I wasn’t privileged enough to call Alan Hewitt a close friend but he was certainly a pal and on the infrequent – unfortunately for me – occasions I met him in recent years he would always greet me as a long lost brother with that smile, a hearty chuckle and a big, strong handshake.
Alas, there’ll be no more of those.
I first encountered Alan when he burst on to the short distance time trial scene back in the 70’s riding for Glasgow United before joining the then all-conquering Regent CC alongside Dave Hannah.
Like Hannah he didn’t have much in the way of muscle definition in those tree trunk legs but also like Hannah he could power those big gears round to great effect.
He was quick.
Once his short distance career was finished I’d see him at races, here and there but hadn’t seen him for a while until I walked into a local bike shop and there he was in the workshop repairing some mangle of a student bike.
The shop owner was short staffed and Alan had volunteered to do a few shifts for him, laughing all the while and filling the workshop with his warmth and good humour.
I think the last time I met Alan was in Bruges, a year or two ago, I was over to write about the Tour of Flanders whilst Alan was over with a posse to spectate and partake of a beer or two the evening before de Ronde.
I was invited to join in the latter but taking one look at Alan and his amigos, I was reminded of ‘Dirty’ Harry Callahan’s mantra; ‘a man’s gotta know his limitations,’ I just knew it would have been the mother of all hangovers in the morning and excused myself.
But as I pen this, I think to myself; ‘maybe I should have taken up that invite?’
But let’s hear from men who were close friends of Alan’s; cycling journalist and former Raleigh and GB World’s mechanic Alastair Hamilton, who now lives in Spain, was at school with the big chap…
“I first met Alan Hewitt in third year at Hillhead High school, a big guy who liked a laugh; lighting the gas taps in the science class was one of them and connecting a Bunsen burner to the water tap and filling peoples blazer pockets with water was another.
“Jump forward a few years and I spotted him riding home from work on an old bike up the Great Western Road to Old Drumchapel. I talked him into coming on the Glasgow United club rides and from there he started to race and was fast from the first pedal stroke.
“At the time he was still using the old bike, but he was soon pushing close to the top man in Scottish – and one of the best in British – short distance time trialling, Dave Hannah of the Regent in 10’s and 25’s. It wasn’t long before he joined the Regent and never looked back.
“My memories of him at that time would be of his hitting the back of a corporation bus, riding home and not realising the front wheel wouldn’t go left or right until he tried to turn off the main road. That and – when his mechanic skills weren’t as good as they would become – clamping the gear cables to his frame with bottle cage clips and not realising ’til we were far from home that couldn’t change gear.
“Next we met up when he had his shop and I was a team mechanic, he turned up at the Glasgow Central station hotel during the Kellogg’s Tour. A drink was the order of the day for Alan, ‘Lucky’ Luke of Z Peugeot and yours truly; how we drove to Manchester for the next stage I don’t know.
“From then I sold him equipment for his shop before we met up again at mountain bike races.
“Those 24 Hour races would have been impossible without him nearby – you could hear the laughing from the other side of the field.
“Alan was mechanic with Scottish and British teams and Scottish team manager at the Commonwealth Games with many top races under his belt. He was a great mechanic, but more importantly he was good with people and the riders appreciated him as a team member, but also as a friend.
“Alan was a big guy in many ways, size and character and a nicer more helpful person you could never meet – but if he thought you were a dick, he would tell you. He would be the centre of attention where ever he was, he didn’t court that, it just happened. A big, lovable giant who will be missed by so many people, not just in Scotland; everywhere he has been he will be remembered.
“I lost contact with Alan many times over the years, but I knew when we met up again it would be like just no time at all had passed.
“I hope we meet again Aldo and you give me one of your big hugs.”
Bike shop owner Gregor Russell was a friend of Alan’s since the 70’s…
“My first memories of Alan are from the late 70’s when, along with my Dunedin CC club mates, we’d go out to ride 25’s at Stirling. There was always a bond between the Dunedin and the Regent CC and we’d hang out together after races and over the winter months.
“He was this big guy with dyed blond hair, a flat top and two huge earrings who was a always laughing and smiling; he seemed so unlike a racing cyclist but was very fast. A little later, when I worked in Sandy Gilchrist’s shop I’d bump in to Alan at trade shows and the like – he had his own shop by then.
“He was Scotland team manager at the time and asked me if I’d like to mechanic for the team and I ended up doing that for four or five years. I did Girvan, the Ràs, the Tour of Austria, the Ruban Granitier and a lot of other races with him. My overwhelming memory of those days is sitting in the back seat of the team car clutching wheels with tears of laughter running down my cheeks.
“At the Ràs they refer to the after-race sessions at the bar for race entourage as the ‘Night Stages’ they’re tougher than the actual road stages and Alan was the undisputed maillot jaune on those.
“The next phase of our relationship was when I set up my own shop and Alan worked as rep for Madison Cycles but was also the Technical Manager for Shimano Scotland. He was a very good mechanic, highly thought of, and would help me out in the shop from time to time. He was a jeweller to trade and had great skill with his hands as a result – he built a really nice wheel.
“As well as Madison and Shimano he worked for Specialized at the World Cup mountain bike races in Fort William and also for Continental.
“But there were so many sides to the man; before the bike he was very good at Karate, he loved his music and motor bikes – he went on road trips in the USA.
“I first learned that he was battling cancer when we were on a trip to the Tour de France in 2004 when he told me he’d been diagnosed and had undergone operations on his back. He touched so many people, not just in the UK but across Europe, in the USA and in Japan; he’d light up a room when he walked in, the original ‘Friendly, Gentle Giant.’
“There aren’t many men I would say that I truly love – but Alan was one of them, I’m going to miss him so much.”
Two men who were very close to Alan are Inverness brothers and bike shop owners, Roddy and Kenny Riddle, both of whom enjoyed successful racing careers, with Roddy winning stages in Girvan and at the Ràs.
Roddy Riddle rode the Ràs some six or seven times with Alan as his mechanic or manager…
“Losing Aldo is like losing a limb, he was almost a family member.
“I remember once, at the Tour of Hainault I double punctured twice and ended up missing the time cut. Ian Thomson was manager, Alan was mechanic but they had sent the masseur home so Alan took over that role and I became mechanic. Alan and Ian were talking about managerial skills and I remember Ian saying that Alan’s big strength as a manager was that he had the riders on his side. That was very true – and his tactical knowledge was excellent, too.
“He wasn’t much into pre-race team talks but once you were on the road he could read a race so well – he knew our strengths and those of the opposition and how to exploit situations to our advantage.
“I finished fourth on GC twice in The Ràs under his stewardship.
“But it wasn’t just at races he shone – I’m diabetic and decided to run the Marathon des Sables (Marathon of the Sands) which is a 250 K run through the Sahara to raise funds and awareness for diabetes sufferers.
“I asked Alan if he’d be master of ceremonies for me at a charity auction to help in raising funds; he was so funny, people still talk about that night – and we raised a lot of money. But the thing is that he’d started a course of chemo therapy two weeks before and had actually had a session of chemo the day before the auction.
“That was Alan, he’d never let you down, no matter what.
“On another occasion, Kenny and I wanted to do the Hebridean Challenge – swimming, canoeing, running, cycling but it meant we’d be away from the shop. Alan took a week off work and ran the shop for us – that was what he was like, he’d always help you out.
“Duncan Sutherland said to me the other day that whilst it was tragic to lose Aldo, he’d certainly squeezed a lot of life into his shortened years.”
Roddy’s brother, Kenny Riddle first met Alan in the early 90’s as a member of the Scotland team racing in Ireland…
“I think I first rode for Aldo in ’91 or ’92 in Ireland; The Blarney stage race at Easter – and the Ràs, too. He had a good head on him tactically but not just about bike racing, all aspects of life, he was a well educated man – I was always picking his brains about things.
“Apart from my parents I’d say he was one of the biggest influences upon my life.
“At the races he got things done, he had loads of contacts, especially in Ireland; and if he had to then he’d do the job himself, clean bikes, rub legs – helpers were scarce in those days.
“In his days with Madison and Shimano he was regular visitor to our shop in Inverness and we’d also go on trips with him – to the Worlds in Varese for instance. He liked to party and have a drink – but when it came to that I was a ‘third cat.’ compared with him.
“He loved slot machines, ‘puggies’ he called them, if there was one in the bar you could be sure he’d be sticking coins into it.
“But his interests were so diverse, he was big into comic books for example and was a very talented artist, he could draw the super heroes from the books perfectly and was also a great calligrapher – he did the cards for my wedding.
“And you’ll want an ‘Aldo anecdote?’
“At the Ràs in 1992 he’d gone to a ‘manager’s meeting’ – actually an excuse for a big ‘night stage.’ Martin Coll was the master prankster and he hatched a plan – it was warm and there were a lot midges about so we blagged our way into Aldo’s room, switched all the lights on and opened all the windows.
“Aldo was up for most of the night swatting midges – he said; ‘they were like planes circling Heathrow Airport and I was the runway!'”
Mountain bike hire company owner, Keith McLellan knew Alan for 20 years…
“I worked in Dales Cycles and knew him from there – and I worked with him at Madison. He was a huge influence upon me, a massive character and so giving of his time and intellect.
“We used to work together at 24 hour mountain bike races, supporting the riders, drinking Red Bull and lager and enjoying the hilarity Alan provided – he was the cornerstone of all mischief.
“I was in touch with him all the time since the early 90’s – but not just at bike races, he loved a good concert and a beer. On our trips to Inverness to meet the Riddles our evenings would finish in Johnny Foxes Bar with Alan singing ‘My Way.’
“When he moved up to Killin he was always at me to come up and see him; I knew it would be messy so I thought I’d be clever and arrive at 10:30 pm on the Saturday night so there couldn’t be too much damage – I got home on the Tuesday!
“And I remember him sumo wrestling in the road outside the pub that weekend – crazy!
“He fought a long fight against the cancer but was very private about it; he didn’t want to trouble folks with it or look for sympathy – that just wasn’t his way. He was actually told he didn’t have long to live about three years ago but with a combination of chemo and red wine he kept it at bay.
“There are two daft memories I should mention – his hair and his fascination with pink.
“He was always changing his hair, dying it blond, mullets, shaved, flat tops – the main reason for it was just annoy folks. He was a real man’s man but loved the colour pink; he’d buy expensive Chris King components for his bike just because they were available in pink.
“But my favourite story about his love of pink was when he went to buy his first new frame, from Wester Ross Cycles, he handed the guy a piece of paper.
“The guy said; “what’s this?” and Aldo told him it was the colour he wanted the frame – it was the shade of the pink nail varnish his mum used to use!
“We’re all going to miss that zest for life he possessed…”
VeloVeritas would like to thank those who shared their memories with us and would extend our heartfelt condolences to Alan’s family.
Alan’s funeral will be held at Clydebank Crematorium on Thursday 13th November at 11:00 am.
With thanks to Gordon Goldie for the use of his photos.