THE MAESTRO STORY
From a shop in Bognor to UCI pro Teams.
My story started in 1957 when I was fourteen years old. I owned a Hercules All Steel with Sturmey Archer gears, spending my time looking through the windows of bike shops, marvelling at the lightweight frames of the day.
After watching Anquetil at the Tour, my dad gave me a Paris Galibier frame. It was painted by hand, fitted with Benelux gears and re-welded where it had broken as so many frames did. It was also modified with a TV clamp mounted onto the seat post. It worked!
I then joined the Bognor Cycling Club- many members and even more miles covered; looking back, these seemed to be the best years of club cycling. To this day, I still hold the club’s three mile SS grass track record. During that time, track races were both on asphalt and grass with plenty of time trials.
This only furthered my dreams of becoming a pro but never knowing how to get started.
Following this, I became a founding member of the Velo Noviomagus which would enable me to compete in road races; something I had always imagined being a part of but was never possible in the Bognor Club. The height of racing, in my opinion, had always been road racing. The first time I visited Belgium in 1967, it was a shocking realisation to see what a huge difference there was between UK and Belgian racing. In the UK, it was like a fast club run whereas Belgian racing was flat-out from the starting gun with huge fields to conquer. Any aspirations of being a pro racer lay shattered as I simply did not have the engine to compete.
I had been repairing and modifying other people’s bikes for some time, and in 1970 I opened my first shop building frames with my partner at the time.
We made over three hundred frames using the name Peracinni and Barchelli, spanning over a period of eight years. However, like many frames in the UK at the time, something just wasn’t right. It was only upon visiting Mondonico at the Milan Cycle show, it became apparent where our mistakes had been made. We gave up on the spot, and I began focusing on importing bikes including Colnagos, Gios, Rossin, Cinelli and De Rosa. I did this with the help of ex-pro George Barras, a major character in the business. I also dealt with the likes of Superia and Flandria in Zedelgem. I still have my Patrick Sercu Superia to this day which has been with me from the start of my lifelong business.
During this time, I met Tim Harris who would visit my shop while holidaying in Bognor. He too had dreams of competing at a professional level and so, with my help and support he went onto become a pro racer. I trained Tim from an early age along with my eldest son Nigel who had also developed as a road racer. By following on a scooter, I could ensure they would have the speed for Belgium. Nigel’s first race result of second place was a great result of the high-speed training techniques developed from the lessons I had learned in my time racing. Tim would later ride to fifth and eight place in the amateur Paris Roubaix whilst racing for Dutch teams. Earning those results meant a signing for ANC and became the National Pro Circuit Champion. Tim then went onto race for Raleigh and became the National Pro Road Champion. After Raleigh eventually dropped out, Tim moved to Spain to ride for Festina.
In 1994, we started the first Maestro pro team with the help of Nigel who had been in Belgium since he was sixteen years old. Nigel had many victories, most notably riding to fifth place in the amateur Paris Roubaix. Home grown riders Nigel, Tim, Ben Luckwell and Rob Reynolds filled our team; this was the UK’s first UCI pro team as Raleigh had previously been Dutch.
Unfortunately, this effort brought about anonymous hate-mail from some UK clubmen- how times have changed now! We gathered sponsorship from Belgian companies and raced with Bianchi, De Rosa and Colnago bikes over the three years. We competed in races such as Het Volk; Kuurne Brussel Kuurne; Paris; Brussels and dozens of the daily Pro Kermesse racing in Belgium. Our manager was Alain de Roo who had been right hand man to Freddy Maertens; by the third year the team had expanded to ten riders including Massa from Japan and Levi Leipheimer too as a stagaire. However, the UCI then started the current system and put professional teams out of the reach of small sponsors, ushering in the huge US corporations, bringing with them mass-produced frames. The sport became less more and more about major business profit and all integrity was thrown out the window. Seemingly, even the multinationals who had teams competing still found it hard with the mounting pressure from corporations.
Eventually, the struggle against bureaucracy proved too much. Being involved in our first team led myself and Tim to near nervous breakdowns, particularly following a comment from a BCF official (McQuaid) saying -“people like you should not have a pro team”. In the first year, they registered us internationally as Raleigh instead of Maestro/Bianchi. It caused major problems and fines, and to this day we believe it was an act to discredit us. It prevented the young men in our team from earning a living. The tactics nearly worked, being fined at virtually every race I nearly went bankrupt paying our way out of fines. Luckily, young pros like Tim, Nigel and Ben are made of stronger stuff and persevered. When they won money in races, the Belgian Federation paid it to the BC in Belgian francs, who then after gaining money from the exchange, gave it to the boys in sterling despite their residency in Belgium. This meant they then had to change it back to Belgian currency making their prizes almost worthless. It was a gruelling process in order to gain recognition as a team and be treated as such.
I later had other forays into teams more than ten years later when my youngest son Marc started the life of professional racing. However, after threat of divorce from Mel, we hung up the wheels for good with pro teams.
Ever since, we have concentrated on Colnago, and having dipped our toe with other producers such as De Rosa and Ciocc, we have always consistently dealt with Colnago. We were the UK importer for a while but now we specialise in building custom bikes for riders who want the best, at the most competitive prices possible.