Despite the post-war austerity, no expense was spared. There was an orchestra, roller racing, acrobats, trapeze artists and dancing girls. In a highlight of the evening, Fausto Coppi, on his first visit to Britain, took to the stage for a demonstration. Dressed in the celeste and blue of his Bianchi team and under dimmed lights, Il Campionissimo rode a snow white track bike on a special set of red, white and green rollers.
The rollers were mounted on a slowly revolving platform to ensure everyone got a complete view of the world’s most complete cyclist, with moving spotlights of continually changing colours illuminating his graceful figure. The crowd roared its appreciation.
Coppi’s show was followed by the finale of the evening: the presentation of prizes to the 12 fastest racers of the season just gone. A photograph shows them lined up in front of the orchestra, trophies in hand.
Standing out among the men in suits was a woman in a strapless fuscia ballgown with matching lace gloves and shoes. She was a shade under five feet tall with brown wavy hair, dimpled cheeks, and a toothy smile. She was Eileen Sheridan of the Coventry Cycling Club.
Sixty one years later, near enough to the day, Rouleur photographer Wig Worland and I are at the door of a pastel pink terraced house on the banks of the Thames in west London. It’s a sunny winter morning. A small model bicycle stands in the net curtained front window, next to a couple of pot plants. I ring the bell.
Bike crews are pulling off death-defying stunts in London’s rush-hour traffic. To the public, it’s a spectacle of recklessness. But for the cyclists, these mass ride-outs are a means of survival.
It’s a bright summer day in central London and a swarm of tourists are snapping selfies overlooking the River Thames. Out of nowhere, hundreds of teenage boys on bikes flood onto London Bridge from the south.
Spreading out across all lanes, they block traffic and throw their front wheels defiantly up to the sky. A few riders break away from the group, jumping the barrier between lanes before wheelieing their way down the wrong side of the road, swerving at the last moment to avoid oncoming vehicles.