Arthur Linton: The Champion Cyclist from Aberdare

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A Cycling Valley

There must have been something in the water in the Cynon Valley at the end of the nineteenth century.  The valley, and the town of Aberaman in particular, was a breeding ground for internationally renowned cyclists.

Aberaman was home to four world-class cyclists: the Linton brothers Arthur, Tom and Samuel; and Jimmy Michael.  Arthur Linton and Jimmy Michael were great rivals. Both became World Champions and both their lives took strangely parallel and controversial paths. 

Fame in France for Linton

Cycling took hold as a popular sport during the 1880s and 1890s following the invention of the chain driven safety bicycle, and the Aberdare Bicycle Club was formed in 1884.  By 1890 it had developed into a racing club and it was around this time that Arthur Linton began to race locally.  By 1892 he was well known throughout south Wales and over the next couple of years he made a name for himself internationally.  

In 1893 he broke the world one-hour unpaced record, cycling 22 miles at a cycle track in Cardiff, beating the record set a few days earlier by the Frenchman Henri Desgranges, who went on to found the Tour de France.  

Such feats gave Linton an international reputation and in the winter of 1893 he left for Paris where cycling was, by far, the most popular sport.  Here, Arthur raced in front of large crowds of over 15,000 spectators in races of up to a hundred miles.  In early January 1894 Linton beat the French champion cyclist Dubois in a 100-mile race and with that victory he made a name for himself in France.

Linton's Greatest Challenge

Over the following couple of years, Linton raced predominantly in France because the races there were of a higher standard than those in Britain.  In 1894 he began to work with a new trainer, ‘Choppy’ Warburton.  Together they trained for long-distance races and it is said that Warburton put Linton through his paces with a gruelling training regime.  During 1894 Linton won a series of races and was given the title of ‘Champion Cyclist of the World’.  

It was under Warburton’s guidance that Linton embarked on the greatest challenge of his career.  In 1895 he had picked up a knee injury but continued to train and to race in preparation for the epic Bordeaux to Paris race which covered some 350 miles.  Linton was apparently exhausted before the race and seemed to have trouble throughout but was helped by Warburton at every stage of the race. 

It was this assistance from Warburton, administering different concoctions from small bottles, that gave rise to speculation which has blighted the reputation of Arthur Linton ever since.  It was alleged that Warburton gave Linton drugs to enable him to continue; it was said that nobody could have continued in his condition, let alone go on to win the race.  

A race too far

Linton’s victory sealed his reputation as the best cyclist in the world.  However, speculation about the alleged doping tactics of Warburton was enhanced by Linton’s untimely death only six weeks after the race. 

It seemed to confirm the suspicions that the cyclist had been drugged by Warburton and it was that which caused his death.  However, research has shown that Arthur Linton died of Typhoid fever on 23 July 1896.  It would appear that the race took such a toll on his body that he was unable to withstand the illness and died aged just 28. 

There is no evidence to suggest that substances played any part in his racing accomplishments or his death.