Words: Timothy John, Rouleur Pictures:
"Do you fancy the Condor Cycles feature?" the Ed asked.
My first article for Rouleur magazine. An auspicious start. Who wouldn't seize the opportunity to interview one of the best-known figures in British cycle sport? It's impossible to have followed the domestic racing scene and not to have been aware of the contribution of Condor Cycles' founder, Monty Young, and of his son, Grant, now the firm's managing director. But where to start with such a rich history? And at such an advanced age (now 84), how willing a subject would Monty be?
I needn't have worried, on either count. Grant had unearthed artefacts by the crate-load from Condor's warehouse and from Monty's personal collection. And the man himself was in sparkling form. Monty's entrance to the 'new' shop at 51 Grays Inn Road, as I waited with photographer, Cathal MacIlwaine, might have been scripted. Immaculately dressed and with white hair brushed to a quiff, he shook my hand firmly and put an early, friendly halt to my too-courteous 'Mr Youngs' ("Call me Monty"), surveying the shop with gleaming eyes and an expression of quiet satisfaction.
Moments later - and what follows is entirely accurate - a man walked past the shop, glanced through the window and performed a double-take worthy of a comic strip. Striding through the door and extending his hand, he greeted Monty with, "You probably don't remember me but..."
"Yes, I do," said Monty, and, to the man's astonishment, named him with the assurance of one he had served yesterday. "You're looking well," observed the customer, himself a man no longer in the first flush of youth. "You don't look too bad yourself!' Monty replied, quick as a flash, prompting laughter from both sides. Talk of 'years falling away' at reunions is almost clichéd, but when the parties are reacquainted by chance, the effect is magical. This was clearly going to be an article that would write itself.
Downstairs, in Grant's office, the table had disappeared beneath a collection of memorabilia to equal almost any in cycling. Condor's support for the great champions, from Tom Simpson to Sir Bradley Wiggins, not to mention its supply of machines to some of the biggest stars this country has produced - Eric Clapton and Mick Jagger among them - lay in box upon box of artefacts and notebooks, signed jerseys and photographs; in decorative plates (from the Campagnolo family, no less) and in silver tankards and crystal goblets, presented as tokens of appreciation. Should Condor decide to open a museum, the greatest challenge will lie in finding a premises large enough to house the exhibits.
I'll say no more at this stage, for fear of spoiling the feature. If you've gained pleasure from the domestic racing scene at any point in, say, the last 60 years, it's likely you owe a debt of gratitude to Monty Young. And If you own one of the 'Grays Inn Lightweights' (as I do), you'll already feel a connection to the business, steered so deftly by Grant, almost since boyhood, and might wish to know more. Should you be lucky enough to pass 51 Grays Inn Road on one of Monty's occasional visits, and spot an elderly man, immaculately attired, as you glance through the window, then head in and shake him by the hand. Failing that, seek out issue 51 of Rouleur. If you have half the pleasure from reading the article that I gained in writing it, neither of us will have wasted our time.