Tour stage win best race of life for cyclist

Terry Higgins reflects on his 1954 Tour of the North race win. Picture: NEIL RICHARDSON.

Terry Higgins reflects on his 1954 Tour of the North race win. Picture: NEIL RICHARDSON.

IT’S 1954 and crowds have lined the streets between Youngtown and Bathurst Street in Launceston.

 There’s rain, wind and two cyclists who have managed to put more than 20 minutes between themselves and the rest of the pack after breaking away 35 miles (56kilometres) from the finish.

One of these cyclists is 18-year-old Launcestonian Terry Higgins and he is just about to win the third and final stage of the 400-mile Examiner Tour of the North.

Sixty years later,  Higgins revealed that his half-a-wheel-length victory over Victorian Colin McKay, who won the Tour overall, would never have happened if not for a sporting contribution from then-Examiner employee Jack Donnelly.

‘‘I wasn’t going to ride in it, because I never had gears and I only ever rode a fixed wheel in all the races, and Jack Donnelly paid my entry fee,’’ Higgins said.

The veteran cyclist said it was Donnelly’s gesture that allowed him to experience one of the greatest moments of his cycling career.

‘‘There was a sprint at Perth and I rode up alongside [McKay] and thought ‘when we come to Gibbet Hill, I’ll sprint past him’, but then I thought ‘I can’t make up seven minutes from Gibbet Hill to Launceston’, so I just sat behind him and paced with him all the way into Launceston.’’

The first stage of the Tour was a 142-mile loop starting and ending in Launceston, passing through Frankford, Latrobe and Deloraine, while the second took riders past Lilydale and Scottsdale to St Marys.

The last day began where the second left off and included a time trial from Ross to Campbell Town, before concluding at Brickfields.

‘‘Nearly all the roads we went on were gravel,’’  Higgins said.

‘‘When you left Scottsdale it was all gravel roads into St Marys.’’

Higgins finished second in the Tour, beating off more fancied rivals including Victorian Les Grenda, who won four sprints and had led the Tour until Campbell Town.

McKay’s aggregate time for the 400-mile race was 21 hours, 34minutes and 59 seconds, with Higgins less than eight minutes behind.

Making Higgins’s feat all the more impressive was the fact  he had to battle diabetes throughout his career.

‘‘I’ve had diabetes for 70 years,’’ he said.

‘‘Because my mother was a theatre nursing sister, she managed it all.’’

Higgins was rated a good chance of winning the 1956 Tour of the North, after missing the previous year with a work-related injury, but was hampered by the disease.

‘‘I had off days when I used to blow up,’’ he said.

‘‘I rode in ’56 but I had diabetes bad that year.

‘‘I finished but I didn’t bust myself.’’

Higgins credited former Tasmanian media personalities Donnelly, Sir Gordon Rolph and Bill Walkley with raising the popularity of cycling in the state to the level it is today.

‘‘They were the blokes that really put cycling back on the road in Tasmania; it was going nowhere before then,’’ he said.

‘‘[The Tour] really was the start of a revival for cycling in Tasmania.’’

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