A former professional cyclist, who took part in the first ever Tour of Britain 60 years ago, is looking forward to seeing the event return to Norfolk’s roads this weekend.

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Derek Buttle, of Needham, near Harleston, will be taking a keen interest in the professional road race on Saturday after participating in three Tour of Britain events in the early 1950s and taking part in international races across Europe.

And the Norfolk grandfather, who retired from racing at the age 25, is still cycling at the age of 81 and clocks up 50 miles a week on his bike.

Mr Buttle, who obtained two stage places in the inaugural Tour of Britain in 1951 and won a hill climb stage in Cumbria, said he had happy memories of the event and was excited to see the professional race return to the county.

The cyclist said road racing “came of age” when the Tour began in Britain.

“I was from the East End of London and I was very excited to ride and in those days in 1951 road racing in England was in its infancy. Every country on the Continent had its own Tour and we cyclists thought ‘why can’t we have a Tour of Britain?”

“It was a real international event that came to England and people were excited to see it and was enjoyed by the whole family. The last stage was from Norwich to London and I came third in the stage that finished at Weston-Super-Mare and second at a finish in Scarborough and I won the Shap Fell Prime (in Cumbria) by being the first over the hill,” he said.

Mr Buttle went on to take part in two more Tour of Britain events and rode in the Tour of Europe, Tour of Holland and Tour of Luxembourg, but never got to race in the famous Tour de France following a falling out with his team manager.

The rider, who also helped set up the first professional cycle team, Hercules, retired from the sport at the age of 25 and moved to Needham with his wife Sheila and ran the village post office.

Mr Buttle, who is set to meet some of the riders and help start the penultimate stage of this year’s race at Bury St Edmunds on Saturday, said much had changed since his involvement in professional cycle racing.

“Ever since the invention of the bicycle, the cycle manufacturers have kept pace with technology. The bikes are made with carbon fibre and are very light, strong and bloody expensive. The cyclists have also kept pace with technology and every racer knows his maximum heart beat.”

“When I first read it in the paper that it was coming to Norfolk it cheered me up to think that I took part 60 years ago,” he said.

The pensioner, who is a member of the Diss Cyclists’ Touring Club, has already pedalled 2,000 miles this year, and has no plans to permanently hang up his wheels.

He added: “Norfolk is beautiful and flat and I am quite pleased now because the hills are quite hard for me now!”

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