a World champ, simply one of the best.

No cups on the sideboard, or bike in the hall
No medals or photos, no frames on the wall
No newspaper clips, to show off her fame
No self aggrandisement, that wasn’t her game.

From what I have said, I hope you’re impressed
But I’ve yet to state, what she really did best
Astounding I know, with those World titles held
There’s another event, where she truly excelled.

The solo time trial, is the toughest of all
Where you give it quite large, perhaps end up quite small
For those who’ve not tried, I shall try to explain
Why this one tough event, is a world made of pain.

A rider and bike, a clock and a road
Are all that’s required, for a race of this mode
The rules are quite clear, you ride on your own
No drafting allowed, or out you’ll be thrown.

You ride on the limit, in constant distress
And when you have finished, you’re one sorry mess
The pain you’ve endured, will all be worthwhile
If you get a PB, which will bring out your smile.

In this Race of Truth, when you are out there
Your talent, desire, and your soul are laid bare
There’s nowhere to hide, the bullshit stops here
The order of merit, will soon become clear.

And Beryl at this, was simply supreme
She drove herself on, to the limit extreme
What was well known by all, was her grit and her fire
As well as her strength, and her endless desire.

She was so good in fact, she would quite often beat
Not only the girls, but the men she’d defeat
Back in year ‘67, at a 12 hour event
What she did on that day, was just pure heaven-sent.

The Otley 12 hour, was a National Time Trial
The men started first, and then after a while
The ladies rolled out, to start their own race
But Beryl decided, the men she would chase.

She got nicely warmed up, got into her stride
And then put the hammer down, full gas applied
She tore up that road, like it was on fire
A scorching hot pace, that matched her desire.

For hour after hour, relentless her pace
‘Til she finally caught, the men’s cycling ace
And legend will have it, was such a great sport
While passing she gave him, a liquorice Allsort.

“Ta very much love”, his grateful reply
As she carried on past, and then waved him goodbye
When she powered away, he knew he was licked
As they might say today, he was properly chicked.

So onward she rode, at a fantastic rate
As she thundered along, like a train that is late
In that Race of Truth, her true worth was revealed
As she simply destroyed, a top-class men’s field.

When her twelve hours was up, she then sighed with relief
And the mileage she’d done, brought on shocked disbelief
The guy that she’d fed, won the title for men
He did two seven six (276) miles, a record back then.

Yet Beryl had ridden, almost 2 further miles
To set a world record, for 12 hour time trials
For both women and men, her victory complete
A stunning performance, an outstanding athlete.

Now I’ll do the maths, it’s important to show
Her average speed, as all cyclists would know
That it’s one of the stats, where we can compare
Our limited talent , that’s reasonably fair.

She did 23 average, perhaps a tad more
And passed on that day, into cycling folklore
If you’re reading this now, do you have the power
To hold 23, for even one hour?

On your light aero bike, and your smooth running gears
And on a heavy antique, going back 50 years?
And then hold 23, for hour after hour?
To truly appreciate, proper Girl Power.

I’m completely in awe, of that brilliant lady
Who rewrote the rules, with no hint of ought shady
While some foreign rivals, were state-sponsored cheats
Their fuel was drugs, her fuel was sweets.

I’m no sports historian, keeper of facts
For The Grand Sporting Play, and all of its Acts
But I’ve never known, a performance like that
In endurance events, with an equal format.

Where woman beats man, through power and strength
Which can never be luck, in a race of that length
No handicap given, no favour was asked
It was rider v rider, they were simply outclassed.

If she’d done that today, would have been headline news
No suspicions at all, whatever you views
She’d have won last year’s SPOTY, no need for a jury
She’d have knocked them all out, d’ya hear Tyson Fury.

In my book you know, for what she has been
She’s the best female athlete, the world’s ever seen
In fact for all sports, for both women and men
For all those great athletes, she’d make my top ten.

The tragedy is, she is largely unknown
Not like in France, wished she was their own
A Frenchman once quipped, for a bit of a lark
That in populist terms, she would beat Joan of Arc.

In Europe as well, she was rightly revered
And crowds would turn out, when e’er she appeared
They recognised talent, her power and pace
And knew she gave all, in every bike race.

But she wasn’t above, a sly little dig
If she thought that a man, for his shorts was too big
She would cruise up behind, while he thought ‘No way’
He’d be grunting and straining, to keep her at bay.

And puffing and panting, tried upping the pace
But all he would get, is a steaming red face
She’d draw level and say, when felt he was dying
“Aw, come on now lad, yer not really trying”.

Then she’d step on the gas, with his gut fit to bust
And so leave him behind, to choke on her dust.

I know there are some, with more glitter and gold
Like Brad and Chris Hoy, and Ms Trott truth be told
Champions no doubt, but with lots of support
From coaches and trainers, the best in the sport.

Plus equipment and training plans, diets for free
All carefully mapped out, to the last Nth degree
And a team working out, all those marginal gains
While all that she got, were sore aches and pains.

She ploughed a lone furrow, with little support
And raced on the bike, that she herself bought
A husband and wife team, alone in their quest
They overcame all, proved she was the best.

Her burning desire, her sheer will-to-win
That came from no sponsor, that came from within
She remained all her life, a true amateur
No sponsorship deal, which is now de rigeur.

I don’t often dwell, on what might have been
But with Beryl you know, we might well have seen
The most titles won, more golds on display
Had she had the chance, like the girls do today

No chance to compete, for O-lympic glory
There’d be multiple golds, to add to her story
And back in the 60s, the World road race was short
A mere 25 miles, that’s not really much sport.

For Beryl a sprint, no great chance to shine
She would just have warmed up, at the finishing line
But had it been 80, much more like today
There would be just one winner, it’s quite safe to say.

No time trial back then, more golds then denied
She was no glory hunter, took that in her stride
This wonderful lady, this cyclist sublime
Was born far too soon, born out of her time.

And into her fifties, she tried to stay strong
Kept on pushing herself , as she’d done all along
She hated the fact, of her slowdown through age
So she trained just as hard, to remain centre stage.

But none can deny, the advancement of years
Diminishing strength, I’m sure one or two tears
But Beryl kept trying, that was all that she knew
No thought of a rest, no “Good Night and Thank You”.

And perhaps in the end, that brought on her demise
She kept driving herself, which is no great surprise
They found her lain down, on a cold Yorkshire road
Her heart just gave out, from perhaps overload.

Maybe it said, “ I know that you’re tough
But come on old girl, I think that’s enough”
She died as she lived, out alone on her bike
I doubt that we’ll ever, again see her like.

But perhaps not the end, perhaps up in the sky
Is a celestial race track, around which she’d fly
She would challenge them all, despite their complaints
And she’d train like the devil, to beat all the saints

Now I’ve stated her case, dispute at your peril
The best British cyclist? It has to be Beryl

Beryl Burton 1967
Beryl Burton 1937 – 1996
World Road Race Champion 1960,1967
World Individual Pursuit Champion 1959, 1960, 1962, 1963, 1966
Best British All Rounder for 25 consecutive years
96 National Titles
10 mile Time Trial national record 1973, held for 20 yrs
25 mile Time Trial national record 1976, held for 20 yrs
30 mile Time Trial national record 1981, held for 10 yrs
50 mile Time Trial national record 1976, held for 20 yrs
100 mile Time Trial national record, 1968, held for 18 yrs
12 hour Time Trial Record 277.25 miles 1967, still stands

With admiration, respect and affection.

Written by Paul Scanlan, MCCC


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