Shropshire Star

Cycling star who won UK's first legal road race - but gave it up to keep a post office

Recent revelations about Percy Stallard's rebel road race from Llangollen to Wolverhampton has brought back memories to the family of winner, Albert Price.

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Albert Price

The event, 80 years ago, was the first cycle race to be held legally on Britain's roads. Price, who was just 19 years old, finished a whisker ahead of fellow Wulfrunian Cecil Anslow, with less than a second separating the pair. The route took in landmarks in Shropshire before ending in the city's West Park.

But while the thrilling spectacle went down a storm with the vast crowds who turned out to watch, it proved less popular with the cycling establishment. Stallard, along with all the 28 cyclists who took part, was suspended from the National Cyclists' Union for defying its ban on the race.

Price, who was known by his second name of Eddie to friends and family, left Wolverhampton in 1956 to take over a post office and general store in Ashford, Middlesex. His son Michael, who got in touch after being sent a copy of our feature, said he was also a keen table tennis and snooker play, but once he took over the shop he rarely had time to indulge in any hobbies.

"When you are doing newspapers at 5am, and closing at 7.30 at night, there isn't time for much else," says Michael, who is 69.

"He would often work 18 hours a day, seven days a week. He kept in contact with members of the cycling clubs, and every so often they would get together."

Michael said his father retained his title when the race was held again in 1943 and 1944, but his cycling career effectively came to an end when he was called up for army service.

He added that his cousin David Price – the cyclist's nephew – still lived in Wolverhampton.

Albert Price won the 1942 Llangollen-Wolverhampton cycle race

Michael's sister, Jeanette Dawson, who now lives in Retford, Nottinghamshire, added that as a young man her father worked at the family pork butcher's shop in Bilston Street, Wolverhampton, which had been trading since 1866.

Jeanette, 71, clearly remembers Percy Stallard – or "Uncle Percy" as she knew him – coming to visit the family home when she was a child.

Sadly, Albert "Eddie" Price died from cancer in 1968, aged just 45.

Michael and Jeanette got in touch after being sent copies of our feature marking the 80th anniversary of the race. Cecil Anslow's stepson Dave Dungar had appealed for members of the Price family to get in touch, as he was planning to raise funds for a blue plaque to honour both men. The plaque would be located close to the finishing post at West Park.

Dave added that while the race was very closely fought, there were no hard feelings afterwards.

"They were such good mates that neither of them minded who won," he said.

The race, which raised money for the Express & Star’s Comforts Fund to help those serving in the Second World War, was Stallard's brainchild. But while it might have brought plenty of excitement, it was also mired in controversy, with the National Cyclists’ Union totally opposed to the competition.

Mass-start road racing, where cyclists all started together and competed to be first at the finishing line, were becoming increasingly popular in mainland Europe in the late 19th century, with the Tour de France and Tour of Italy enjoying great popularity.

But police in the UK were concerned about the disruption they were causing, and effectively put a stop to them in 1894. The National Cycling Union officially banned such races three years later, and instead opted to hold “time trials”, where “inconspicuously clothed” competitors started the route at different times. Ironically, it is a similar event, the “time trials”, which will form Wolverhampton and Dudley’s contribution to the Commonwealth Games next month.

Albert Price finishes in first place ahead of fellow Wulfrunian Cecil Anslow at Wolverhampton's West Park in the 1942 Llangollen-Wolverhampton cycle race

Stallard, who finished 12th in the world road-race championship in Monthlery, France, in 1933, seventh the following year when the competition was held in Leipzig, decided to train his own team of Wolverhampton cyclists, and campaign for the adoption of massed-start races on British roads.

He argued that there was no specific law that actually forbade massed-start racing, but few seemed to be listening.

“This is the only country in Europe where this form of sport is not permitted,” he wrote in 1941. “There seems to be the mistaken idea that it would be necessary to close the roads. This, of course, is entirely wrong.”

But while the cycling establishment was disinterested in his pleas, the lack of road traffic during the Second World War gave Stallard a window of opportunity. Having announced in April 1942 that he intended to hold a road race from Llangollen to Wolverhampton, the competition went ahead on June 8 without police objections.

According to the Express & Star’s report, the 1942 race was a huge success, with more than 2,000 spectators crowding outside the park to watch the thrilling finale.

“A newcomer to massed-start racing, Albert Price of Wolverhampton rode a beautifully judged race to dash over the finishing line two lengths in front of C J Anslow, also of Wolverhampton,” the paper reported.

“The event was a complete success, and must rank as a milestone in this style of racing,” the report added.

Albert Price and Cecil Anslow took the top two places in the 1942 Llangollen-Wolverhampton cycle race

Another interesting story is that, due to the fact cyclists had little experience of “bunched” racing at the time, Stallard asked them to refrain from out-and-out competitive racing until the halfway point, which was Atcham Bridge in Shrewsbury.

“Excitement grew intense as West Park was approached, and rounding the bend near to the gates Anslow swung to the right and overtook his opponent,” the Express & Star reported.

“It appeared odds-on him crossing the line first, but Price had the essential bit of 'reserve' with 20 yards to go he again took the lead to dash over the white line a bare second in front of Anslow who, after the race, stated that he was unaware the finish was so near at hand.

The newspaper added: “And so concluded a thrilling event in which there was not the slightest hitch, thanks to the co-operation of the police of three counties.”

Cecil Anslow, known as “Cec” or “CJA” in cycle-racing circles, or by his second name Jim to friends and family, continued to enjoy the sport almost up until his death from cancer at Compton Hospice in 1999, at the age of 76.

“I seem to recall he restarted cycling in his 50s, so in the 1970s,” said Dave, 68, who lives in Pattingham. He said his stepfather was again competing in age-related races in the mid-1980s.