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Everybody's Friend, by Peter Cossins

A brief biography of the Yorkshire rider Dave Rayner and the fund that bears his name.

Everybody's Friend: The Life and Career of Dave Rayner 1967 - 1994 and His Legacy to Cycling, by Peter Cossins
Everybody's Friend: The Life and Career of Dave Rayner 1967 - 1994 and His Legacy to Cycling, by Peter Cossins

Everybodys Friend, by Peter CossinsTitle: Everybody's Friend - The Life and Career of Dave Rayner 1967 - 1994 and His Legacy to Cycling
Author: Peter Cossins
Publisher: PAVÉ - Pan y Agua Velo Europe
Year: 2015
Pages: 137
Order: Dave Rayner Fund
What it is: A brief biography of Dave Rayner and the Fund that bears his name
Strengths: Large amounts of the story are told by people who knew Rayner and by people who have been involved with the Fund, while the final section of the book allows many who have received grants from the Fund to offer their own testimonials, show just why the Dave Rayner Fund matters
Weaknesses: Maybe a few pictures would have helped (There is actually an eight-page photo section)

It's a common enough story, in its own way. A young kid watches the Tour of Britain with his parents and vows that one day it'll be him out there on a bike riding the race. Within a decade he's living the dream and heading off to Italy for an apprenticeship. He comes back and wins the youth prize in his first Tour of Britain. Turns pro with a local team. Gets a ride in the big league. Gets dropped when the team's budget is cut. Tries the States. Comes home. Gets offered a new contract with a US team that could potentially take him back to racing in the European peloton. And then...and then the kid who told his parents that one day it'd be him out there riding the Tour of Britain and did just that, he dies as a consequence of one of those senseless accidents, a night out gone bad.

It's then that the story stops being all that common. The kids' friends refuse to let his memory die and set up a fund in his name, a fund that'll help give other kids the chance to live the dream, to serve an apprenticeship overseas and see if they've got what it takes to make it in cycling. Charitable foundations, today they're ten a penny in cycling, you're no one if you don't have your own charity. First it was Lance Armstrong and Tyler Hamilton, today it's Bradley Wiggins and Alberto Contador and Chris Froome. They're a thing. Back in 1995, though, when the Dave Rayner Fund was set up, it was a different world. The Fund wasn't even set up as a charitable foundation. It was just a way of raising a little bit of money - through collection buckets at races, an end-of-season dinner, a mass participation ride - and passing that out to a few young riders who needed a little bit of financial support in order to join a club in France or Italy or Belgium and learn the trade the same way Rayner himself had. A cycling scholarship, if you like.

Back when the Dave Rayner Fund was set up, the British Cycling Federation was not the British Cycling people know today, Tony Doyle's failed coup and all that that brought with it was still in the future, as was Lottery funding. If you were a young rider with talent and ambition, you had to find your own way of making it to the top, take the same path that had been trodden by Brian Robinson and Robert Millar, Tom Simpson and Sean Yates. You had to up sticks and go abroad, where it was a game of sink or swim. In 1996, the Dave Rayner Fund gave its first grants to four riders to go and race in France, lifebelts that might help them survive life with clubs like VC St-Quentin, VC St-Lô Pont Hébert, Vendée U. Out of those first four riders funded two decades ago, two made it to the the big league, David Millar and Charley Wegelius. Others have followed. Perhaps the most successful - if success is marked solely by the quality and quantity of the notches on your palmarès - has been Dan Martin, a man with two Monuments to his name.

* * * * *

It was back in 1976, when the Tour of Britain was still sponsored by the Milk Marketing Board - when there was still such a thing as the Milk Marketing Board - that a nine-year-old Dave Rayner told his parents that one day it would be him out there racing. Between then and 1984 when Rayner got the chance to serve an apprenticeship in Italy - the opportunity that today the Dave Rayner Fund seeks to offer to others - there was a lot of hard work. But in the end, getting to Italy, it came down to a stroke of luck. And the bounty of friendship. Bernie Burns, one of the guys Rayner trained with back then, had been offered the chance to go to Italy, to Tuscany, through the BCF, him and Nigel Simpson:

"It was all funded by the Fanini team, which was run by Ivano Fanini, who still backs the Amore e Vita pro team today. We got there and the weather was rubbish. We didn't know any of the roads so the training wasn't ideal, and I could see that this guy Nigel Simpson, who I knew a bit but not very well, wasn't right. Within 48 hours he said to me, 'I'm going home. I don't like it.' He was crying. I think he was just homesick and didn't fancy living in this little hotel above a restaurant for a year. While it was basic, it was a decent set-up. We went down in the morning and made our own breakfast, but at lunchtime and in the evening we walked into the restaurant and just had what we wanted. I was stuck on my own then and the guy from Fanini asked if I knew of another rider to fill Nigel Simpson's place. I told him that my mate Dave would come. I knew he was good enough."

While it was teams sponsored by Ivano Fanini that Rayner and Burns got to ride with, the offer came about because of Ivano Stampeggi. His son, Adolfo, explains:

"My dad always loved Britain. My stepmother, my dad's second wife, was British and so I've always felt a bit British too. Our links to Dave and other British riders all started when I worked at the Savoy Hotel in London in the winter of 1981 with my dad. He did the summer season at the Grand Hotel Royal in Viareggio and the winter season at the Savoy. My dad was a huge cycling fan and in order to avoid feeling homesick he asked where we could see some cycling. Someone sent us to the Eastway circuit in East London. We went to see a race and a guy called Richard Lee won it. We introduced ourselves and eventually asked if he wanted to race in Tuscany. He agreed and came for two months in 1981. He won two races and sparked a lot of interest in the local media and amongst the local riders because he was British."

Lee's success led to an invite being extended to another British rider and things sort of snowballed from there, an Italian enthusiast forging the link that one day brought Rayner to Lucca. The link that saw a rake thin climber from Yorkshire racing alongside a kid who was set to become the greatest sprinter of his generation: Mario Cipollini. One of the funny things about their pairing was that it was the Briton who got to teach the Italian something about what passed for sartorial elegance at the time, as Cipollini recounts:

"He was so pale, so skinny and with that blond hair that we thought he was almost an albino. I can remember that he used to wear a baseball cap with the peak turned backwards, while we still thought wearing a cycling cap was cool."

Rayner and Cipollini made quite the pairing, carving up the races between themselves, the Briton winning when the road went up, the Italian on the flat, as Cipollini recounts:

"The GS Porcari was a little team - our directeur sportif was a certain Franco Mandroni, who's an insurance agent in Altopascio now - but we were able to win so much and on different types of terrain that after a while we had to share team leadership and take turns to help each other. He wasn't as fast as I was and was perhaps more suited to hilly races, but in the junior ranks there are never really tough races, so we often raced together and worked together. We were eventually split up in the second half of the season, but we still trained together a lot and spent a lot time together. When we rode different races, it was often the case that he won his race and I won mine."

In the end, Rayner spent three years in Italy, earning his spurs, learning the trade. There are several who think he should have made it four - Cipollini included - but eleven years after telling his parents he'd one day ride the Tour of Britain Rayner won the best junior prize at the Milk Race and Tony Capper, at that time one of the most important team owners on the British domestic scene, made him an offer that the twenty-year-old felt was too good to turn down. The year was 1987. The year Capper's dream of taking his riders to the big league came true. The year Capper's dream of a British team capable of competing against the best in the world collapsed.

Rayner then spent three seasons with Raleigh - Banana and Falcon - Banana (as well as the Milk Marketing Board back then they had a Banana Board too). Rayner may have been racing with domestic teams but they were racing nationally and internationally. He was still in the shop window. In 1990 the Spanish CLAS squad made him an offer. As did the Dutch Buckler outfit. Rayner decided to go Dutch, signing for the Jan Raas bossed squad that, several regenerations on, is today's LottoNL. After two seasons, the sponsorship money from Buckler (a non-alcoholic beer produced by Heineken) dried up. Raas thought he had a deal in place with the newly opened Euro Disney Resort - today's Disneyland Paris - but, with the theme-park quickly looking like a Mickey Mouse affair, that disappeared and Raas had to find funding from elsewhere. That backing came from WordPerfect (a word processing package trying to make headway in the world of Windows) but the money was less than he had hoped for. Raas had to cut the team from two dozen riders to a dozen and a half. Rayner - despite having selflessly worked his arse off as a domestique for Steven Rooks throughout the 1991 and 1992 seasons - was one of those cut.

At a time when the American cycling scene was in rude good health - and the first blooming of Gen-EPO in the European peloton was becoming hard not to notice - Rayner, like several other British riders including Malcolm Elliott, opted to go west and chance his arm racing in the US. America, though, proved to be the Wild West, with wages going unpaid. The year was written off to experience and Rayner returned to the UK and another season of domestic racing. During which his American sojourn looked set to pay dividends, the Thom Weisel backed Subaru - Montgomery team putting a contract on the table. As it was back in 1987 with Tony Capper, this was a team with hopes of going somewhere, a team that offered the now twenty-seven-year-old Rayner an alternative route into the European peloton. Unlike with Capper, Weisel's team went all the way, and then some. Rayner didn't live to see any of it happen.

* * * * *

Everybody's Friend, Peter Cossins's brief biography of the Yorkshire rider and the Fund that bears his name, takes as its title the inscription on Rayner's tombstone. Bernie Burns - one of those links in the chain of serendipities that took Rayner from Yorkshire to Tuscany and onwards to a roller-coaster ride through life as a professional cyclist - explained some of the background of that to Cossins:

"On his memorial stone at Gargrave it says 'Everybody's Friend'. When Dave was in the hospital on the life support machine, Colin Willcock, who was still working as a reporter at that time, asked me how I'd remember him and I said he was everybody's friend. That was used in the paper and ended up on his memorial stone.

"So many people were surprised by how to down to earth he was, how friendly. He would help you rather than try to dominate you. Your typical rider is always trying to beat the next rider, but when you get to a certain standard you don't have to half-wheel somebody to show your dominance. You push them rather than half-wheel them. You try to help them. That's what Dave was like, and with his outgoing personality he would help anyone and people would really look up to him because of that."

Today, twenty-one-years on from Dave Rayner's death in November 1994, that's just what the Dave Rayner Fund tries to do, to push people, to try to help them, 250 or so of them so far. Nearly 40 years on from Rayner first telling his parents he'd one day ride the Tour of Britain, nearly 30 years after Rayner fulfilled that promise, the 2015 edition of that race featured 17 riders who'd received a hand up from the Fund that bears his name.

The Dave Rayner Fund is also pushing cycling itself. Today, it wouldn't be the Dave Rayner Fund that David Millar would be seeking funding from and it wouldn't be the Dave Rayner Fund that Dan Martin would be seeking funding from, since 2003 Scotland has had the Braveheart Fund and this year Ireland got the Emerald Fund. As cycling in these islands grows in popularity so too does the need for such alternative funding initiatives, cycling scholarships that aren't judged by simple metrics like power output, cycling scholarships that don't judge you by the number of bangles and baubles you collect along the way. Cycling scholarships that allow riders to grow and discover who they really are.

* * * * *

You can buy Everybody's Friend direct from the Dave Rayner Fund. All profits go to the Fund.