New book chronicles life of tragic Doncaster Tour de France cyclist Tom Simpson on 50th anniversary of death

A new book chronicling the life of tragic Doncaster Tour de France cyclist Tom Simpson has been released ahead of the 50th anniversary of his death.

By The Newsroom
Tuesday, 6th June 2017, 10:46 am
Updated Tuesday, 6th June 2017, 10:51 am
Cycling legend Tom Simpson.
Cycling legend Tom Simpson.

Bird On The Wire by Andy McGrath tells the story of the Harworth-based biker's rise to fame - and his untimely death on the slopes of a French mountain during the 1967 race.

The hardback book, which contains more than 130 photographs, many never seen before, comes ahead of the 50th anniversary of the sportsman's death on Mont Ventoux on July 13,1967.

A spokesman for publishers Bloomsbury said: "Tom Simpson is British cycling's greatest icon.

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The memorial to Tommy Simpson in Harworth.

"Fifty years after he conquered the continental sporting scene, he still captivates people around the world.

"After his dramatic death on Mont Ventoux during the 1967 Tour de France, amphetamines and alcohol were found in his system, a fact which often dwarfs his pioneering achievements."

From a humble upbringing in Harworth, Simpson became the first Briton to win the elite men's World Championships and to wear the Tour de France's yellow jersey."

He also took victory at Milan Sanremo, the Tour of Flanders and the Tour of Lombardy, three of cycling's most prestigious races.

The cover of the new book about the life of Tom Simpson.

The spokesman added: "A charismatic and impulsive character, Simpson lived life fast, with a penchant for spectacular racing, sports cars and fanciful dreams. This man of contradictions was both people's champion and pariah, gentleman and rogue. Guided by rare photography of Simpson, this book explores the Briton's feats and complexities through untold stories from those closest to him."

It was on July 13, 1967, that he succumbed to blazing heat on Mont Ventoux, collapsing near the summit of the French peak as he strove for success in the 13th stage of the race.

In his eighth year as a pro-cyclist, Simpson, 29, was keen to make an impact and after the first week, was in sixth place.

Falling ill with diarrhoea, some told him to quit, but he made the fateful decision to plough on, eventually meeting his fate in temperatures topping 45C on the dusty, arrid slopes of that barren French mountainside.

The memorial to Tommy Simpson in Harworth.

At the start line in Marseille, a journalist noticed Simpson looked tired and asked him if the heat was a problem.

.“No, it’s not the heat, it’s the Tour, ” was his reply.

As the race reached the lower slopes, Simpson was seen taking a number of pills with brandy and by the time he had climbed towards the summit, he was zig-zagging across the road.

He fell but was able to get back on but after riding a short distance further, collapsed.

The cover of the new book about the life of Tom Simpson.

He was pronounced dead after being airlifted to hospital and a post-mortem found he had taken amphetamine and alcohol, a combination which proved fatal when combined with the heat.

The infamous words ‘put me back on my bike’ were never said - they were the invention of a journalist covering the race.

Approximately 5,000 people attended Simpson’s funeral service. A memorial stands close to the spot where he died, while Harworth has several tributes dedicated to his memory.

The epitaph on the cyclist’s gravestone reads: “His body ached, his legs grew tired, but still he would not give in.”