Tuesday, January 18, 2022
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E.V. (Ernie) Mitchell – Scottish Star of the 50’s

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Sometimes it’s strange how you pick up on a story; take this one. My friend, former colleague and owner of a rather nice Look, Kenny Burrell sent me a text about a gentleman he’d been chatting to – a certain Mr E.V. (Ernie) Mitchell by name.

The first man to break two hours for a 50 mile TT in Scotland, back in the 1950’s” said Ken.

I’ll check that out, Ken” I texted back.

And that was the first step on my journey to E.V.’s (although he prefers Ernie, these days) front door.

He was a man well ahead of his time; one of the first to drive to races and not ride out on the morning; he trained twice each day, a la Ekimov in his Russian pursuit team days; his fixed wheel track iron was built super-tight with sprinter’s rake on the forks to ‘keep it alive’ – not with the ‘lazy’ rake and big clearances of his contemporaries – a la Alf Engers.

And also, just like Alf he risked riding the lightest of track tubulars on the road in search of speed.

E.V. (Ernie) Mitchell
Ernie about to start one of his many pursuit rides.

He was one of the major figures in Scottish track racing and time trials during the 50’s setting records at 25, 30 and 50 miles; winning the 25, 50 and 12 hour championships and making the pursuit his own – not to mention a sprint title along the way.

As part of the preparation for a surprise 80th birthday party for her father, Ernie’s daughter Diane Walker spend a lot of time researching his career.

E.V. (Ernie) Mitchell
Diane’s mum and dad on their big day.

This list of Ernie’s career highlights which Diane came up with gives some idea of his talent and versatility:


Ernie's Career Highlights


1950

  • 25 champion 1:2:43
  • Pursuit champion

1951

  • 50 record 2:1:17
  • Pursuit champion

1952

  • 25 record 59:09
  • Pursuit champion
  • Team Pursuit champion

1954

  • 50 record, TWICE  1:59:51 and 1:59:37
  • Pursuit champion
  • Sprint champion
  • Won 21 races straight (undefeated)

1955

  • Pursuit champion

1956

  • Pursuit champion

1957

  • 25 record 58:09
  • 30 record 1:11:18
  • 50 champion 2:00:50
  • 12 champion 260.3
  • Scottish Best All Rounder 23.227 mph
  • Top 12 Best British All Rounder competition
  • Pursuit champion
  • Team Pursuit champion

1958

  • 25 record 57:35

The first question we had to ask was an obvious one; how did he get into cycling?

“My father was Italian, Del Vecchio was the name he was born with; he came across to Scotland with his family when he was very young.

“As a young man, he’d go out for a ride with his brother and cousin. At that time he wasn’t in a club or racing; just out for a run – but they’d latch on to the club runs of the day on the way home.

“But when the big habble started at the end (that’s ‘simulated race’ for our readers not familiar with West Coast bicycling parlance) they’d struggle.

“He remembered one of the hardest habblers announcing; ‘well, that’s those Italian chaps undone!’”

(That’s not how Ernie tells it – but this is a family site so we’ll stick with that version.)

E.V. (Ernie) Mitchell
Ernie’s dad smacks a congratulatory kiss on him.

“My father didn’t like to be put down like that so he started to train and race; initially with the Douglas CC but he was a founding member of the Glasgow Wheelers and went on to race very successfully in the 1930’s.

“He didn’t actually want me to get into cycle sport – he wanted me to be a swimmer.

“He always said that cycling had given him his heart problems – but I said to him that it was because he’d pushed himself too hard in races without real proper preparation.”

Who were your role models – Coppi? Bartali?

“No!

“I wasn’t into the massed start side of things, my dad had been a time trial champion and he coached me – he was all the role model I needed.”

Tell us about your training.

“If I was training for 25’s I’d do 20 miles twice a day with maybe another 10 miles to get the start point of my efforts. I’d jump in behind buses on these runs and that really helped with leg speed.

“If I was training for the 50 then it was 40 miles twice each day – up to St. Ninians at Stirling – but by the time I got to my start points and back I’d be doing around 100 miles per day – all on 72” fixed.

“People used to say I trained like a professional – but I’d simply reply; ‘what’s to stop you doing it, too?’ I still had to put in a shift at my father’s hairdresser’s shop in Glasgow, six days a week.

“People would ask if they could come on training runs with me, I’d say; ‘sure!’ I wanted them to see that I wasn’t up to anything except hard work.”

E.V. (Ernie) Mitchell
Alone and unpaced, just the way Ernie liked it.

I’ve heard that you weren’t so much into the social aspect of the sport as your contemporaries?

“Back then a lot of the time the thing was that you’d ride to the race location, camp out, ride the race and then go on the club run.

“With us having the car I didn’t have to do that and my attitude was that once you’d done the race then you went home – it wasn’t anti-social, just workmanlike.”

Which clubs were you in?

“Originally the Belle Star CC from Scotstoun then I was in the Glasgow United for a short spell before joining the Glasgow Suburban – it was a bigger club and there was much more opportunity to win team prizes.

“Albeit there were no cash prizes back then, it was all trophies, canteens of cutlery and the like.”

E.V. (Ernie) Mitchell
Ernie was perhaps workmanlike, but nevertheless greatly