Some friends were talking about the Tour de France the other day when one asked: “Whatever happened to the Milk Race?”
Naturally, when you talk about a successful sporting venture in a foreign country, many people immediately try to find some local equivalent. (Some events just don’t have an equivalent, but that is another matter.) And so, in our conversation, our discussion swung to the great British cycle stage event – the Milk Race.
So, we ask ourselves, what did happen to the Milk Race? Well, the easy answer is that it was killed off by the European Union. This answer would please quite a few bigots (sorry Gordon, no offence), but that is not quite the whole truth.
Like so many events – think (again) Milk/Littlewoods/Rumbelows/Coca-Cola/Worthington/Carling Cup – it continues in another guise. Yes, the Tour of Britain, totally unbranded, is the event that was once the Milk Race. But why do so many still remember it as the Milk Race? Obviously the Milk Board struck a note that the current organisers are unable to match, so no one recognises the race in its new guise.
Perhaps a brief history might help. A “Tour of Britain” has existed in some form since 1945, my researcher at Wikipedia reliably informs me. The event became the Milk Race, sponsored by the Milk Marketing Board, in 1958 and was amateur until 1985, when it became pro-am. In 1987 it gained a rival, the Kellogg’s Tour, which was for professionals only. The last Milk Race took place in 1993, won by a local lad, Chris Lillywhite.
This is where we are able to blame the EU – blast you, Brussels – because that year the Milk Marketing Board was wound up as a result of European monopoly laws.
Well, Kellogg’s might now be the sponsor of our most successful Olympic cyclist, but it didn’t last long as sponsor of Britain’s premier cycle tour, because the Kellogg’s Tour ran its final course in 1994.
For two years, 1998 and 1999, we had the Pru Tour, and the nothing for five years. In 2004 the Tour of Britain was unveiled, and this is now the country’s very own Tour de Farce, because no one seems to have heard about it. Well, now that you know what has happened, get out and watch it. This is the 2010 itinerary:
11 September 126km Rochdale to Blackpool
12 September 160km around Stoke-on-Trent
13 September 150km Newtown to Swansea
14 September 171km Minehead to Teighmouth
15 September 176km Tavistock to Glastonbury
16 September 189km Kings Lynn to Yarmouth
17 September 151km Bury St Edmonds to Colchester
18 September 100km around London.
Well, now that I’ve gone to all the trouble to find this out, I hope to see you all crowding the roadside to cheer the riders as they go by. Who knows, maybe if Bradley decides to compete, the race in its current form will have its first British winner. On yer bike, then.