Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Eileen Sheridan

Eileen Sheridan with her bicycle set up for training with a saddle bag and mud guards.
Eileen Sheridan (born October 18, 1924) is a retired English cyclist who specialized in time trialing.  She was only 4 feet 11 inches tall and described as a dainty lady. During the late 1940s and 1950s she broke all the records of the Women's Road Records Association. Her times are more impressive for her longer distance rides. She said that it took her at least 25 miles to get warmed up.

The regulations of the NCU must be kept in mind to understand why time trialing and distance records were emphasized at this time in British cycling.

The National Cyclists' Union banned all bicycle racing on public roads in 1890. They were afraid it would cause all cyclists to not be allowed to ride on the roads. It required all mass start races to be held on tracks or closed roads such as in parks and airfields. The only races allowed on public roads were time-trials and distance and place to place record attempts. Time trials were held at the very early morning hours and very discretely. Racers were required to wear all black clothing so as not to draw much attention to themselves. The ban on mass start road races went on until the  1950s when the NCU merged with the BLRC (British League of Racing Cyclists).

During World War II and shortly there after the strict regulations on clothing were relaxed due to clothing shortages at that time. Short pants were then allowed.

In 1939, at the age of 15, Eileen Sheridan joined the Coventry Cycling Club. As a club member she went touring and rode club rides. She didn't have any interest in racing at this time. She said: "It is on club runs that the club spirit is found, if they have a spirit at all, and retained for all time. Coventry club runs number among the happiest moments in my life."

A 25 mile time trial, run by the Birmingham Time Trial Association, in 1945 was Eileen's first race. She rode the 25 miles in 1 hour 7 minutes and 35 seconds. This time was good enough to win the event and break her club's record. Next she won the national time trial championship of a distance of 25 miles. 

During 1947 she won the Birmingham and Midland track championship and set a new time for the 50 mile time trial of 2 hours 22 minutes and 53 seconds.

She won the women's British Best All-Rounder time trial competition in 1949 and 1950. Her ride in the Yorkshire Cycling Federation 12-hour race in September 1949 set a national record of 237.32 miles. In 1950 She won the national championships at 50 and 100 miles. Some of the records she broke were: 
                            30 miles in 1948 at 1 hour 19 minutes and 28 seconds
                            50 miles in 1950 at 2 hours 14 minutes and 16 seconds
                            100 miles in 1950 at 4 hours 37 minutes and 53 seconds

In 1951 Hercules Cycle and Motor Company signed her for three years to break distance and place-to-place records. She broke all 21 of the women's records, five of which are yet to be beaten. Her 1,000-mile record of 3 days and 1 hour stood for 48 years until it was broken in 2002 by Lynne Taylor.

Eileen Sheridan broke the record for Land's End to John O' Groats in 1954 with a time of 2 days, 11 hours and 7 minutes.

Land's End to John o' Groats is the traversal of the whole length of the island of Great Britain between two extremities; in the southwest and northeast. The traditional distance by road is 874 miles (1,407 km) and takes most cyclists ten to fourteen days.

In 1955 she was featured in an advertisement for Player's cigarettes. Eileen is a Life Member of the Coventry Cycling Club, form which she has enjoyed great help and friendship over the years. She ended her professional career in 1955. 

The cycling historian Bernard Thompson wrote:
The 100-mile championship was introduced in 1950 and won by Eileen Sheridan, Coventry CC, with 4h 37m 53s. The reign of Eileen Sheridan had begun some five years earlier when in 1945 she won the 25-mile title with 1h 8m 38s, and although there had been many highly talented women time-triallists throughout the early years of the sport, it was Eileen Sheridan who set about pushing out the frontiers of women's records to the point of almost complete domination. [She] was a dainty lady and belied her strength and stamina. It was written in 1950 after Eileen Sheridan's second successive Best All-Rounder championship that "It may well be that Eileen Sheridan will go down in cycling history as the greatest of all women riders."

A page from the book Wonder Wheels: The autobiography of Eileen Sheridan.
An publicity card produced by the Hercules Bicycle Company.

Eileen Sheridan during a twelve hour time trial.
In this video Eileen Sheridan breaks a 100 mile record.

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