Au revoir M. Berlemont
Au revoir M. Berlemont! Well wishers salute the man outside Victor's pub in Soho

Victor Berlemont Memorial Road Race 2014


Victor Berlemont Memorial Road Race 2014


Chris Lovibond


Victor Berlemont memorial to be raced 31st August 2014


Victor Berlemont Memorial 2014

Victor at work in his pub in Soho


The phrase ‘a new classic’ sounds like the sort of contradiction that is usually only to be found in advertisement copy but it can reasonably be used as a fair description of this Sunday’s event: The Victor Berlemont Memorial Road Race 2014 – which certainly has a distinguished past and now looks set for an exciting future.


Victor and Gaston Berlemont, pere et fils, were publicans and owners of the famous Soho pub The French House from 1914 to 1989. Although the pub is best known for its famous literary and artistic clientele (Dylan Thomas, Brendan Behan, Lucian Freud – the list is almost endless), both father and son were enthusiastic sports supporters. Victor was a French speaking Belgian, so it is not surprising that he had a passion for bike racing, and this was passed on to Gaston who was associated with the Southern Velo, and was a vice president of the BLRC.


The race itself was first run, by the Southern Velo, in 1951 and was won by Chris Hooper of the promoting club. It is not recorded whether there were any competitors from other clubs on that occasion, but it is certain that the race quickly became an important fixture and over the next four decades acquired a distinguished list of winners including: Brian Wilcher (Army CU) in 1956,  Dave Bedwell (various ‘independent’ teams) in 1960,’62 and ’64, John Froude (Festival RC) 1965, Peter Chisman (Raleigh) 1966, Les West (Holdsworth/Campagnolo) 1969,70 and 71, Gary Crewe (National RR Championship 1972) and Dave Rayner (East Bradford) 1992. The last promotion in this sequence was in 1996.


Thanks to an initiative from Doug Collins a revival came in 2010, with a Surrey League promotion which has now led to a full renaissance as an independent National level ‘B’ event.


The Present


Arising from Doug’s determination to see the race returned to its former status we now have a new organiser who seems worthy of its great heritage. Patrick Kavanagh and his team have put in months of hard work to create what looks as though it will be an ‘instant’ classic. Starting from the premise that while there are a number of events of 70 – 80 miles, there was a shortage of races for riders confident enough to attempt something of the distance of a typical major continental event, say about 100 miles.


So while the organisers were hoping to fulfil a demand, they were actually going into uncharted territory, and there was some fear that the Woodcote circuit with its Chiltern climbs would be seen as too tough for the distance, but this has not been the case  and there will be a full field of eighty riders.


Anyone who has tried to run an already established race (as this writer has) will know about the amount of work that is needed; to start, effectively, from scratch must be a much greater task. Now a team of over forty people has been successfully brought together and this includes: accredited marshals across the whole course, two neutral service vehicles and three lead cars. Special mention must be made of the co-operation of BT Open Reach and Scotia Gas Networks who have both deferred roadworks on the course just to allow the race to go ahead.


The Riders


Some names to watch…


Dominic Jelfs (Madison Genesis) race no. 2.Winner of the Nic Clark Road race in June.


Tom Neale (Team Corley) race no. 3. Winner of the Thames Velo Elite race in May, Tom is still in the under 23 category.


James Lewis (NFTO) race no. 78. An ex rugby player who carries the nickname ‘Tank’, but won this year’s Python RT event.


Andy Betts( Felt Colborne Hargroves) race no. 77 who always puts in a strong challenge.


And finally Martin Ford, race no.31 (Private BC Member). Although currently unsponsored Martin sees himself as a long distance specialist and is keen to show this talent.


The organisers are also pleased to have an entry from an Army CU team (race numbers 17-22 inclusive). Let’s see if they can emulate Brian Wilcher’s early success.


N.B. It is possible race numbers may be altered since there will be some adjustments to allow for non starters and the insertion of reserves.


We hope that if you’re not racing you’ll be able to come out as a spectator, but we must ask you all to remember that bike racing is always on trial at events like this and with the upsurge in the sport this is now more true than ever. The organisers have given undertakings to the Parish Council in Woodcote that car parking will not cause disruption in the village – please bear this in mind.


The Course

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