Britain's first Olympic cycling champion honoured

Ride from Coventry to Much Wenlock commemorates pioneering road cyclist Tom Sabin

by Simon_MacMichael   June 6, 2010  

Tom Sabin (picture credit Coventry Transport Museum).jpg

Cyclists in Coventry have this weekend been commemorating Britain’s first Olympic cycling champion with a 92-mile ride from the West Midlands city to Much Wenlock, Shropshire, said to be the birthplace of the modern Olympic movement.

Organised by the Coventry Transport Museum whose exhibits include an extensive collection of bicycles, and led by local cyclist Mick Ives, former Great Britain team manager and multiple World Masters champion, the ride commemorated the exploits during the 1870s of Tom Sabin from Allesley, then a rural village outside Coventry.

Sabin, a farmer by trade, was a pioneering road cyclist who bought his first bicycle in 1873 to help him get from Allesley to Coventry and back, and soon joined the Coventry Bicycle Club, where his endurance helped him achieve notable success in the emerging sport of road cycling, particularly strong around Coventry given its connections with the cycle industry.

In 1877, riding a penny farthing, he won the three-mile race at the Wenlock Olympics, successfully defending his title and adding victory in the one-mile race the following year. The event had been founded in 1850 by William Penny Brookes and would inspire one visitor, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, to organise the first modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896. The Shropshire town’s connections with the Olympics were marked last month with the London 2012 mascot being named Wenlock.

According to contemporary reports of Sabin’s exploits in the Bicycling Times, “on his farm he takes a lot of walking and riding exercise so he does not require much work to get into condition.” The periodical added that he was “just 25 years old and when stripped for riding, weighs 10st 8lb. He stands 5ft 11in in his socks so is a fair specimen of what an athlete should be.”

This weekend, cyclists marked his achievement by taking part in the Tom Sabin Memorial Challenge Ride, which forms part of the Coventry Cycling Festival. The event, on June 5, will see Coventry’s cycling champion Mick Ives, winner of the British Masters Time Trial Championships, cycle to the town of Much Wenlock, the site of Tom’s original successes.

Clive Skelhon, head of Marketing & PR at Coventry Transport Museum, said: "The current success of the British cycling team at both the Olympics and the World Championships is not unique. As far back as 1876 we were winning Olympic cycling medals, and what's more the rider was a local lad from Coventry. Tom had a glittering career during the mid 1870s winning races all over Britain.”