The 1904 Track Cycling World Championships at Crystal Palace were only the twelfth ever to be held, the fifth run by the UCI and the first to be hosted in England.
They are remembered on these shores for a brave ride by Leon Meredith who won the 100km Amateur Championship with a world record time despite falling when travelling at 40mph and injuring himself with just 7km to go.
The race meet is worthy of these pages thanks to a few Balham CC connections. Balham rider J McKinlay was on the undercard in an Amateur Handicap and former Balham CC member AE Wills not only rode in the same race, but also the 2km World Amateur Championship. The track was also home to the club championships during this period. In fact the 1904 club championships had been held just three months before the World’s.
McKinlay and Wills were down for the Open Half-Mile Amateur Handicap. McKinlay had recently won the Balham CC One-Mile Handicap Championship and good things were expected of Wills who was now riding for Putney AC. Of the 45 riders entered only 17 made it to the start line. McKinlay and Wills however both turned up, started, won their heats and lined up for the final which by all accounts was one of the more exciting races of the day. In The Sportsman, September 12, 1904 we’re told: “The final produced a very interesting race but, unfortunately, the plucky little rider AE Wills was handicapped out of it.”
A photo of the race in the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, September 17, 1904, highlights a close finish with Wills lagging well behind in fifth and McKinlay out of shot all together in sixth.
In a tough Amateur 2km Championship Wills was drawn to race against Jules Paton from Belgium and HE Winks from England in the first round heats.
The London Daily News September 6, 1904, describes the drama: “With a cagey crawling start not until entering the straight, when Paton led, did the pace increase. At the finish a clever dash by Wills enabled him to win on the post, with Winks a length away.”
The second semi-final of three saw Wills pitted against American and eventual world champion Marcus Hurley and the Englishman Ernest Payne. According to reports Hurley showed a remarkable turn of speed in the straight and won by three-quarters of a length.
Crystal Palace was Balham CC’s regular venue for the club championship in the 1900s and used for some regular club racing. For the World championships much preparation had gone into the track and grounds.
The Sportsman, 3 September 1904 declared, “For the convenience of spectators, the stand accommodation around the track has doubled; in fact the seating arrangements have been carried out to provide for the biggest crowd that has ever attended a cycling meeting. Also the stands – as for a [FA Cup] final tie – have been constructed so as not to interfere with the view of those lining the banks. It is estimated that 50,000 will have an uninterrupted view of the racing without any charge.”
The attendance though was disappointing. Reports vary on the numbers but the three days didn’t amount to 50,000 in total with the biggest crowd of the three days on the Saturday in the region of 10,000 – 13,000. Some big local club meetings in the 1900s could attract more than that.
As an aside WJ Pett of the Southern Cycling Club finished second in the 100km Amateur championship behind Leon Meredith. On November 31, just 8 weeks later he would break the Southern Roads Record Association Tandem Unpaced Record with Balham CC’s AW Hunt.
Selected Race Reports