Tom Simpson’s daughter Joanne has been joined by family, friends and other cyclists today on a ride up Mont Ventoux on today’s 50th anniversary of his death.
Simpson was less than a kilometre from the summit of the mountain when he collapsed and died during Stage 13 of the race on 13th July 1967. He was 29.
Perhaps the most complete male rider on the road that Great Britain, in 1962 Simpson became the first Briton to wear the yellow jersey at the Tour de France.
Among those at Mont Ventoux today was the first British rider to win the race, Sir Bradley Wiggins, who said on Twitter yesterday that he was having lunch at the foot of the mountain “ahead of a very special day” today.
The steps leading up to the memorial by the roadside that marks the place where he died have been given new protective stone coverings
They were officially reopened at today’s ride, which saw participants ride up to the summit before returning to the site of Simpson’s death.
At the time, Simpson and his family were living in Gent, and last year a video showed the last rider to win on the Ventoux – Lotto-Soudal’s Thomas De Gendt – riding up to the memorial, where the new steps were being installed by Flemish volunteers.
Also featured in the video is Simpson’s daughter Joanne, who was six when he died and who laid the last of the steps leading up to the memorial, which she described as “my own stairway to heaven.”
Born into a mining family in 1937 in Haswell, County Durham, Simpson’s family moved to Harworth, Nottinghamshire when he was 12 and it was there that he developed his passion for cycling.
Already the winner of an Olympic bronze medal at Melbourne in 1956 – a strictly amateur affair back then – he turned pro three years later, and in 1961 won the first of his three Monuments, the Tour of Flanders.
In 1964, he would add Milan-San Remo and, the following year, the Giro di Lombardia. 1965 also saw him win the world road race championship, which led to him becoming the first cyclist to be named BBC Sports Personality of the Year.
Four months before his death, he won the biggest stage race of his career, Paris-Nice – then, as now, an indication of which riders might challenge at the Tour de France – and in April 1967, he took two stages at the Vuelta.
His death on the Tour de France stage from Marseille to Carpentras, where he was leading the British team, was officially attributed to heart failure through heat exhaustion.
But a post mortem revealed that Simpson, who had been drinking brandy during the stage, had taken amphetamines.
The following year would see the introduction of mandatory anti-doping controls at all three Grand Tours, partly in response to Simpson’s death.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.