Words by William Fotheringham | Main photo: Simon Gill/The Cycling Podcast
Usually, blogs are relatively easy to write. This one isn’t, reflected in the fact it’s taken two weeks to pluck up the courage to face up to the certainty that Richard Moore, who was a good friend of mine, is dead. It’s hard to accept Richard won’t be around any more, and there will be no more lazily delivered, gentle, erudite putdowns sent my way in that soft, burring Scottish accent of his. Charisma can be defined as making the hard things look easy, and Richard made a lot of things some of us stumble over look very simple indeed.
Richard’s sudden death on March 28 not long before his 49th birthday prompted an outpouring of collective grief on social media, and some fulsome tributes elsewhere. Rightly so. Richard was one of the good guys. His writing was top notch, so too his journalistic instincts and his feel for a story, and his work at The Cycling Podcast changed the cycling media landscape over the last 9 seasons. The Guardian were kind enough to let me give him a formal obituary which will appear shortly; this is the personal view.
We first rubbed shoulders – probably not literally though I wouldn’t bet against it – in the Irish FBD Milk Ràs nearly 25 years ago. I can reveal at this point that in the article I wrote about that race in Cycling Weekly, Richard was the un-named rider who told me of his warm feelings for the 10-kilometre to go sign, which promised deliverance at the end of each day’s sufferings.
At that moment, we were at the back of the peloton. That was normal for me, much less so for Richard: he rode that Ràs, if memory is correct, for the Scotland team alongside Brian Smith, while I was blagging a ride with a scratch team called Yorkshire for the sake of argument. The following year, he reached the peak of his racing career riding the Commonwealth Games for Scotland; his biggest win was a stage in the Premier Calendar Lands Classic in Yorkshire, ahead of Paul Manning. In later years, we would remind him, tongue in cheek, that beating Manning meant he could have been a multiple pursuit world and Olympic champion. Obviously.
This came a few years later, in 2005, when Richard folded his large frame into the passenger seat of some nice car or other, having moved seamlessly from bike racing to freelance journalism, and we set off to drive around France in pursuit of the greatest bike race of them all. When covering the Tour, I would view new travelling companions with some trepidation; put the wrong mix of personalities in the car, with the constant stress of daily deadlines – not just the newspaper one, but the need to be at the start at a certain time, to get to the finish in good time, and then find the day’s hotel in time to get something to eat – and that trip round the hexagone can seem very long.
Richard was one of the better ones to put up with me and my ever changing July moods, and the three Tours I spent with him and Brendan Gallagher, then of the Daily Telegraph, were among the most fun I had in 27 Julys spent on the road. The 90 or so days we spent are now a blur, but that reflects the fact that there weren’t many grumpy words said. Richard and I didn’t see eye to eye over the music – but that was par for the course with my passengers, who usually didn’t have the taste for Ennio Morricone or Pet Shop Boys – and it became a standing joke. As did his need to find a Scottish cyclist to write about in the absence of David Millar, then serving a doping ban; the best he could come up with was Dario Cioni, who had been born in Glasgow.
We made a good trio: a fretting control freak in myself at the helm, Brendan the eternally optimistic counterpoint, with Richard somewhere in the middle offering balance and those gentle putdowns to bring us back to our senses amidst the chaos. As we sat down for dinner, we’d remind Richard of his time at Aberdeen University, where he had (so he told us) been vice president of the Wine Society, something which didn’t seem to have much positive bearing on his choice of what we drank each evening.
2005-7 was a weird spell in Tour history. The last Tour of the Armstrong era led into Floyd Landis’s disqualification from the overall win and then into the Tour from Hell in 2007, where the race was ruined by a spate of doping scandals. That Tour had, of course, begun in London, where we made a point of doing a lap the wrong way round Trafalgar Square in the car simply because we could thanks to the closed roads, and where the crowds were an astonishing foretaste of the race’s extraordinary popularity in future years in the UK.
Brendan can give the flavour of these Tours far better than I can, but let’s just say Black Wednesday will live with me always.
My favourite Richard moment came at the end of that 2007 Tour, however, when all on the race were fed up with doping stories and desperate to get home. One of us came up with the idea of calling a fellow freelance journalist and pretending to be a sports editor wanting to commission a story about the positive side of doping, how it was actually good to do doping, and could said writer find a few pros to push this line for us. It fell to Richard to do this; his ability to mimic an accent that definitely wasn’t Scottish and his cool head enabled him to carry out the spoof without falling into the giggles, and our victim – he knows who he is – swallowed it hook line and sinker.
Nothing can match the intensity of those Julys spent trying to work the car’s air con in 40 degree temperatures and desperately seeking dinner each evening as the clock ticked down. I saw less of Richard after that, but those shared Tours in the metal box and at the dinner table creates a bond which means you can sit down after five years as if it’s only been five minutes. I was pretty sure that Richard and I would sit down somewhere again, he’d kick off with that burring “Well Fothers…” and the years would roll back. That’s not going to happen, for me, or many others, and all our lives will be all the poorer for it.