” ‘Pud’, ‘Patto’, ‘Pettsy’ and Pate” by KB Hill

 

Allan James Vincent lives the sedate life these days; nestled in the Swan Street abode that he and Betty have called home for 50 of their 52 years of marriage.

 

‘Pud’ survived a vigorous bout of prostate cancer five years ago, but thankfully there’ve been no further recurrences. He’s quietly confident – fingers crossed – that he’ll wear out a few more shirts before he heads off to his mortal coil.

 

He’s a bit of a local legend; likeable and always on for a natter. He’s tickled when I touch on our old Junior League footy days; I was an easily-impressionable 13 year-old and he was one of the South Wanderers’ senior players – fully 16 and a ‘man of the world’.

 

South Wanderers 1961: Allan Vincent is third from left (Second Row)

 

Us school-kids used to rush down to training at Avian Park, so we wouldn’t miss out on ‘Pud’ regaling us with the latest ribald tales he’d overheard during the morning and afternoon-tea breaks at the Abbattoirs, where he worked as a Slaughterman.

 

He became a more than handy left-foot winger when he headed out to North Wangaratta; reckons he must have played between 150-200 games during some lean times with the Hawks.

 

His sporting diet was footy in winter and track cycling in summer. He was fit and fanatical and it’s true to say that, after years of circling the dirt track at the Showgrounds, he knew it like the back of his hand.

 

It was there, on a magical January night in 1975, that he achieved his finest sporting moment………..

 

***

 

But hang on, I’m getting ahead of myself here……It’s the Centenary of the Wangaratta Carnival later this month, and ‘Pud’s’ got a bag full of cycling memories. He can recall the myriad of riders who took out the Wheelrace over the decades.

 

It was the plum cycling event on a program which, for a late-January week-end every year, made Wang the State’s temporary sporting capital.

 

There was no-one more entertaining, he says, than Sid Patterson, who captivated local crowds for just on 15 years.

 

’Patto’ had been crowned a dual World champion as both Amateur and Professional, in the years leading up to his first appearance at Wang. His clashes with the brilliant all-rounder Russell Mockridge, whom he also partnered in Madisons, were the stuff of legend.

 

The Legendary ‘Patto’

 

When ‘Patto’s’ career was winding down in the late sixties, he was asked to reflect on its highlights. He nominated the two ‘Australs’ he took out in 1962 and ‘64. But he retained a soft spot for what he rated one of his best rides ever – from scratch – in the Wangaratta Wheelrace of 1954, when he overtook Hec Sutherland in a dramatic finish.

 

He repeated the dose in 1965, aged 37, having earlier produced a tremendous effort to win the 2-miler. The huge crowd breathed a collective sigh of relief when he qualified for the Wheelrace Final despite blowing a front tyre in the ride to the line in the Semi.

 

In one of the most spectacular of all Finals, he narrowly defeated Tasmanian ‘wonder-boy’ Graeme Gilmour, then went on to win the Aces 5-Mile scratch race.

 

It was said that trying to pass the burly 5’11”, 90kg ‘Patto’ was “like coming out from behind a furniture truck into a head wind”.

 

The crowd idolised him. After the program had been completed of a Saturday night and most people had wended their way home, he would hold court, beer in hand, under the peppercorn trees, purportedly until the wee hours of the morning.

 

 

 

 

‘Pud’ Vincent was 14 when he first came across Patterson. He was lining up in a Junior Wheelrace, which the Carnival committee had sanctioned, to promote local talent.

 

“We were nervously making our way onto the track after a big race had just been completed. Most of the riders were preoccupied with ‘warming’ down, but ‘Patto’ rode over and showed a genuine interest in us.”

 

“He asked how much air we had in our tyres. ‘About 90 pounds’, I replied. “Nah, that’s a bit dangerous on the sharp corners of this dirt track. I’d take a bit out if I was you……..”

 

***

 

‘Pud’ recounts some of the other members of the ‘Who’s-Who’ of cycling who converged on the Wangaratta Carnival, like the former Austral winner, Tasmanian Ron Murray, who was just 21 when he outpointed a class field to win the Wheelrace from scratch in 1958.

 

And champs such as the ex- Sandgroper Barrie Waddell, another great all-rounder, who won five successive Herald-Sun Tours. Waddell had been travelling to Wangaratta since 1955, and finished runner-up to Ramon Russell in 1970, before finally greeting the judge in the ‘71 ‘Blue-Ribbon’ event.

 

Every Carnival produced its story, like that of Keith Oliver, who blitzed the field throughout the 1969 Carnival, then rode 3 minutes 37.4 , in an outstanding Wheelrace performance. It was believed to be a world-record on a dirt track.

 

‘Pud’ had a lot of time for local boy Glenn Clarke. “His mate Dean Woods had tremendous natural talent, but ‘Clarkey’ had to work hard for the success he achieved. It was terrific when he won the Wheelrace in front of his home crowd in 1990. He got up by half a wheel from Stephen Pate………..”

 

***

 

Speaking of Pate, the rough-nut from Kyabram was another great crowd-pleaser, who was adopted by the public, possibly because of his larrikin reputation.

 

Rik Patterson, Sid’s son, who was once the firebrand’s manager, described one of the many eventful episodes of his career:

“……Stephen Pate had the last of many beers at 3.30 yesterday morning, in the central Japanese city of Maebashi….Later in the day he was the first rider across the line in the world Keiren championship.”

“Most who saw it agreed the Australian’s ride, a 500 metre lead-out against possibly the strongest field ever in a keiren final, was the ride of the championships. Some old-timers from the Australian camp went so far as to say it was the greatest ride they had ever seen.”

It is history now that Pate was the World Champion for only minutes…….First across the line, but disqualified for causing Patrick Da Rocha, the Frenchman, to fall……..”

 

 

 

***

 

Pate had turned pro in 1986 and won his first world sprint title in 1988. Earlier that year he was one of the star attractions at Wangaratta. Riding from 5 metres behind scratch, he turned in a slashing performance to hold off Glenn Clarke in a Wheelrace Final that had everything. It was Clarke’s first Carnival since turning pro.

 

So began Pate’s love affair with Wangaratta – and its crowds. He finished as the ‘Bridesmaid’ in four Wheelraces…….to Clarke in 1990; to Rick Ploog in ‘91; to the brilliant Shane Kelly in 1998, when he was held out by centimetres in a dramatic finish; whilst Baden Cook staved off his withering finishing burst to win the 2000 Wheelrace.

 

He won all four Carnival scratch races in 1993 and ‘96, and cleaned up five in 1998.

 

This ‘madman on a bike’ was once described as a ‘squat, little, short-legged, freckled guy with unruly ginger hair and quadriceps that were like bags of cement hanging over his knees’.

 

Surely no-one could match his record for consistency at Wangaratta over such a prolonged period……..

 

 

Stephen Pate, ‘the mad bull on wheels’

 

***

 

Ten years before Pate’s Wheelrace success, a young, unheralded local upset some much-vaunted stars to win the 1978 event.

 

Ian Petts was 21, and had been a pro for just 8 months, following a five-year amateur career.

 

He came to cycling quite by accident:

“I’d left my old bike lying in the driveway of our Brash Avenue house, and it got mangled when it was run-over. A really keen rider, Terry Sumner, who lived over the road, offered to fix it for me…..Then I had the temerity to ask if he happened to have an old racing frame.”

 

“He said: ‘I have, and I’ll give it to you if you come down and have a ride with us.’ That got me going…….Terry mentioned that if I kept training, and got into the swing of things, I might make a fair rider.”

 

Petts enjoyed immediate success as a pro, and hit a good vein of form leading up to the Carnival. He performed solidly at the highly-rated Tasmanian events (Latrobe and Burnie) over the 1977 Christmas/New Year period, and was confident of his chances at Wangaratta – even though most experts overlooked him.

 

It was one of the wettest Carnivals in memory and the program had to be delayed at times to allow the track to dry out.

 

Despite being handicapped to a mid-to-back mark because of his strong rides in Tassie, Petts won his heat easily enough. He then lined up in a star-studded Final, which included Laurie Venn, Chris Salisbury and Malcolm Hill.

 

“Local lad Ian Petts stormed home in one of the most sensational wins in Wangaratta Wheelrace history to defeat the fast-finishing Chris Salisbury……..”, reported the Wangaratta Chronicle.

 

‘Pettsy’ rode competitively for another nine years, chalking up an impressive list of wins, including the Wagga and Dubbo Wheelraces, a Victorian 1600m Handicap title, and several other country successes. He rates his second placing in Bendigo’s Golden Mile among his favourite memories…..

 

 

Ian Petts greets the judge in 1978

 

***

 

‘Pettsy’ says he was inspired by the outstanding performance of ‘Pud’ Vincent three years earlier.

 

For any local rider, there was a touch of romanticism attached to taking out the Premier event at their home-town Carnival.

 

‘Pud’ should have been reasonably upbeat about his chances as he was in the middle of a hot streak of form which lasted for six weeks or more.

 

He’d won the Echuca Wheelrace on Boxing Day 1974, then two days later saluted in the Hamilton Wheelrace……And with three other 1600m victories in minor events at the Carnival, some good judges were bold enough to suggest that he might cause a major upset.

 

But his confidence took a battering when he could only finish fifth in his Wheelrace heat. Despite his disappointment, that had enabled him to squeeze into the semi-finals.

 

“I went home for tea that night, and told Betty I didn’t think I’d bother going back for the evening program. She gave me an old-fashioned serve and told me I’d be letting the people of Wangaratta down; that I should head back and have a decent ‘go’.”

 

A win in the Semi restored his sagging morale, as did two other rides he had in the lead-up to the Final. “I didn’t have a chance to get nervous,” he says.

 

Riding from 70m, he positioned himself well, teamed up with the other middle-markers, and set sail for home.

 

“I heard the commentator, Eddie Bush, say that ex-world champ Gordon Johnson had tacked onto the main bunch, so I made my break with about three-quarters of a lap to go.”

 

He held on desperately, to go to the line ahead of John Holgate and Paul Swatton, with Johnson finishing in fifth place.

 

The celebrations at the Vincent home lasted until the wee hours of the morning. His great season was rounded out in the following weeks, with victories in the Burramine and Yarroweyah Wheelraces………….

 

 

 

***

POST-SCRIPT:

Forty-five years on, ‘Pud’ occasionally climbs aboard the bike, but says it only for a jaunt around the streets of Wangaratta. His keenest sporting interest these days is in following his grand-daughter Hannah Grady, who has been a key member of the last two Wangaratta Netball Premierships, and has won five Club B & F’s.

 

Ian Petts, still looking lean and fit, says his day isn’t complete if he doesn’t head off on a solid 30km ride around the back roads. He has combined overseas holidays with following the Tours of France and Italy, and says the Tour of Spain is also on the agenda – if ever Covid-19 permits………..

 

 

‘Pud’ and Betty Vincent and kids after his triumph in the 1975 Wangaratta Wheelrace

 

This story appeared first on KB Hill’s website On Reflection and is used here with permission. All photos sourced from KB Hill’s resources.

 

To read more of KB Hill’s great stories, click HERE.

 

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Comments

  1. Roseville Rocket says

    Always good to read KB’s pieces.
    Such authentic accounts of local sports stars.
    Always links the connections.
    Good to see him acknowledge that Stephen Pate was from Kyabram.

    You’ve don it again KB.

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