Vin Denson

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Vincent Denson
File:Bundesarchiv Bild 183-72777-0001, Friedensfahrt, Mannschaft aus England Vic Denson.jpg
Denson in 1960
Personal information
Nickname Vin, Vic
Born (1935-11-24)24 November 1935
Chester, England
Team information
Discipline Road
Role Rider
Amateur team(s)
1952 Chester Road Club
1960 Clifton Cycling Club
Professional team(s)
1961 Temple Cycles
1961 British Team in the Tour de France
1962 UVC Aube club, sponsored by Frimatic
1963 Pelforth-Sauvage Lejeune
1964 Solo team
1965 Ford-France
1966 ? Bic
1967 British Team in the Tour de France
1968 Kelvinator
1969 ? Bantel
Major wins
1962 – GP Frimatic
1962 – eight-day Vuelta Bidasoa, in Spain
1962 – 1 stage of the Circuit d'Aquitaine
1962 – sixth in the Grand Prix des Nations
1965 – Tour of Luxembourg
1966 – Stage 7 of the Giro d'Italia

Vincent Denson (born 24 November 1935)[1] is a former professional racing cyclist who rode the Tour de France, won a stage of the Giro d'Italia and won the Tour of Luxembourg in the 1960s.[1] He was a team-mate of Rik van Looy and of Jacques Anquetil and, in the Tour de France, of Tom Simpson. He was the first British rider to win a stage of the Giro, before finishing 40th overall.[1]


Denson was born in Chester, England. He had his first bike at 12, a black Hercules Falcon borrowed from his brother and with wooden blocks fitted to the pedals to make it smaller.[2] He began riding to Helsby Hill, Rhyl and Prestatyn and went youth-hostelling. At 17 he joined Chester Road Club, initially for touring but then to race. He was inspired by his French teacher at school, who had lived in France, whose hero was Jean Robic and who gave his class Miroir du Cyclisme to study.[3] Denson's first race was an evening 25-mile time-trial, which he finished in 1h 4m 30s. He said:

Denson finished four times in the top 12 of the British Best All-rounder competition, which aggregates rides over 50 and 100 miles and 12 hours.[6] He came seventh in the Milk Race in 1959 and fifth in 1960. He finished the Peace Race of 1960 and 1961 in 17th and 27th. The Peace Race, which linked Berlin, Warsaw and Prague was run over roads often still wrecked from the Second World War. It was always keenly contested by riders from the communist bloc. Denson said:

Semi-professional career

Denson failed to make the British team for the Olympic Games[8] and took out a licence as an independent, or semi-professional, for Temple Cycles in 1961. He and three other riders, Ken Laidlaw, Stan Brittain and Sean Ryan, moved to Donzenac, near Brive.

Denson rode for Britain in the 1961 Tour de France, which was for national teams. Only three of the team – Laidlaw, Brian Robinson and Seamus Elliott got to the finish. Denson dropped out on the col de la République, also known as the col du Grand Bois, outside St-Étienne.

Denson returned to York, where he and his wife, Vi, were buying a house. In March 1962 they decided to return to France, travelling to Paris and then to Troyes, where Denson joined the UVC Aube club, sponsored by Frimatic. He was paid £24 a month.[8]

He won the GP Frimatic by four minutes and then the eight-day Vuelta Bidasoa, in Spain. He won a stage of a professional race, the Circuit d'Aquitaine in France and came sixth in the Grand Prix des Nations despite being led off course and twice losing his chain.[6]

Of his Circuit of Aquitaine ride, he said:

Professional career

Denson's club recommended him to Maurice de Muer, manager of the Pelforth-Sauvage Lejeune professional team. De Muer promised him a contract if he won a stage of the Circuit d'Aquitaine and rode well in the Grand Prix des Nations.[2] Denson signed with Pelforth in October 1963, when he was 27, riding in the yellow, white and blue of the French brewery and its cosponsor, a bicycle factory. He was the second Englishman in the team, with Alan Ramsbottom.

It can be really disastrous for a pro in a big team to miss the Tour, for it means no after-Tour criteriums, where a lot of money is made. Instead, he is a forgotten man, his only hope the end-of-season classics and semi-classics, like the Nations, Paris–Tours, Giro di Lombardia, the Grand Prix de Fourmies and others, but what a fight it is to do a ride in these hotly-disputed rat-races!


He came 10th in Milan–San Remo and in Paris–Nice but didn't make Pelforth's Tour team. Denson was already unhappy with Pelforth, where the policy was to pay riders' salaries at the end and not during the season.[10] He was already reduced to eating carrots found in fields while training.[10] Not riding the Tour was a further financial blow.

He left Troyes in 1964, hoping for a place with Tom Simpson in the Peugeot team. When the place didn't become free, he moved to Ghent, in Belgium. There, if he couldn't ride for Simpson he could at least train with him. In races, however, they would be rivals; Denson was to ride for Rik van Looy in the Solo team,[7] sponsored by a margarine company. He was the only foreigner in the team and never did master the Dutch that the rest of team spoke.[11]

The team won six stages of that year's Tour de France.

That autumn, at the world championship at Sallanches, France, Jacques Anquetil and his directeur-sportif, Raphaël Géminiani, said they had been watching Denson and wanted him for a team they were creating, sponsored by Ford-France. Denson stayed with Anquetil when the sponsor changed to Bic, opened a bar in Ghent, and had what he called the happiest years of his racing life.

Simpson's death

Denson rode for Britain in the 1967 Tour de France. During it, his friend Tom Simpson died close to the summit of Mont Ventoux. He said of the hours at the hotel waiting for news of his leader:

Next day the French rider, Jean Stablinski, said the remaining riders wanted Denson, as Simpson's closest friend, to ride ahead of the race and win for Simpson.[12] The victory went instead to Barry Hoban, who said he found himself at the front but remembers nothing else.[12][13] Denson is still upset.[13]

Denson lost heart, began missing contracts.[14] He recovered by the end of the year and talked to the Italian team, Molteni, about joining. Instead he signed for Kelvinator to ride the Giro d'Italia. A year later (1968) he returned to Britain and rode for the domestic professional team, Bantel.

Giro d'Italia

Denson said of a day spent chasing Gianni Motta through Naples:
"They were chucking rubbish at us from balconies: tomatoes, spaghetti, old newspapers, anything. I was covered with the contents of the dustbins when I walked into the hotel at Naples. The bastards!"


Denson won a stage of the Giro d'Italia, stage 9 in 1966[6] before finishing 40th overall.[1] He said:

Denson said Italian fans often made a pretence of helping push foreign riders up hills while pulling at their brakes to slow them down.

He said his time-trialling experience helped him chase riders like Motta.

Private life and retirement

In 1969 Denson opened a wood-treatment business near Harlow, Essex, before dropping out of professional racing. He now races as an amateur.

Denson was known in continental Europe as Vic, a name he acquired because Vin – short for Vincent – is French for "wine".


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Memoire du Cyclisme, Palmares for Vic Denson
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Cycling, UK, 1 March 1969, p18
  3. Cycling, UK, 8 March 1969, p14
  4. Overnight accommodation, usually in private houses.
  5. Time trial courses in Britain have code numbers, originally to disguise them from the police, later simply as a shorthand description for a route.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 6.7 Cycling Weekly, UK, 22 December 2001
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Cycling, UK, 22 March 1969, p16
  8. 8.0 8.1 Cycling, UK, 15 March 1969, p17
  9. Tore the teeth of the small drive wheel on the back hub.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 Cycling, UK, 5 April 1969, p20
  11. Cycling, UK, 26 April 1969, p16
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 Death of a British Tommy, presented by Les Woodland, BBC Radio 4, UK, July 1987
  13. 13.0 13.1 The Independent, UK, 12 July 2003
  14. Cycling, UK, 17 May 1969, p21

Further reading

  • Denson, Vin (2008). The Full Cycle. Norwich, UK: Mousehold Press. ISBN 978-1-874739-52-4. Retrieved 2 November 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>