Bordeaux – Paris, When Distance Was King

I've always been intrigued by these old classic bike races that spanned hundreds of kilometers and the riders motorpaced behind Dernys. Nowadays you see these post-Tour Derny events such as the Antwerp Derny Criterium, but these are just showcase events which are nothing like they were back in the day.

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I’ve always been intrigued by these old classic bike races that spanned hundreds of kilometers and the riders motorpaced behind Dernys. Nowadays you see these post-Tour Derny events such as the Antwerp Derny Criterium, but these are just showcase events which are nothing like they were back in the day.

The Bordeaux–Paris was an invitational race and the longest on the professional calendar. It started in Bordeaux at 2am and finished in Paris 12-14 hours later covering over 570km. Unfortunately the race began to lose prestige in the 1980s. It required very specific training and clashed with other races on the calendar such as the Giro and the Vuelta (which used to be held in the spring). The last motorpaced version of Bordeaux-Paris was held in 1985 and three non-motorpaced editions were raced but 1988 ended up being the last.

The “Dernys” that were used had 98cc Zurcher two-stroke engines, pedalled on a 68 or 70x11t fixed gear and had a petrol tank across the handlebars. The reason they’re called a Derny is because they were built by Roger Derny et Fils of France specifically for motorpacing.

For a long time I had been looking for someone to interview about Derny racing on the road and in particular, Bordeaux-Paris. I wanted some insight to how it all worked, the strategy, the training, the intricacies of the race. In all my searching I couldn’t find anyone who could tell me more.

Then I bumped into a gentleman in Bright named Wayne Hildred. Amongst many other cycling achievements such as breaking the fastest time in the Melbourne-Warrnambool and being two time Australian Professional Road Championship, he also raced Bordeaux-Paris in 1982. Gold!

I could try to retell Wayne’s story of B-P, but he tells it so well I’ve simply recounted it in his own words.

“I was in Belgium at the time and we just formed an Australian team. Many people don’t realize this but there was a registered Australian professional team in Europe in 1982 called MavicClemennso. There was a journalist named Noel Truers (sp?) who lived in Zolder who took an interest in a few of us Aussies and formed the team. Eric Bishop, Terry Hammond, Shane Sutton, etc. We weren’t a major team and we didn’t have much money. We weren’t able to get a ride in Paris-Roubaix but we did race all the other major classics (L-B-L, Flanders, Amstel Gold, etc).

Noel Truers asked me if I was interested in doing Bordeaux-Paris and there was this guy named Staf Boone [CT: a dodgy Belgian wheeler and dealer for many aspiring Aussie cyclists]. He wanted to be the Derny driver. Staf must have wanted a little bit of glory for himself through this. He was the “King” of bike riders in Belgium. He loved it and wanted to be part of it. He had a big influence in getting Aussie riders into teams and helped guys out. Kind of an ‘agent’ if you will, but he mostly attracted the struggling riders.

Only 20 riders were invited to Bordeaux-Paris. An English rider named Paul Sherwin, an Australian rider which was me, and other riders which included Sean Kelly and others from around the world. Herman van Springel won the race five times he had just retired that year and was the television commentator.

I trained up for it. Staf Boone would motorpace me to races, I’d race, then he’d pace me home. So I’d do 200km’s motorpacing, 160-220km race, and go home again. I was doing massive kilometers. I’d race five or six days a week and motorpace a couple times to the races. I’d go out for 300km rides regularly…massive days.

Time came for the race and I hadn’t met the other Derny driver yet. You had to have two Derny drivers for Bordeaux-Paris. When one ran out of petrol, the other driver would swap in.

We arrived in Bordeaux at 2 in the morning and started at 3am. There were 20 riders at the startline and we all take off together without the Dernys. We rode in a pack for the first 180kms until about 7am. Then we had a 30min break where we got changed, ate a little bit of food and stocked up, then rode off down the road for 20km and picked up the Dernys. Then the race was on.

The Derny driver has to be in tune with the rider otherwise he’s gonna blow the rider up or not go fast enough to keep up. For the first 20km we settled in and rode the pace of everyone else. They were all experts but I had never done this before. Then, I don’t know what was going on with Staf, but he decided he wanted to race. I had no say in what was happening! And that’s how the race was for the rest of the day…

Staf had prepared all the food and for some reason he brought all this stuff that was milk based. Milkshakes and stuff like that. All protein. Staf took off at a ridiculous pace. Here I was the novice and he set a pace as if I were the champion. He took me to the front and stirred everyone up, full gas. He had me strung out right from the gun. Staf wanted to win this and he had me strung right out! My heartrate was right on the knocker and then it was on – everyone was racing now. I’m screaming out at Staf “Ease up! Easy easy! Slow down Staf” and he wouldn’t listen. In the end I was beginning to get angry and I was screaming at him so hard that it was going right through my legs. After a while I just blew up – it just killed my legs and it was only 8am in the morning! The rest of the riders disappeared into the distance. Everytime I got back on Staf he would ramp up the pace again and I began to feel sick. My stomach was in knotts and I began to throw up. I was a mess! Then the television car comes by and I can understand a bit of Flemish and Van Springel (the commentator) was saying, “It’s not possible for this man to finish the race, he’s too far off the pace, he’s not well….”. Then the commissaire then comes along and tries to pull me out of the race, but I refused.

Staf had to get fuel and the other Derny driver took over. I can’t even remember his name. He was a tall, slim Dutchman. He talked to me and calmed me down. I said, “Look, I’m blown to bits, this is not good!”. By this time I’m 20 minutes down on the rest of the bunch but he talked me through it and backed me right off. He made me eat and coached me for about half an hour. Little by little he steadily brought up the pace and 2hrs later we had connected back onto the bunch.

After 10 minutes of being back on my Derny driver had to go and get fuel. Staf came back and straight away he couldn’t control himself. He was so excited that we were back on and he began ramping up the pace again. I was yelling at him “Staf, Easy Easy!”. He must have been on drugs or something, I don’t know what it was. They had to pedal these Dernys and he was this big fat guy, really unfit. Normally the drivers would be pedaling these Dernys at about 30rpm but Staf was going at 120rpm. After a while I would just sit up and refuse to keep the pace and eventually I gained some control over him. The picture you see (headline image) was at the point where I told him I would ride on my own and he ended up following me!

Then he settled down and we rode along. They said I wouldn’t finish the race. Right from the start there were people in their pyjamas along the side of the street watching us come past. The last 100kms everyone was yelling “Allez Ausralia, Allez Australia!”. I had this entourage of people yelling for me to finish. It motivated me and I started to go better and better.

I came in an hour behind the winner (Marcel Tinazzi). He finished in 12hrs and I finished in 13. I came in at about 5pm, about 20minutes back from Paul Sherwin. The people had lined the streets and waited for me to come past. When I got to Bordeaux the race was well over, but when I made it to the finish the people picked me up over their heads and crowd surfed me past the line!

I went and had a shower. It’s all a bit of a blur as I was one big blob at that point. I left with Staf in his big old Mercedes Benz and all I can remember is looking out the window with my glazed eyes and seeing the Eiffel Tower and though “oh…yeah”, and fell asleep.

8am the next morning Staf tapped me on the shoulder and said, “We’re home”. We got out of the car and Shane Sutton and the rest of my teammates came down and said “We didn’t need to open the door, we could just drag you through the letterbox!”. I had lost that much weight during the race…I had started at 73kg and I was now 67kg.

I did absolutely nothing for two weeks after Bordeaux-Paris. We then had the American Road Championships in Baltimore and Shane Sutton, Danny Clarke, this other guy and myself went over from Belgium. I was absolutely flying. Never touched the pedals all day. I was working for Shane and Danny and I was doing all the donkey work. We won all the sprint primes, Shane won the race, Danny came in second, the other guy was seventh and I was tenth. It was amazing how much fitness and strength I had after Paris-Bordeaux!”

Where is Wayne Hildred Now?

After the 1982 season Wayne came back to Australia and had a successful season winning the Australian Professional Championships. He went back to Europe with a contract but it fell through as soon as he got there. Life got a little bit difficult with his former wife and child being back in Australia and he made the decision move back home.

Wayne settled into family life and worked in Woodonga at the Mars Confectionery plant. Wanye and his lovely wife Susan took a vacation in Bright, VIC, fell in love with it and moved there. After 19 years off the bike and sick of being overweight Wayne decided to train up for the NZ Master’s Games (Wayne is originally a Kiwi) which he won. He went back to Europe, did some touring, and fell back in love with the sport.

Wayne and Susan now own the Bright Cycle Inn and Cafe Velo. They also run training camps out of Bright. If you’re in the area this summer consider staying at Wayne and Susan’s Cycle Inn or at least join them for a coffee and a yarn. Bordeaux-Paris is only the tip of the iceberg for Wayne’s stories.


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