Following on from James Poole's informative article about Winning Magazine, we asked him to follow with some more inside information about how the weekly magazines that used to appear at our local newsstands on a Wednesday during Le Tour de France came about and were put together.
Winning Bicycling Illustrated Magazine, the original monthly road racing magazine dedicated to the European professional race scene, had been in existence for several seasons. It had gained a reputation for quality, knowledge, expertise and was in a unique position to be the only source of racing news throughout the whole of the pro calendar season.
However, Winning magazine had a problem, there was one period in the year where it had competition and it really wasn’t in a position to compete - the month of July - Tour de France time. Rather ironic that a publication covering professional cycling all year round couldn’t benefit from the Tour de France.
Winning was the dream cycling magazine to work for in the Eighties. Nothing else came close in terms of the quality of the images and the writing. Commuting between the offices in London and Brussels was on a shoestring and I did it by train, plane, motorbike and Fiat Uno Turbo. Happy, knackering days.
Luke Edwardes-Evans. UK editor 1989, Editor 1990
The problem was, while Winning was able to publish a comprehensive Tour de France preview edition, and hit the newsstands a couple of weeks before the start of the Tour, its next issue which came out halfway through the Tour, went to print before the Tour had even started and therefore was of little interest to Tour fans.
To make matters worse, it's Tour de France review issue, wouldn’t get to the readers until the end of August, by that time the Tour and its hype had been forgotten.
Winning Magazine Cover Stars: Stephen Roche & Robert Millar during the 1987 Tour de France.
In the 1980’s there were only a few options to keep up to speed with the Tour. Channel 4 had launched and started to cover the race on a daily basis. Cycling Weekly was able to report up until the end of each Sunday’s stage, and the broadsheet daily’s ran a column on only the more interesting days.
Being able to publish around the Tour de France should have been its most lucrative period, both in copy sales and advertising revenue.
Jean-Claude Garot, the owner and publisher of Winning had previously been running a weekly newspaper called POUR, a French leftwing publication. Despite the subject matter being completely different, Garot couldn’t see any reason why he couldn’t publish Winning on a weekly basis during the so during the 1986 edition of the race the Tour Weeklies were launched, in addition to the monthly magazine, published by the same team.
Winning Magazine Cover Stars: Greg Lemond, Steve Bauer & Ronan Pensec during the 1990 Tour de France.
The format was simple but effective, designed in a broadsheet newspaper size, printed on high-grade paper stock and full colour throughout. Editorially they were heavily picture driven, using to its advantage the beautiful use of race photography which made the images almost poster like.
We photographers had it easy comparing to the editorial staff - a courier took my films each afternoon after a stage ending and flew to Brussels with them!
I remember Rupert Guinness using a very early computer and modem back then, an Amstrad that weighed a ton, literally, for the weeklies. It was a case of writing your story, finding a phone-box, coupling a pair of headphones over the phone-piece and then crossing your fingers.It rarely worked of course and over-the-phone dictation became the norm!
Graham Watson. Photographer, Winning Magazine 1983 - 1990
Editorial content was minimal, but certainly enough to keep the reader informed on how the race was unfolding. They would be published every week for four weeks in succession, with the first issue coming out just five days after the start of the Tour.
The logistics, however, were a different matter.
On a daily basis, the journalists on the race would be required to fax, or dictate their content down the phone lines. Depending on where the stage finished, the photographers would have to either post or motorbike their 35mm negative films, back to Winning’s HQ in Brussels.
Over the weekend, designers and subs would compile that week's edition. The photography lab opposite the office would open specifically on Sundays in order to develop that day's film.
Once the Weekly had been laid out, the pages would go to the in-house repro department and from there directly to the printers.
Winning had a sister publication called Ciclisme International, published in French to service both Belgium and France, they too published the Tour de France Weeklies, although it was called Tour Hebdo. Between both versions, it made economic sense to print at the same time and at the same printers in Belgium.
Winning Magazine Cover Stars: The English and French language versions side by side.
By Monday afternoon the completed publications were on their way to the UK, Tuesday they were going through the distribution system and on Wednesday they were available on the newsstand throughout the country.
The Tour Weeklies enabled Winning to maximise on the commercial opportunities during the Tour, selling an additional four magazines with weekly copy sales in access of 40,000, and managing to beat Cycling Weekly, by hitting the streets a day before it went on sale.
Interest in the Weeklies was high, most readers who bought the first copy would almost certainly buy all four editions. Distribution was managed carefully, which often meant newsagents sometimes ran out.
Every Wednesday, you'd have to get your copy from the local newsagents early in the morning, otherwise you can be certain you'd be gazumped by a club mate.
The thrill of devouring the latest issue was the highlight of my week, only possibly outdone when you saw your own name in the results section in Cycling Weekly the following day.
The full-page photos from the likes of Graham Watson would be taken out and pinned up in the bike shed and garage, providing much-needed inspiration during turbo trainer sessions the following Winter.
Andy Storey. Prendas Ciclismo
Consequently, Winning’s UK office on the Thursdays and Fridays would be geared up to take telephone orders from frustrated fans who couldn’t find that weeks edition and needed a copy posted to them that day.
The Weeklies took a huge amount of effort to produce, but it meant Winning was able to maximise commercially during the Tour de France.
Although publishing of The Weeklies ceased after the demise of Winning Magazine, in 1999, the format was resurrected in the same format, under Procycling magazine.
Sales and advertising performed well, Armstrong was about to win his first Tour, but it was becoming apparent that the cycling media landscape had changed.
Winning Magazine Cover Stars: Rolf Sorensen, Greg Lemond & Miguel Indurain during the 1991 Tour de France.
Live TV coverage had arrived thanks to Eurosport, dedicated websites like cyclingnews.com, new magazine launches and the national daily press started to cover cycling in more depth largely thanks to the likes of Sean Yeates, Robert Millar and Chris Boardman.
For something that was originally designed to be up-to-date, it was felt that it was time to call it a day.