This week British cycling lost one of its true pioneers, with the passing of Brian Robinson at the age of 91.
The first Briton to complete the Tour de France, and the first to win a Tour stage in 1958, Brian blazed a trail for countless British riders who have since followed in his path, and will be remembered as much for his kindness and generosity as his accomplishments on the bike.
Born in 1930 in Yorkshire, Brian first started cycling with Huddersfield Road Club, before taking up racing while working for his family’s building business. He began to race internationally in the early 1950s while completing his national service in the British Army, and represented Great Britain in the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki with his brother Des, having been inspired watching the 1948 Olympic road race in Windsor Great Park.
After finishing second in the 1954 Tour of Britain, the following year Brian competed in his first Tour de France with the nine-strong Hercules team – the first British team to ride at the Tour. His 29th place finish secured his place in British cycling history, as the first rider from these shores to complete the sport’s most storied race.
He went on to finish eighth in the 1956 Vuelta a España, and then 14th at that year’s Tour de France, before claiming his first major international win at the 1957 GP Nice.
In 1958, he made history once again, winning his first Tour de France stage on stage seven from Saint-Brieuc to Brest, despite crossing the line second, as Italian rider Arrigo Padovan was relegated from first place. A year later he returned to the race and won stage 20 from Annecy to Chalon-sur-Saone by a full 20 minutes.
Brian rounded off his career with a win in the 1961 Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré, before retiring in 1962 aged 33.
In 2010, he was inducted into the British Cycling Hall of Fame, and was awarded the British Empire Medal in the 2017 New Year Honours for his services to charity and cycling.
Reflecting on Brian’s life and achievements, British Cycling President, Bob Howden OBE said:
“As a youngster finding my way into cycling Brian was very much a beacon that shone a light to follow, and many did. He was an example, not just in his success, but with his bravery and fortitude in making a life-changing commitment to take on the world’s best on their own ground and to becoming one of them. With his own background in construction, it might be added that he cleared the ground and laid the foundations for Britain’s future riders, not just for the greats but for many hundreds of others who followed the same dream.
“I got to know Brian as a friend in his later years and I was always touched by this humble man who would turn up at races to watch his grandchildren Jake and Becky as they progressed from youth through junior to senior level, always with a smile and words of encouragement for those giving their best, be they riders or volunteers. I was privileged to welcome him as a regular guest at the Ryedale Grand Prix and to be a close witness to the awakened recognition of one of our true greats, as he became an Ambassador at the Tour de France Yorkshire Grand Départ and the Tour de Yorkshire that followed.
“I will always cherish the words of encouragement I received from Brian, how could I not, coming from someone who I immensely respected.”
Brian will be sorely missed by all who had the honour of meeting him, and our most heartfelt condolences go to his wife Audrey, his daughters Louise and Michelle, his grandchildren and his many friends.
Brian Robinson BEM: November 3rd 1930 – October 25th 2022.