(Trinidad) Ferdi de Gannes: TT’s forgotten champion cyclist.

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(Trinidad) Ferdi de Gannes: TT’s forgotten champion cyclist.

Unread post by bimjim » Thu Oct 19, 2006

(From Trinidad & Tobago NewsDay, 18 October, 2006)
(Trinidad) Ferdi de Gannes: TT’s forgotten champion cyclist.

Cycling champion Ferdi de Gannes, now resident in Antigua was visiting Trinidad last week to celebrate his aunt’s 100th birthday. As I spoke to him I wondered once more about the criteria for nomination and elevation to the TT Sports Hall of Fame in this country and why he hasn’t been inducted.

Born in San Fernando on October 4, 1929, de Gannes is the eldest of the late Ferdinand and Elaine de Gannes, four children. At St Mary’s College, his first interest was in track and field as “I tended to like individual sports to pit myself against somebody.”

A few points shy of winning the Junior Victor Ludorum, with no more events left than a bicycle race and with no racing bike, young de Gannes, who had never ridden, borrowed an ordinary bicycle for the half mile sprint. “I did not know how to ride. 200 metres from finish a fellow passed me but I still kept on to him. He let both hands go from the handle bar in triumph and I snuck in and won the race.”

At the College’s annual sports, again de Gannes borrowed a bicycle wanting to try out a racing bike for the first time, and says “I must have impressed Noel Hackett, a former champion, who encouraged me to take up the sport, I begged my old man to buy me a bike at $80 which was plenty money then. I loved the bike with a passion and started to race.”

In 1946, he entered an open race for juniors at the Queen’s Park Oval and shared the junior championships with Gene Thomas. The two then went with Saddle Boys Club to Guyana where de Gannes broke the half mile intermediate record. On the National scene in 1948, he was runner-up in a match sprint at dockyard, the first road race in the history of Trinidad and Tobago, to an A Class cyclist Cecil Phelps. “I was Intermediate and Phelps beat me in the final,” says this cycling devotee.

Promoted to A Class, de Gannes and some of the cyclists got together to form the Trinidad Cycling Federation, which met with resistance from the AAA’s which controlled everything then.

The young cyclists with help from Sir Hugh Wooding applied to the International Cycling Union (the World body). So too did the three A’s, and the matter went into dispute. The battle went on for two years costing de Gannes two years of competitive cycling as no international meets were allowed here and the local cyclists could not participate overseas.

Undaunted, in 1950 de Gannes and five other cyclists formed Madonna Wheelers, now the oldest club in the country. De Gannes and the five other founders are life members. In 1951, de Gannes was selected to attend the first Pan American Games in Buenos Aires but this very principled man says “We could not betray the Federation and turned down the trip.

“At age 20 it was hard but I did it out of loyalty to the Federation and because of that we got all 400 cyclists, with the exception of 10/15 members of one club, to register with the Federation. The World body recognised us as controlling cycling in Trinidad and Tobago and we were allowed into International meetings again.”

Ferdi De Gannes was number two in the country, was doing well for the country on the International scene, and actually became number one in the early 50’s when Compton Gonsalves had a terrible spill which put him out for a while. “Gonsalves was the better rider. He was my mentor and helped me to develop my ability.

“There was nothing I loved in life more than cycling.” Recognising that there was another side of his life to be developed, in the middle of his cycling career, de Gannes went off to Pilots’ School at Hamble in England, in 1956, and started studying engineering, eventually becoming a commercial pilot.

But there were no black pilots and he could not get a job with BWIA. “They had no vacancies but had invested in Sir Frank de Lisle’s Leeward Islands Air Transport, BWIA’s equity bought two planes and that gave me a job.

“BWIA employed me and sent me up to Antigua to fly with LIAT promising that as soon as vacancies arose they would bring me back.” By the time BWIA was ready to hire him, de Gannes was a senior Captain with LIAT, where he was very happy with the short haul flying and elected to stay there, retiring in 1997.

All these years, cycling was on the back-burner. Then in 1983, at age 54, he started to ride again, and in 1985 rode at the World Masters’ Games in Toronto. “I jumped in wanting to compete again and came in the top ten.” Four years later at the second World Games in Aahus, Denmark, he made a mistake which cost dearly.

“I was being honest. I would have been 60 two months after the Games and entered the 55-59 category, came fourth in sprint and kilometre, racing against former world and Olympic champions, only to find out I should have been in the 60 plus where my times were much faster than the 60-year-olds.”

In 1994, he won two gold medals at the first World Cup in Minneapolis and two silvers at the United States National Masters’ Championships. In 1998, he got two golds at the World Masters’ Games in Portland, Oregon.

In 2001, de Gannes, still eager to compete, raced in Cuba for the first time at the Pan American Masters’ Cycling and won a gold medal in the 70 plus sprint category. He attended what was to be his last World Masters’ Games in 2005 in Edmonton, Canada, and won three bronze medals. Why the decision to retire although he is still fit, trains daily, and is at the top of his sport? “The playing field was not level and it didn’t make much sense although I feel up to the 80 plus category in the 2009 Games in Australia.

There are no training facilities, no track in Antigua only road racing, a lack of regular local competitions, and no age category for people like myself at home.”

He leaves with a great sense of pride at his cycling achievements in the autumn of his life. In 1998 he was a nominee for the Sportsman of the Year in Cycling in Antigua. In 2001, de Gannes was placed on the National Sports Honour Roll by the Ministry of Sport in Antigua, in appreciation of his contribution to the development of cycling in Antigua and Barbuda. He was President of the Cycling Association of Antigua; is a life member of the Queen’s Park Cricket Club and the Antigua Cycling Association.

He has been married to Angi for 41 years and they have a daughter Liesl and son, LIAT Captain Jean Pierre de Gannes. At age 77, Ferdi de Gannes is satisfied, “I have had my day, have had my time and still ride and enjoy it. But it is unlikely that they will get a track in Antigua in my lifetime.”
De Admin


Quite a guy!

Unread post by EyeSpy » Thu Oct 19, 2006

What a life: what a story!

Belongs in your Living Histories section!

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Unread post by HenzD » Sat Oct 21, 2006

Great Man Ferdie, At LIAT he Was always willing to help,give good advice and encouragement. It is so sad that so few Check Pilots emulated him.
Ferdie live Long and Prosper.
It is So. It can not be otherwise.

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