US Star Rider Tim Mountford Gets PEZ’d Part 1
The life story of a track and road star
Ex rider interview: Tim Mountford was one of the pioneers of US professional cycling in the 60’s and 70’s; he recently gave freely of his time to tell PEZ about his adventures in what was a golden age for European cycling. In 1970 many Europeans wondered what inspired the talented athlete Tim Mountford from Surf City, California to hop on a one-way plane to Paris to pursue a challenging career in European professional Six Day racing, when in fact he had never seen a Six Day race in his life. Earlier at fifteen years old Tim had plenty of street smarts and self-confidence as well as a silent contempt for anyone in his way.
At eighteen years-old while in his final year of high school Tim was living on his own sharing a flat with another rider, worked at a local bike shop, training for the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo, and was creator and chief editor of a cycling magazine titled the Southern California Cycling Journal. ‘I have no idea where my energy came from other than I saw life as a race and I wasn’t going to lose, not after seeing my mother suffer financially because of others! Early on I viewed my amateur racing career as a possible stepping stone to professional racing in Europe.’
Looking back Tim reflects, “Based on sheer determination my brother and I worked our way up in life, he becoming a millionaire by selling life insurance and I capitalized on my cycling career owning three bike shops and later as a corporate executive in Silicon Valley. Six Day racing gave me the strength and guts to forge a new path during difficult times.”
Rotterdam Six 1972, Rini Pijnen, Tim Mountford and Eddy Merckx. “Much easier taking a lap with strong riders”
Tim went on to race in two Olympic Games and competed at world level in the tandem sprint before turning to the Professional Six Day scene and working his way up through various sponsors and contracts to land the biggie; a place on the famous TI Raleigh team managed by the legendary Peter Post.
PEZ: In the 60’s bike racing wasn’t popular in America; how did you get into cycling, what inspired you?
Tim Mountford: In 1962 all the stars were aligned for me to enter bicycle racing and that included the only European style 250 meter banked velodrome in America located in my city. There was also a local cycling club that included former Olympic cyclist and speed skaters who raced. And I had the support of my older brother who recognized my athletic ability. I would go on to compete in two Olympic Games (10th in Mexico City), the World Championships (4th), a Pan American Games bronze medal, and eventually a European professional racing career that included four pro teams, several European championship rides in four different disciplines and acceptance into both the European Pro Six Day circuit and Dutch criteriums. It was a fun and exciting twelve-year journey I will never forget including the wonderful people I met along the way.
My interest in cycling first started at fifteen years old with two of my friends. Just a couple of kids looking for something exciting to do in sunny southern California. We fitted our English three speed bikes with dropped racing handlebars so we could better climb the three miles up the famous Laurel Canyon mountain pass for the sole purpose to zoom down the other side at great speed into Hollywood. We often rode our bikes next to movie stars in their cars who lived in the canyon which was also an area where musicians like the Mamas and Papas, Crosby Stills & Nash and Joan Baez started their careers and wrote their music. Racing down the canyon was like a Disneyland thrill ride on two wheels, and it was free every weekend. The trip back home required an hour ride around the bottom of the mountain that included a tour of Hollywood Boulevard littered with hundreds of tourists from around the world. One hot day while riding up the canyon with my two friends an emotional feeling of excitement overcame me as we approached our usual rest stop half way up the canyon. I said to myself “I’m going to beat these guys to the top. I’m not stopping!”
From that day forward we began to race each other up Laurel Canyon and I won every time. At the time my older brother, Stan had started work at the local bike shop in North Hollywood. Stan saw my interest in cycling and he acquired a basic model second hand Swiss Allegro road bike for me that December. Perhaps brother Stan also felt I needed a distraction as I was becoming mischievous and hanging out with some rough duds and getting into fights. For Christmas Stan gave me a complete Sergal Italian cycling kit including Ditto Pietro shoes with Anquetil cleats.
That morning we went on a 40-mile ride and, at three years my senior, he wasn’t too pleased that I kept dropping him off my wheel. A few weeks later my life changed forever when Stan put me on his recently acquired track bike so I could try riding the new Encino Velodrome. I had never seen a velodrome before this day, but riding the banked turns was like flying a jet airplane and I instantly knew that track racing was what I wanted to do. The following week I cut my long Elvis Presley style hair, stopped smoking cigarettes, and dropped all my looser friends. I often tell this story explaining that I am a living example of how cycling can inspire and change the life direction of young teenagers.
Tim Mountford (r) was introduced to track racing by his brother, Stan, when he was 16, in 1962
PEZ: The ’64, Olympics, you rode the tandem – memories of that event?
The ’64 Tokyo Olympics was my introduction to international racing at 18 years old. As I mentioned, our cycling club, The North Hollywood Wheelmen, had a few Olympians. I was paired on the tandem with our famous sprinter Jack Disney (not the Disneyland guy) who competed in the ’56 Olympics, was a five-time national sprint champion, and performed well in many international competitions. He was also a world class speed skater like his brother who won a silver medal in the 1960 Squaw Valley winter Olympics 500m race. So, for weight training and sprinting, I had a good coach and training partner from the beginning.
In Tokyo on the Olympic velodrome we were informed by the Russian coach that he clocked us in training at 10.3 for 200m on the bumpy 400m cement track. One of the fastest times on that track. Jack and I made it through the first couple of eliminations rounds of the tandem sprint competition. Our eighth-finals series was the only three up match that included us and the Dutch and English tandems. We lead out down the back stretch on the bell lap, however, we were not going fast enough in turn three and by turn four the Dutch team (van de Touw and de Graaf, two big boys who finished in fourth place) got on top of us and started bumping against us going through turn four, and we lost. In other cycling events Sercu won the kilo, and Walter Godefroot won a bronze in the road race while Eddy Merckx was delayed by a crash in the final turn. I had no idea that six years later I would be racing as a pro against these guys.
PEZ: The ’68, Olympics and the sprint – recollections?
Following the Tokyo Olympics I won several California state championships, two silver and a bronze medal in the national championships and a bronze in the 1967 Pan American Games in Winnipeg, Canada. In preparation for the ’68 Olympic Games in Mexico I spent the previous winter in the gym lifting weights with some insane body builder duds and their magic potions. I gained ten pounds of muscle and could do three sets of incline sit-ups while holding a 25lb plate behind my head. And do jump squats with 250lbs. I was ready to bump shoulders with the Europeans in my next Olympic sprint competition.
I had a wonderful time in Mexico City and was satisfied with my results. I did well in the elimination rounds finishing in tenth place losing to Omar Pkhakadze who finished in fourth place and gold medallist Daniel Morelon. I did beat a few favorites including current and future world champs Niels Fredborg of Denmark, Gordon Johnson of Australia, and Peder Pederson of Denmark posting a 200 meter time of 10.7 in the process. In hind sight, at the altitude of Mexico City and racing on the fast 333m hard wood track I wish I had used a 49 or 50 x 14 gear.
In those days it was all about leg speed and everyone used a 48 x 14 gear which Morelon confirmed with me years later. Perhaps I started my sprints too early as I simply ran out of gear in the final fifty meters before the finish line. I left Mexico inspired to pursue more international competition.
Tim Mountford leads Dutchman Lijn Loevesijn and a Hungarian rider into the final 200 meters of the 1968 Mexico Olympics
PEZ: ’69 US Sprint Champion after several podiums, that must have been satisfying?
After the Mexico Olympics I concluded that I had to make money in bicycle racing or get a good paying job. It took only a minute and I decided that I would move to Europe after the 1969 amateur world championships in Czechoslovakia. This meant that the 1969 U.S. Amateur National Championships in August would be my last attempt at a gold medal. Once again in the finals I was up against my good friend Jackie Simes. The previous year Jackie had won a silver medal in the World Championships in Kilo TT as well as a few Pan American Games medals by then. I was ready this time and I beat him two straight adding a national championship gold medal to my collection. Two days later Jackie and I were on a plane to Czechoslovakia to race in the world championships.
PEZ: You were ’69 fourth in the Tandem Worlds – any ‘what ifs’ on that one?
Yes, I had one big ‘what if’ after the semi-finals of the tandem event in Brno, Czechoslovakia against the East Germans who eventually won the gold. We should have taken them from the front in the second ride. We were faster!
In the individual sprint competition Jackie and I performed well but were eliminated before the quarter finals. I did a 1:09 kilo TT (again!), and the next race was the tandem sprints. The first time Jackie and I rode the tandem together was the day before the championships. We did one practice sprint and said to each other; ‘wow, we can go fast together.’ We won the first two rounds, the eighth and quarter finals, then met the East German team of Geschke and Otto in the semi-finals. Our plan was to come from behind in the final turn and take advantage of the large wind draft created by the German machine. Our plan went well as we forced their speed going into the bell lap on the 400 meter track. We jumped at them in turn one, but within thirty meters we immediately closed the four bike lengths distance up to their rear wheel. We now knew that they were holding back and wanted to force us to slow our speed or force us over the top going into turn three where they could then run us high on the track. We didn’t fall for the trick and we kept attacking the pedals while Jackie drifted our tandem high on the back stretch so we could recreate the distance we needed while at the same time increasing our speed. Going into turn three we knew that we had the speed and the timing to run their wind draft and pop past them to the finish line.
We rode the same race plan in the second ride and both times we thought we had won. The results for both semi-final races were a photo finish given to the East Germans. Wow, we almost made it into the finals for gold. In the finals for 3rd and 4th against the French team, Olympic champions of Morelon-Trentin we had lost our edge and the French beat us by inches in both races. Fourth place was okay though for two Americans who previously never rode the tandem together. During the competition in Brno there were no races on the day of the first year anniversary of the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia. That afternoon John Vande Velde (future father of Christian Vande Velde) and I were resting in our hotel room on the third floor when from our balcony we saw a stream of Russian tanks driving into the city centre of Brno to put down the protest. Minutes later the wind shifted and we could feel the sting of tear gas on our eyes. A few days later in the championships Audrey McElmury would be the first American to win the woman’s World Championship road race. After watching the men’s road race Jackie, John and I were on a plane to Trinidad for three days of grass track racing with many of the riders from the championships.
Fifty meters before the finish line the Americans Jack Simes and Tim Mountford, left, pushed the East Germans to two photo finish decisions
PEZ: You rode four events at the Leicester Worlds – a busy man.
The 1970 World’s in Leicester did not go as planned for me mostly due to an incident during my Kilo race. But in the end as I had hoped, I did get enough recognition to help launch my Pro career at the London Six Day that followed a few weeks later. It’s not what you think. . .
For my preparation for Leicester I moved to Paris in February of 1970 to train and race with Morelon and Trentin, and coach Louis Gerardin (Toto). Over the following months I did well on various tracks in France and Italy beating everyone at one time or another and winning the Grand Prix of Paris beating Trentin in the finals. Spectators and my sponsor, AVIS-Lejeune, were please because I always gave Morelon a run for his money in the finals beating him once from behind on a local 250m Paris track. Once!
My hope in Leicester was to win the 1000 meter individual time trial because unlike the match sprints there is less left for chance. Or so one would think. Using 170mm cranks I got off to a comfortable start and with little stress I rode the fastest first two laps of the day on the 333 meter track. I felt strong and confident. Going through turn two on the bell lap I was looking down at the track while mentally preparing myself for the pain I was about to endure when I entered the back stretch and final half lap of the race. A process I went through in my mind a hundred times before the race. Coming out of turn two I looked up ready to attack the pedals as if my life depended on it, when all of a sudden one of our team members was next to the track pole line screaming to cheer me on. It was such a shock! I lost my focus and almost jumped off the bike in fear of hitting the person. I didn’t recover my focus and speed and I recall that I finished with a time of 1:09:00 well off the podium. I didn’t sleep well that night.
In the eighth finals of the match sprints Dutch strongman Pieter Van Doorn held me on the balustrade through the final turn to the finish line. I recall being very angry at the UCI officials for denying my protest of his unfair radical riding within the final 200 meters. After the sprint races that day I became very frustrated because that summer I had never lost to Peder Pederson (RIP) nor Frenchman Gerard Quintyn who now won silver and bronze in the championships which was won by Morelon. At this point things were not going well for me and I had thoughts of returning home to work at the family bike shop in North Hollywood. The U.S. team coach asked me to ride the tandem (I was fourth at the Worlds the previous year) however I was not a good match on the tandem with my good friend Skip Cutting and we never got the bike moving. For the four kilometer team pursuit the coach asked me to replace one of the team riders. It was my strong ride in the team pursuit that caught the attention of my future agent Jan Derksen and Dutch promoter Charlie Ruys. After 2000 meters into the team pursuit qualifying race I started taking double lap pulls at the front to keep us equal with the opposing team across the track. We immediately lost one rider off the back and only John Vande Velde could keep up with me and do his pulls at the front. The third rider was just holding on. We didn’t qualify but it was an exciting race.
Tim Mountford with the flowers, in 1970
PEZ: What was your first professional race contract?
I guess you could say that my first pro contract was for the London Six Day race a few weeks after the worlds in Leicester. Except I was a mechanic, not a rider. As luck would have it Jackie Simes became gravely ill after the pro sprint races in Leicester and my agent Jan Derksen failed to convince Ron Webb to give me Jackie’s contract to ride the London Six. I needed the money so Webb hooked me up as a mechanic for two Dutch teams, de Wit/Loevesijn and another team who I don’t recall, with Lien Jansen as the soigneur for both teams.
My first real pro contract would be in Gent. After London I moved on to Gent and rented a flat from cycling’s favorite innkeeper Mrs. Dean. She had some great stories of riders before they became famous including pampering World Pursuit Champion Hugh Porter. I found my way into the Belgium pro kermises and started training at the Kuipke velodrome a few blocks from my flat. One morning I woke to find Mrs. Dean standing over me with a stern look on her face. She said, “Well, are you going to get to the start line on time today? You have rent to pay don’t forget!”. Also her mother-in-law who ran the guest house around the corner stopped making me lunch unless I paid her. So, this was crunch time. Race and do well or hitch a ride on a freighter ship back to the States.
That October my first pro contract was for 3,000 francs ($75 U.S. bucks at the time) from race director Oscar Daemers for a ‘round robin’ pro sprint series on the famous 166 meter Kuipke velodrome between myself, current World Champ Gordon Johnson, Leijn Loevesijn, Robert Van Lancker and Giordano Turrini. Halfway through the series Leijn was eliminated and I had a fall in the final turn against Johnson and broke my bike frame. I slammed into the 56 degree banking and slid around the turn like a Disneyland fun ride and part way down the home stretch. Laying there with the wind knocked out of me, I looked up and there was Oscar Daemers looking down at me. He said; “you’re fine, get up, I am re-running the race!”
Leijn lent me his bike and I beat Johnson in our re-run race. In the finals against Van Lancker and Turrini I came from last position going into the bell lap. We were at full speed spinning a 48×14 while diving into turn one with Turrini leading as I started to climb over Van Lancker on his outside. Coming out of the final turn we were stacked three high and all three of us hit the finish line at the same time. Van Lancker inched out Turrini and I was third by half a wheel. It was a spectacular race and all the spectators were on their feet cheering and I caught Oscar smiling for the great performance. The excitement of that race series in Gent with a new group of world class pro sprinters (plus Sercu) sparked the interest of several race directors across Europe to re-establish a Pro Grand Prix Sprint circuit not seen since the 50’s. This would become a source of predictable income that allowed me to continue my career that first winter.
PEZ: Pro teams and earning a living: Seiko, Canada Dry, Raleigh and Shimano – tell us about those please – with whom did you sign first as a pro?
Financially I was okay during my first winter, sharing expenses with Jackie Simes. I made money from the indoor Pro Grand Prix series in Gent, Antwerp, Dortmund, Rotterdam and Berlin; rode a few 50-100k Madison events, plus the Antwerp and Groningen Six Days races both with Jackie. By spring the race director of the new Ahoy Sports Hall (a new 200 meter indoor track) asked Jackie and I to move to Rotterdam from Gent and he would give us all the winter contracts including future rides in the Groningen Six. However, income for the summer months was limited to a few sprint contracts on the summer tracks in England, Holland, Belgium and Italy and velodrome appearances at the end of big road races like the TDF or Liege-Bastogne-Liege Velodrome de Rocourt. I needed more money to supplement track contracts and the Dutch criteriums was my only option. However, I couldn’t get a team sponsor until I did well in the crit races. So, my sprinter legs would have to diversify. Ouch!
My first road sponsors were the local retail shop owners along the finish line of the weekly pro criterium races in the different cities. The butcher, the baker, (no candlestick makers though) or bars. I would arrive early and knocked on the doors of the shop owners who lived above their shop and I told them I (the American) would race with their shop name on my jersey for 100 guilders ($30 U.S. bucks). I attached their business name onto my bright purple jersey with white stick on letters and, very carefully, slip on the jersey. Although the letters blew off by the third lap my purple jersey was visible and after an hour into the race I could hear several spectators in front of the shops cheering for me. “Go Tim !” “Go America !”
I got a lot of respect from the other riders and the cheering from these local shop owners kept me going when my sprinter legs wanted to quit. So, these small business owners were my first sponsors. By mid-summer I was getting 100 guilders start money from some of the race promotors, plus checks in the mail for prime sprint wins and finishing in the top fifteen. I was in public view and in the newspapers and finally the owner of a jewelry store who started a Dutch team sponsored by Seiko watch asked if I would ride for him. He would match my winning prize money in several selected criteriums. Two months later I received an actual contract with the Canada Dry-Gazelle team for matching win prize money in all the races in Holland and Belgium and for appearance when I raced at the Ahoy sports hall or the motor paced races on the Olympic Stadium track in Amsterdam.
Rini Wagtmans and a few other top Dutch riders were also on this team. I was enjoying crit racing often getting into breaks with guys like Franz Verbeek and Jan Janssen and once beating Roger De Vlaeminck in a head to head prime sprint at a Kermis in front of a few thousand of his Belgium spectators. After Leijn Loevesijn won the 1971 pro world sprint championships in Italy the English Carlton team became the red, black and yellow Ti Raleigh team. I received a nice contract from Ti Raleigh that include a monthly pay check, travel, clothing and equipment, sprint and road bikes, and two custom Six Day bikes made in the Gazelle factory. Later I inherited Gordon Johnson’s team car (but no credit card, lol). And as we know the Raleigh team became a major UCI road team under the direction of Peter Post.
I wasn’t a Classic or Tour rider and Peter let me continue with my local crit race schedule separate from the team calendar. In the summer of ‘74 after I returned to the US where I received a contract with the Shimano America team for their U.S. promotion prior to the world championships in Canada. I retired before the championships in Canada and bought a bike shop in Silicon Valley, California.
Tim Mountford rode with the famous TI Raleigh team in 1972
# Thanks to Tim for his words and photos, you can read part 2 HERE. #