George Edwards? The name might not mean much to you but along with Brian Smith, Robert Millar and David Miller he’s one of few Scotsmen who have won the British National Road Race Championship – in his case the BLRC version in 1946.
In that post-war period there were two governing bodies, the NCU (National Cyclists’ Union) and the BLRC (British League of Racing Cyclists), bitter rivals with the latter the flamboyant ‘new boys’ who wanted things to be like they were on the Continent whilst the NCU were much more conservative in their ideas.
We thought we should find out more about this man who played an important part in Scottish cycle sport history.
George passed away in 1992 at the age of 68 but Harry Tweed connected us with George’s son who shares the same Christian name and now lives in the Netherlands.
Here’s what George had to say to VeloVeritas, recently.
What took you to the Netherlands and how big is the sport there currently, George?
“Initially I came to work a three month contract and I am still here 20 years later. Cycling is obviously the national pastime of the Dutch. The cycle tracks are fantastic and cyclists have always right of way.
“Not being involved in the racing scene, I can’t really comment on that side of things. I began cycling on a race bike at 50 years old, three years ago and am now a member of a sportive club.
“Each weekend there are numerous sportives to choose from mostly 100km to 250km, costing on average four euros for club events to 20 euros for larger organised events.
“The most famous being the Amstel Gold sportive and Elfsteden tocht, the latter a cycle run of 235km around 11 cities in the province of Friesland. It’s limited to 15,000 people and receives twice as many applications. Start cards for both the events are put into a lottery.”
Checking the palmarès sites, in 1945 we see your dad won:
- Scottish Road Race and Time Trial Champion 1945
- The Trossachs Road Race
- The Star Road Race
- The Clees Road Race
- The Glasgow-Edinburgh and back Road Race.
“Yes and also he rode the year’s fastest 25 mile TT in 1h 2m 25s and the fastest 50 mile TT in 2h 8m 47s.
“He considered his best performance that year was finishing seventh in the Brighton to Glasgow stage race (First Scotsman to reach Glasgow).”
You have a nice anecdote about that Clees Race, I think?
“Being around 18 year old and serving an engineering apprenticeship I wasn’t so interested in cycling but loved building things. My friend owned a bike shop so I decided to build a bike.
“I thought dad would be really chuffed. On presenting my new project he became quite agitated before moaning, why did you buy an Ernie Clements frame? He then proceeded to tell me this story.
“Dad and Alex Hendry cycled down to Wolverhampton to complete in the Circuit of the Clees road race.
“They went into Percy Stallard’s bike shop and were teased by a number of local riders including Ernie Clements about wasting their time cycling all the way from Scotland as they never stood a chance.
“They never replied but on leaving the shop Dad turned to Alex Hendry and said; ‘it’s either me or you who’s going to be first across that line tomorrow.’
“They finished together with dad getting the win by half a wheel.
“In the 1946 Brighton to Glasgow program Alex said his best performance so far was being second to Dad in the Circuit of the Clees; their way of replying to the gents in Percy Stallard’s shop.”
And in 1946?
“In the Brighton To Glasgow six day stage race he was second to Alex Hendry On the Bradford – Newcastle Stage; winner on Edinburgh to Glasgow Stage and 12th overall.
“Scottish Road Race Champion, BLRC Championship, and in 1947 (I think? dates not on newspaper clipping) he was British 50 mile time trial champion.
[VeloVeritas isn’t sure on this one, the RTTC ‘50’ Champion that year was George Fleming but perhaps the NCU/BLRC had their own event, we’d welcome any information, ed.]
“And 1947 or 48 he was winner of the Cumbrae Road Race.”
Did he get a jersey for the BLRC win?
“Not that I know off, he did receive a sash with his name and BLRC Champion on it.”
What about palmarès pre 1945?
“He was the winner of the Scottish Novice Track Championship in 1940.
“He started cycling on the track when 16, I believe he was quite successful and rode for the Glasgow Nightingale club.
“However I think there were not so many big events during the war.
“He was also involved in secret TT events around the streets of Glasgow donning a balaclava and dressing in black so as not to be recognized by the local bobby.”
Tell us about his ride in Paris-London in 1947…
“There’s not much info on this race, apart from a photo with him and Ernie Clements leading a stage Paris to Sens.
“He made an impression as he has a mention in the book ‘Olympic Gangster: The Legend of José Beyaert.’
Dad was credited to assisting the eventual winner George Fleming and was fifth Brit to finish.
“What was interesting was the two stages in France were mass start, however the war between the BLRC and NCU wouldn’t allow a mass start in the UK but it was agreed to allow a time trial.
“However the sponsors were not allowed to advertise the start or finish point.”
We can’t find results for 1947 – did he quit that year?
“He was still very active in 1947 and won numerous Time trial’s in Scotland and was British 50 mile Time trial champion (NCU), but to be eligible for the 1948 Olympics he had to return to the NCU.
“The local press covered many of the Time Trial events locally, but the main National and Cycling press favoured the mass start and the BLRC events.
“So there’s not a lot been archived from the NCU events during this time period.”
What did he say about the NCU v. BLRC warfare?
“Dad was very active in promoting mass start racing in the UK and Scotland, he was one of the 15 riders including Alex Hendry and Arthur Campbell to sign a register to form a breakaway from the NCU and become affiliates to the BLRC.
“He was a favourite to represent Britain at the Olympics, however at the trials the rules were changed allowing ‘flint catchers’ which had previously being illegal to be allowed. [A wire and plastic device which was bolted on via the brake bridges to catch any thorns or flints the tyre tread picked up before they caused a puncture – they were still used into the 1970’s, ed.]
“The Scottish riders were not made aware of this change of ruling and my father retired after suffering 5 punctures. None of the Scots finished.
“My uncle told me this broke his heart and he retired not long after at 26 years-old.
“I think the politics disheartened him and meeting my mother around the same time he felt racing was not for a married man.”
You said he left the Chryston club for the Douglas – why?
“His dream was to ride in the Olympics; however as a League rider he was not eligible to ride.
“This led him to the Douglas and he formed a very successful partnership with Frank Lonsdale and Dunkie McCallum and won many TT team events as well as individual TT title’s.
“Probably his biggest race in 1947 was Cumbrae a mass start which he won from quite a strong field including Jock Allison.”
Which frames and equipment did he ride?
“He was a great Flying Scot fan and a frequent visitor to David Rattray’s shop.
“I think that was his most favored bike but we was also a fan of curly stayed Hetchins.”
What were his ideas on training and diet?
“He was always in awe of the Europeans and said that in terms of training and team work we were miles behind.
“From his own words from the Chryston Wheelers handbook;
‘To my club mates, we have a chance second to none in making our club one of the finest in Britain. Let us stay together as a club should, train together, race together and share victory together. Since our first night we have made and met some very good friends, whom I know will do everything in their power to see the Chryston wheelers get to the top of the tree. Now that we have the backing in the club, it’s up to you one and all to play your part well. Remember glory is not easily achieved, you must train hard, learn to suffer and above all never give in, take plenty of rest and sleep, I don’t think I need mention food, as our war cry is to this effect. Finally champions are not born – they have to make themselves.'”
Was he a man who kept scrap books/memorabilia?
“He had kept a lot of stuff in a drawer, when he was ill he made a scrapbook with a lot of photo’s and newspaper clippings.
Unfortunately not in the best of condition.”
When did he die – did he retain an interest in the sport after he stopped racing?
“He died after bravely fighting a brain tumour in 1992 at 68 years-old.
“He cycled all his life and kept in touch with a lot of his cycling friends and was often attending races around Scotland.
“After retiring at 62 he became active in the Cairngorm Cycling Club and was competing in club TT events.
“He had held the Scottish 25 mile TT record for a few months, just over 1hr 1min.
“My mother believes he was training to try and break the hour just before he took ill.
“One of his cycle life highlights was being introduced to Graeme Obree by John Montgomery in 1992 at an event in Dundee a few months before he died.
“An interesting connection Dad had was with Alf Strom and Roger Arnold the famous Australian Six Day riders.
“Dad met Strom and Arnold during the 1945 Brighton to Glasgow Victory Race which they’d travelled from Australia to ride. He became friendly with them and they stayed several months with him at my grandparent’s house training and racing with the newly formed Chryston Wheelers, one of the first Scottish clubs affiliated to the BLRC.
“Dad was 6ft and around 14 stone – the Aussies’ nickname for Dad was ‘The Ox.’”
With thanks to George Edwards for a great insight into a neglected part of the history of Scottish Cycling.