Ex Rider Interview: At one time there was a strong home professional scene in Britain and up to the early 90’s there was a full calendar for the ‘paid class’ riders. But due to the blurring of lines between the pros and the amateurs, plus the disinterest (opposition) of the British Cycling Federation at the time; professional cycling disappeared. One of the top winners was ‘Super Sid’ Barras, there are not many riders out there with such a full palmarès.
Another win with Viking
‘Super Sid’ was what they called him; his tarmac graffiti artist fans used to paint; “screw ‘em Sid !’ on any suitable stretch of road surface. Sidney Barras was his Sunday name and few people have won more bike races than this man. British professional legend, Sid Barras talks about his amateur days, his motivation for turning pro, his strained relationship with Peter Post at Raleigh, his win in the Scottish Milk Race and that day at Eastway when he out-sprinted the great Eddy Merckx to take second place in the Glenryck Cup behind Didi Thurau. We also discuss the race he was favourite for every year for a decade but which it took him 10 years to win, the British Professional Road Race Championship. Sid was a fixture on the British professional scene for 18 years from 1970 onwards, it was high time we caught up with him.
Sid beating Dave Rollinson
PEZ: Sid, just how many raced did you really win, we’ve seen it quoted variously from 197 up to 380?
Sid Barras: I won 80 as an amateur including three in the Milk race and one in the Scottish Milk Race and I won Star Trophy races like the Chequers GP. As a pro, excluding green jerseys, just first across the line it was 197; so a total of 277 would be about right. Some would say I was just plain greedy! Winning a bike race gives you a ‘high’ for a week, I was on a permanent ‘high’ for 20 years. My doctor tells me I have an ‘addictive personality,’ I was glad my addiction was to winning bike races and not anything else.
In the Tour of Britain Milk Race as an amateur
PEZ: You won those amateur races in a good era for British amateur road racing.
There were an awful lot of good races back then but the reason I turned pro was that I felt my performances weren’t being recognised. In 1967 I rode the Tour of the Border and your man Billy Bilsland won every stage; then I did the same in ’68, I won every stage. That result got me a ride in the England team for the Milk Race where I won two stages and was fifth on final GC, I believe I could have made the final GC podium but I was young, still finding my feet and wasn’t as confident as I could have been. Those performances put me on the short list for the 1968 Mexico Olympics. The next big test was the Manx International which was won by John Bettinson, I wasn’t going to chase him, he was my team mate in the Milk Race but I was looking to be second then I punctured with a half mile to go, Billy Bilsland was second and I was fifth.
Then there was a big event at South Shields but because I was on the list for Mexico they’d given me all the inoculations just a few days prior to the race, I had to climb off after 10 miles; I just couldn’t ride at all. The Scottish Milk Race was another selection race; I was out to debunk the notion that I was, ‘just a sprinter’ – I always considered myself a good all round bike rider who could sprint. There was one stage from Ayr to Dunbar, one side of Scotland to the other some 210 kilometres; I took off on my own with around 20 miles to go but Peter Doyle the Irishman and the famous Polish rider Jozef Gawliczek got up to me with a half mile to go. Coming in to Dunbar they started to look at each other, they’d forgotten about me, thinking I’d be finished after my solo but I jumped them with 200 yards to go and won it. When they announced the Mexico team I was non-traveling reserve, despite 19 wins that season – that put me at odds with authority.
PEZ: You signed with the Bantel pro team for 1970.
As I said I was at odds with the authorities, they passed over me for Worlds selection in 1969 and there was an incident in the Milk Race. I won the stage into New Brighton but then on the stage into Stoke in the finishing straight Brian Jolly jumped and went from one side of the road to the other, I followed him but he won the stage. There was a big pile up behind and I got the blame, penalised 10 minutes, after the stage Martyn Roach came up to me and said; “it was nothing to do with you or Brian, the Kiwi guy Bryce Beeston rolled a tub, I saw it happen.” I was totally disenchanted with authority so when Hughie Porter ‘phoned me at the end of 1969 and said there was a place on the Bantel team for 1970 I took up the offer. Apart from anything else it was costing me a fortune in travel costs, up in the North East and having to drive all over the country.
Beating the great Eddy Merckx
PEZ: You took to the pro scene quickly with seven wins in that first season.
I had my first win in April, the sprints were certainly faster than among the amateurs, you had to gear one sprocket higher.
On the Eastway circuit with Ocaña, Thurau and Hoban
PEZ: And you rode the Worlds in Gap, France – finishing 22nd that was a good ride.
It was very, very hot that day and my ride could have been better, top 10 I believe but for punctures – and Barry Hoban chasing me down didn’t help! [More of Sid v. Baz later the interview, ed.]
PEZ: You were with Bantel 1970 to 1973 then Raleigh ’74/’75, the inevitable question – what about Mr. Post?
It wasn’t for me, living in a cellar. We were down in the South of France for the early season ‘training’ races, it was either in Nice or Antibes, three were away but I won the big bunch sprint got fourth place. I told Post, all he could say was; ‘you didn’t win, eh?’ We did all those races down there but after them whilst the Dutch guys flew home whilst the six Brits were in the back of the mechanics van back to Belgium. When we got back to Belgium, Dave Lloyd, Phil Bayton and I ended up having to sleep in a brothel. I had one night of that then one to stay at Mrs. Deene’s until the folks from the Plum Vainqueur bike shop fixed me up with a cellar where I did my own cooking and washing – I stuck that out until the end of June then came back to the UK.
Behind ‘The Engine’ Phil Bayton, followed by Merckx
PEZ: Back to Bantel after two seasons with Raleigh.
The good thing about Raleigh was that they paid strong money but Bantel more than matched it so I was happy to go back.
Merckx leading through a corner
PEZ: The win everyone remembers was that stage in the Tour de Suisse but you had wins in Spain and the US and strong rides in races like the Trofeo Laigueglia, did you ever think about trying your hand on the continent?
Things were different back then, I didn’t get any offers after that Swiss win in ’73 despite that fact that I beat the likes of Paolini and Van Springel in the sprint. That stage was 215 kilometres with a couple of third cat. climbs along the way. It was a composite Bantel/Holdsworth team and Colin Lewis knew the finish, he did a power of work for me in the last 10/15K, Colin was an excellent riders – under rated I think.
Milk Race stage win with the GB composite pro team
PEZ: You won the London to Holyhead twice, ’70 and ’77, a race-and-a-half that one.
That was 265 miles with small fields so there was no getting sucked along in the peloton – and that thing was when I won it in ’77, there was no time to savour the win, we had a crit in Oxford the next day.
Bantel power house – Hugh Porter
PEZ: I remember watching you and Hughie Porter dismembering the field in the 1977 Scottish Milk Race.
When Hughie got the bit between his teeth he could just sit there on the front for mile after mile – he was World Professional Pursuit Champion four times, don’t forget. We were down two men in that race, we started one man short than lost another through injury. I lead that race from the start, I won Stage One in Glasgow from the late Stanislav Szozda of Poland; he was one of the best amateurs in the world in that era – he was World Road Race and Team Time Trial Champion and he won the Peace Race. He fought me all the way to the line in the uphill sprint for that first stage then he attacked me relentlessly through the rest of the race.
Scottish Milk Race victories
The stage into Aberdeen there was a big climb on the parcours, the Cairn o’ Mount and he attacked me from the start of it until the top but I hung on to him. At the top he sat up and he shook my hand. Off the climb it came back together and Hughie took over until the last mile; it was a big wide, straight finish along the sea front with us all in the right hand gutter and the wind coming off the sea. I was maybe eight or nine wheels back when the commissaire’s car passed us on the left with 500 yards to go, I saw it, kicked flat out and aimed for it. I didn’t get pace from it but it was my ‘hare,’ I won the stage, the Czechs and Poles protested but the commissaires couldn’t really do anything because it was their car! I won the overall GC on that one by the time bonuses I picked up; Szozda was second overall and the Czech Michal Klasa third, he was another great rider with Peace Race, Tour de l’Avenir, Sealink, Tour of Slovakia and Tour of Poland stages to his credit.
Mixing it with the amateurs – Joe Waugh and Pete Longbottom on Sid’s wheel
PEZ: We were also at Eastway when you finished second to Thurau in the Glenryck Cup in ’77.
People think I won that but it was just because I beat Merckx for second place, Raleigh’s German Champion Didi Thurau was away on his own for the win. The mistake I made that day was to show my hand, there were some £50.00 primes on offer and I won a couple to make sure I was taking some money home with me but Thurau and Merckx realised then that I was pretty quick. I got a lot of publicity for that ride, it was televised and I got a nice bonus from the team. But folks do tend to forget that Thurau had three laps out that day. . . (And although Sid didn’t mention it, Cycling Weekly editor Ken Evans who reported that race for his magazine reckoned that there was an ‘arrangement’ between the Belgian maestro and the young German).
PEZ: You finally won the British Pro title in 1979 but I remember one year where you were up the road nearly all day?
That was ’76 when my team mate Hughie Porter said he really wanted to win the National Championship. I like to think I’m not a selfish rider so I said I would go up the road and put the onus on the other teams to chase; I also helped Keith Lambert win one of his national titles during my time. The ’76 race was at Blackpool over 130 miles, I went away with Brian Tadman and Jock Kerr, the latter was a Holdsworth and wouldn’t work with me, we were away for 80 miles with a maximum lead of 6:30 but when we eventually got brought back to the bunch, where Hughie said to me; ‘I’m buggered!’ So we had to change the plan and I had to try and win the bunch sprint, if the line had come 50 cm. sooner I’d have won but Geoff Wiles of Holdsworth just got me on the line.
National road champ
PEZ: It must have been a great satisfaction when you eventually did win?
That finally came in 1979, I was with Carlton-Weinmann, the race was over 156 miles in the rain at Telford, it was a great feeling because I had to beat a continental combine to win; the late Phil Edwards (Sanson), Graham Jones (Peugeot) and the late Paul Sherwen (Fiat) who were all working for Barry Hoban (Miko-Mercier). Jones was flying, there was a tough prime hill called, ‘The Rock’ and I had to go after him up there. There were five of us at the death, Hoban, Edwards, Jones and Dudley Hayton (Viking-Campagnolo) and they all sat on me for the last kilometre.
But they were actually playing into my hands, I knew I had the best jump and we were all knackered and frozen after nearly seven hours in the rain. I selected my gear for the sprint, 53 x 14, slowed it right down and positioned myself in the gutter so that I could see anyone coming round and they would have to go into the wind. I jumped with 150 to go and won it from the front. Hoban was second and immediately protested that I’d switched him; but the judges were aware that in an uphill sprint in the freezing rain the bike’s going to move about a bit and I knew they wouldn’t uphold his complaint. Hoban wasn’t happy about their decision and wouldn’t come to the podium.
Another win, this time for Falcon-Campagnolo
PEZ: Between ’78 and ’87 you were with six different teams; Viking-Campagnolo, Carlton-Weinmann, Weinmann-Chicken, Coventry Eagle, Falcon and Moducel.
That’s just how the sport was, in ’81 I was on half the money I was getting in ’80. Coventry Eagle and Falcon were really the same team. Moducel in ‘85/’86 was good, there was a big revival in the sport at that time.
PEZ: Which team were you happiest at?
Bantel, I was there for a total of six years. But I enjoyed Carlton-Weinmann, that was a good team too. And the two seasons I spent with Moducel were good, he had moved on by the time I joined the team but it was Micky Morrison who brought Moducel into the sport, Micky had the gift of the gab and brought a lot of sponsors into cycling.
Happy with another win
PEZ: Who were the ones you had to keep an eye on it if it came down to a sprint?
To be honest, I was finished as a ‘big kick’ sprinter by ’81, I did have a massive kick but you can’t keep that for ever, it declines as you get older – look at Cav. Phil Thomas was a fast finisher and so was Malcolm Elliott, then there was Shane Sutton, he was quick. Steve Joughin and I formed a good sprint partnership, I was his lead out man at Moducel. I can remember in Kellogg’s city centre crits leading him out for two laps, him taking the win and me still finishing third. Then there was one in Cardiff where I was leading Steve out but he let the wheel go so I could win it on my own. Another lad that no one thinks about when you mention sprinters is Ian Banbury, remember that he won the National Road Race? He’d been a pursuiter [Banbury was in the bronze medal winning GB team pursuit squad at the Montreal Olympics in 1976, ed.] and had terrific leg speed, I’ve seen him win sprints in the 14 sprocket when everyone else was in the 12.
Keeping an eye on Phil Anderson and Jan Raas for teammate and leader Phil Thomas in a Kelloggs’ city centre race
PEZ: The wins which give you most satisfaction?
The National, that took me 10 years to win; it’s such a strange race, I was one of the favourites every year but that’s a race where the favourite never wins! I think I would have won in ’76 if I hadn’t been up the road for 80 miles for Hughie but it was a great satisfaction to finally win it when I did, beating the opposition I did. The stage win in Switzerland in ‘73 was a nice one given the quality of the opposition, it’s the one people remember. The London to Holyhead wins in ’70 and ’77 were satisfying too, that’s a race where team tactics go out the window at the end of a hard 267 miles. Another nice win was a stage I won in the Vuelta a Mallorca in 1978, Marc Demeyer who was Freddy Maertens henchman and won Paris-Roubaix was second and Leo Van Vliet who won Gent-Wevelgem was third.
The Moducel team
PEZ: Anything you think you might have done differently with the benefit of hindsight?
They were very different times, the continent was difficult to break into as an English pro and there were a lot of pitfalls over there, if you know what I mean? I’d like to have ridden the Tour of Britain Milk Race when I was in my prime, I rode it as a young man then couldn’t ride it again until I was 35 years-old. I think that if I ridden it in my best years, out of 10 attempts I could have won it.
Climbing through the fans in the Kelloggs’ Tour of Britain
# With thanks to Sid for his time, it was nice to speak to a bona fide legend of British cycle sport. We spoke to Sid over 11 years ago, you can see that interview from 2009 HERE. #
Sid is still involved with The Dave Rayner Fund
Thanks to all the photographers known and unknown.
Still likes the bike and the sun