TOM Simpson was the first Briton to wear the Tour de France’s yellow jersey. He tragically died on Mont Ventoux 50 years ago. Andy McGrath is the author of a new book about the County Durham born rider

Matt: This is a huge undertaking, how long did it take to pull together?

Andy: It took around a year from conception to research, interviews and writing it all up. Looking back on it it feels like it flew by. Half of it was research sitting in big libraries, pouring over microfilm. But I really wanted the book to be lively which meant I had to visit certain places and certain people from his life. I went to Harworth and met some of his old friends, a lot of his old team-mates, including Brian Robinson, the first Briton to finish the Tour de France, and went abroad as well.

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Matt: What was your motivation?

Andy: The anniversary was a timely hook, but Tom Simpson is a folk hero. People, when they get into race cycling quickly hear about Tom, mainly as this sad figure who died on Mont Ventoux. I felt the focus had been too much on what happened there in 1967 and not enough on his trailblazing achievements as a racing cyclist or his larger than life personality. I really had the feeling there were new stories out there that hadn’t been told.

Matt: So has Tom been misrepresented?

Andy: I don’t feel he has been misrepresented, I just feel some of his feats and some of the stories either haven’t been told or have been overshadowed. The other thing about this book is the great photography. One chapter is almost entirely composed of photos from his old teenage team-mate. Tom is like a matinee idol, he is so striking and always seems to be the centre of attention.

Matt: From what you learned of Tom, what anecdote sums him up?

Andy: He was sharing a car on the way to a race in the middle of France with Jan Janssen, a classy Dutch rider who went on to win the Tour de France. They stopped at a traffic light and noticed a French gendarme on a bicycle alongside them. Simpson unceremoniously mooned him. The light went green and they tore off, with him screaming at them to stop. The problem was that there were several traffic lights in a row on this boulevard; stopped at the last one, the breathless bobby had caught them up. He took them to the local police station and gave them an almighty ticking off; Janssen was worried they’d still be there that night. But Simpson launched into such a detailed, emotional story about the nomadic wanderings of the professional racing cyclist, that the policeman felt sorry for him and let them go – with Simpson even slipping an autographed photo into the deal for good measure too.

The Northern Echo: Andy McGrath with Bird On The Wire

Matt: How would Tom rank today. Would he be up there with the greats ?

Andy: I think he would be, undoubtedly. Possibly more recognised as a great one day racer – he is Britain’s greatest one day racing cyclist. That is another thing that doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. His personality, the way he always attacked, was also made for television. I think he would have been very popular around the world.

Matt: Bird on the Wire has just been named William Hill Sports Book of the Year. How proud are you of this?

Andy: It’s fantastic. This is my first full-length book. Just being on the shortlist was enough for me. I really didn’t think I was going to win and when it happened it was a huge honour.

  • Bird on the Wire is available from rapha.cc, priced £36, and is produced in collaboration with Rapha and Bluetrain Publishing.