Monday, September 27, 2021
HomeInterviewsJohn McMillan - Scottish Star of the 60's and 70's

John McMillan – Scottish Star of the 60’s and 70’s


John McMillan
John McMillan.

When I started cycling back in 1971 I quickly learned that there were five men I should stand in awe of; Belgians, Eddy Merckx – no explanation necessary – and Patrick Sercu, world sprint champion, Olympic kilometre champion and Grand Tour stage winner; Danish super stylist, world hour record holder Ole Ritter; British 25 mile record holder, Alf Engers and long term Scottish 25 mile record holder, John McMillan.

Over the years I’ve managed to get my picture taken with Eddy and Ole, interviewed Alf and have even had the odd chat with Patrick.

How are you today, Mr. Sercu?

To which the great man replies; ‘Well, I’m still alive!

John McMillan has eluded me – until today.

But he wasn’t just a ‘tester;’ he was an accomplished track rider, an international rider as an amateur and a UK professional in the days of Les West, Sid Barras and Colin Lewis.

Here’s what he had to say to us.

John McMillan
John does “not a bad ride” in the 1964 Trossachs Mountain Time Trial.

How and when did you get into cycling and who were your Scottish and European role models back then?

“I got into cycling at the end of the 50’s, simply because we moved house and I found a bike in the garden shed.

“I liked cycling, joined the CTC and went Youth Hostelling.

“A next-door neighbour, David Fairholme, got me interested in racing, and I rode my first 10 mile TT in 1960… and no, I’m not telling you the time…

“Scottish role models were Kenny Laidlaw, Ernie Scally (and there’s a tale!).

[John alludes to Ernie’s involvement in a lorry-load of whisky ‘going missing.’ ed.]

“European-wise, Jacques Anquetil (I interviewed him shortly before his death in 1987) and Rik Van Looy – I even used handlebar controls to look like him…”

It’s 40 years since you won the Tour of the Trossachs – do you remember much about that day?

“Not a great deal, I was feeling pretty good that morning, but was apprehensive about the Duke’s Pass.

“I flew up it, and can remember some of my club mates cheering me on halfway up.

“I had a “moment” on the descent, passing a Tour Bus, when some sheep decided to cross the road but felt really strong on the Braes of Greenock climb – and yes, Jocky Allan (the Velo Sportiv club’s fabulously eccentric manager, unfortunately no longer with us. ed.) was there shouting me on…”

“He even agreed that I had done; ‘Not a bad ride.'”

John McMillan
John enjoys success in a criterium, Dunbar, ’66.

When I started cycling in 1971, your 55 minute 25 record was the Holy Grail – do you remember much about that ride?

“Strange, as it was a midweek “25” on a lumpy course – Freuchie, in Fife.

“I spent a lot of time on the small ring (44, back then), and I was convinced I was not going terribly well. It was one of those days when it hurt a lot, and I thought I was creeping, but it turned out that it hurt a lot because I was flying.

“I remember going back to Edinburgh in Jocky’s van, on top of the world!”

John McMillan
John racing for the East of Scotland club Velo Sportiv in a 1964 25 mile time trial.

You were a Velo Sportiv man – tell us a Jocky Allan story, please.

“Jocky; the words he used frequently regarding me were: ‘Big’; ‘Stupit’; ‘Gett’; and ‘Useless’ – in no particular order.

“As road races were scarce in Scotland, Jocky would frequently load us up in the Van (Old Chug-a-Lug) and head south.

“Newcastle was a frequent destination, but we also hit some of the Star Trophy (Yes, THAT long ago) races further south.

“As Jocky had a bike shop to run, the journey would frequently start late Friday night, and continue through the night, with the riders sleeping in a mattress or two in the back.

“I remember Jocky waking me up once in the early hours of the morning somewhere in middle-England on the M6 and whispering; ‘The oil light’s come on.’

“I enquired; ‘When?’, and the answer was ‘Just after we left Edinburgh…’

“The dipstick was completely clean, not a trace of oil on it… amazingly, the van ran OK after we filled it up.

“Jocky was also responsible for my International debut, at the Isle of Man International Road Race in 1963, at the tender age of 18. I was on the Island for the Cycling Week, and had placed well in the “25”. Jocky came round to my hotel, and enquired when I was heading home. I told him, after the International.

“‘Good’ he said, ‘because you’re riding it for Scotland…’

“Bert Waugh had crashed during the week, and I joined Hughie (Shuggie) McGuire, Gordon McNaught and Norrie Drummond in the blue jerseys. Not an outstanding start, I clipped a wheel going up the Mountain on the first lap, and never saw them again.”

My friend Stuart Smith remembers you as always having cool cars back in the 60’s…

“I have been a lifelong friend and supporter of the British Used Car industry!

“My 60’s cars included a Ford Zephyr Convertible, Ford Capri, and a Jaguar 340 – the “Inspector Morse” version, not the most reliable of cars.

“My current mode of transport is a Porsche Boxster – I think only Roger St Pierre has had more cars than me.”

John McMillan
John’s certificate of achievement from the North Road ’72 Hardriders event.

Tell us about your 1970 Commonwealth Games eventual non-selection hassles, please.

“The main problem was that I had moved to London in late ’67. I was doing really well on the track in London and Leicester, and was winning 10 mile races at 30 plus mph average.

“When I went to Edinburgh to take part in the training, I was having to take an overnight train then get to the track in the morning, or do the same by car.

“My performances were pretty rough, being conducted in a form of British Rail-lag.

“Also, Arthur Campbell (SCU supremo, ed.) and I didn’t get on well – Glasgow Communist used car dealer versus Edinburgh public school snotty kid…”

John McMillan
John experimented with other modes of transport in his youth.

Four years a pro in the UK – what was the scene like?

“At once exhilarating, and other times depressing.

“Get up at 4.30am, collect like-minded other Pro’s – Nigel Dean, for example, then drive three hours up the M1/M6 for a two hour criterium in the rain, then drive home and take part in the 30 mile tailback back to London, having won a prime, if you were lucky.

“Most of the Pro’s were ex-National Champions, and I got an extra 2 mph from racing with them. They were also nice guys – off the bike. But then again, so was I?

“I had a bit of a short fuse; I lifted Brian Jolly off his bike during a race when we had a disagreement.

“Racing was never dull – even in the 275 miles London-Holyhead, there would be a mad dash to get in the early break. I remember Geoff Wiles and I sneaking off in the neutralised zone and getting 30 seconds up the road, before we looked at each other and said; ‘Do we really want to do this?'”

“We all had the habit of getting clipped-in and leaning on each other, at the start of crits. One race, we all pushed off, leaving the man in the middle, Rhys Bateman, motionless and strapped-in, to majestically crash to the ground.

“He was still there when we came round at the end of the first lap.

“And Sid Barras had one joke; he would put his jersey on and head for the door without shorts…”

You rode for Birds – what was the team like?

“Initially, it was a single-sponsor deal with Terry Cronin of Bird’s and Stan Rose of Alisian. We added Jack Kershaw and Tony Evans in 1976.

“The idea was that, if I didn’t succeed in getting away, I would lead them out for the sprint. The only problem was that when I went back to look for them, they were right at the rear of the bunch.

“Team organisation wasn’t brilliant, Stan was always late, so the last 10 miles to the HQ was pretty hectic – getting changed while the car was rocketing round bends was not easy. And, during the first London-Holyhead I rode, Stan did not make it to the second feed… words were exchanged.

“When we added Bill Horne and Rhys Bateman in 1977, Stan wanted a team photo literally five minutes before the start of race.

“People always wondered why we were all scowling at the camera…”

What was the Ron Kit set up like ?

“Pretty rubbish.

“I turned pro in August 1974, at the instigation of my friend Morgan (The Organ) Jackson.

“I only met Ron once, to sign the Contract. I collected my kit from his office manager, and just started racing and even got some places.

“Not a word from Ron.

“Then, at the end of the season he called Morgan and I and suggested we look for another couple of riders to make up a “proper” team for 1975.

“Then, silence, until a letter arrived in February 1975, informing me that I was no longer riding for Ron Kitching, and should return my bike forthwith.

“And I had turned down an approach from Holdsworth a week earlier!”

Why move to the States?

“It was a career move; I was a Sales Manager in the Telecoms Industry, and the opportunity came up to join a start-up in Los Angeles, which I had previously visited on a number of occasions – and loved the place!

“It was a great move, I had a super job, International Sales Manager, travelled frequently and made lots of $$$.

“Needless to say, I bought a Corvette…”

John McMillan
John (l) enjoyed his time in the ‘States.

Did you race there and what was the scene like?

“I started racing after a year or so, when the job had settled down.

“As I had limited time for training, I concentrated on the track (Encino Velodrome) and criteriums; training with either the Griffith Park or Rosebowl chain gangs. I got pretty fit, and won a number of races, all by sneaking away at five laps to go, and holding them off.

“Amazingly, the field would let me go, until someone came along with an old copy of “Cycling”, with me on the front cover… next race, I made a move, and six guys were instantly on my wheel!

“Still, I made quite a few $$$ in some of the bigger crits, including one on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, by deliberately going for Primes and ignoring the finish.

“I took a Prime off Andy Hampsten in one race…

“Racing in the US was not as sophisticated as Europe, the flag would go down, and it was like the Ben Hur Chariot Race. As long as I could stay upright, I would be in with a chance at the death.

“The crowds were pretty good, too.”

Why come back to Europe?

“Again, a career decision.

“I went into Partnership with a Swiss Businessman, and moved to Geneva….and continued racing!”

What are the biggest changes you observe between cycling in the 60’s and now?

“It would be the professionalism which exists within the sport; from the top down.

“Sky epitomises this, but other teams are catching up.

“Sky, by the way, still need a good brain driving the Team Car, their tactical knowledge is poor.

“But also, in the amateur ranks, even with the veterans, people prepare much better, watch their diet, adopt new training methods, and generally take racing much more seriously.

“And the equipment is in another world…”

Which amateur performance are you most proud of?

“It has to be the 1966 Scottish Milk Race, where I finished second, riding for the East of Scotland Team – which disintegrated after the second day – leaving me alone being attacked constantly by the Scottish Team with no love lost between Glasgow (them) and Edinburgh (me).

“A bit of nifty bargaining by Jocky (who else) resulted in my having the services of the North of England Team…”

John McMillan
John ‘hoofs it’ a criterium in Essex, 2009. Photo©Sport in Pictures/Garry Bowden

And among the pros?

“Not my one win, in 1975, (Morecambe-Hull) but the points prize and seventh overall in the Circuit du Port de Dunkerque in 1976.

“I was in a long two-up break with Willy de Geest [then riding for Brooklyn, ed.], was caught then bridged across to the next break in the last 10 km – needless to say I was not well up in the Sprint, but had done enough for the points.

“The “Voix du Nord” wrote that I was built like a Breton Manor House, and had a style like a coal miner…. Humph!”

John McMillan
It worked out well for him! Photo©Sport in Pictures/Garry Bowden

Looking back, what would you do differently?

“Difficult one, that.

“I’ve had a good cycling career, but also a good business one, too.

“Sometimes think I should have tried my luck in France when I was 21, but then I had a University Degree to finish, and pressure from my family to continue my studies and start a career.

“My business career has taken me to live and work in the USA, Switzerland and France, and I’ve thus had to opportunity to race there, as well.

“Maybe the only cycling thing I should have done better was work on my pursuiting; I knew I had potential there, but never trained properly for it.”

It all seemed so much more like fun back then – with thanks to John for his recollections.

Ed Hood
Ed's been involved in cycling for over 45 years. In that time he's been a successful time triallist, team manager, and sponsor of several teams and clubs. He's also a respected and successful coach, and during the winter months can often be found working in the cabins at the Six Days. Ed remains a massive fan of the sport and couples his extensive contacts with an inexhaustable enthusiasm for the minutiae and the history of our sport.

Related Articles

Neah Evans – “I wouldn’t necessarily say I’ve made huge leaps this year”

It was at the Berlin Six Day a few years ago that we first saw Neah Evans in action on the boards. She’s made a lot of progress since then and the 27 year-old was recently part of the successful GB team pursuit squad at the Manchester World Cup. High times we ‘had a word.’

Evan Oliphant – Looking forward to Ghent-Wevelgem

We caught up with Scottish professional Evan Oliphant shortly after he returned from a winter spent racing in Australia, and just prior to his new DFL-Cyclingnews-Litespeed team's official launch in Holland.

Vic Haines – “I was pissed off with Obree, but I’m not now”

Vic Haines - does the name ring a bell? If you're into time trialling you'll know him as a long-term sponsor in English cycling and a multiple tandem time trial record holder. Closer to home you'll recognise him as the man who organised Graeme Obree's successful Hour Record attempt in Hamar, Norway. But his controversial 'split' with Obree came not long after the Scottish phenomenon had eclipsed Italian legend, Francesco Moser's record - with, according to Haines, the new Ayrshire Hour Record holder due him a lot of money. We thought a chat with the man might be worthwhile...

Roddy Riddle – Taking on the Marathon des Sables, the 6633 Ultra, and Beyond

We were chatting about the Scottish Hour Record the other day and it got us to thinking about Roddy Riddle’s 1995 ride of 46.570 which broke Graeme Obree’s 1990 ride of 46.390 - and lasted one year until Jim Gladwell established the current best of 46.650 in 1996. ‘What’s Roddy up to now?’ we mused - the last we heard he was running across the Sahara in the Marathon des Sables. Transpires he’s participating in the 6633 Ultra. The what? Best ask him...

John Archibald – on breaking the Scottish 10 Mile Time Trial record

It’s hard to believe that since I started cycling in 1971 nearly four minutes have been hacked off the Scottish 10 mile time trial record; when I started it stood at 22 minutes and 14 seconds: 1971  P.Templeton  (Dundee Thistle R.C.)  22 mins 14 secs. It now stands at 18 minutes and 38 seconds thanks to that man John Archibald (Pro Vision) - a time he achieved this morning on the fast dual carriageway tarmac beside the River Clyde at Westferry.

Brian Smith – “There are no dodgy deals anymore”

If there were any doubts that MTN-Qhubeka is going to be a force to be reckoned with for season 2015 they were dispelled when Steve Cummings relegated none other than 2014 world number one, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar & Spain) to the second step of the podium in the Trofeo Andratx Mirador d’Es Colomer in Mallorca, this week.

At Random

Tour of Britain 2007 – Day 4: Stage 3, Worcester – Wolverhampton

Stage three of the Tour of Britain 2007 into Wolverhampton, so how is the grass track boy from Wick doing?

Alf Engers (Part I) – “I Was Steered Towards Speed”

'A.R. Engers' the start sheets used to say, 'Alfred Robert' but to us he was 'Alf' or 'The King.' Time trials weren't boring affairs when Alf was on the throne. He was a man on a mission; to take the British 25 mile record through the 30 miles per hour barrier - and more than 30 years after he broke the barrier there are still not many riders who can claim a '49' or faster.

The VV View: Wout Poels’ Monument Win, Disc Brakes, Wiggins, and more…

Buoyed by the great reception our piece on Shane Sutton received - Darryl Webster branded it; "utter garbage" - we thought we'd fire off a few more opinions on what's been happening recently in our 'King of Sports.' Sky finally got their Monument, not from a 'Brit' though; Lowlands hard man Wout Poels was first into that most unglamorous of Monument finishes - the retail park in Ans.

Evan Oliphant – Tour of the Reservoir 2013 Winner

The Giro; for the weeks before and during it’s like the Death Star, sucking all other cycling results in and destroying them. But one result we couldn’t let pass without comment was Evan Oliphant’s splendid win in the Premier Calendar Tour of the Reservoir. Congratulations to Evan for turning round a Stage One deficit of five seconds to overall victory in The Reservoir by 13 seconds over Team UK Youth’s Chris Opie, the man who took that first stage.

Grenoble Six Day 2006 – Fifth Night

It's 9.30 and I'm just up, Kris sleeps in the camper van. He says it's more comfortable, but I think it's because I snore so badly. It was interesting at breakfast today; the guys were talking about what they did before they were full-time pro cyclists.

Giro d’Italia – Day 2: Stage 16, Pergola – Monte Petrano

La Gazzetta Dello Sport doesn't like Gibo Simoni, he gets a 3 out of 10 for yesterday's effort, where he contrived to drop 17:59 on the stage - ouch! Saving it for today's stage to Monte Petrano? We'll see.