ONE of Merseyside’s top champion cyclists, Mark Bell, the 1984 Olympian and former national road champion of both amateur and professional titles, died suddenly last month, aged 48.
Bell, who grew up on the Woodchurch Estate and attended Fender Primary and Woodchurch High, had been unwell for some time and was found collapsed on Friday, January 30. He leaves a son, Daniel, mum and dad Eddie and Jacqueline, and brothers, Tony, Mike and Robert.
Mark, who lived in Bebington, had recently won his long battle with alcoholism and taken up cycling again with a renewed optimism. Although he was longing to get back to leading a normal life, he had other serious health issues.
His older brother, Tony, said: “Mark needed an operation – it was coming up. He hoped it would help him to get out walking, help him to a bit more cycling. He had a new bike and had been enjoying riding again.”
Bell started cycling with the Birkenhead Victoria, moving to the Birkenhead North End CC, followed by Prescot Eagles for a short spell, before joining the Port Sunlight Wheelers. He was also in the Manchester Wheelers.
He was a natural talent, who – at the age of 12 – placed sixth place in a criterium. Top six placings followed in road racing – although he first developed a winning habit in cyclo-cross, winning several.
Sprinting became his forte, and he started winning at the Morecambe Prom races. His heroes were the world pro road champions, Basso and Maertens.
He rode several schoolboy internationals and in 1979, earned his first senior international selection for the Sealink International.
In 1981, he won the British Amateur road race title at Colchester. He also won two stages of the Milk Race and was the first non-Belgian to win the eight-day Etoile de Sud. Other victories included the Archer GP International and Tour of Essex.
Then in 1984, he won selection for the Los Angeles Olympics. The following year, 1985, he turned pro for Falcon, winning the Delyn GP in his first season. But his proudest moment came in 1986, when he won the British pro road title in Newport, Shropshire, for Raleigh.
British Cycling president, Brian Cookson OBE, said: "I was shocked to hear this sad news. Mark was one of the best roadmen that this country has so far produced, with many solid performances, and flashes of brilliance that saw outstanding results in international events at home and abroad."
"I remember, as a commissaire, following Mark throughout his successful breakaway to win the National Pro Road Race title in 1986, when he simply rode away from some of the greatest names in the sport at the time.
“One of many impressive and memorable performances. I offer my condolences and best wishes to his family at this difficult time.”
Tony added: “I think it’s safe to say that Mark was one of the best bike riders of his generation, and when you consider who his contemporaries were, that is quite an achievement.
“After winning the Peter Buckley junior road race series in 1978, Mark joined the senior ranks and the successes continued, and in September of that year he went to New York to ride a series of races including ‘The Apple Lap’ with the Liverpool Mercury team.
“The highlights of Mark’s 1979 season were his win in the Benedictine GP at Leyland, Lancashire, and his third place in the national amateur RR title, behind Robert Millar and Joe Waugh.
“A couple of months later, at the age of 19, he rode and finished the World amateur RR championship in Valkenburg, Holland where Robert Millar finished in fourth place.
“1980 was, in his words ‘a bad year’ but he still managed to win something like 20 races. Mark seemed to be drifting a bit that year, but he regained his focus during the following winter, and went on to win the national amateur RR championship in 1981, after taking two stages in the Milk Race, including the final stage in Blackpool.
“The early eighties also saw Mark winning the Archer GP, the Essex GP, the eight day Etoile de Sud in Belgium (he was the first non-Belgian rider to win this) and another Milk Race stage in 1982.
“Mark turned pro with Falcon in 1985 and won the Delyn GP in his first season, and in 1986, he won the national pro RR title at Newport, Shropshire. This was his proudest moment. He said to me later that he knew he was going to win this race.
“It wasn't arrogance, he just knew that when he was on form, it would take a lot to beat him. When George Shaw signed him for the Raleigh team at the end of 1985, Mark told him he would win the national championship. When he set himself a target, he would invariably hit it. And he did that year.
“Mark battled with a lot of his own problems in his last years, but, when he was on top of things and doing well, he was a lovely man, and despite everything that was going on in his life, he was still there for us. I'm just so glad that I spent a lot of time with him over the last couple of months. We're all going to miss him so much.”
Mark’s funeral will be held at Landican Cemetery, Arrowe Park Road, Wirral, on Monday, February 16, at 11am