William Fotheringham, one of the UK’s most respected cycling writers, has revealed that the subject of his next book will be the woman many consider the greatest cyclist the country has ever produced – Beryl Burton.
The author, whose books include Fallen Angel: The Passion of Fausto Coppi and Put Me Back on My Bike: In Search of Tom Simpson, plans to self-publish The Times and Life of Beryl Burton in September next year.
£1 per copy sold will go to the Dave Rayner Fund, which over the past quarter century has supported young British riders, many of whom have gone on to become stars of the sport.
Born in 1937 in Leeds, Burton is rightly considered a legend of cycling in Britain, and has been the subject of a play by actress and writer Maxine Peake.
A winner of seven world titles and more than 90 national championships, her 12-hour record set in 1967 was the furthest distance recorded at the time by any British cyclist – male or female.
It would take two years for a man to surpass her distance of 277.25 miles, but her women’s record survived for half a century until Alice Lethbridge – who blogged about beating Burton’s distance here on road.cc – surpassed it last year.
Writing on his blog, Fotheringham said of the forthcoming book: “Work is well under way, and it’s nice to have the bit firmly between the teeth.”
He continued: “There are so many good reasons to write a Beryl Burton book, and so many good reasons to write it now,” and wrote of his regret at never having the opportunity to interview her prior to her death in 1996 at the age of just 58 years, because his focus was on the European pro racing scene.
“Like everyone else, I just assumed that Beryl Burton would be there for a lot longer than it sadly turned out,” he said.
“She was a fixture in the British cycling world, one of those unique figures who was simultaneously a god-like person who was way above the average in what she had achieved, yet who was accessible because she did the same races that so many did. All British cyclists of a certain age have either been caught by Beryl in a time trial, or have a friend who has.
He added: “Having written about Eddy Merckx, Tom Simpson, and Fausto Coppi, as I moved on to Bernard Hinault, it became clear that I would end up writing a series of biographies of the greatest cyclists the sport has known: Beryl Burton was obviously going to be on the short list of potential candidates, given her longevity and her prolific medal winning record.”
As for his decision to self-publish the work, he said: “My last book, Sunday in Hell, made me realise that there is not just one template for writing, publishing and marketing a book. You don’t have to stick with the conventional model.
“Sunday was a radically different but hugely rewarding thing to do and given the demand for screenings of the film, it seems to have struck a chord with fans who have seen the film and/or love the race,” he added.
“Beryl Burton, the Times and Life, is an intriguing and slightly daunting experiment for me but it should be a lot of fun seeing what comes out at the end.”
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.