Retro PEZ Talk: Phil Edwards
Retro Interview: One of the coolest guys to ever throw a leg over a bike was Phil Edwards. His zero degree style probably came from his Italian mother, but he was British junior and professional national champion and rode to many victories in a GB jersey. His pro career was spent with the Italian Sanson team, in the service of the great Francesco Moser. Ed Hood caught up with Mr.Cool to get the lowdown.
He looked super cool on a Fred Baker with a Western Road Club jersey on his back; plonk him atop a silver all-Campag Benotto clad in Sanson strip – complete with crumpled Oppy cap at just the right angle – and well, you were into the Simpson/Ocana/Merckx zone on the CooloMeter.
Phil Edwards is that man; omnipresent on the GB amateur scene when I was a schoolboy, he piled up the wins then headed to Italy, made a name for himself in the savage amateur scene there before stepping smoothly up into the glamorous but brutal Italian professional world. But not just with any old team – Sanson, super cool ice cream company sponsored squad of Italian Capo, Francesco Moser. And not just as any old gregario but as Capo Cecco’s right hand man.
We’d been keen to catch up with the big former British Junior Road Race Champion from Bristol for some time and thanks to the good offices of cycling journo and author Herbie Sykes, the connection was made. Phil owns a restaurant now, in the south of France and here’s what he had to say to PEZ about those Golden Days back in the 70’s – and despite all those years in Italy and now France he still retains that distinctive but not unpleasant Bristol ‘burr.’
PEZ: You came out of a good scene in the South West in the 60’s and 70’s Phil, didn’t you?
Phil Edwards: Yeah, the Bristol scene was strong with guys like Graham Moore, my friend, the late Dari Kasprowicz, Gary Crewe and the likes of Brian Sandy and Colin Lewis not so far away – all good riders.
PEZ: You won just about everything there was to win in GB, didn’t you?
Many of the races have gone now but they were big back then – the GP of Essex, the Greenall Whitley stage race, the Lincoln GP, the Tour of the Cotswolds. . .
PEZ: And I make it three Milk Race stages and two prologue wins?
I won the prologues in Brighton and Plymouth with the stage wins coming in Nottingham – that was probably my best win; Cardiff, where I out-sprinted Kuiper and in Bath. In those days you were up against the East Germans and the Poles with guys like Ryszard Szurkowski and Stanislaw Szozda who were all really professional in their approach to the sport – we were all still real amateurs in the UK. Then there were real quality guys like the late Fedor Den Hertog from the Netherlands and the Czech Jiri Mainus. It was the race of the year for British riders in the 60’s and 70’s – a very hard race with the Welsh Mountains and riding through freezing cold fords across rivers. It was also the scene of the first proper US forays into European racing.
PEZ: You raced in The Netherlands in 1969 and 1970?
In 1969 I won the Frank Southall scholarship which enabled me to race over there. I stayed with Charles Ruys, who was a six day race promoter, near Rotterdam. It was a real eye opener with the echelon riding and the professional way the amateurs approached the sport. The first year I rode a lot of 100 kilometre criteriums; there was another English guy racing out there at the time, Morgan Jackson – we were riding against guys like Tino Tabak, Rene Pijnen and the late Bert Oosterbosch. The second year I was with a team for six months but I came back to England for ’71 and ’72; you have to remember that for a Bristol boy to get to the Olympics back then was a big deal – and that was the focus.
PEZ: The GB mentality was truly ‘amateur’ back then, wasn’t it?
In those days, if I was riding for GB in Europe I had to get the train from Bristol to Paddington; I had my good wheels on sprint carriers on the front forks and my bag on my handlebars. Then from Paddington we’d get the boat train – the BCF had no money; I remember riding a youth tour in Cologne in 1967 and getting on the boat train to go to Germany. It was only when I was older and riding well and getting invites to races in Germany that I received air tickets from the organisers.
PEZ: Did you ever consider riding as a professional in Great Britain?
The ’72 Olympics were the big thing and you had to be amateur; Cav can ride the Commonwealth Games, the Olympics – but not back then. I knew a lot of the professionals of the time; Gary Crewe, Graham Moore, Colin Lewis – I was in contact with them all the time. The late Barry Brandon wanted me for his Bantel team and the late Roy Thame offered me place with Holdsworth-Campagnolo but I’d tasted the European scene and knew that GB criterium racing wasn’t what I wanted.
PEZ: The ’72 Olympics?
I remember the day the terrorists struck so vividly; those poor Israeli guys were murdered just a couple of hundred yards from where we were staying. The Olympic Road race was a very fast one which Hennie Kuiper of the Netherlands won on his own Clyde Sefton was second for Australia but the guys who was third – Huelamo of Spain – was declassed for failing a drugs test. Bruce Biddle was fourth but they didn’t move him up to bronze because they hadn’t tested him. Phil Bayton was fifth and I was sixth – but really we were fourth and fifth with Francesco Moser seventh so I had a good ride. I ended that year with two second places on stages in the Tour de l’Avenir and ninth overall on GC; Den Hertog won, Battaglin was eighth and Kuiper tenth.
PEZ: It was Italy for 1973.
With GS Leone, yes; I went out with my mother, who’s Italian, in the winter after she’d contacted Ernesto Colnago about getting me a ride. They knew of my performances in the Olympics and l’Avenir so I got the place – they expected me to be a good athlete but it was hard to start with. There was a lot of climbing in Tuscany and the races were run when the days were at their hottest with temperatures in the 90’s. That first season I developed bronchitis then came home for the Milk Race but when I went back after that I was winning. The following year I was competitive and by 1975 I was winning good races.
The 1973 Milk Race:
PEZ: But it must have been pretty competitive to get a pro contract with all the Italians fighting for places?
The Filotex team was based in Tuscany and they’d take foreigners, guys like the Dane, Ritter and the Swiss, Fuchs – and I had the performances and could sprint. My manager, Roberto Ballini had been a pro with Filotex, Max Meyer, GBC, Dreher and Ferretti so he was well connected and got me the ride with Sanson for ’76. Moser had been with Filotex in ’75 but the Sanson team was built around him for ’76.
I was with him for five seasons with 1977 my best year – but all my seasons were good. My main roles was as Moser’s gregario but I still had some good results in my own right; like second to Saronni in the ’77 Tre Valli Varesine and he also beat me for the win in the GP Citta di Camaiore in ’79. I raced from mid-February until the Tour of Lombardy in October; riding all the Classics – Wevelgem, Roubaix, Liege then with a big focus on the Giro. Moser didn’t ride the Tour de France, Sanson had no commercial interest in it so I’d get a summer break – but with me being a friend of Moser’s I got rides with him in the post-tour criteriums. I had offers from other teams but I knew where fitted in to the way of things. Looking back I should have gone to Italy when I was 21/22, not 26 and I shouldn’t have ridden all those national tours I did as an amateur – from Algeria to Switzerland, too many. It was a hard school back then, not one neo-pro could win a race; you were up against the likes of Maertens and De Vlaeminck – men with big egos. If you were a gregario back then there was a lot of pushing and shoving for position involved – but it’s like watching soccer, it’s developed, so different now to how it was back in those days.
PEZ: Your Giri were all in the service of Moser?
Yes, although I did get second on stage to Paolini in ’78. A typical effort for me – if the race finished up some 15K mountain – would to ride the 10K into base of the climb on 53 x 13 to keep it strung out and prevent escapes. Then it was up to me how to get to the top. . .
PEZ: British pro champion in 1977.
Yeah, I came back to London for that one; it was place to place, London to York, 310 kilometres !
I let the race evolve and at the finish with Medhurst and Wiles there I wasn’t sure I would win the sprint – they were both fast – so I took a flyer from the last corner and they couldn’t catch me. I used exactly the same tactic to win the British Junior Road Race Champs – hit the last bend flat out then hold on. But in 1978 they were all wide awake to me and I didn’t get away with that one again.
PEZ: What about the Moser/Saronni rivalry?
That was real, yes – but you also had Baronchelli; he was always trying to force a crisis for Moser.
Saronni was only 21 and started as a track rider so he was quick; but he was from the mountains of the North whilst Moser was from Trento so there was a regional rivalry – a good rivalry for the press and public like the Anquetil/Poulidor rivalry. I think the sport lacks that just now, maybe the last one was Armstrong/Ulrich?
PEZ: How many race days did you do each year?
PE: I’d start with Laigueglia in February and race through to the Tour of Lombardy; one year I rode the Baracchi which was late in October. Then there were the Classics, the criteriums and you had 22 race days in the Giro alone – so probably around 100 race days?
PEZ: Why stop?
I had a crash in the Giro, broke my wrist and ended up in plaster. During the time I was off the bike I started to get involved in importing Italian equipment into Britain. My mother was born in Treviso and lived there when she was young; she knew Pinarello, San Marco, Sidi – all those people. Her maiden name was Caratti and my brother Mark and I started an import/export business – I was side tracked. I had a contract with Famcucine for 1981 but I threw myself into the import/export business. I was involved in cycling clinics in Texas with Eric Heiden who rode for 7/11; the Giro organisers wanted me for a commentary role because I was fluent in English and Italian – and I did commentary for Italian TV for the Goodwood Worlds. But I had to make a decision and put all my energies into Caratti. And I introduced Specialized to Italy in 1985 and Trek in 1989 until they bought me out in 2010.
PEZ: So why France now, not Italia?
PE: I was married and lived in Bergamo but wanted my kids to have the best possible schooling so I got them into the International School in Nice – and there’s no hard north Italian winter beside the sea!
PEZ: Are you still competitive?
I got into yacht racing, long distance, Palermo to Monaco and trans Atlantic, the Canary Islands to Saint Lucia. There are 200 boats of all different classes in those races with vessels that can cost up to 80 million Euros – we finished 21st. It’s like riding a stage race, three hours on, there hours off and you’re racing all the time.
PEZ: Do you still follow pro cycling.
Oh man! I have to sit down when I watch it, my legs start to ache! I bump into pros all the time; we’ve had Axel Merckx and Tom Boonen in the restaurant and Mario Cipollini was in, he said to me; ‘I recognise you – you used to race against my brother Cesare when he was a pro and I was 12 years-old!’ But of course we have all sorts of celebrities in the restaurant too; quite a few Formula One drivers, Marco van Basten the football manager, Hugh Laurie, straight out of Hollywood. . .
PEZ: Your finest hours?
In one of my Paris-Roubaix’s I was right there with the leaders at 18K to go when I punctured – alongside Hinault and De Vlaeminck. After the race Moser said when he was interviewed that he owed a debt of thanks to his team mates Masciarelli and Edwards for the way they had ridden for him. And to make the podium of Italian semi-classics was pretty nice. I think as an amateur it was a good ride to finish right up there in the Milk Race, given the quality of the opposition. The Avenir was good too, top stage placings and a top ten on GC – it’s all been a great experience. . .
I’m glad I did what I did with my life and didn’t get into pure maths and build satellites at British Aerospace where I worked before I got fully into the bike. Back then you had to be wealthy to fly – but I did, I saw the world. I’d like to have seen what I could have done if I’d turned pro earlier in Italy but overall – no regrets.
In the Outcast song, ‘Say ya,’ vocalist Andre 3000 asks the question; ‘Now what’s cooler than bein’ cool?’ The reply comes; ‘ice cold!’ He was obviously talking about Phil Edwards.
With a huge ‘thank you’ to Herbie Sykes and Phil’s friend of many years, ace cycling photographer, John Pierce for his help with the preparation of this piece.
Riding the cobbles to Roubaix with Francesco Moser in 1978:
It was November 2005 when Ed Hood first penned a piece for PEZ, on US legend Mike Neel. Since then he’s covered all of the Grand Tours and Monuments for PEZ and has an article count in excess of 1,200 in the archive. He was a Scottish champion cyclist himself – many years and kilograms ago – and still owns a Klein Attitude, Dura Ace carbon Giant and a Fixie. He and fellow Scot and PEZ contributor Martin Williamson run the Scottish site www.veloveritas.co.uk where more of his musings on our sport can be found.