PEZ Interviews: Dauphine Winner Brian Robinson
“Pioneer,” did someone say “pioneer?” He was the first English speaker to win a Tour de France stage, the first English speaker to stand on the podium of a classic; Milan – San Remo, and…the first English speaker to win the Dauphine Liberй. He’s Yorkshire’s Brian Robinson. Ed Hood had the opportunity to pick the brain of one of the trailblazers.
PEZ: It must have been a good year for you, 1961 Brian?
Brian: It was a good year for me, but it was also my last good year, the following year was the end of my career.
PEZ: Did the Dauphine have the same status, back then?
Brian: Oh yes! That was back in the days of national teams in the Tour and it was an important selection race. The French would leave three or four places up for grabs and make the final selections depending on who had shown good form at the Dauphine. Back then, it was the fourth most prestigous race in the world, in the pecking order it only came after the three Grand Tours. It was eight stages, if I remember, any more than that and it would have been too much before the Tour.
PEZ: Tell us about the parcours.
Brian: It used to go over a lot of the big cols that the Tour climbed, like the Ventoux, but to be honest, I don’t remember the specifics of the route that year, although I think that there was a team time trial. One of the things that you regret after your pro career is over, is that you don’t keep specific records of all these things – and it was a long time ago!
PEZ: Do you remember the decisive moment in the race?
Brian: Very well! We had the German rider, Rolf Wohlfsol on our Rapha squad. He had the jersey and my role was to be a ‘policeman,’ for him, going with any breaks. On stage three to Brest (from Saint Brieuc, 170 km) two guys cleared off, I went with them and the bunch wasn’t interested. I was sitting on and my Director Sportif came up and said that I shouldn’t impede the other two but I shouldn’t contribute much either.
At the end we had 10 minutes and I won the stage – I had to! I also took the jersey, it was good tactics by our team. You might go with 20 attacks and none of them succeed, but then you get in one like that and it works out for you.
PEZ: Any awkward moments?
Brian: Not really, but my team mate Mastrotto attacked me to try and get a stage win. As I was saying, the Dauphine was a selection race for the Tour and Mastrotto wanted a place, so he charged off with another rider, who was also looking for selection.
Mastrotto was a bit of a bulldozer – he just put his head down and went. My manager and I knew what he was doing, but he didn’t win the stage, so he wasn’t that popular with us! He did, however get his Tour place. (He would also win the Dauphine in 1962) Management attitude was different back then too.
During all the years I raced as a pro, I never had a manager come to me and say; “you’ve got to do this!” They knew that we wanted to win – it was how you made your money!
PEZ: Did the team work well for you?
Brian: The team was quite cosmopolitan, we had a Belgian, a Dutchman and a German and yes, they all worked well for me. It was the first time I’d had a team working for me – and of course they all wanted to make money! It wasn’t like it is these days – you could live off your wages, but real earnings came from your prize money.
PEZ: Do you think that you come out of the Dauphine flying or wasted?
Brian: It depends on your shape and your attitude. I came out if it in good shape; if you were a more delicate rider than I was, then maybe it would drain you. But I liked the shorter stage races in May and June. I didn’t like one day races, I thrived on stage racing. The Dauphine is only eight days, it’s tough, but not so tough if you have good legs. It’s the poor souls who don’t have good form that struggle!
It would be another 22 years before another English speaker was to emulate Robinson, an American called Greg Lemond – whatever happened to him?