Bygones: When ‘The Lone Wolf’ Russell kept ahead of cycling’s chasing pack

Ken Russell (centre) outside the Ellis Briggs cycle shop in Shipley after winning the 1952 Daily Express Tour of Britain cycle race with Jack Briggs the co-owner holding the bicycle and  Leonard Ells (far left) the other co-owner of the shop.
Ken Russell (centre) outside the Ellis Briggs cycle shop in Shipley after winning the 1952 Daily Express Tour of Britain cycle race with Jack Briggs the co-owner holding the bicycle and Leonard Ells (far left) the other co-owner of the shop.
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This weekend has seen the great and good of world cycling descend on the White Rose county for the Tour de Yorkshire.

That event is a direct legacy of the Tour de France visit in 2014, which, to many, was the start of the boom in cycling in the Broad Acres.

Derek Browne, organisor and 1952 Tour of Britain, and winner Ken Russell with his bike and yellow jersey

Derek Browne, organisor and 1952 Tour of Britain, and winner Ken Russell with his bike and yellow jersey

However, the county’s love affair with cycling goes back well over half-a-century, even before the days of Bryan Robinson, to the days of another forgotten hero.

Upon leaving the RAF in the late 1940s, Ken Russell had followed in his late brother’s footsteps and become a mechanic at Shipley cycling store Ellis-Briggs.

Catching part-owner Leonard Ellis on a good day in 1952, he told his boss he wanted to represent the store in the Tour of Britain; alone with no team.

Tackling 1,440 miles of tarmac across Great Britain, Bradford’s very own Russell would firmly cement his name in cycling folklore.

Though winners come and go, it was the manner in which the modest racer won that makes this victory so outstanding.

With the race commencing at Hastings on a sunny summer’s day, Russell himself did not expect to do well in the event, as he claimed he was riding purely for a sense of enjoyment.

However, after a second-placed finish in the first stage was followed by a win in the second between Southsea and Weymouth, the nation began to take notice of the man described in the national newspapers as ‘The Lone Wolf.’

A scintillating performance in the West Country slopes put Russell firmly ahead of the chasing pack. But problems struck in Wales, when the car charged with providing him his refreshments could not keep up with his pace.

By stage six, he was in his native North, but by the end of stage seven, in Glasgow, he had lost the yellow jersey. After crossing the border and finishing stage 10 in Newcastle, Russell was down in third, with five minutes to catch on the two race leaders.

It was then that Russell nearly quit. Not for a lack of commitment, for that was one thing Russell never lacked, but for a knee injury suffered in the earlier stages.

After a chance meeting with a physio got him back on the saddle, Russell stormed to victory in Scarborough.

Then, between Nottingham and Norwich, he resisted the bullyboy tactics from the chasing pack of wolves.

With one stage to go, a 119-mile slog between Norwich and London, the ‘Lone Wolf’ was almost there. But at Stevenage, disaster hit as a pedal crank shook loose. His dream was over.

In admiration of what Russell was about to achieve, Belgian rider Michaux jumped off his own bike and passed it to the exhausted leader.

Hours later, a stunned Russell swept across the line at London’s Alexandra Palace.

To this day, Ken Russell remains the only man to have won the Tour of Britain unassisted by a team. Shamefully, this magnificent sporting achievement had been forgotten....almost.