The Victorian Track Championships that are held annually at the D.I.S.C. velodrome in Melbourne on the former site of the old concrete track used to be simply known as Northcote. It was on that concrete track, and many others around the state in the mid seventies that three young riders started to make names for themselves. Allan Peiper, Phillip Griffiths and Gary Hammond were regular winners and placegetters in most of the championships they contested from Under 14s through Under 16s and into Junior/Senior ranks. However, all three riders’ promising careers faced major obstacles.
In 1979, while racing in Belgium, Allan Peiper became severely ill due to a combination of harsh living conditions, extremely poor diet (both due to a lack of money) and the fatigue caused by racing daily in order to win money. Urgently returning to Australia, Allan was admitted to an infectious diseases hospital where he stayed until his life was no longer in jeopardy. Alive, but still not well and certainly not the healthy athlete he had been, Allan moved in with Peter Brotherton, a former Olympian and World Championship medallist from Great Britain who had emigrated to Australia. Prescribing a radical diet and body cleansing regime, Peter gradually nursed him back to health over the next two and a half years. Planning to leave for Belgium in early 1981 following the completion of a trade apprenticeship, Phillip Griffiths was racing in the Goulburn to Sydney road race in October 1980 when a car lost control while passing his bunch and slammed into a number of riders. Phillip’s injuries were almost fatal and he spent the following six months in Sydney’s Westmead Hospital, slowly recovering from horrific head injuries, brain damage and a host of bodily injuries. After a frustratingly long period of convalescence and with many ongoing problems, he too moved in with Peter Brotherton to see if he too could regain ‘normal’ health.
Phillip remained with Peter for just over a year, thankfully regaining health but unfortunately not vitality, and it would be a further four years before he would ride again. Following a Silver Medal in the 10 mile championship at the 1982 Commonwealth Games in Brisbane, Gary would have been justifiably confident that his already successful career was on target. However, just days later, as he contested the prologue of the inaugural Commonwealth Bank Cycle Classic from Brisbane to Sydney, a motorcyclist travelling in the opposite direction on the closed course ran into him head on. The motorcyclist’s helmet smashed into Gary’s face, breaking every bone and resulting in massive swelling of his head—it seemed he wouldn’t survive. Fortunately there was no brain damage and eventually Gary’s condition improved thanks in part to his fitness and robust good health. Following numerous corrective operations Gary was finally able to resume a ‘normal’ life, but fans who encouraged him to ‘get back on the bike’ were unaware of the true extent of his injuries.
With his health back, Allan returned to Europe in 1982 to relaunch a career that would see him race successfully as a professional for ten years. He spent six years in the world’s number one team, won a stage of the Giro and the Tour and earned the respect of all who raced with him plus the admiration of those of us that knew his history. Seven years later than originally planned, it was 1988 before Phillip eventually made it to Belgium. Racing as an amateur, he rode races such as Bordeaux- Paris, finished 36th in Paris- Roubaix and returned home late in the season to ride off scratch in the Melbourne to Warrnambool, and rode the Sun Tour which his old mate Peiper almost won. It was a brief flurry, but a goal had been reached and those who knew Phillip as a younger cyclist were happy that he had been able to show his wares at last.
The extent of Gary’s facial injuries and the possible consequences should he have another accident meant that the days of ‘Mouse’ Hammond dominating the scene were over. Consider that the riders who finished either side of him in that 10 mile in Brisbane, Kevin Nichols and Mike Turtur, went on to win Gold Medals at the Olympic Games two years later. You then have an idea of the talent that was wasted due to that motorcyclist’s stupidity. It was the revisting of the previous success of these two young riders (above) at the championships at D.I.S.C. velodrome in 2007 that prompted me to write of these recollections. Laine Hammond, daughter of Gary, and Trevor Griffiths, son of Phillip, each won a Victorian championship, just as their fathers had thirty years ago. It seems that another two successful careers may have taken their first tentative steps and I’m sure I’m not the only interested observer keenly watching for family similarities and hoping that these youngsters one day realise their full potential. Maybe one day Zane Peiper might hang up his soccer boots and show that he too is a chip off the old block.