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Interview: Peter Joffre Nye

Hearts of Lions author Peter Nye joins us to talk about his latest book, The Fast Times of Albert Champion, which tells the story of the 1899 Paris-Roubaix winner who went on to play a major role in the American automobile industry.

The Fast Times of Albert Champion, by Peter Joffre Nye
The Fast Times of Albert Champion, by Peter Joffre Nye

Podium Café: One of the things that fascinated me about the story you told of Champion's three years as a professional in France - the years between his eighteenth and twenty-first birthdays - was the people he came into contact with: Choppy Warburton, Dudley Marks, Adolphe Clément, Henri Desgrange, Victor Breyer. These are all big names in the early years of European cycling, people who helped shape the sport, Desgrange and Breyer as influential journalists and race promoters, Clément as a major sponsor, Marks and Warburton as prototypes for the directeurs sportive who followed. Of them all, Desgrange is the one most famous today, so perhaps I should ask you to explain how he and Champion first crossed paths.

Peter Nye: You're right about the big names. They make for a strong supporting cast.

Adolphe Clément was to cycling what Bill Gates is to Microsoft or Steve Jobs to Apple. Clément had trained as a locksmith in the centuries-long tradition of apprentice and travelling journeyman, called the Tour de France, and settled in Paris. He discovered high-wheel bicycles, which upper-class gents imported from England in the 1870s, and he saw his future.

We have to put bicycles in Clément's perspective. He realized that for the first time in history, folks could go anywhere without hitching or saddling a horse. He started making bicycles for sale.

Then by the late 1880s, again from England, came our modern chain-drive bicycle with both wheels the same size. These new bikes were like our experience in the 1990s when laptops became available to us and overtook main-frame computers.

Lots of other bicycle makers entered the market. Clément had a lot of competition. So he advertised heavily with the new mass-market medium of four-colour posters. He hired great artists to paint posters of endowed young women in diaphanous lingerie holding their Clément Cycle. Posters were plastered all around Paris, on kiosks and all flat surfaces. Today the surviving posters still grab our attention. Originals are selling for five figures.

Clement Cycles advertising poster
Cycles Clément advertising poster
Courtesy of Peter Nye / Poster Auctions International

Clément hired Henri Desgrange, a law clerk with writing aspirations, to write copy for his bicycle catalogue and to handle publicity for trade shows Clément participated in around France, Belgium, Germany, and Italy.

Clément and Desgrange were two outsized personalities made for each other. Clément was opening factories around France, creating jobs for thousands, and he was selling his bicycles, tandems, and tricycles through distributorships across the Continent. His grand scale and aggressive advertising style appealed to Desgrange.

Desgrange was a cycling enthusiast with the audacity to hire timers and rent the Buffalo Velodrome in Paris where he pedalled his legs and heart out for an hour. Today we look upon the world hour record as one of cycling's ultimate achievements. Countless riders had better legs than Desgrange. But he was the first to set the world hour record. He caught Clément's attention. How much better it was for Desgrange to work for Clément. Law is a career of studying precedents, working indoors, filing papers. Cycling as a sport and commercial industry was fast growing. Like Clément, Desgrange changed his career.

Desgrange had been at Clément Cycles for a few years before Champion joined the company as a courier and a sponsored rider at age 18. Champion arrived with a glow about him. He had already earned a reputation as an extraordinary talented cyclist.

Champion couriered messages from Desgrange the publicist around town. Telephones were still new. Artists that Clément hired were not interested in phones. Champion was visiting the studios of artists with their naked models posing for new posters. Desgrange would have wanted to know what Champion heard. Desgrange and Champion were busy on their jobs, but they would take time to briefly swap gossip, shop talk, and the like.

Champion and Desgrange formed a bond. Desgrange did Champion favours that he rarely granted others, right up to their dining together on what turned out to be Champion's final evening. After their dinner, they went out together and met up with Alfred P Sloan, the president and chairman of the board for General Motors, at that time the world's largest corporation, for a night hobnobbing in Paris.

The notion of Desgrange, a newspaper editor and the director of the Tour de France bicycle race, and starchy, autocratic Alfred P Sloan knocking back drinks together with Champion in cabarets struck me as magical.

PdC: Of the other names, Victor Breyer strikes me as a man crying out to have his story told to a modern audience, he being a major link between the European and North American cycling scenes, bringing riders over to Europe from America, sending riders from France in the other direction. But the one I want to ask you about is Choppy Warburton, more and more of whose story is being told. The picture you paint of him, though, is a little bit different from the one people have become familiar with, the picture of a man who was the Michele Ferrari of his day, doping his charges. You talk about his training methods - which were advanced for the time - but you also talk about his having been 'warned off' tracks in the UK and how he was fighting his ban, and close to getting it over-turned. Could you tell us a little bit about that and how you view Warburton?

PN: You're right about Victor Breyer deserving a biography. He was in the middle of so many important developments as journalist and magazine editor. He also was director of the Grand Prix de France auto race and biographer of France's boxing champion and war hero, Georges Carpentier. You should write his biography, Feargal! I'll be happy to blurb you.

Warburton was a controversial character, like Don King was to boxing promoters during Mike Tyson's best years. But I think any comparison with Michele Ferrari is simplistic and misleading. Warburton had a highly successful athletic career before he went into coaching, unlike Ferrari, and Warburton never had access to sophisticated pharmaceuticals that Ferrari dispensed.

The reporters over the last 60 or so years, at least the ones I tended to read, seemed to have a predetermined opinion of Warburton. The root word of reporter is porter, which is a carrier. Over the decades, a lot of inaccurate reportage has been rewritten about Warburton. I relied on newspaper accounts published in his hometown in northern England, based on recollections of people who had known Warburton personally and knew his parents and siblings. As I point out in Fast Times, Warburton had won hundreds of footraces, up to 30 miles, in venues up and down the length of England and dozens in America's North East. He was one of the very best runners of his generation. His bona fides were impeccable. I cite my sources so anyone can look at the same material I read.

Importantly, personality plays a big part in sports performance. Warburton grew up as the son of a pub manager, and he followed his father into that line of work. This was in the Victorian era, before radio or TV, so the pubs were quiet. The publican dispensing drinks to customers got to know everybody. Talking was the coin of the realm. Warburton would have developed an ear for how to talk to folks of all moods. When he changed careers to coach runners for the Manchester Athletic Association, he knew how to suggest training schedules and dispense racing strategy as well as how to use his voice to calm a nervous young athlete, how to make eye contact to ensure his athlete was paying attention, how to win the guy's confidence, how to make that person believe he could do whatever Warburton was training him to do, and that Warburton was their best friend.

Period accounts of Warburton as coach of Champion describe Warburton running up and down the inside of the track during a race, shouting encouragement, checking his stopwatch and yelling times as Champion whipped past, that sort of thing. Warburton was out there, one-on-one with guys he coached, constantly giving assurance, support.

By contrast, the same accounts don't mention any other trainer or coach doing anything like what Warburton was doing.

I cite the English high-wheel star H (for Herbert) O (for Osbaldston) Duncan in his 1896 book, Vingt Ans de Cyclisme, describing Warburton's training regimen for Champion, which was the same regimen Warburton had previously developed for earlier protégés like world champion Jimmy Michael. Warburton's regimen is the template for every trainer since. Duncan's book came out when Champion was still a neo-pro, age 18.

Another big factor in sports is confidence. Warburton stretched Champion's confidence, as he likely did for others. Warburton had assigned Champion a daunting ultramarathon Sunday ride from Paris south to Orléans and back, which is a day-long round trip. Warburton boarded a train and met Champion at the Orléans train station. Warburton brought a big lunch and they ate together. Then Warburton told Champion to arrive by tea time and Warburton boarded the train back in Paris. He prepared another meal waiting for Champion. Warburton told him the ride was far longer than it actually was. Sunday after Sunday, rain or shine, Champion kept at it. Champion increased his endurance and his confidence. Like Yogi Berra famously said about baseball, it's half physical and the other 90 percent is mental.

Warburton drew attention to himself as a showman, a rascal, a practical joker. He dressed for success, wore sharp suits, a bowler hat, sometimes a swallowtail coat and tattersall vest. His clothes distinguished him. Henri Toulouse-Lautrec sketched him.

henri Toulous-Lautrec sketch featuring Choppy Waburton
One of Henri Toulouse-Lautrec's sketches for his La Chaîne Simpson poster, with Choppy Warburton featured (left) reaching into a bag.

Lots of folks then were superstitious. If someone spilled salt at the dining table, they threw salt over their left shoulder to ward off bad luck. At races Warburton had a routine suitable for vaudeville as he unscrewed the cap of a bottle in a way that drew the attention of the audience. I can visualize Huge Laurie doing such a thing for side-splitting comedic effect. Warburton did such a thing to psych out his rider's opponents, whether it was Champion or Jimmy Michael. Journalists cited Warburton's black bottle. He made a show of giving the bottle to Champion, and Michael, to drink. Warburton knew well how to exploit suspicions to make folks believe that whatever the bottle contained packed a punch.

Jimmy Michael once had accused Warburton of spiking his drink before a race, in which Michael got trashed. It was shortly after Michael returned to racing after a honeymoon on the Continent. Warburton sued him for slander and Michael later recanted, dropped the charges, and posed with Warburton and Champion for a photo taken by Jules Beau, now in the Biblithéque Nationale de France.

England's governing body opposed professionals and hounded Warburton because he coached pros, including women who raced pro. Women did not have the right to vote in England (or the USA). The upper-class gents in the governing body wanted to ban him from English tracks. When he died of a massive heart attack one morning at home while shaving, the cycling execs demanded an autopsy. They wouldn't let go of him even after his death.

Champion as a chieftain at General Motors often told American newspaper reporters that Warburton had broadened his competitive radius and gave him confidence to succeed in cycling and later as a business leader, manufacturer, and inventor.

PdC: Champion himself: his name, as you quoted Desgrange noting, was strangely prophetic, and he was a champion, even before he won Paris-Roubaix. But he was a champion on the track, a side of the sport we have all but forgotten about. Is there a simple reason for the stars of the track then having disappeared from history? Is it simply down to the track racing scene having lacked the structure of the road scene that usurped it, there were few fixed points on the calendar apart from races like the Bol d'Or or national and world championships, and so it is harder to compare riders year to year?

PN: When Desgrange was editor of L'Auto, predecessor to L'Équipe, the largest daily sports pub, one of his reporters Edouard de Perrodil also picked up on that prophetic name in a brochure on Champion that L'Auto published. I cite the brochure in Fast Times.

Champion's name was his destiny. He specialized in the glamorous but dangerous discipline of motor-pacing, with a cyclist pedalling at speed behind a motorcycle. We need to appreciate that when the urban speed limit was 10 mph, which seems unimaginable today, for a cyclist on a track to pedal 30 mph or faster pacing behind a motorcycle was spectacular. The cyclist had his front wheel tight behind the rear wheel of the motor to ride in the slipstream.

Reporters called motor-pacers daredevils. Motor-pace races got faster as engines got bigger. Promoters such as Victor Breyer at the Buffalo Velodrome and Desgrange at Parc des Princes put on programs with only the pro sprinters, regarded as the sport's aristocrats, and motor-pacers.

Engines, however, were notorious for skipping or just plain quitting. Tires burst. Chains broke. Champion's generation rode on the razor's edge of danger. Accidents during races in front of capacity crowds were not unusual. Champion was one of the few motor-pacers to live to retire. His motor-pacing career had more dead bodies than Agatha Christie's murders.

Over time as more and more people bought cars and the speed limits increased, motor-pacing's moment in the sun faded. Yesterday's motor-pace stars are forgotten because history is a brutal editor.

In recreating the scenes of Champion's races, I appreciated how smart he must have been to survive. I think his victory in the French national motor-pace 100 km race, where he averaged 41 mph, rates as quite a feat. More, he won against an elite field while competing with a broken leg and had surgery the next day, but that's another story.

PdC: Champion's story is also a story about the early years of the automobile industry, in Europe and in North America. There's a couple of things I want to ask you about that. The first is one that's also come up in another recent book, Carlton Reid's Roads Were Not Built For Cars, in which Reid stresses the crossover between cycling and motoring in the closing years of the nineteenth and early years of the twentieth centuries. It's a point that is very clear in The Fast Times of Albert Champion. Does it surprise you that these two 'tribes' that today are at each others' throats were once so close?

PN: Carlton Reid did us all a big favour with his excellent book, Roads Were Not Built For Cars, to remind us of how we got to where we are today.

By 1938 Percy Maxim had seen the transformation from roads dominated by horses to motor vehicles completely taking over. He was moved to write a book, Horseless Carriage Days. Maxim is better remembered for inventing the silencer for firearms. He applied the same principles for automobile mufflers.

Ahhhh, as for your point about the two groups whose forebears had once been allies but today are in contention, I think the friction reflects how 1,000-pound-plus cars and heavier pick-up trucks rule over 20-pound bikes. We should all be kind and considerate of others. But life's not always kind, and new generations form their own opinions.

PdC: Flint, Michigan, one of the homes of the American automobile industry, is recognising Champion with a statue. Do you think they realise they are celebrating a champion cyclist, as well as a man who made major contributions to the automobile industry?

PN: It's worth noting that when Champion retired from racing at the end of the 1904 season, he had won more than 100 pro races on both sides of the Atlantic, set more than 100 world records, won Paris-Roubaix and the French national motor-pace championship. He could have settled down to rest on his achievements. Instead, he invested his prize money to enter the wild new auto industry. His achievements in autos are now commemorated by his life-sized bronze statue in downtown Flint.

What an amazing coincidence that The Fast Times of Albert Champion came out as a his statue will be installed early this summer. His statue is the seventh commemorating automotive industry leaders, part of Flint's Back to the Bricks Automotive Pioneers Statue Project.

I look forward to going to Flint for the occasion. I'm talking with Albert's great-niece, Cherie Champion, about our going together for a book signing.

Champion's AC Spark Plug Company in Flint employed 3,500 people at the time of his sudden, unexpected death in 1927. The company eventually grew to peak employment of more than 25,000.

The folks I have talked with in Michigan tend to be unaware of his cycling career, or if they had read references to his cycling, they don't appreciate the scale. His Paris-Roubaix victory, equivalent to a runner winning the Boston Marathon or a tennis player winning Wimbledon, lacks cachet in Flint, or Detroit.

A similar fate happened to Champion's contemporary, America's national pro cycling champion Tom Cooper of Detroit, who funded Henry Ford for what became the Ford Motor Company we know today. This is something I delve into in Fast Times. Cooper was handsome in the way of Tom Cruise. The book's designer gave Cooper's photo a whole page.

Woody Allen remarked that writing comedy wouldn't get him a seat with the adults at the dining table. I think that principle applies to cycling in America.

Nevertheless, the bronze statue of Albert Champion could further interest in his illustrious early years as a world-class cyclist. We'll see.

PdC: The early years of the American automobile industry, they're a fascinating story of a cut-throat business world. One aspect of this you draw out is how men like David Buick and Louis Chevrolet gave their names to cars that are today synonymous with America, but which they themselves ultimately had little to do with. With regard to the spark plugs that bear Champion's name, he wasn't just distanced from the company he founded with Robert Stranahan, his American business-partner actually air-brushed him from the corporate history, invented a whole new backstory for the man who once was his business partner.

PN: The great noir novelist James M Cain said that if your writing doesn't keep you up nights, then you can't expect a reader to be kept up. Oh, man, yeah, the early days of the American auto industry and Champion's role in it kept me running full-tilt to research and commit his story on the page.

We are talking about a major technical, social, and economic transformation that marked a "before" and "after" in world history. From a nominal number of cars in America in 1900, a hobby of upper-class gentry, to America's largest industry by 1920. The unprecedented growth of cars also beefed up the steel, rubber, and oil industries. We experienced a similar transformation with computers and the Internet between 1980 and 2000.

Louis Chevrolet, a former business partner of Champion, and David Buick were in the mix. They are also honoured with bronzed statues in Flint.

Robert Stranahan never was a business-partner of Albert Champion. Robert was the youngest brother of Champion's partners in The Albert Champion Company of Boston, incorporated in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in June 1905. Albert Champion was president of the Albert Champion Company. Robert was attending Harvard. Upon graduation, class of 1908, Robert joined the Albert Champion Company as a clerk in the stockroom, frustrated with his lowly salary, especially for a Harvard grad.

Robert and Champion both had big egos. Champion walked with a limp from his broken leg and his hair was thinning, so young Robert could have seen him as a cripple, a has-been. Robert did see that Albert and his cohorts were making porcelain spark plugs for a couple years, sold with Champion's name stamped on them and advertised in the trade journals, advertising like Clément. These Champion spark plugs were gaining a national reputation.

In September 1908, Albert Champion left the elder Stranahan brothers, who were his partners in the corporation, and joined Billy Durant's Buick Motor Company in Flint, then a backwater burg. A week after Albert arrived in Flint, accompanied by some cohorts from the Albert Champion Company, Durant incorporated General Motors and bought Cadillac, Oldsmobile, and dozens of other companies.

Such an abrupt change at the Albert Champion Company in Boston no doubt knocked the three Stranahan brothers galley-west. Yet the auto industry was mushrooming. Robert and an older brother, previously a second-generation hotel manager, moved to Toledo and founded the Champion Spark Plug Company.

It's a story that fascinated me. There are corporate power struggles as intense as any of the races Champion knew. Fortunes were made and lost. During Champion's lifetime America was home to more than 1,000 auto companies. In 2008 when General Motors and Chrysler filed for bankruptcy, if the federal government had not bailed them out, the number of US auto companies would have dropped to one. Yikes!

Robert Stranahan used to tell reporters that he made spark plugs as a hobby and gave plugs to friends. I never found anything that indicated where he learned to make porcelain spark plugs, like the Champion spark plugs made at the Albert Champion Company. The Stranahans sued Champion over his name in federal court.

In 1994 while working on a magazine piece about Albert Champion, I had called the Champion Spark Plug Company in Toledo. The corporate spokesman read me the riot act about Albert Champion never having anything to do with the Champion Spark Plug Company, founded by the Stranahan brothers. That was the company policy.

I was glad to hear it as I know I'm on the right track when I find something that powerful folks don't want me to know.

In 1989 the descendants of Robert and his older brother sold the family-owned Champion Spark Plug Company for nearly $750 million. Some Stranahans were generous in their recollections of Robert and his older brother and in providing me with art, including a stock certificate of the Albert Champion Company.

Some Stranahans were curious about Albert Champion, who he was, and acknowledged that his name is the source of the family fortune.

Fast Times is fully noted, indexed, and it has a bibliography to document all information as a firewall to protect Champion's story, his achievements.

PdC: When I reviewed your book, I only really talked about Champion's contribution to the automobile industry in terms of his spark plugs, but he's also responsible for some other important patents for things that are still in use today. He's the guy who came up with the idea of putting a light on the instrument dashboard so motorists could read the dials in the dark, yes?

PN: Champion had a restless personality coupled with keen concentration with stamina to match. He was indeed the first to light the dashboard after dark, a breakthrough in 1925. Many car owners simply didn't drive after dark.

He received six US Patents just for the dashboard speedometer. One invention introduced the gas gauge so drivers didn't have to insert a stick in the tank to check the level.

Detail from one of Albert Champion's dashboard patents
Detail from one of Champion's dashboard patents
Image courtesy of Peter Nye

Altogether Champion received 30 US Patents for his inventions, covering spark plugs, air and oil filters, dashboard speedometers.

His AC Spark Plug Company manufactured the world's largest number of dashboard speedometers, air and oil filters, and spark plugs. They were factory installed on more than 200 cars and trucks in the United States and across Europe.

His spark plugs fired lots of Indy 500 winners. Charles Lindberg flew across the Atlantic in the Spirit of St Louis powered by spark plugs made by AC Spark Plugs. That epic solo flight made Champion an enormous Franco-American business success.

PdC: I want to go back to the start of the Albert Champion story, not his birth in Avenue MacMahon in the Batignolles, but the start for you, an article you wrote in 1994 for Winning magazine. Before that, though, I'd just like to touch on Winning: for those of us of a certain age, the folk who came to the sport in the nouvelle Éire of Sean Kelly and Stephen Roche, the era of Bernard Hinault and Laurent Fignon, the era of Greg LeMond and 7-Eleven, Winning was the magazine to read, far, far superior to its American and British rivals. What was it like to write for, did you realise at the time how special it was?

PN: Oh, I thought Winning was a very special magazine from the first time I saw it on a newsstand in Washington, DC. The exciting four-colour glossy was published in English. That was a big deal. It had news and features of riders on the Continent and some upper-level US racing.

The magazine's layout and design were compelling. Later I heard that the Winning's designer also designed paper currency for some small countries. Whether or not that's true, it was plausible.

I broke into Winning as a freelancer with a feature, "The Kid Who Caught Six-Day Fever," in the March 1985 issue, about Jack Heid, a New Yorker who competed in the 1948 London Olympics, stayed on the Continent, and won a bronze medal at the 1949 world amateur sprints in Copenhagen.

Between the time I had submitted my article and publication, Winning went through three editors. At the time, I was a journalist in Washington, DC, covering labour and economics for a news service. As a freelancer for Winning, listed as a Contributing Writer, I wrote features, race coverage, some columns.

Winning paid 10 cents a word, with similar-scale fees for photos. On the back of the check was stamped in black bold lettering: WORLD-WIDE RIGHTS. The bank teller would look at that bold declaration and nod, then turn over the check and see the tiny amount the check was for, and a puzzled expression would follow. So I used a black marker and crossed out the WORLD-WIDE RIGHTS declaration.

Later I was catapulted to 25 cents a word. Getting paid, however, was erratic. What I liked best was to turn in a manuscript and see what the designer did with the layout. That was somewhat worth the price of admission.

PdC: To 1994 then, and 'Sparking a Revolution', the article you wrote that started you on a twenty-year odyssey. What was the hook for you, first with writing the article, and then with realising you had missed something in the article, something you then spent two decades trying to find?

PN: For many years I had been running across Albert Champion's name in race results on the Eastern Seaboard, when there were outdoor board velodromes in cities from Boston to New York south to Atlanta. I had read that he won Paris-Roubaix. Now and then I read articles about his having raced motorcycles and cars before he helped to build General Motors from an idea. Naturally, I wondered was this the same person. There are always random coincidences that mean nothing. So I spent some 10 weeks at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, scrolling with rickety spools of microfilm to read old newspapers, leaf through bales of old magazines, and at the National Archives I checked US Census data and ships' passenger lists.

Everything jibbed. Albert Champion was a versatile and remarkably accomplished person. So I wrote a rags-to-riches story, Paris bicycle courier to racer to American business magnate. It ran in the May 1994 Winning Magazine, "Sparking a Revolution: Albert Champion Won Paris-Roubaix in 1899, Look Closely and You'll Still Find His Name Travelling the Pavé Each Year."

He died without warning at age 49 in Paris on business for General Motors. French and English accounts consistently reported that he died in the arms of a Frenchman, his long-time business associate. After the Winning feature came out, I realized that there was no mention of his wife. Where was his wife when Champion was struggling for his final breaths?

The realization gave me a cold sweat. I realized I had missed the crux of the story. I had to find out who his wife was, where she was when he died, how he had lived for his life to end this way.

PdC: You've been living with this story since 1994 and have drawn on the assistance of a team of researchers across the world to help you sift through archives to find what can be found about Champion, who somewhat curiously doesn't seem to have left behind any autobiography or diaries or the like. You were fortunate, though, to get access to some scrapbooks from Champion's time as a cyclist, including one originally given to him by Warburton.

PN: I was fortunate on several occasions in the research. Sources at the Library of Congress and National Archives broadened my realization that Champion's story is about the rise of our entire modern automobile and aviation system. He was a remarkable player.

In 2001 I had the good luck to link up with Bernadette Murphy, a Dublin journalist at the International Herald Tribune in Paris (she's now Director of Information Services at the International New York Times in Paris). She located a copy of Albert Champion's birth certificate, born in the 17th Arrondissement. One day she visited the 17th's city hall to see what she might find and she mentioned to a guy behind the desk greeting visitors that she was helping an American writer to do research on Albert Champion. The guy raised a hand, like a traffic cop. The guy said he had a copy of Champion's death certificate in his desk. Bernadette said she was speechless. The guy leaned back in his chair, opened the drawer, pulled out the copy of the death certificate. He said to send this to the American writer.

With that magical experience, I felt encouraged. Collecting the information took its own time.

In 2002, I connected with Cherie Champion, Albert's great-niece. She had scrapbooks she loaned me, including the one that Albert had received new from Choppy Warburton in London. In 1896 it was all blank pages. Albert glued a photo of Choppy holding him on a Clément bike, front and centre of the first page. He filled other pages with French and English accounts of his exploits. The pages are neat. Especially intriguing are the many pages he devoted to breaking the minute for driving a mile on a motorcycle on a board cycling track in the summer of 1903, on what is now part of the MIT campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This was when Boston's speed limit was 10 mph.

Albert Champion and Choppy Warburton
Albert Champion on a Clément bicycle, supported by by his trainer, James 'Choppy' Warburton
Photo courtesy of Peter Nye and Cherie Champion

Then I also linked up with Kerry Champion Williams, the great-niece of Champion's widow, his younger (but not as younger as reported), second wife.

Meanwhile, I served as editor on two magazines in Washington, wrote some books, wrote the script for a documentary, The Six-Day Bicycle Races: America's Jazz-Age Sport, which premiered at the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival.

In 2009 I enrolled in an MFA in Creative Nonfiction at Goucher College to work full-time on Champion's biography as the subject of my Thesis.

I found him to be very inspiring. That kept me going. The theme of Champion's life story is constantly adapting to change, even embarking on a whole new career. He was never one to coast on what he had done, because when you're coasting you are slowing down.

* * * * *

Peter Joffre Nye's books include Hearts of Lions (1989, WW Norton), The Six-Day Bicycle Races - America's Jazz-Age Sport (2006, Van der Plas Publications / Cycle Publishing), Pushing the Limits - The Story of John Howard, the Incredible Human Machine (1993, WRS Publishing) and The Fast Times of Albert Champion (2014, Prometheus Books).

Peter Nye

You can find Nye online at

You'll find reviews of The Six-Day Bicycle Races and The Fast Times of Albert Champion on the Café Bookshelf

Our thanks to Peter Nye for taking the time to participate in this interview.