Inside the ANC-Halfords Team


Interview: The ANC-Halfords team lead the way for the Sky/INEOS Grenadiers to be where they are now. In the end it all went wrong, but they broke the ice for a team to come out of Britain. Ed Hood spoke to Paul Kilbourne who was there from the start.

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On the Tour with ANC

‘Anglo’ teams in Le Tour? ‘No big deal,’ I hear you say – Postal, Sky, EF, BMC. . . But back in 1987 it WAS a ‘biggie.’ ‘Jack the Lad,’ larger than life businessman, the late Tony Capper, by hook and crook got his now legendary ANC team to the Berlin start line. Mr. Paul Kilbourne was a soigneur with the team. With a little gentle coaxing we persuaded Paul to give his recollections of a team that could only have existed in the 80’s. . .

Micky Morrison

PEZ: Tell us how you got involved with the ANC Team please, Paul.
Paul Kilbourne:
In the early 1980s I started to use the gym at Staffordshire University on some winter evenings. I started chatting to a few other users, one of whom turned out to be Micky Morrison. A year or so earlier I had done an evening course on sports massage and therapy with Bob Foxhall, a well-known cyclist and masseur (as we were then called) on the Birmingham scene. Micky quickly fastened onto this, and asked if I’d give him a massage from time to time. This developed into me going along with him to races with his Moducel Team and generally helping out with mechanic stuff, bidons and so on. At one point Mick asked if I could work with a composite professional team in the 1983 Sealink stage race that he was to be part of, managed by Bernard Burns. To be honest I was way out of my depth. I could give a decent massage, but all the rest that went along with an international stage race was new territory. However, with the help and forbearance of Bernard and the riders we got through, and I learned a lot.

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Tony Capper and Palov

PEZ: When did the ANC adventure start?
By The next season, 1984, Mick had met Tony Capper and started to ride as an ANC professional. He asked me along to some races, sometimes driving in the convoy if Tony wasn’t about, sometimes being a mechanic as well. During the season Simon Day joined the team, and then Neil Stephens. It was a year of the Kellogg’s city centre races, and I got along to many of them; fortunately my ‘real’ job in those days afforded some flexibility. Tony Capper had definitely got the bug for cycling, and had bigger plans for the next season. Towards the end of the year he got his cheque book out and was shopping for more riders.

Paul Kilbourne jersey collection: Joey McLoughlin’s Sealink Race Leader, Joey’s Kellogg’s City Centre winner’s jersey, Paul Watson’s Milk Race Mountains Leader and Joey’s Milk Race Best Under 22 rider

PEZ: What did 1985 bring?
Tony Capper threw himself into cycling, following his first taste. He loved the cars, the buzz and, as ANC was a franchise business, there was an opportunity to entertain franchisees across the UK. The Team added Phil Thomas, Joey McLoughlin, and Dudley Hayton to Mick Morrison and Simon Day. I was listed as the mechanic (no UK team listed a soigneur in those days). Tony, with much encouragement from Mick, had brought in other sponsors – Freight Rover, AYEL (Alan Lloyd cycle imports), Gipiemme (through AYEL) and Fircoft Hotel in Bournemouth. They arrived after the kit had been made, so my wife spend an evening or two sewing on patches. The success of the team was such that Gipiemme used the team for advertising in Italian magazines. The domestic season started well, with Tony enjoying driving the car in the convoy rally, and a promotions manager from ANC called John Picken helping out. Then, out of the blue, someone from the UK cycling community had managed to get the team in Gent-Wevelgem.

Paul Watson

PEZ: West Flanders, the Kemmelberg and the echelons beckoned?
This was a very different leap into the unknown for me. I don’t think that the story of this has been widely shared. We set off with Dudley, Joey and Phil Thomas, other riders being unavailable. We managed to pick up Mick Bath and the late Simon Hook on the way – this explains all the ‘who’s that ANC rider?’ questions still on Facebook. Accommodation had been booked in a suburb of Gent called Rabat. It turned out to be a small local café with bunk beds, but the owner (who was a massive cycling fan) had purloined beds in houses along the street.

We signed on at the Kuipke Velodrome the day before. The person who had arranged it all had mysteriously disappeared before we arrived. They were expecting more riders, so I made use of the voluminous ANC puffa coat and a hat and scarf to sign on for a rider whose licence we had in the car. I asked about radio frequency etc. but was firmly rebuffed – the clear implication was that they knew all about UK teams, and we wouldn’t get anyone beyond the first feed – so there! The evening before I rubbed legs, changed freewheel block sprockets in anticipation of the Kemmel, and generally did my impression of a headless chicken.

la passione winter 2021 cycling apparel

On the day, the café owner had found some mates to mechanic and do feeds – it turned out that they’d only ever watched this on the television! We lined up, I had a car number close to the back of the convoy, and off we drifted. This was totally new territory for me! I recall Sean Kelly started in two hats, spats, two pairs of gloves and a rain jacket. I was learning all the time. The first to puncture was, I think, Simon. That’s when we discovered the lack of skill of the café owner’s mate. A few more followed, but the heat wasn’t on yet. The feed was then in the back streets of Oostende, or somewhere similar, over the tram tracks. Our man for the feed took one look at the peloton forging towards him and ducked behind a parked car!

Maastricht - Netherlands - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - Per Johnny PEDERSEN - Chris LILLIWIGHT pictured during Amstel Gold Race 1987 - photo Cor Vos © 2018
A young Chris Lillywhite

No more excitement until I had a brush with the TeveBlad manager who kept trying to cut his way up the convoy. He’d clearly identified the UK car as a soft target. In the end I ‘accidentally’ took a corner badly and forced him through a field gate. I remember thinking that that hadn’t been clever. However, a lot of other cars were giving me thumbs up – it turned out that I’d risen in their opinion rather than the reverse. Apparently he had a reputation for not respecting other team car drivers. Moving swiftly through the lanes that lace across Heuveland the Peugeot team car came alongside and was shouting to me. “Listen to your radio!” I told them we hadn’t got one. “You have to go behind the break, now!” Somehow I eased my way past the strings of riders. Something I found, is that the higher the class of the riders the more respect they show to others working on the race. Just before the Kemmel I got behind Phil Anderson, Rudi Matthys and Joey! It was virtually a fairground ride, over the Kemmel and through down to Ypres. Joey was still there! Just as we hit the big windswept roads from Ypres though the Panasonic car came up to Anderson and told him to stop working – it turned out the day was for Vanderaarden – who went on to win.

Joey was running on fumes as the big peloton swept the break up. Phil and Dudley were still there to support, and the late Paul Sherwen gave enormous support. One of my deep regrets is that I should have shared that story earlier whilst Paul was still with us. It showed a lot about the character of the man. The outcome was that ANC finished three riders, and had put up a real fight. We wouldn’t be refused a radio again! On the ferry back I knew that the team had real potential in Europe. I also had seen how other teams were organised, and that I didn’t have the knowledge, skills and time to do everything that would be needed. As soon as we hit the UK I spoke to Mick and to Tony Capper and said that if we were going to take this seriously we needed staff. I certainly wasn’t sufficiently experienced in this level of racing to be the Manager or DS.

Adrian Timmis

PEZ: Did they take heed of you?
Enter Phil Griffiths as Manager and DS (although Tony Capper liked to be identified as DS).
Phil had the international experience, contacts book and most of all the strength of character to work with Tony Capper. The proof of the pudding came early, with the Sealink International where Joey, as a first year professional, won. Tony Capper was over the moon. I was still looking after legs and bikes. I discovered that they most important job was the sandwiches and snacks for Tony in the team car. The final stage from Bromsgrove to Kirkby was in appalling weather; snow and wind. Luckily we had a lot of big flasks and could keep handing up half bidons of hot drink. Most of the team finished wearing our big padded coats, but Joey’s lead was protected. Joey also took the Kelloggs City Centre series that year. For me, these were easy races, rubbing on embrocation, keeping spare wheels handy and wiping riders down afterwards – always with a new casquette for the podium. I did stress slightly over the race wheels, as I glued on the tubs. Phil Thomas and Joey especially pushed grip to the limit, but all the tubs stayed in place. Joey, and all the other riders I dealt with throughout ANC were always appreciative of what was done for them. Joey gave me his overall winner’s jersey, a lovely gesture, but it meant a very frosty ride back to Stoke in Tony Capper’s Jag!

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Guy Gallopin, on the previous season’s team bike

PEZ: With these results like that did it that mean more staff recruited and a more professional approach was adopted?
Absolutely. Sometimes local mechanics and soigneurs could be found abroad, but for me it was a great opportunity to work alongside some incredibly experienced soigneurs from whom I learnt a huge amount. People like Angus Fraser, Jef D’Hont and Jan van Erp all worked on races for the team, and were all very generous with their advice and knowledge. We could also call on people like Steve Snowling, Vern Hanary, Phil Corley, Danny Horton and others as mechanics or for other roles when needed For the Milk Race the soigneur Jan van Erp came across from the Netherlands. He was very generous with advice, and had a fantastic massage table. When he left I noticed that he had forgotten it. ‘No, it’s yours now’ he told me – the riders had clubbed together and bought it for me!

Timmis and one of those cars

PEZ: Did you make any changes as a result of what you’d seen continental teams do?
We changed the way we did a few things. One thing was that instead of all the staff traveling on every stage, I would typically take all the suitcases and the like from hotel to hotel. That meant that when our riders arrived they could just walk into their room where their case was, hot drinks, cereals and recovery nutrition. We were the only team to do this in the UK, but it made a huge difference. One rider I knew from another team told me that this was why our team were doing so well in the stage races. It was getting to other riders that we had started the massages, and everyone was relaxing, whilst they were still queuing up for a room key. Maybe our version of marginal gains? Another move away from tradition is that instead of a massage rota based on GC position, we used a rotating system, last the previous night was first that night. It’s often the rider who has had to ride hard tempo all day who needs at least as much attention as the race leader. It was good anyway to see Joey win the Milk Race with Malcolm second. Malcolm managed to put Abdoujaparov in his place, Malc might have been a pin up boy of the sport, but he was as hard as nails on the bike.

Malcolm Elliot

PEZ: What was the story about Capper having three teams in the UK for 1987?
Towards the end of the previous season, and over the winter, Tony was determined to build a team capable of making a mark internationally. The UK Professional Cycling Association limited the size of teams, largely to ensure that one team couldn’t dominate by numbers. Tony, Mick and Phil found a way around this, three teams registered in the UK but all registered as one team in Europe. It could all get a bit confusing, for us as well as for race promoters. Typically Phil Griffiths might be abroad with one set of riders, and Mick and I might be at UK races with others. New sponsors (Tonnisteiner) from Belgium supplied some more support; especially lovely Citroen cars. We had two estate cars, often Griffo had one and I had another in the UK, on Belgian plates. Several times when I was around Stoke other drivers would start having a go at me for something Griffo had done. They wouldn’t believe that here were two identical cars!

Timmis in Flèche Wallone’87

PEZ: Culture shocks with the continental sponsors?
Yes, the new sponsors had a very different philosophy towards riders. They were disgusted that the team staff might sit at the same table as the riders for a meal; they looked on them as slightly difficult racehorses, to be controlled but not fraternised with. To be honest, that was common in those days, and I think that ONCE started to crack the mould with team meetings which were a discussion rather than a set of orders. It wasn’t uncommon in some Belgian races for the DS to throw a spare tub and pump to a dropped rider and tell them to ride home as a punishment!

The ANC Tour team on the BBC children’s program Blue Peter

PEZ: 1987, was the, ‘Year of the Rabbit’ – and, Le Tour. . .
I worked with the team, and Angus, on Paris-Nice. This was the final test from the Tour organisers, and cemented the Tour invitation. As usual, for me a blur of hotels. That’s where the soigneurs work though, between shopping and washing. No team buses with washing machines in those days. I hope that Graham Jones has forgiven me for shrinking an undervest in a French launderette, in a drier. It had been a wet, dirty race and there was a lot of washing! We should have seen the signs with Tony Capper treating it as part family holiday, and disappearing regularly. He had a sidekick from the French side of the parcels business, an Englishman called Donald. I never did find our why he was there.

The 1987 Tour at the Berlin Wall

It was a pleasure to look after the French riders, they were very relaxed in the environment and would be helpful, but never critical. Back home Malcolm won the Milk Race, with Paul Watson of Lycra taking the Mountains jersey. Having two teams in (but really one) was challenging. There were tensions about bonuses and the DS that had been brought in for the Lycra team. The massage table is where riders can talk openly and confidentially. It might be the race, other riders, the management or their personal lives. It never went any further. In the end I remember that the Lycra riders wanted me to DS, but it didn’t really matter, all orders came from the ANC car and were just relayed by whoever drove the Lycra car.

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Swart and Griffo

I was especially pleased by one result whilst Griffo and some riders were away abroad. I was “in charge” when Tim Harris won the National Criterium Championship. Tim was a great rider to have on the team, always good for morale with his unique version of English/Norfolk/Flemish. I DS’d at another race near Leeds whilst Griffo and some riders were away. I had the Lycra car to look after a mix of riders. Joey got away, and I used the car to the maximum to shelter him from a brutal cross wind; time checks, bidons, chain squeaking etc. In the write up of the race in a cycling magazine the journalist (who must have been more experienced than the commissaires) made some comment about the real win being attributed to the driver of the Lycra car. I still don’t know if I’m ashamed or proud of that attribution, but pre-radios clever use of team cars was something that influenced a lot of races.

sherwen harrisThe late Paul Sherwen and Tim Harris

PEZ: The ‘Big Loop?’
Lots has been written about the Tour but I didn’t go on it. I had used up a lot of leave to help get the team there, but I saw the writing on the wall and didn’t want to be there when it all went wrong to be honest. Despite that, Joey went on to win the Kellogg’s Tour of Britain. I met the riders in Birmingham, and Tony was still making promises to sponsors, but they’d lost faith in him, and the general opinion was that any funds for ‘88 would disappear with him to the Isle of Man. He hadn’t pulled the plug on the team yet though. The final Hurrah was the Tour of Ireland, which came after the Tour de France where we had two teams, ANC and ANC Ireland. Malcolm won three stages; that was his springboard to his time on Spanish professional teams.
Jef D’Hont came over to work with us.

Freddie Maertens was supposed to join the ANC Ireland Team – no doubt Tony had got funds out of the Irish franchisees, but that didn’t materialise. Jef liked Ireland. The ‘craic’ entertained him, and we had some fun. Earlier in the season Tony Capper had tried to engage Jef full time for next year. Tony didn’t ever really take to me. He liked to own things, cars, riders, toys and most of all people. I wouldn’t go full time for him; I had a good job and I saw this type of work as precarious. It also meant that I could be an independent voice, which didn’t always go down well. I was sacked frequently, only for an expenses cheque to arrive on the next Thursday with my travel instructions for the next race. Finally, with Jef, Tony could rid himself of me. However, Jef told Tony that one proviso was that I was retained, on a day rate percentage of his fees. Jef enjoyed telling me that. In the end of course, the end of the ’87 Tour really marked the end of the team. So, only three people were with the ANC team from start to finish; Mick Morrison, Tony Capper and me, but a lot had happened in between.

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Sutton and Timmis

PEZ: I hate to mention the ‘D’ word but there were allegations floating around last year about team members kitting up?
The subject of drugs always comes up when people talk about the late 1980s. The first thing to say, as far as ANC were concerned, is that no rider ever failed a test (or even had a warning of being close to a line). Being successful, the riders were tested a lot, and no rider was ever reluctant to go to the control. In fact, whilst in Belgium preparing for the UK City Centre series by riding the kermises, the police testers turned up and some of the field disappeared.
All the ANC riders finished, and Phil Thomas was the first reserve for the test, but wasn’t required in the end. My view is that that there was far more talk about doping than actual doping. Part of my job was to ensure that there were no positives by mistake – off the shelf remedies, vitamin preparations and the like. I used to carry a Pharmacopeia for reference. What is safe in the UK might have different ingredients elsewhere. Remember the skier who didn’t realise (or his carers didn’t realise) that Vicks inhalers in the US aren’t identical to the UK formulation.

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The Tour’87 peloton

# The man wore the T-shirt, or should that be gillet? With thanks to Paul for his entertaining insight into a team that is now part of British Cycling legend. #

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