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Sandy Gilchrist – The Scottish Star of the 70’s and 80’s Working at the Olympics

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Katie ArchibaldRio is his eighth Olympics; and there are six Commonwealth Games and ‘over 30’ World Championships in there too – and whilst we’re talking chiffres (as the French call figures) how about 60-odd Scottish Championships including 14 Scottish Hill Climb Championships and nine Tours de Trossachs?

Yes, it’s that man Sandy Gilchrist, who, along with Robert Millar was Scottish Cycling in the 70’s and into the 80’s.

He rode the Peace Race, Tour de L’Avenir, Milk Race and World Championships in a long and varied career which continues to this day as he just keeps on wielding those spanners at the sport’s highest levels.

VeloVeritas caught up with him before he headed for Rio to mechanic for the Irish team and triathletes on Specialized machines for a long overdue chat.

Sandy Gilchrist
Sandy Gilchrist. Photo©Martin Williamson

What was your first race, Sandy and your last?

“The first would be in 1968 when I was with the Tweeddale, a 10 mile time trial on the Peebles road.

“My last race would have been an MTB event in the ‘Grand Master’ category 10 or 15 years ago.”

Sandy Gilchrist
Flat out in a Kilo on Meadowbank track, a young Sandy in Dunedin CC colours. Photo©supplied

Let’s talk titles…

“I won Scottish titles on the grass track; in the kilometre and pursuit on the track; the 25, 50, 100 and 12 hour, the hill climb and the BAR against the watch, plus the Road Race and Road Race BAR – I think they total more than 60.

“British titles were in the team time trial, BBAR team, the Vets Road Race, Vets MTB and I have BCF team pursuit medals.”

Sandy Gilchrist
Sandy has over 60 titles to his name. Photo©Martin Williamson

How many hill climb titles and Tours de Trossachs wins were there?

“I say 14 hill climb titles but they messed up the timekeeping in one on Sheriffmuir and the race result was annulled so officially it’s 13 – I won the Trossachs nine times, the first in 1969 the last in 1980.”

Sandy Gilchrist
Representing Scotland in the Tour of Ireland. Photo©John Pierce / Photosport International UK USA Asia

You rather burst on to the Scottish scene in 1968; you appear as fourth in the Scottish Road Race Championships behind Andy McGhee but then you headed off to France for 1969.

“I was there for two seasons, based in Saint Brieuc where Tom Simpson served his apprenticeship, I was trying to follow in his footsteps; the first year I was with a chap called Mel Littlefair.

“The second year my wife was with me but her mother became ill and it was just before the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh so we came home.”

[Sandy would finish 18th behind winner, Bruce Biddle of New Zealand after endless rain drenched circuits of Holyrood Park in the heart of Edinburgh, ed.]

And we have to mention the ‘South African Adventure.’

“Yeah, we went out to ride as a GB team in the Rapport Toer, from The Cape to Johannesburg – which was against the UCI rules at the time and we ended up getting banned.

“But it was a great experience, the late Arthur Metcalfe was in the GB team, he won two stages and the GC and I won the King of the Mountains.

“There were French and Italian riders there too; who also got suspensions.

“A few years later I was on the start line at the Worlds and was standing right next to one of the Italian guys from the Rapport – I hadn’t seen him since South Africa, it was a bit surreal.”

You rode the Peace Race twice – and there’s a great story to tell about when you crashed…

“I fell off on the first day and it was a struggle but by the end of the race I was flying.

“When I crashed my bike was wrecked so I grabbed a spectator’s big old bike and finished the stage on it.

“Then about six or seven years ago I received an invite to the Peace Race Museum where they were having a reunion – they’d found the guy who gave me the bike after 40 years and we were re-united.”

Sandy Gilchrist
Sandy in GS Strada’s iconic colours.  Photo©John Pierce / Photosport International UK USA Asia

After the Dunedin and Musselburgh clubs you were a GS Strada man for while.

“Phil Griffiths who set the club up invited me to join, I rode the Peace race with Phil in 1973, the year he had the yellow jersey in the race.

“It was a good time, there were some really good riders in the club – guys like Joe Waugh.

“Phil has put a lot of money into the sport over the years; and continues to do so – you have to admire his commitment.”

You won the Eddy Merckx GP at Eastway in Strada colours as I recall?

“If you look at pictures of that ride you’ll that my bike only has one chainring – I’d ridden a ’25’ the day before and didn’t have time to put my inner ring back on.”

Why did you leave Phil to go to Manchester Wheelers?

“To tell the truth, I can’t really remember.

“I think Phil was scaling things right back because Lutz stopped the sponsorship so I joined Jack Fletcher’s Manchester Wheelers.

“I was there for five years and won the British Vets Road Race in their colours.”

Sandy Gilchrist
Sandy during the Vets Championships which he won. Photo©supplied

What was your favourite discipline?

“Probably the road, you have to use your head more than in time trials and it’s not necessarily the strongest who wins on the road.

“To win a classic race like Glasgow to Dunoon is very satisfying, especially when you’re up against the good quality riders who were around in Scotland in those days.”

Which of all your results gives you most satisfaction?

“Probably my Trossachs wins because in that event it’s not just about time trial speed, you have to be able to climb and there are the bike handling and pace judgement aspects to the race.”

Some say you perhaps spread yourself too thin tacking all those different disciplines and racing so much?

“I raced the way I did because I enjoyed it – the reason I joined English clubs was to get out of my comfort zone and challenge myself, to get higher standard races you had to go to England.”

Sandy Gilchrist
Along with Robert Millar, Sandy was part of the GB World Team Time Trial squad. Photo©supplied

You never turned professional.

“That’s a bit of a regret knowing what I know now, I should have turned professional.

“But there was always something on the go – The Games, opening the bike shop, other plans…

“When I raced in France I was ‘hors categorie’ so you were riding against ‘semi-pro’ riders – I knew the level.”

How do you think Scottish cycle sport now compares to ‘your day?’

“The potential is there but they have to travel – if they do and get the results then the British Cycling system picks them up and they go to training camps and have the opportunity to progress.

“To tell the truth I don’t get to that many Scottish races with my Specialized and national team commitments but I did manage along to the Crit Champs and those boys were going for it!”

Sandy Gilchrist
Sandy works for the Irish Track Team. Photo©Martin Williamson

Are you still working with the Irish team?

“Yes, I used to coach Brian Nugent when he was a rider so when he went across to management our relationship continued and I began to work for the team as mechanic.

“I’ll be with them for Rio – we have Dan Martin and Nicolas Roche in the Men’s Road Race and Shannon McCurley on the track.

“I’ll also be working for Specialized in Rio with their triathletes – there’ll be seven or eight athletes on Specialized bikes there.”

Sandy Gilchrist
Sandy has kept his accreditations as souvenirs. Photo©Martin Williamson

How many Worlds have you done?

“As a rider and mechanic I’ve attended over 30 Worlds now; this will be my eighth Olympics between working for the Canadian, Irish and GB teams.

“And I’ve done six Commonwealth Games, too.”

Sandy Gilchrist
Glasgow 2014 was Sandy’s sixth Commonwealth Games. Photo©Martin Williamson

Does a mechanic still have Coke cans in his tool box to cut up for seat post shims, these days?

“No, not in the modern era! Reliability of equipment is much better and as long as you plan ahead and have the right spares it stops you chasing your tail.

“What’s good is that for the Specialized MTB’s the athletes are all on the same equipment set-ups; 1 x 11 transmission with just the chainring size varying according to the course.”

You’re 70 years old now, how many more years will you do?

“I don’t know when I’m going to stop, I still enjoy it – provided I’m fit and healthy, enjoying it and contributing worthwhile input, I’ll continue.

“I particularly enjoy working with the triathletes, they’re a different breed of athlete – they leave the bike to you, they have more to worry about!”

Sandy Gilchrist
Chris Hoy remains cool as Sandy sets his bike up in the gate. Photo©supplied
Sandy Gilchrist
Sandy with a few mementos from grateful riders he’s supported. Photo©Martin Williamson

Regrets?

“Possibly not turning pro, I’d like to have seen what I could have done in that environment. I was overlooked for selection for the Commonwealth Games in Australia by the Scottish selectors – that hurt.

“I rode most of the big UK and European races – Milk Race, L’Avenir, Peace Race, Worlds…

“I rode in Bob Downs team when he was on the third in the 1978 Milk Race, keeping him on the podium was a big satisfaction, riding with a sense of purpose – I always liked that.

“I’ve worked as a mechanic with world champions stretching back to Tony Doyle in Colorado Springs in 1986 through Graeme Obree, Chris Boardman, Chris Hoy, Tara Whitten, Martyn Irvine – so I can’t have too many regrets, can I?”

Indeed not – with thanks to Sandy and wishing him a happy and stress-free Rio Olympics.

Sandy Gilchrist
Sandy has no intention of stopping work. Photo©Martin Williamson
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.

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