From the Archives: Tragic story of racing star Harris
They say the likes of Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendleton, Laura Trott and Jason Kenny have given their lives to the world of cycling.
Pundits insist that the four London 2012 gold medallists have sacrificed so much for their sport, with hard graft taking a toll on their very beings.
That fact cannot be disputed but if you're looking for riders who have paid the ultimate price, look no further than Aston-born ace Bert Harris!
The tragic tale is told in detail in Simon Inglis's comprehensive book 'Villa Park 100 Years.'
Harris was widely acknowledged as a model sportsman. His boyish enthusiasm and generosity towards other riders had won him friends all over Europe and particularly in Birmingham.
Indeed he had grown up only a stone's throw from Villa Park, where as chance would have it, he both started and ended his career.
Born in Aston in April 1897, only a month after Villa were formed, Harris's first public race had been on the old Meadow in 1888, where he sensationally won a handicap race as a precocious 14-year-old.
He remained a regular at the Lower Grounds new track during the early 1890s - by which time he had moved to Leicester - until a controversial crash in Cardiff, blamed on other riders, nearly terminated his career in 1895.
Since then he had suffered bouts of dizziness and had not yet returned to form.
The Easter Monday meeting in 1897 - an impressive Sport and Play event attracting over 30,000 spectators, was, therefore, an ideal opportunity to revive his professional career in front of friends and family.
The day brought him mixed fortunes to say the least! He nearly missed the first race and had to be called by telephone from the dressing rooms to the starting line-up. Arriving on the track in his unlaced pumps he then proceeded to win his first heat comfortably.
Then in his second race he burst a tyre and had to ask around for a space wheel so that he could enter the fateful ten mile event.
How the unfortunate rider who lent Harris that wheel - the one whose tyre burst - must have rued his generosity.
As the riders sped round the banked-up corner between Trinity Road and Witton End, with only ten or so of the 40 laps completed, Harris's front wheel clipped the rider in front.
His tyre burst, became entangled in his forks and Harris was sent headlong on to the track.
"A sharp shout of apprehension and horror ascended from that immense throng," reported Bicycling News, followed by a "huge sob of sympathy and shock which welled up from thousands of throats when the writhing form of Harris was recognised."
His unconscious form was conveyed to the General Hospital in a private vehicle.
Amazingly the organiser had not arranged for a single ambulance to be on duty that day!
When the next issue of Bicycling News hit the newsstands the following Wednesday, Harris was reported to be in a critical condition. But he had, in fact, died that very morning.
Since the accident he had regained consciousness only momentarily. Seeing him stir in his hospital bed, his friend and fellow cyclist Will Jordan had chided him gently: "Pull yourself together Bert!" Harris apparently murmured: "Will, I am beat!"
But, as it transpired, the true cause of his death was never established.
One possible explanation was that Harris had only recently switched to a more highly-geared Beeston Humber and was perhaps unused to its feel in tight situations.
He was certainly not known as a reckless rider. It was even possible that he had suffered a blackout - the legacy of his Cardiff spill.
A day which should have been the cause of much celebration was forever tainted by this painful and all too public tragedy.
A local lad lay buried in Leicester and, for once, the life-affirming joy of sport found itself humbled by the fleeting whim of fate.
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