By Graham Healy
In recent years, pro cyclists have travelled to Curaçao in the Caribbean to unwind at the end of the season, where they would take part in a race on the island and let their hair down. Andy Schleck and his brother Frank, Alberto Contador, Alejandro Valverde and Tom Boonen were amongst the cyclists who would line up in the Amstel Curaçao Race.
Pro cyclists fifty years also used to do something similar. Back then, many of the World’s best cyclists would travel to New Caledonia in the southwest Pacific ocean to race, fish, drink and generally have a good time.
Amongst those who undertook the long journey in the early ’60s to the French overseas territory were Jacques Anquetil, Ercole Baldini, Tom Simpson, Jo de Roo, Shay Elliott, Jean Stablinski and Henry Anglade.
Tom Simpson wrote about the journey in his biography ‘Cycling is my Life’ published in 1966.
“Along with a number of other riders I was invited to race in New Caledonia, an island very rich in nickel in the Pacific about 1,000 miles from Australia,” Simpson said. “About 46,000 Europeans lived there and a number of big business men among them combined to arrange a number of meetings.”
Simpson seemed to have a particularly good time there and apparently contemplated buying property there after his retirement. “What a fabulous place it is,” he said, “and what a wonderful time we had! The weather was gorgeous and we were all out swimming every day. I went fishing, spear fishing as well as by line, and also hunted giant turtles.”
Elliott and Simpson managed to catch a turtle on one of their trips which weighed 120kgs.
It seemed that riders were also more relaxed than they were during the season. Simpson said of Anquetil. “I found out more about Anquetil during our stay than I would have ever done in France. He became a real person there, alive and friendly, not a bit like the cold calculating rider that everyone knows in his own country. He really was, away from the French public and his own fans, excellent company and an extremely nice man.”
Although the top riders no longer travel there, a stage race still takes place. The Tour Cycliste de Nouvelle-Calédonie takes place each October with a mix of locals, Europeans, Kiwis and Australians taking part.