Brancale Stories: Phil Anderson June 17 2019

Phil Anderson shares some old stories with Brancale including what it was like being one of the only English-speakers in the professional peloton during the early 1980s, his love of the Tour of Flanders and just missing out on winning the World Cup in 1985 due to illness…


Australian Phil Anderson was a professional cyclist from 1980-1994 and was the first non-European to wear the yellow jersey in the Tour de France. He accumulated more than 90 victories during his career.

What it was like racing in Europe during your early years as one of the only English-speakers and non-Europeans in the professional peloton?

Phil Anderson: “Well, 1980 was my first year as a professional. There were very few English speakers in the professional peloton at that point in time. There was Sean Kelly, but I wouldn’t call Sean Kelly an English speaker because I couldn’t understand a word that he said! There was also Paul Sherwen, Robert Millar, Jacques (Jonathan) Boyer and myself, but we were some of the only English speakers. Steven Roche came in the year after me and then later, Greg LeMond. 

It was all different then. English speaking riders weren’t taken too seriously. We were effectively seen as cheap labor. We were strong and we rode our bikes hard for our French team leaders. But then we started winning races. In the 1981 Tour de France, I took the yellow jersey and I was the first non-European to do so. 

Then a few years later, all of the American team 7-11 guys came into the picture. Guys like Doug Shapiro, Andy Hampsten, Bob Roll and others. At the same time, there was also a migration of Russians and East Germans into the peloton. They basically had to jump the Wall to get in. Then there were the Colombians too. It was a colorful era with many non-traditional countries beginning to be represented.”

What were some of your favorite races? 

“Well, certainly the Tour de France was the most important one. Your livelihood came from good results at the Tour de France. But for me, my favorite races were the Tour of Flanders and Liege-Bastogne-Liege. I never won, but came in second place in each. I had gotten these top 10 results and this made me more and more hungry, but I never was able to get the win.

I won other big one-day events like the Amstel Gold Race and Paris-Tours, but I really wanted Flanders because I lived in Belgium. On the other hand, I never really enjoyed Paris-Roubaix.”

Tell us about one of your best days on the bike.

“One of my best days was the 1984 Grand Prix of Zurich which was in the second half of the season. The course was one huge loop and then three or four smaller finishing laps with a really steep hill called Regensburg Hill, behind the airport. On the finishing laps, there were roundabouts with medians that divided the road in two. With one particular median, each time the peloton would take the same line to one side. A teammate of mine was away in a breakaway and the peloton was chasing him. I was able to jump across the gap up to the breakaway.  Then, when we again came to this same median, I decided to take the different line that no one ever took. I jumped over the median strip, powered ahead of the breakaway and ended up winning by 50 meters.”

Link to the 1984 GP Zurich footage.

Tell us about some of your worst moments on the bike.

“In 1985, I was leading the World Cup which meant I was ranked as the best rider in the world. I had had a good year, including winning the Dauphine-Libere and I had finished fifth overall in the Tour de France. Then we were coming to the end of the season to the final race, the Tour of Lombardy. This was the last race before I would win the World Cup in 1985. Sean Kelly was just a few points behind me, so I had to watch Sean carefully during the upcoming race.

But the last week before the race, my health went downhill. I had pain in my hips and shoulders and couldn’t get out of bed in the morning. I spent the whole week at doctors, trying to find out what the problem was but no one knew. I couldn’t train all week but went to the race anyway. Unfortunately, I couldn’t finish the race and had to step off the bike at the feedzone. Sean Kelly ended up winning the World Cup and I ended up number two in the world that year.

The next year the illness continued. It took me several months to find out what was wrong with me and get my health back again. I ended up having a rare type of infection that only hits people with a certain blood type and it became a form of lower back arthritis. It took a long time to diagnose.

Eventually my health came back and the following June I did the Tour of Switzerland and got second place in a stage. Then, later in ‘86 I won Paris-Tours. This felt really good after having been the laughing stock of the press and peloton the whole year.”

What is one of your craziest stories from your racing career?

“So many of the best stories are about what goes on in the race, rather than the results at the end. One of the funniest personal stories I have is about British rider Sean Yates during his first Tour de France. He came up to me on a stage during the first week of the race. We were both on the Peugeot team and were riding along during a sunny day. Poor Sean had gotten sick and had diarrhea. He needed desperately to stop to go to the bathroom. He came up to me in the peloton and said, ‘what can I do about it? I can’t stop, what can I do? Go behind a car?’ I told him he could go in a cycling cap. That it was simple, he could just put it down his shorts and go to the bathroom, I told him that I had heard that you could do that from some of the older, more experienced guys in the peloton. Of course I was joking but he didn’t realize it.

Then I told him that if he wanted to give it a crack, I could give him my cap and that I obviously wouldn’t ask for it back afterwards. Sean was so desperate that he pulled over towards the side of the peloton which was moving at about 50 km per hour. I told him I’d keep my eye on the peloton while he went. This was before bib shorts so he just put the cap down his shorts. It was so funny, he had his hand down his shorts, his face was all contorted and then you saw a huge sigh of relief. Then he pulled out the cap which had a huge gross stain on it and he threw it behind him. The 30 or 40 guys who were directly behind him swerved desperately to avoid the nastiness.” 

Tell us what you're up to today.

“Since I retired, I have built a little travel business. We run bike tours at the Tour de France and we also do tours in Australia. Actually, I’m leaving for Budapest soon for a river boat cruise in Europe and then I will deliver 80-100km bike rides every day.”

Note - you can follow Phil at:

Facebook: Phil Anderson 

Twitter: Phil Anderson 

Instagram: Phil Anderson 

You had an early endorsement contract with the old Brancale. How did that come about?

“I did a few Giro d’Italias back in the day in the mid-80s with the Panasonic team. I had another sponsor of mine who made an introduction for me to the brand. Then, I secured an endorsement contract for both shoes and helmets. This was an individual endorsement, not through the team. The brand Brancale was the pride of the peloton back then. It was the brand of choice. I even still have an old Brancale leather hairnet helmet lying around somewhere.”

Photos: Graham Watson