FBD Milk Rás Feature
The following articles are reproduced courtesy of Dermot Dignam. They appear in this years FBD Milk Ras race programme, which will be sold at stage-end finishes throughout the race.
BACK IN THE CHAIN GANG
He managed to combine a career as a top class sprinter with a so-called ‘playboy’ lifestyle. Malcolm Elliott was one of the big names of the European pro scene in the late eighties and early nineties. Now he’s back.
By Shane Stokes
Nothing quite grabs the attention like a good comeback. Having it, letting it go, getting it back again. Six years ago Malcolm Elliott hung up his wheels when the American Comtel went bust; at the time it looked like he’d never compete again, particularly as he repeatedly expressed his delight with his newfound freedom. Yet several weeks ago he stunned the British scene by making a return to competition, placing fourth in the 1.5 Archer Grand Prix and then taking second in the Girvan Three Day at Easter. A hugely talented rider, Elliott confesses that he is training harder now than he did in the last couple of years of his career. His progress will be watched with fascination by all on this race.
Although remembered chiefly as a sprinter, Elliott was a rider with a huge amount of class. Indeed, some feel that with a little more application, his palmarès would have been even better. At the end of 2001 Cycling Weekly ranked him tenth in their assessment of the 50 best British riders of all time, quoting the experienced manager George Shaw, who gave him his first pro contract with Raleigh-Weinmann, as stating that ‘Malcolm was the most talented rider this country ever had… He had a pure, natural talent.’
Given that Britain has produced cyclists of the calibre of Tom Simpson, Chris Boardman, Barry Hoban and Robert Millar, that was fulsome praise indeed.
Elliott made an impression early on, winning the Commonwealth Games road race in 1982 and helping England to a team time trial gold medal. He was equally at home on the track in those early days, being one of the GB team which briefly held the world record in the 4000 metre pursuit at the Moscow Olympics and later going on to win the British individual pro pursuit championships.
In 1984 Elliott lifted the British pro criterium title. Two years later, he placed second in the British Milk Race and won the fiercely-disputed Kelloggs criterium series. 1987 brought opportunity to impress abroad with the fledgling ANC pro team, and he earned vital exposure for them when he placed an excellent third in the Amstel Gold classic. Thanks largely to this result, the team secured a slot in the Tour de France, where Elliott was one of just four on the squad to reach Paris. On the way there, he picked up three top ten stage finishes, including an excellent third in the bunch sprint which decided stage 12 into Bordeaux.
Elliott also won the Milk Race that year and raised his tally to a record 17 stages, but it was the Nissan Classic where he really impressed. The Sheffield man went into the race with little preparation and had low expectations, but stunned the cycling world – and himself – when he out-galloped cycling greats such as Sean Kelly to take the opening stage. Two more stage victories followed that week, ensuring a barrel-load of plaudits and a pro contract with Stephen Roche’s Fagor squad for 1988.
With Roche out due to injury, the team were under considerable pressure to perform. Elliott relieved that stress somewhat when he first took a stage of the Tour of Aragon and then outsprinted Kelly to take a magnificent win on the 17th leg of the Tour of Spain. He went on to record six top ten stage finishes in the Tour de France, including fourth place on the Champs Elysees, the Queen stage for sprinters. He also showed his all-round ability in winning the Kellogg’s Tour of Britain.
Elliott’s strong showing that season earned an approach from Teka for 1989 and 1990, and with more money on offer, he was happy to leave the chaos of Fagor behind. He unleased those fast-twitch fibres again in 1989 when he won two stages plus the points jersey in the Tour of Spain, but his team missed out on a ride in the Tour de France. They were absent again in 1990, and despite a move to Seur, Elliott found himself once more on a team which was not riding the world’s biggest bike race.
The frustration of missing the Tour must have been immense, given his good showing in 1987 and 1988, and his strong collection of victories during those four years after Fagor. Elliott won races such as the Trofeo Masferrer plus stages in the tours of Catalonia, Burgos, Galicia, the Basque Country and the Semana Catalana but despite all this, racing in Spain was not really to his liking. Spending a lot of time commuting from Sheffield, he lost interest in the European racing scene and might have retired had he not switched to competing on the US Pro circuit.
The change of scene was a good one. Rejuvenated by his 1993 move, he spent four years in the colours of the Chevrolet-LA Sheriff team and carved out a rewarding existence. Elliott became one of the stars of the US scene, enjoying the lifestyle and earning a decent amount of money along the way. In that time he took three stages of the Tour Du Pont, two wins in the First Union Grand Prix and a healthy amount of other wins, and when his team eventually folded at the end of 1996, he resolved to ride for two more years on the US circuit. He signed with the Comtel team, but received a fax on the day of his 36th birthday telling him that the team had gone bust. And so his career drew to a premature end.
Elliott achieved fine results as a pro, but Shaw remains convinced he could have done more. ‘I wish he had realised his full potential,’ he told Cycling Weekly in December 2001. ‘Malcolm had fantastic palmarès yet they could have been three times better. But then he’s made a lot of money, so who are we to criticise?’
With Elliott showing no interest in getting back on the bike, Shaw’s next comment now seems like a bit of inspired precognition. ‘He had so much natural ability he didn’t have to train like other bike riders. He’s 40 now but I know that he could get his bike out, train for just two weeks and win a race.’
A year on, something along those lines is happening. Elliott spent a bit more time getting ready and hasn’t yet got to return to the top of the podium, but that first win is surely drawing close. Could it come this week?