In early June of 1976, as Britain began to bake at the start of a summer that would lead to drought and water rationing, the Milk Race rolled into Bradford for a short stage that would start and finish in the West Yorkshire city.
Among the many fans who streamed up to the start at Odsal Top were John and Barbara Rayner with their nine-year-old son David. The long-time manager of the Ellis-Briggs bike shop in nearby Shipley, John had numerous friends riding in and working on the race, including local bike stars Dudley Hayton and Keith Lambert.
‘All of the race vehicles were gathered up there,’ Barbara Rayner recalls. ‘We were at the Great Britain van that Dudley was in when Dave pulled on my skirt to get my attention. He said, “Mum, I’ll be in one of them one of these days.” I said to him, “Will you, love?” like you do, just humouring him.’
Laughing as he remembers that moment from that golden summer four decades ago, John adds: ‘You laugh it off when kids say they want to be a train driver or whatever. But the simple fact is that he got there. He made a career out of cycling and that meant he was doing what he loved.’
With his shock of blond hair, stork-like legs and hugely infectious personality, Dave Rayner was hard to miss even before he became one of Britain’s leading professional riders in the late 1980s and early 90s. National junior champion in 1984, he spent that season and the two that followed living and racing in Italy, sharing leadership of a team with future world champion Mario Cipollini.
‘Whenever the road is flat, “whoosh” Mario wins. Whenever the road has hill, “whoosh” David wins,” Cipollini’s father, Vivaldo, once told John and Barbara.
Midway through 1987, Dave signed his first pro contract with the Interent-Yugo team. Three successful seasons with Raleigh-Banana and Banana-Falcon followed. They led to Dave taking the step up into cycling’s big league with Buckler, the powerful Dutch squad backed by Heineken’s low-alcohol beer brand and led by fearsome team manager Jan Raas.
After two years in which he rode most of the major races on the international calendar, but unfortunately missed out on a Tour de France start due to injury, Dave moved on to race in the United States in 1993, before returning to the British scene in 1994.
In November of that year, during a night out in Bradford with friends and his wife Serena, whom he had married just five weeks earlier, Dave was the victim of an assault that led to his death four days later.
Almost immediately, Dave’s grief-stricken friends were working on plans to set up a fund in his memory. Its goal would be to support young British riders wanting to get experience of racing abroad, in just the same way that Dave had done in Italy in the mid-1980s.
In 1996, the Dave Rayner Fund backed four riders to compete on the Continent, among them David Millar and Charly Wegelius, who would both go on to have long careers in the pro ranks.
Since that initial success, and much to the surprise of Dave’s family and friends, the fund has gone to support more than 250 riders. Some have gone on to become Olympic champions, others have won some of the biggest races in road cycling, and the majority are still connected to cycling in one way or another.
Through its annual dinner, the Étape du Dales cyclosportive and other activities, the fund has raised more than £1,000,000.
This updated extract is from Peter Cossin’s biography of Dave Rayner – Everybody’s Friend – and has been reproduced with kind permission of the author.