Whatever happened to the Milk Race?

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.

5 thoughts on “Whatever happened to the Milk Race?

  1. This was a great 2 week stage race and it was a great to work on (motorcycle marshal) for several years.

    You note the demise of the MMB and the races ‘morph’ into Kelloggs / Pru-Tour / ToB – however, there was little of the Milk Race that passed into these new races.

    One key fact missed from your assumptions was the rising costs of promoting such a race – specifically policing costs – and not a little resistance (even hatred of) cycle events within parts of the police service. Some county forces would move heaven and earth to prevent the race coming to the county. The opportunity presented by the rise of ‘health and safety’ and the ability to charge for a wider range of policing services saw two changes.
    1) The formation of an ACPO Escort Group (allegedly cheaper – for individual forces yes but not service users)
    2) Rise in cost of policing – from a few 10’s thousands of pounds to several hundreds. No alternatives were available then and so this was ringing the changes that was then seen as being the start of the demise of the Milk Race and domestic road racing. A position that still remains today – with the exception of a few dedicated individuals on the NEG providing some service to high end races.

  2. I recall back in either late 80′ / early 90s we had both the Milk Race and Wincanton Classic pass through Huddersfield, only about a week between the two, both had to tackle Holme Moss, one group doing it twice, a rare event for Huddersfield citizens

  3. has anyone ever heard of a competitor in the milk race by the name of simon marshall? i have been given to understand that he had some success on stages and climbs, and even purports to hold a record for a specific climb on the tour which still stands today. thanks for any input.

  4. i was the race ambulance and crew on the milk race, i am trying to locate a milk race motorcycle marshal called Des Stevens ( met police officer ), if any one knows of his where-a-bouts i would be grateful if you could pass my message to him and my phone no 0151 546 1445 requesting him to contact me, thank you, tony

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