In memory of Harworth's cycling legend, the unique Tom Simpson

ON July 13, 1967 – 40 years ago this month – Tom Simpson, Britain's most famous racing cyclist, died while competing in the Tour De France, the world's toughest cycle race.

During his lifetime the man who grew up in the mining village of Harworth created a huge and lasting impression on the sport of cycling.

Since his premature death, thousands of words have been written in numerous books, magazines and newspaper articles and several films have been made.

Had Tom been alive today, he would be celebrating his 70th birthday this year.

He was born on November 30, 1937, in the North East mining community of Haswell, County Durham where his father was a miner. The pits brought his family south as his did began work at Harworth Colliery.

From an early age, Tom showed a great interest in cycling and with his pals, he raced up and down the streets on an old butcher's bike, around his neat red brick semi-detached home at 4, Festival Avenue.

When he was 13, Tom joined Harworth and District Cycling Club. From the starts, his talent shone through.

He later became a draughtsman at Jenkins of Retford. The factory was 10 miles from his home, so he would ride to and from work as part of his training.

Tom went on to join Rotherham Scala Wheelers, and won an Olympic bronze medal in the team pursuit as a member of the Great Britain team that competed in the 1956 Melbourne Games.

He also took a silver medal for England, in the individual pursuit, at the 1958 Commonwealth Games in Cardiff.

To further his cycling career Tom went to live in France where he met his wife... a Doncaster girl, Helen Sherburn, who was working as an au pair!

Tom and Helen moved to live in Ghent, in Belgium and he quickly became part of the continental cycle racing scene.

In the Tour of Flanders in 1961, he became the first British rider to win a classic for 65 years. He went on to victory in the Bordeaux-Paris 1963, Milan-San-Remo 1964 and Paris-Nice 1967.

In 1962 he became the first Briton to wear the yellow jersey at the Tour de France, though he held it for only a day and ended the race sixth overall.

His greatest year was 1965 when he won the Tour of Lombardy and the world professional road race championship in San Sebastian, Spain and was voted BBC Sports Personality of the Year.

On July 13, 1967, in scorching weather conditions, Tom was ascending Mont Ventoux in the 13th stage of the Tour de France – from Marseille to Avignon – when he collapsed and fell from his bike.

After his first fall he urged helpers to put him back into the saddle.

He fell again and despite the immediate efforts of a doctor and the medical assistance that continued while he was airlifted by helicopter to hospital he could not be revived and died that day.

Tests on his body revealed that he had taken stimulants and alcohol that had contributed to his state of exhaustion, his collapse and his subsequent death. He was just 29 years old.

On the spot where he fell on the mountain a memorial was erected and every year it is visited by thousands of cycling enthusiasts from around the world.

In 1997, outside the Scrooby Road sports ground in Bircotes Tom's widow Helen Hoban unveiled a similar memorial stone to that which stands on Mont Ventoux.

Not far from the memorial, in the Harworth and Bircotes sports and social club pavilion, is the Tom Simpson Museum.

Among the memorabilia there is the racing kit – shirt, shorts gloves and cap, along with his race number, 49 – that Tom was wearing on the day that he died.

The Peugeot bike, on which he won the 1967 Paris-Nice stage race and in which he defeated Eddy Merckx, is also there; as is the world champions rainbow jersey and Great Britain shirt that he wore when he won the world championship; the bowler hat he wore; and the Raleigh Trophy, awarded to the winner of the Tom Simpson Memorial Race in Harworth, first held the year after Tom died, and that is still contested annually.

Tom is buried in Harworth Cemetery, on Tickhill Road – less than a mile from the Festival Avenue home where he grew up.

A black marble headstone depicts him in silhouette riding his bike along a winding road into the sunset.

The gold letters on his headstone recall: "In loving memory of Tom Simpson, the dear husband of Helen and loving father of Jane and Joanne, who died on Mont Ventoux, France 13th July 1967 - aged 29 years, while competing in the Tour De France Cycle Race.

"His body ached, his legs grew tired but still he would not give in."

Tom's funeral was attended by cyclists from across Britain and Europe... who had never met him but who had marvelled at the exploits of their cycling hero.

Among the mourners was his fellow professional the legendary Eddie Merckx.

The museum in Bircotes and the memorials in France and at the track in his adopted hometown of Ghent in Belgium along with the one in his home village serve as lasting tributes to Tom.

They are permanent reminders to future generations of the remarkable cycling career of Britain's greatest road racer who died while pursuing his dream of winning the world greatest bike race.