Most sadly, UK cycling legend Mick Ives passed away this week aged 84. This is not an obituary, just a simple and rambling reflection on some of my own long-term experiences of Mick, which I hope provides a snapshot of what has been one hell of an inspirational and meaningful ride through his life.
The sun had just set, and it was sometime in early 2007. I was stood at a poolside bar on Langkawi Island in Malaysia, on the eve of the Tour de Langkawi. With me were photographer John Pierce, Paul Sherwen (RIP), Phil Liggett and the Italian team manager Gianni Savio, all men of a similar cloth, and all who in one way or another have devoted their lives to the sport of cycling, and through passion over profit, and all who have all given so much to the sport.
I guess it was a kind of Knights Templar of cycling meet-ups (plus me), and something I didn’t think too much about at the time, as I’d known this bunch for many years, and some since my early teens.
Suddenly, out of the looming darkness up walked Mick Ives, who after doing his day’s work with the race organisation had borrowed a spare AG2R team bike and had been out for a ride, which pretty much sums Mick up – a cyclist through and through, a man who lived for cycling and racing bikes, and who never missed a bike beat throughout his lifelong career.
It's difficult to know where to start with this, or even whether to start when writing about the life and times of Mick Ives. It’s impossible to do him justice, as Mick was a man who I’d known, ridden with and worked with intermittently ever since my teens.
Although I knew Mick was in serious ill heath a week or so back, I never believed that this would be his last ride in life. I’d long since given up on marvelling and trying to fathom Mick’s eternal cycling longevity, let alone his endless passion and dedication to the sport. I mean, it’s the stuff you don’t often come across in life, and I really never gave a second thought to Mick just not being there – because he always had been. Right through my entire cycling life Mick Ives had been a prominent figure, first from a distance, and then in person, and he was indestructible, or so it seemed.
Back to the pool bar and as casually and anonymously as you like, Mick walked up and started chatting with me. This was one of the familiar and humbling things about him – no matter how long it had been since your last meet up, or if you’d had differences, it was always as is you’d been out for a ride together just the day before.
According to my reconning Mick would have been 67/68 at that time, and he was as fit as and as wide-eyed about bikes and riding them as he ever was. Soon enough I started to get beery reflective “Mick, do you realise we’ve known each other for 25 years?” Taking a dazed moment, he replied: “Yeah, that’s very true, it’s been a long time Steve.” And so, we set off on a ride down memory lane together, with Mick remembering every twist and pothole of along the way, as ever.
By the time I was born (in 1965, which was a long time ago) Mick was already an established independent/pro road and cyclocross racer in the UK, and I knew Mick from afar as a kid when racing cyclocross. it would be during the mid 1980s when I joined his Coventry Olympic club that I would really get to know the man.
During the early 80s Coventry was all about black and white, with Two Tone, The Specials and the Coventry Olympic CC, whose jersey was black and white, and which was perhaps the smartest and coolest race kit I’ve ever pulled on, although I think drawing any connections beyond chance between these factors would be grasping at braces.
Despite already being a veteran Mick was still at the top of his game even then, as he always was in an age-related way. He was regularly winning races on and off-road, and was very much the boss when it came to the many pro, semi pro, national and club teams he ran over the years. He was a man who led and taught by example and who naturally garnered respect. When Mick told you something there were no frills, and you listened and learned.
Over the years Mick helped me a great deal in many ways, and like so many others out there I learned a lot from the man. A few instances particularly standing out, such as when I first joined the club in my late teens and went along to the Hill Climb Champs on Edge Hill, and I made an error of line judgement. Mick duly gained two seconds on me that day (and a few big names of the time in with it), which was a tactical lesson learned from a man who was one of the wiliest characters on a bike that I’ve ever met, something which he would demonstrate again and again over the years, both to me and others, which was invaluable.
From eating cold tinned baked beans in the rain on a garage forecourt in Luxembourg to being handed back our van in a Swiss ski resort only to find the mechanic had not put the radiator back in, the stories and tales of adventures with Mick that came later on, during the early mountain bike era, could go on for ever, and we went over a few of them that evening. The Smiths could most likely make a song out of them too.
From the very beginning of the sport Mick also fully embraced mountain biking, something most unusual for such an established dropped bar racing maestro of the era. Throughout his lifelong career and his deep involvement with all things cycling, Mick has been a genuine and down to earth inspiration to many great (and many of us no so great) riders too. In fact, it would be fair to say that he treated everyone equally, as long as they loved riding bikes it all was good, and he was always approachable and would happily help anyone out, a consummate professional in every way.
It's impossible to sum up Mick’s incredible achievements, be they on or off the bike: his multiple world and national titles, his longevity, his epic Tour de France and Giro d’Italia rides ahead of the race (at a ripe old age too)... it’s the stuff of which I doubt we will ever see the likes of again.
Thank you, Mick, for everything you gave and taught me personally, for what you gave to cycling and for the inspiration you gave to so many out there.
Your great ride may have come the final café stop of life, but the tales, the legend, and your influence on cycling will be with us for many years to come. You were one of a kind, and are already missed.