The Milk Race - From the other side of the barriers

February 13, 2019 5 min read

The Milk Race - From the other side of the barriers

The combination of the visiting amateur and professional riders made the spectacle of the well-organised Milk Race a popular feature of the domestic racing calendar for 35 years.


Back in 1989, I was lucky enough to be taken to my first proper road race that helped fuel my fascination with cycling that remains to this very day.

Having previously only ever seen (& taken part in) club time trials, the local track league and numerous MTB events, the size, atmosphere and for the want of a better word - razzamatazz - was incredibly exciting for the teenager in question.


What was the Milk Race?

The Milk Race was the most prestigious cycling event in the British calendar running for 35 years between 1958 and 1993 with sponsorship from the now disbanded Milk Marketing Board.

The multistage race was often over two weeks and the route planners aided with OS maps and passed-on local knowledge did a great job ensuring the race visited a number of locations in England and Wales although not Scotland due to MMB politics.

Winners included homegrown talent such as Joey McLoughlin (ANC), Malcolm Elliott (ANC), Chris Walker (Banana) plus some rather well-known names from the continent like Hennie Kuiper (Netherlands), Eric van Lancker (Fangio) and Brian Walton (7-Eleven) won the race that spanned an impressive 35-year history.  

McLoughlin also went on to win the pro-only Kellogg's Tour which is the natural predecessor to the modern day Tour of Britain that has taken much of the incredible atmosphere from the Milk Race.


The 1989 Milk Race

Armed with a Kodak 110 camera and my little brother tagging along, as a family, we all enjoyed the start of stage 2 of the Milk Race starting on Pier Approach in Bournemouth at a time when ironically cycling was banned.

Back in the 70s, 80s and 1990s, the Milk Race was a regular and popular visitor to Bournemouth, with its mix of amateur and professional riders on the start line, it was fun spotting somebody that was racing the club 10 the week before.

Unbeknown to me at the time, some of them would end up friends, racing adversaries and some are now even customers of Prendas Ciclismo!


Whilst I was a Junior, I always aspired to one day ride the Milk Race - Britain’s biggest race. I eventually rode on a number of occasions, even winning stages, it was a fantastic Race that was very well organised and a race any top amateur in the UK was keen on riding.
I recollect that particular stage into Bristol well, being local I was obviously up for it, but I punctured at the bottom of Cheddar Gorge which was the worst place possible.  Got a bad wheel change, chased and got back on with about two miles to go and placed third in the bunch finish, so fourth after stage winner Keith Reynolds.
Pretty gutted really, it obviously took a lot out of me getting back on!

Ben Luckwell. Stage winner & Prendas customer


The multi-colour appearance of the peloton was very different to a local road race, with the 7-Eleven team definitely looking the best with their colour coordinated Eddy Merckx bikes, Oakley shades and stylish Descente kit.   I'll admit - I still have a bit of a thing about those wonderful Eddy Merckx Corsa Extra road bikes!

We were well used to seeing the Peugeot colours of Tim Gould & David Baker in mountain bike races, but that pink bar tape and those Time shoes that the Z Peugeot team riders used were certainly standout items for me.

The now-iconic Time pedals and shoes would later help propel Greg Lemond (ADR) in the Tour de France.

Whilst the professional riders were all immaculately decked out in team kit, even down to matching gloves, sweatbands and socks, a stark contrast was provided by the amateur teams of the Eastern Bloc countries.

Although often riding prestigious bike brands like Colnago, their kit was ill-fitting and a mismatch of colours. But as the results (and the legs of other riders) will tell you, that didn't hold them back, many of whom would have been professional were it not for the Iron Curtain.

For me, it was often the amateur compositions that threw up some real interest for the uber keen cycling fan.


I remember in 1975 as an 11-year-old riding 5 miles from home to watch the Milk Race pass thinking how great it would be to do something like that.
Then 13 years later, I got the opportunity which luckily coincided with it revisiting the South coast in 1988. I didn’t have the best of luck with crashes and breaking 2 sets of handlebars, but it was a real privilege being part of the team that helped Barrie Clarke win the KOM jersey the following year.
Quite simply, it was a great race that every aspiring bike rider aimed to get selected for.
Paul Rogers. GB team member & Prendas customer.


Multi-discipline riders like Barrie Clark and Steve Douce often excelled and as luck would have it, on the occasion we first attended the race, mountain bike legend John Tomac was the top US finisher in the 13-day, 1,150-mile race through Britain.

Imagine that - the rider that was the biggest rider in the mountain bike world with numerous magazines covers to his name that were on your bedroom wall - was stood right in front of you wearing the stars and stripes!


Enjoying the race

Times were simpler back then, and with no security to speak of, we were able to mill about and enjoy chatting to the riders with Brian Walton being particularly chatty.

You can, of course, still do this at modern races like the Volta a Portugal, Three Days of De Panne and races like SweetSpot's Tour Series, but it's nowhere near as easy.

I don't remember buying any momentos on the day, despite pendants, tea towels, pin badges and programmes all readily available, but I do vividly remember the Milk Race video game being available to purchase.

Although my Fortnite loving son would be bitterly disappointing of the gameplay, expectations were lower back then, and after waiting for 20 minutes for the game to load from cassette I was able to combine my two hobbies - computing and cycling - result!

I never did buy the board game.  Or a tea towel.  But some thirty years later, I still love the sport.


Before the start of stage 2 of the 1989 edition of the Milk Race.

At Pier Approach, before the start of the second stage, where the riders would face a tough 196km to Bristol where PMS - Falcon Cycles' Keith Reynolds would come out as the stagewinner. Reynolds would also go onto win stage 5 into Stoke from Joey McLoughlin (pictured here in the Z Peugeot kit) making it his most successful year as a pro.

Tim Harris is the rider in the Raleigh Banana kit talking to Luz Suykerbuyk (Lotus-Zahor), who now lives in Belgium and along with Jos, is responsible for helping many a young rider on their way to making it in the pro peloton.

The GB rider in the centre with his arms folded is Paul Rogers who I was lucky enough to be on the receiving end of some of his legendary attacks - thankfully we've both retired from racing now - so I don't have that to look forward to anymore.

Also dotted around the photo, you can spot a number of Bercy Bilton riders.  Well before the MAPEI team had colourful cubes all over their Colnagos, the Bercy Bilton riders had little building bricks over their Joe Waugh frames which I was a big fan of.   I mentioned this, and many other things, in the podcast published in November 2017 if you care to listen.



If you enjoyed this article, we've additional Milk Race blogs planned in the coming weeks, with Will Fotheringham's expertly told story of the Milk Race and its history and popularity with the public already published.


Explore the Milk Race garments in our exclusive Forgotten Races capsule collection.


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