|Birth Day:||November 30, 1937|
|Death Date:||Jul 13, 1967 (age 29)|
|Birth Place:||Easington, England|
British cyclist who was the 1965 Road Race World Champion before collapsing during the Tour de France two years later.
As per our current Database, Tom Simpson died on Jul 13, 1967 (age 29).
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Tom Simpson worked as a grocery delivery boy to earn money for a better bike as a teen.
Simpson was born on 30 November 1937 in Haswell, County Durham, the youngest of six children of coal miner Tom Simpson and his wife Alice (née Cheetham). His father had been a semi-professional sprinter in athletics. The family lived modestly in a small terraced house until 1943, when his parents took charge of the village's working men's club and lived above it. In 1950 the Simpsons moved to Harworth on the Nottinghamshire–Yorkshire border, where young Simpson's maternal aunt lived; new coalfields were opening, with employment opportunities for him and older brother Harry, by now, the only children left at home. Simpson rode his first bike, his brother-in-law's, at age 12, sharing it with Harry and two cousins for time trials around Harworth. Following Harry, Tom joined Harworth & District CC (Cycling Club) aged 13. He delivered groceries in the Bassetlaw district by bicycle and traded with a customer for a better road bike. He was often left behind in club races; members of his cycling club nicknamed him "four-stone Coppi", after Italian rider Fausto Coppi, due to his slim physique.
Simpson began winning club time trials, but sensed resentment of his boasting from senior members. He left Harworth & District and joined Rotherham's Scala Wheelers at the end of 1954. Simpson's first road race was as a junior at the Forest Recreation Ground in Nottingham. After leaving school he was an apprentice draughtsman at an engineering company in Retford, using the 10 mi (16.1 km) commute by bike as training. He placed well in half mile races on grass and cement, but decided to concentrate on road racing. In May 1955 Simpson won the National Cyclists' Union South Yorkshire individual pursuit track event as a junior; the same year, he won the British League of Racing Cyclists (BLRC) junior hill climb championship and placed third in the senior event.
Simpson immersed himself in the world of cycling, writing letters asking for advice. Naturalised Austrian rider George Berger responded, travelling from London to Harworth to help him with his riding position. In late 1955, Simpson ran a red light in a race and was suspended from racing for six months by the BLRC. During his suspension he dabbled in motorcycle trials, nearly quitting cycling but unable to afford a new motorcycle necessary for progress in the sport.
Berger told Simpson that if he wanted to be a successful road cyclist, he needed experience in track cycling, particularly in the pursuit discipline. Simpson competed regularly at Fallowfield Stadium in Manchester, where in early 1956 he met amateur world pursuit silver medallist Cyril Cartwright, who helped him develop his technique. At the national championships at Fallowfield the 18-year-old Simpson won a silver medal in the individual pursuit, defeating amateur world champion Norman Sheil before losing to Mike Gambrill.
After the Olympics, Simpson trained throughout his winter break into 1957. In May, he rode in the national 25-mile championships; although he was the favourite, he lost to Sheil in the final. In a points race at an international event at Fallowfield a week later Simpson crashed badly, almost breaking his leg; he stopped working for a month and struggled to regain his form. At the national pursuit championships, he was beaten in the quarter-finals. After this defeat Simpson returned to road racing, winning the BLRC national hill climb championship in October before taking a short break from racing. In spring 1958 he traveled to Sofia with Sheil for two weeks' racing. On his return he won the national individual pursuit championship at Herne Hill Velodrome. In July, Simpson won a silver medal for England in the individual pursuit at the British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Cardiff, losing to Sheil by one-hundredth of a second in the final. A medical exam taken with the Royal Air Force (RAF) revealed Simpson to be colour blind.
In September 1958, Simpson competed at the amateur world championships in Paris. Against reigning champion Carlo Simonigh of Italy in the opening round of the individual pursuit, he crashed on the concrete track at the end of the race. Simpson was briefly knocked unconscious and sustained a dislocated jaw; however, he won the race since he crashed after the finish line. Although he was in pain, team manager Benny Foster forced Simpson to race in the quarter-final against New Zealand's Warwick Dalton, hoping to unsettle Dalton ahead of a possible meeting with Simpson's teammeate Sheil. Simpson wanted to turn professional, but needed to prove himself first, setting his sights on the world amateur indoor hour record. Reg Harris arranged for an attempt at Zürich's Hallenstadion velodrome on Simpson's birthday in November. He failed by 320 metres, covering a distance of 43.995 km (27.337 mi) and blaming his failure on the low temperature generated by an ice rink in the centre of the velodrome. The following week he travelled to Ghent, in the Flanders region of Belgium, to ride amateur track races. He stayed at the Café Den Engel, run by Albert Beurick, who organised for him to ride at Ghent's Kuipke velodrome in the Sportpaleis (English: Sport Palace).
In April 1959, Simpson left for France with £100 savings and two Carlton bikes, one road and one track, given in appreciation of his help promoting the company. His last words to his mother before the move were, "I don't want to be sitting here in twenty years' time, wondering what would have happened if I hadn't gone to France". The next day, his National Service papers were delivered; although willing to serve before his move, he feared the call-up would put his potential career at risk. His mother returned them, with the hope they would understand this.
Soon after moving to France in 1959 Simpson met Helen Sherburn. They married in 1961, before moving to Ghent, Belgium, the following year. They had two daughters, Jane (born April 1962) and Joanne (born May 1963), who were brought up, and live, in Belgium. After his death, Helen Simpson married Barry Hoban in December 1969. Simpson is the maternal uncle of retired Belgian-Australian cyclist Matthew Gilmore, whose father, Graeme, was also a cyclist. The 2000 book Mr. Tom: The True Story of Tom Simpson, written by Simpson's nephew, Chris Sidwells, focuses on his career and family life.
Unlike the majority of his contemporaries, Simpson was open about the use of drugs in professional cycling. In 1960, interviewed by Chris Brasher for The Observer newspaper, Simpson spoke about his understanding of how riders could beat him, saying: "I know from the way they ride the next day they are taking dope. I don't want to have to take it – I have too much respect for my body." Two years before his death, Simpson hinted in the newspaper, The People, at drug-taking in races, although he implied that he himself was not involved. Asked about drugs by Eamonn Andrews on the BBC Home Service radio network, Simpson did not deny taking them; however, he said that a rider who frequently took drugs might get to the top but would not stay there.
After the Tour, Simpson rode criteriums around Europe until crashing in central France; he returned home to Paris and checked himself into a hospital. Following a week's bed-rest, he rode in the road world championships at the Sachsenring in East Germany. During the race Simpson stopped to adjust his shoes on the right side of the road and was hit from behind by a car, sustaining a cut to his head which required five stitches. In the last of the classics, the Giro di Lombardia, he struggled, finishing eighty-fourth. Simpson had been in constant contact with Helen, who was now working in Stuttgart, Germany, meeting with her between races. They became engaged on Christmas Day, and originally planned to marry at the end of 1961, but in fact wed on 3 January 1961 in Doncaster, Yorkshire.
Simpson in his adolescence was described as fearsome in descent by fellow Scala Wheelers club member George Shaw, who explained that if Simpson dropped behind on a climb, he would come back on the descent. Simpson's risk-taking on descents was evident throughout his career, crashing in four out of the seven Tours de France he competed in. Track rider Norman Sheil recalled: "When racing on a banked velodrome, Simpson would sometimes ride up the advertising boards at the top of the bankings, Wall of Death-style, to please the crowds." Simpson's death was attributed to his unwillingness to admit defeat ascending Mont Ventoux. He described a near-death experience during a race in 1964, the Trofeo Baracchi two-man time trial, to Vin Denson, who recalled: "He said he felt peace of mind and wasn't afraid to die. He said he would have been happy dying."
Simpson spoke fluent French, and was also competent in Flemish and Italian. He was interested in vintage cars, and his driving and riding styles were similar; Helen remembered, "Driving through the West End of London at 60 mph (97 km/h), was nothing." In January 1966, Simpson was a guest castaway on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs; his favourite musical piece was "Ari's Theme" from Exodus by the London Festival Orchestra, his book choice was The Pickwick Papers and his luxury item was golf equipment. Helen said that she chose his records for the show, since he was not interested in music. Simpson's autobiography, Cycling Is My Life, was first published in 1966.
Simpson's primary objective for 1967 was overall victory in the Tour de France; in preparation, he planned to ride stage races instead of one-day classics. Simpson felt his chances were good because this Tour was contested by national, rather than professional teams. He would lead the British team, which – although one of the weakest – would support him totally, unlike Peugeot. During Simpson's previous three years with Peugeot, he was only guaranteed a place on their Tour team if he signed with them for the following year. Free to join a new team for the 1968 season, he was offered at least ten contracts; Simpson had a verbal agreement with Italian team Salvarani, and would share its leadership with Felice Gimondi. In an interview with Cycling (now Cycling Weekly) journalist, Ken Evans, in April, Simpson revealed his intention to attempt the hour record in the 1967 season. He also said he wanted retire from road racing aged 33, to ride on the track and spend more time with his family.
On the next racing day, the other riders were reluctant to continue racing and asked the organisers for a postponement. France's Stablinski suggested that the race continue, with a British rider, whose team would wear black armbands, allowed to win the stage. Hoban won the stage, although many thought the stage winner should have been Denson, Simpson's close friend. Media reports suggested that his death was caused by heat exhaustion, until, on 31 July 1967 British journalist J. L. Manning of the Daily Mail broke the news about a formal connection between drugs and Simpson's death. French authorities confirmed that Simpson had traces of amphetamine in his body, impairing his judgement and allowing him to push himself beyond his limits. His death contributed to the introduction of mandatory testing for performance-enhancing drugs in cycling, leading to tests in 1968 at the Giro d'Italia, Tour de France and Summer Olympics. Simpson was buried in Harworth Cemetery, after a service at the 12th-century village church attended by an estimated 5,000 mourners, including Peugeot teammate Eddy Merckx, the only continental rider in attendance. The epitaph on Simpson's gravestone in Harworth cemetery reads, "His body ached, his legs grew tired, but still he would not give in", taken from a card left by his brother, Harry, following his death.
In the 1968 Tour de France, there was a special prize given in his honour, the Souvenir Tom Simpson, a sprint on stage 15 in the small town of Mirepoix, won by the soloing Roger Pingeon. Winner of the race Jan Janssen said of him, "Occasionally Tommy could be annoying. When it was rolling along at 30kmh and - paf!… he’d attack. Oh leave us alone! There's still 150km to go pipe down. But often, he wanted war." Janssen went on to say, "Even in the feed zones. It's not the law, but it's not polite. Musettes (lunch bags) were up in the air there was panic and crashes. It was Simpson acting like a jerk. It didn't happen often. Occasionally I was angry at him. I’d say to him in his native English: You fucking cunt... There were often many teams, five or six, in the same hotel together every evening. Each had their own table. And at a certain moment, Tommy walked into the restaurant like a gentleman, with a cane, bowler hat and in costume… He was like a Lord in England and the rest of us were in tracksuits. Everyone saw that, laughed, and the things he had done during the race were forgotten."
A granite memorial to Simpson, with the words "Olympic medallist, world champion, British sporting ambassador", stands on the spot where he collapsed and died on Ventoux, one kilometre east of the summit. Cycling began a fund for a monument a week after Simpson's death, raising about £1,500. The memorial was unveiled in 1968. It has become a site of pilgrimage for cyclists, who frequently leave cycling-related objects, such as water bottles and caps, in tribute. In nearby Bédoin, a plaque was installed in the town square by journalists following the 1967 Tour. The Harworth and Bircotes Sports and Social Club has a small museum dedicated to Simpson, opened by Belgian cyclist Lucien Van Impe in August 2001. In 1997, to commemorate the 30th anniversary of his death, a small plaque was added to the Mont Ventoux memorial, with the words "There is no mountain too high. Your daughters Jane and Joanne, July 13, 1997", and a replica of the memorial was erected outside the museum. In his adopted hometown of Ghent, there is a bust of Simpson at the entrance to the Kuipke velodrome. Every year since his death, the Tom Simpson Memorial Race has taken place in Harworth.
Commentator and Simpson's close friend David Saunders stated in his 1971 book, Cycling in the Sixties, that although he did not condone Simpson's use of drugs, he thought it was not the reason for his death. He said: "I am quite convinced that Simpson killed himself because he just did not know when to stop. All his racing life he had punished his frail body, pushing it to the limits of endurance with his tremendous will-power and single-mindedness and, on Mont Ventoux, he pushed it too far, perhaps the drug easing the pain of it all." Saunders went on to say that Simpson was not alone in the taking of drugs in professional cycling and that the authorities ignored their use. His opinion was that Simpson did not take drugs to gain an unfair advantage, but because "he was not going to be beaten by a pill".
In late April Simpson rode in his first Vuelta a España, using the eighteen-stage race to prepare for the Tour. During stage two a breakaway group gained over thirteen minutes, dashing his hopes for a high placing. Simpson nearly quit the race before the fifth stage, from Salamanca to Madrid, but rode it because it was easier to get home by air from Madrid. He won the stage, attacking from a breakaway, and finished second in stage seven. On the eleventh stage, concluding in Andorra, Simpson rode away from the peloton on his own. With 30 km (18.6 mi) remaining, he began to lose control of his bike and was halted by Peugeot manager Gaston Plaud until he had recovered, by which time the race had passed. In an interview with L'Équipe's Philippe Brunel in February 2000, Tour de France physician Pierre Dumas revealed that Simpson told him that he was taken to hospital during the Vuelta. Simpson won stage sixteen, which ended in San Sebastián, and finished the Vuelta thirty-third overall.
Ray Pascoe, a fan, made the 1995 film Something To Aim At, a project he began in the years following Simpson's death; the film includes interviews with those closest to Simpson. The 2005 documentary Wheels Within Wheels follows actor Simon Dutton as he searches for people and places in Simpson's life. Dutton's four-year project chronicles the midlife crisis that sparked his quest to rediscover Simpson. British rider David Millar won stage twelve of the 2012 Tour de France on the 45th anniversary of Simpson's death; previously banned from cycling for using performance-enhancing drugs, he paid tribute to Simpson and reinforced the importance of learning from his – and Simpson's – mistakes. Millar wrote the introduction for a reissue of Simpson's autobiography, Cycling Is My Life, published in 2009. In 2010, Simpson was inducted into the British Cycling Hall of Fame. He inspired Simpson Magazine, which began in March 2013. According to the magazine's creators, “It was Simpson's spirit and style, his legendary tenacity and his ability to suffer that endeared him to cycling fans everywhere as much as the trophies he won”.
Currently, Tom Simpson is 84 years, 11 months and 29 days old. Tom Simpson will celebrate 85th birthday on a Wednesday 30th of November 2022.
Find out about Tom Simpson birthday activities in timeline view here.