Ex rider interview: Back in the 70’s and 80’s, Britain had a flourishing professional scene with stage races, road races and very popular televised town centre criteriums. There were easy wins back then and one of the biggest winners was Nigel Dean – Ed Hood caught up with him in Zimbabwe to hear his story.
TT action for Coventry Eagle
The year of our Lord 1977; Dave and I were on our way back from Crystal Palace, London and the, ‘Felice Gimondi Meeting.’ Famous boxing promoter, the late Mike Barrett decided cycling was worth exploring, bringing Eddy Merckx to London’s Eastway circuit in June 1977 and the Italian Campionissimo over in April 1978 to, ‘The Palace.’
We went down to both races and on the way back from ‘The Palace’ on the Sunday stopped off in the north of England to watch the English pros in action at the Lancaster Grand Prix. Sitting in rare north of England April sunshine to watch the race we were surprised and excited when Falcon pro, Nigel Dean chose our patch of grass to call it a day and sit and happily chat away to us for an age. It’s taken a while to catch up with him again but, all the way from Harare in Zimbabwe. . .
PEZ: National Junior Road Race Champion in 1965 after being second the year before – your memories of those rides, sir?
Nigel Dean: It was a great feeling. I rode away from everyone on the Cleeves Hill Circuit near Ormskirk. I was really upset the year before when Gerry Waterhouse (of ALL people) out-sprinted me for the title near Otley in Yorkshire.
PEZ: Season 1970 was a huge for you, your ‘breakthrough?’
It wasn’t the breakthrough year. The 1966 season was poor, my first as a senior. I only had one win but went to the Commonwealth Games in Jamaica and came fourth in the 10-mile on the track. I was in the break in the road race which was held in terrible conditions and Jim? – a Scottish rider – fell off in front of me and we went down. Luckily, for the Isle of Man, the late Peter Buckley went on to win for us. I was much more serious in 1967 and won quite a few races and Merseyside Divisional titles with Liverpool’s famous Kirkby Cycling Club. The club then included notable stars such as Billy Whiteside, Doug Dailey, Graham Owen and I was helped greatly by the late Eddie Soens who coached lots of riders in the club. The following year, 1968, I went to live and race in Brittany for the VC Loudacien (Loudeac – half-way between St Brieuc and Vannes). I won a couple of races but also had some awesome moments as a 20-year-old amateur. I was ‘hors categorie’ so raced against pros quite a few times.
In one race, I was in the break with Altig and Anquetil. The highlight of the day was when Anquetil told me: “Slow down Englishman, you’re going too hard.” Well, though I’d got them, didn’t I? Until 30kms later I cramped up and fell into the hedge in agony! I went back to the Isle of Man in late August and returned to work for the Isle of Man Newspapers group and became editor of The Green Final – Saturday Sports paper. I then got married in November but couldn’t stay away from the bike and rode local events and got reasonably fit. In September 1969, my son Jason was born. We were renting a house in Onchan and wanted to buy it. There were no building societies in the Isle of Man and you had to find a private mortgage. The owner offered us one and the repayments came to £14 a week. My salary was only £15. So I moved to Liverpool after getting a job on the Chorley Guardian at £22 a week. I stayed in Liverpool with fellow Kirkby rider, Dave Mitchell and his dad in 1970 until we bought a house in Ormskirk six months later. The repayments were £28 month. So that soon led to the contract the following year with Falcon as related below.
PEZ: A contract with the Falcon team in 1971, tell us about how that came about?
Really strange. I should have been a pro for them back in 1966. Ernie Clements offered me a contract but my wife’s uncle, Curwen Clague, who was my editor at IOM newspapers and who organised the Manx Cycling Week for years and years, told the British Cycling Federation not to allow it. It was because he wanted me in the Commonwealth Games team in Jamaica. I had a very good year in 1970 and was then offered a contract by Falcon. It was a wonderful team including Albert Hitchen, Dave Mitchell, Reg Barnett, Mick Holmes and the late Danny Horton. The contract was for £3.50 a week for 32 weeks – but a bonus for the team of £100 if we had a win – and we had plenty. The biggest thing was I didn’t have to buy my own bike, tyres, racing kit etc. And we rode the Tour of Switzerland that year too.
PEZ: The UK pro scene, what was it like gaining acceptance?
The riders were generally accepting of new pros. A few weren’t but if you took them to the cleaners a few times, they came to acknowledge your ability.
PEZ: Holdsworth in ’73 – a legendary team, how did that come to pass and what was it like to ride for?
At the end of 1971, shortly after the team came back from the Tour de la Nouvelle France in Canada, I accepted the position as sales manager for Falcon Cycles. It didn’t really work out and we moved from Humberside to Harrogate where I went back into journalism for ICI Fibres Post. I started playing rugby again but really missed the cycling scene. I was always great mates with Sid Barras and others living in Yorkshire. Working at Falcon Cycles, my weight had rocketed from 11 to 15 stone plus. After work, in the middle of winter, I would go out on my bike for hours by myself trying to shed the fat. Hugh Porter nicknamed me Tojo (after the enormous heavyweight wrestler Tojo Yamamoto who was a star at the time), so 1972 was a write-off really. I left ICI and went to work on the Southport Visitor but was saved when my old mate, Mike Daniell (who I had worked with on CYCLING magazine in 1966 – Mike was the assistant editor there to Alan Gayfer), offered me a job on the Herts Ad newspaper in St Albans as a sub-editor. Mike and his wife Jean had been good enough to have me as a lodger in Welwyn Garden City when I worked for CYCLING. We used to do a two-up time-trial into Fleet Street and back every day.
Anyway, I used to ride a two hour loop to work and back every day, although only lived a few miles away in Harpenden. I started racing again in 1973 – unsponsored. I did a good ride in Folkestone-London and the CYCLING headline was: DEAN WON’T BE OUT OF WORK FOR LONG. Roy Thame signed me up for Holdsworth a week later.
On the attack with Holdsworth-Campagnolo
PEZ: Were you a ‘full time’ professional or did you have to have a job?
I always worked – as a journalist until 1976 when I bought a bike shop from Stan Miles who was the 1936 Best British All Rounder time trial rider. Quite strange how that came about but that’s another story. I continued to combine racing with the shop which was run by my wife, Roberta, when I was racing. But same story for training – a two hour loop to work and two hour hours back, 12 months of the year.
PEZ: You had another huge season in ’75 – why?
I think it was just natural progression and we had a great team at Holdsworth; Les West, Colin Lewis, Geoff Wiles, Gary Crewe, Keith Lambert and Darryl Brassington.
PEZ: You were second in the Circuit of the Port of Dunkirk to Patrick Sercu that year – your remembrances of that day?
Cheeky Belgian pipped me on the line in a sprint from a large break. Marc Demeyer (winner of Paris-Roubaix) was third I remember.
Leading Paul Carbutt
PEZ: Season 1976 is blank on the palmarès sites?
That was the year I started Nigel Dean Cycles, it must have been because of that.
PEZ: Barnett Edwards on the jersey for ’77, tell us about that team.
‘Barnett’ was the great sprinter and my best mate, Reg. We were a two-man team sponsored by his bike shop. Great fun…
PEZ: You went back to Falcon in ’78?
Yup, the Falcon boss, Ernie Clements called me back.
Another win for Falcon
PEZ: Season ’80 and a ride which caught my eye, third to Marc Demeyer at Roselare. . .
That was interesting. I had been staying in Gent training for the London Six by riding the kermises. Roselare was on way to the ship to go back to UK so took in that race. Marc bought everyone off to let him go and win alone (it was the custom then in a lot of Belgium races). Then we come to the sprint and the other guys are all talking about something so I easily grabbed the runner-up spot in the sprint. I found out shortly after the finish that there was a doping control. That’s what everyone was talking about and why they let me go. The control guys said they wanted first, third and fourth for the control. They said they knew an Englishman wouldn’t be involved and, besides, I had to catch the boat.
PEZ: Season ’81 and a win in the season long UK Prestige Pernod competition, another big year.
That was a great year. I was with Coventry-Eagle, involved with Ernie Clements again. There was Sid Barras, Mick Bennett and I – there was lots of prize-money that year. And met the latest French superstar (have still got the photo somewhere) of Bernard Hinault and I getting our trophies from Pernod in Paris.
PEZ: Season ’81 saw you second to Bill Nickson in the National Road Race Champs – memories?
That one really burns me. The race was mine and Bill only caught me in the last mile. I wasn’t too bothered by his presence but was under-geared in the uphill sprint and Bill went past. I did cry a little after the race!
On the attack with Moducel followed by Dave Cuming and Jack Kershaw
PEZ: Moducel 1984 with Mickey Morrison – tell us about that team.
The team was Steve Joughin, Ian Banbury and I. Mick Morrison had moved to ANC by then – a team I seem to remember he helped start – included Malcolm Elliot. It was super fun. John and Marge Wilshaw were pretty raw at pro cycling but they were wonderful sponsors. In the national champs that year in the Isle of Man, Ian Banbury was in a break of three but got dropped. There were two Manxmen in the race who wanted to win – Steve Joughin and me. The field split up and ‘Jockey’ and I were in the last group. I went to the front on the four-mile finishing circuit and put my head down for the last three laps. With 500 metres to go we made contact with the leaders and my efforts were rewarded when ‘Jockey’ won the sprint from Malcolm Elliott. I was so happy for Steve, but sad too for me.
PEZ: Season ’84 and Spenco, another change of team
Dave Miller and Gary Sutton were team-mates. It was a good team and we won a bit of cash. We went to Texas and Waco, Spenco’s HQ, for the Spenco 500-mile in one go race – 24 hours! I was in a two-man break with some guy who said he was the Sprint Champion of Texas. I beat him in the sprint for the first prime but climbed off after 12 hours in the dark and pouring rain. Went into a saloon to get changed (had hitching rail outside). When I went into the bathroom, there was a figure in the bath wearing a Stetson. I apologised before I realised it was a tailor’s dummy sitting in a bath of polyurethane chips!
PEZ: Season ’85 and Ever Ready with some nice Belgian kermis results but your last season, why quit then?
I was 38 years old and starting a new venture with the cycle factory in Barton-on-Humber
PEZ: The six days, how many did you ride and with whom.
I rode a few; 1974 with Piet de Wit, next year with Cees Stam and Rene Savary after that. I rode Herning a couple of times with Maurice Burton and Reg Smith, Rotterdam with Daryl Perkins and Zurich with Maurice and Reg. I was second in Canada in a 6 riding with Graeme Gilmore, days – not nights.
PEZ: Gaining acceptance in the sixes must have been tough?
My first one was the Skol 6 in London; Trevor Bull was paired with Reg Barnett. It didn’t work out well for them and in the dining room one early morning after racing, the Germans were laughing about how many laps Reg and Trev had lost. Reg got up and upturned the full table over them saying: “You might win the odd bike race. But let’s have another war! We’re leading 2-0 at the moment!” That will live in my memory forever.
PEZ: What do you class as your best ride in the sixes?
Probably one of the highlights was Maurice and I winning the 100 km handicap madison in Zurich. There was a plan about who was going to win but they didn’t tell Mo or me! We were trying to do our best and Mo launched for the final sprint to win when the bastards rang the bell for one lap to go. As he crossed the line with his hands in the air, they rang the bell again. I took over and crossed the line first too. When I went to get paid by the organiser with the riders’ manager, Jan Derksen we were told we weren’t getting paid everything because we should not have won the handicap! I asked the organiser how big was the lovely track. He told me proudly it was 200m round and so many metres high and on and on. When he finished, I told him to take every inch of his track and stick it where the sun don’t shine! I think that was the last Zurich Six I rode.
On the boards
PEZ: Your bike business, after retirement, still well respected frames but not a success?
Ultimately the factory didn’t work. The reason was that I made a mistake in taking it on as I inherited debts of £130,000 from my friend Ernie Clements. We were slowly getting back and then we got a change of bank managers from Barclays. The first one was great but the new one was a nightmare; lots of stories there but eventually he gave me some sort of ultimatum. I was now separated from Roberta, my wife of over 20 years, and wanting to come and live in Zimbabwe with my girlfriend. I called the bank manager up less than two weeks later and asked him what the account read. “Oh! There must be some mistake. It’s showing a credit of £11,000 but you owe £250,000”.
What’s going on? I told him exactly what I thought of him. We had the factory premises as collateral, our home as collateral plus a personal guarantee of over £100,000. So I told him we had sold the factory and much of the stock, paid off ALL our debtors and we were closing down. I came across two letters from Barclays the other day, strangely enough. One of them said we (Roberta and I) had acted with such honesty and skill in handling the situation that we should go and see him if we ever wanted to start another venture. There is a Nigel Dean Cycles website on which scathing references have been made to us NOT paying creditors. A complete load of lies. Everyone got paid in full with one exception. That was the company from whom we were leasing a photo-copier from. We had a few months left on the agreement but I told them to take the machine back. EVERYONE else was paid in full.
PEZ: How did you end up in Africa? – and you’re still there.
As I explained above, I met a girl who came to fix the computer system in the factory and left my wife for her. BIG MISTAKE but that’s how I ended up in Harare. Since getting here I have had two businesses and two jobs. The last business was producing pre-mixes for the bakery trade and the government’s mismanagement of the country caused that (and a lot of other businesses) to fail. They stole all our money from our bank accounts. Now I’m running a retirement village with over 700 residents.
Pernod awards: Bob Downs, Bernard Hinault and Nigel Dean
PEZ: Your finest hour?
So many good memories – Roberta, my kids – Jason and Sarah, lots of races and a hole-in-one at Leopard Rock golf course in the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe a few years ago. Some good wins on the bike. I won Blenheim Palace in a bunch sprint one year beating Trevor Bull – after puncturing. And the year before I had been in the break when a spectator ran across the road into me and left me with a broken collar-bone. So that was nice.
Plenty. I wish I could have been born 30 years later when I could have been a pro cyclist without having to hold down a full-time job. And personal ones I won’t go into here. I hope this has given you some insight into the enjoyable career I was lucky enough to have.
And now in Zimbabwe
They just don’t make ‘em like Nige anymore. . .
# Thanks to Nigel for his time and to the photographers. #