IN PRAISE OF ALF ENGERS
Court report, Alf Engers v establishment, 1959-present day
Milords, I present to you the case for the prosecution. The aforesaid Engers was a nuisance and his influence remains pernicious. His crimes include the following: bringing into the daylight that sport which we love to keep hidden from the public eye. Riding at high speed down the middle of the road with ever-lengthening tailbacks of cursing motorists behind him. Inspiring generations of promising British junior riders to knacker their knees, by using the biggest chainring known to mankind. Drilling said item of equipment and other associated componentry until they resemble bits of wood that have had a nasty encounter with a plague of worms. Popularising what the road racing establishment dismisses as “dragstrips”, main roads used for time trialling which are not only dangerous but focus the mind unhealthily on pure speed. Making it possible for said road racing establishment to dismiss we time triallists as “bloody testers.” Being a personality in a sport that curdles up in disgust at the very use of the term. Wearing a fur coat to race starts rather than black alpaca.
Milords, may I present the case for the defence. All that is written above is a hackneyed view propagated by the narrow-minded. Engers was a versatile racer capable of beating the legendary Peter Post in a pursuit. It is largely thanks to the charisma of Engers that the RTTC’s national ‘25’ championship enjoys its present status as the Blue Riband of British cycling and that it remains hotly contested to this day. If Engers focussed his attention on time trialling, that was because the hidebound British cycling establishment banned him when he was in his prime and made it clear that he would have no chance of Olympic or world championship. Pause for a moment and consider the use his undoubted speed and power could have been put to had he been part of the team pursuit squad for the 1972 or 1976 Olympics.
Moreover, I would abovementioned Engers is in fact the missing link between the old world of British time trialling and later, more celebrated kings of the quest for speed such as Graeme Obree and Chris Boardman. Engers pushed the boundaries by experimenting with new positions for the brakes and the brake levers, and by seeing just how light and tight his bikes could be. He was indeed a “driller”, but so was Eddy Merckx.
He may have worn a fur coat, but it was certainly not a case of fur coat and no knickers. His only offence was to be a charismatic character in a sport which did not value charisma. Sport should value those who dare to step outside the mainstream.
Among the witnesses who I will cite for the defence I will include one Sean Yates, who may be known to you, and who has confessed to being a tester in his youth due partly to the inspiration of the aforesaid Engers. Yates also sported a lycra skin cap, unfeasibly large chainring and concealed cables and extreme position in the quest for speed. Moreover, Yates is a recidivist, as he reverted to being a tester once he had retired from other competition. In between life as a tester he won stages in the Tour de France and Tour of Spain, wore the yellow jersey of the Tour, placed highly in the Paris-Roubaix Classic and became Britain’s most popular road racer ever. No Engers, no Yates.
Milords, I would submit that Mr Engers be considered a benign influence rather than a nuisance, and that he be officially raised to the status of national cycling treasure. If it is indeed true that he hit 50mph down the A2, isn’t that something we should all aspire to? And why should “tester” be a pejorative term?
This column appeared in Rouleur magazine in 2010. For more information see www.rouleur.cc