The Rás. A race to strike fear in the strongest heart; huge fields, big hills and mad uncontrollable stages with fearless Irishmen continually firing off the front in death or glory bids.
The winners include: ’10’ and ’25’ record holder, Polish strong man, Marcin Bialoblocki; AG2R’s Lithuanian beast Gediminas Bagdonas, multi-World Time Trial Champion Tony Martin, and … Jamie McGahan of Scotland. Not only did he win it in 1981 he finished second in 1982 and third in 1983.
He also won the 1983 The Tour of Scotland ‘Health Race’ – beating a certain Teun Van Vliet in the process. Van Vliet would go on to a successful pro career with Dries-Verandalux and Panasonic.
High times VeloVeritas ‘had a word’ with Mr. McGahan…
In the beginning, Jamie?
“There was an old CTC guy across the road; my dad got me an old Flying Scot and I started going out on runs with the old fella – one day I met Pat McCabe who was a Glasgow Wheelers stalwart so I joined them.
“I had spell with Jimmy Dorward at the [East Dunbartonshire-based] Scotia Sports CC – Jimmy was a pioneer of interval training, and I also had a spell with Eddie Cairney’s club, the Greenock RC.”
Who were your idols back then?
“Eddy Merckx, Roger De Vlaeminck, Freddy Maertens and Bernard Hinault – he was so determined.”
Remind us of your Scottish palmarès, Jamie.
“I suppose the main ones would be winning the Scottish Road Race Championships in 1977 (I beat Robert Millar that day), then again in ’82 and ’83.
“I won the Davie Bell Memorial, don’t remember much about that one, the Inverness – Elgin, and two silver medals in the British Team Time Trial Championships.”
How was your relationship with Robert Millar?
“How was anyone’s relationship with Robert?
“He had immense courage, a big heart, and he could go deep into the depths of his resources… but as a person he was a bit of a handful.
“There’s the famous, ‘Mark Bell anecdote’ where the Liverpudlian has arrived in the ACBB flat in Paris and is waiting for something to happen.
“Millar arrives, meets Bell in the kitchen, doesn’t say a word, takes his food to his room and slams the door behind him.
“That was it for Bell, he went home!
“But Robert did what he had to do – and that personality of his served him well, he doesn’t need people.
“But I do!”
You spent time in France – why Nice, though?
“That was a lonely experience, I was hoping to get a place with ACBB in Paris on the strength of my fifth place in the British Road Race Championships in 1979.
“Sandy Gilchrist and Des Fretwell sat on me that day and I had two punctures. I’d taken a tanking in the Tour of Britain but had obviously recovered well from it.
“I didn’t get into ACBB in the end, but the guy who organised the club, Mickey Wiegand, put me in touch with the Sprinter Club Nice; Bernard Vallet, Nico Roche and Charly Bérard’s old club.
“It never lasted, although I went back the following year with Colin Fraser – and I did win a race down there.
“One of my adversaries was Vallet, who went on to be King of the Mountains in the Tour de France.
“That second year Colin and I moved up to Ghent. It was hard up there and took some getting used-to.
“My conception of the break forming going clear over the top of a hill went right out of the window – it was all one’s and two’s going across and groups forming and reforming.”
Scottish teams had more international invites, back then.
“From when I was 19 up to 22 and won the Rás there wasn’t a lot happened in my career, partly because I wasn’t getting guidance.
“If you take the Tour of Britain as an example; I wasn’t used to riding in a bunch of that quality. You had to be near the front but it was hard to stay there, I mean, in Scotland you were practically invited to the front!
“But those years, I was learning, toughening up, getting stronger.
“And yes, we got the invites, but they were sporadic – the Girvan, the Tour of Britain, the Sealink International, and the Tours of Bohemia and Slovakia – all hard races.
“I began to think about the psychology of it… I mean, some of the worst days I ever had on the bike – coming home in a bodybag – were in training; mad runs to Oban and back.
“You had to get your head round the fact that these races weren’t putting you in the same mess as some of our club runs so what was the problem?”
That Rás Tailteann win in ’81, you had a strong Scotland team around you…
“I did but it was basically a team of individuals; Norman Lindsay (Musselburgh Roads CC) won the first two stages in bunch sprints and ended up Point winner and third overall, Willie Gibb (Johnstone Wheelers) was there and Colin Fraser too.
“We were all developing at our own rates and I didn’t really expect riders to work for me, but we did win the International Team Prize.
“Those Irish boys knew how to race though; the pattern was that the second-string guys would go on the attack and the top guys would end up chasing all day.
“The second last stage was a five mile time trial, I went wearing yellow with a margin of 55 seconds. I remember thinking ‘I’ll be keeping this jersey, even if they have to put me in an ambulance at the finish’.
“I knew how to suffer by then but I went off like a rocket and after a mile was in oxygen debt – I totally messed up my pacing, but held on by 12 seconds.
“The last stage was 50-odd miles into Phoenix Park in Dublin. I was worried someone might try to cut me up, but I made it safely.
“I suppose was a little lucky in ’81 because the Northern and Southern Ireland Federations weren’t unified and there was still ‘needle’ there.
“In ’83 when I was third nobody would work with me and Phil Cassidy, who won it, called-in all his favours from the County teams.
“In ’82 when I was second I couldn’t make a move without riders being all over me.
“That team was Willie Gibb, Davie Gibson and Bobby Melrose – but it was Commonwealth Games year and everyone