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Sandy Gordon – Part One: a fixture on the West of Scotland cycling scene in the 60’s and 70’s

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Sandy Gordon
Sandy Gordon.

Late June 1972, Loch Lomond and history is made as Sandy’s Gilchrist and Gordon tie for the Scottish ‘50’ mile time trial title with 2:01:46 whilst Ron Gardner is third with 2:05:15. My part in this historic day on the old road which tracked every curve and bump of those bonnie, bonnie but tough banks? I was caught by both winners on my way to some ignominious time which I now no longer remember but which would have been closer to 20 mph than 25 mph…

VeloVeritas has already caught up with Mr. Gilchrist so high times we spoke to the ‘second Sandy,’ who won a record breaking seven Scottish titles that season.

Sandy Gordon was a fixture on the West cycling scene for a decade and more with the Glasgow Clarion, Glasgow Regent, Glasgow Wheelers and Scotia Sport clubs.

As well as his championship wins there are few winner’s trophies for major Scottish road races which don’t bear his name at least once; The Ayrshire Grand Prix, The Girvan Three Day, The Davie Bell Memorial, Glasgow-Dunoon, The Crianlarich Road Race, The David Campbell Memorial and The Glasgow-Dundee. Many of these events haven’t survived but in their day were all well supported, hard fought ‘Classics.’

And back to the subject of clubs; he might even have been a member of the famous VC Stella, the ‘hard core roadman’s’ club of the day – but was put off by the fact they didn’t stop for drum-ups on their Sunday runs…

We decided to start with the painful questions first for this former Rudi Altig and Jacques Anquetil fan:

Thank you for meeting with us, Sandy – let’s open with that horror crash in the Tour of Austria 1966.

“I was riding with the GB team along with the like of Colin Lewis [who would go on to ride the Tour de France and win the British Professional road Race Championship, ed.] with the famous Bill Bradley as our manager. [Bradley won the Milk Race, a stage in the Peace Race and National Road Race Championship during a long and highly successful career, ed.]

Bradley had been second overall in the Tour of Austria in his days as a rider and set the record for the famous Grossglockner climb – I was first over it but got a row from Bradley for riding it too hard!

“The accident happened on the second to last stage, the race was held in roasting conditions, I hadn’t worn an Oppy cap or sun cream, got horribly burned and couldn’t sleep because of the discomfort.

“I think what happened was that I was so exhausted that I fell asleep in the saddle and rode straight into the back of this Volkswagen Beetle which was parked half on the grass, half on the road.

“I was on a three week old Flying Scot frame which was written off.

“Along with other guys who I’d brought down they put me on the back of a pickup truck to take me to hospital, during the trip I stopped breathing, I’d swallowed my tongue but was lucky there was a doctor on hand.

“I was unconscious for eight days, they flew my mother out to be with me and gradually I recovered – the doctors said that the reason I recovered well from such a trauma was because I was so fit.

“When I came too I was still caked in blood and couldn’t use my hands because of the dressings; this lovely blonde Austrian nurse cleaned me up in a big bath of hot water – that was a nice experience…”

Sandy Gordon
Photo©supplied

Tell us a little about your early days in the sport.

“I was initially with the Glasgow Clarion and was winning pretty much from the start.

“They used to have two ‘Rothesay Weekends’ each year, spring and autumn and I remember winning the junior road race at both of them, twice on the trot – four consecutive wins.

“I met Ian Thomson one day and he suggested I join the VC Stella, which was the club all the best roadmen were in.

“But when I asked about ‘drum ups’ he said they didn’t have any, they stopped at cafés.

“I told him that ‘drum ups’ were one of the things I liked best about cycling and couldn’t join a club that didn’t have them; I liked the atmosphere and the craic too much!”

Albert McLellan told me that you were down to go to the Commonwealth Games in Jamaica that year, ‘66 but the Austria crash scuppered that?

“That’s right, it broke my heart not to go but I’d lost a stone in weight and was in no fit state.

“I did ride two more Games though; Edinburgh in 1970 and Christchurch in 1974.”

Brian Temple speaks very highly of the contribution you made to his taking the silver medal in the ten mile scratch in Edinburgh in ’70.

“Brian was away in the break with the eventual winner, the late Jocelyn Lovell of Canada and Vernon Stauble from Trinidad.

“But the English and Australian teams weren’t represented so were chasing and trying to get the trio back; I was jumping from one wheel to another on the front of the bunch, blocking for Brian and of course they managed to stay away.

“I remember the Scottish manager, Ian Thomson coming up to me rather than Brian after the race and saying; ‘that was some ride!

“I also rode the kilometre and 4,000 metre pursuit but would say that my ride in the 10 mile was perhaps the best I ever produced.

“Christchurch is another story, I got my place there by winning the 10 mile at the Meadowbank Grand Prix but a woman ran her big Holden car over my foot a week before the track races and whilst the rest were putting the finishing touches to their form, I was doing physio to try to sort my swollen foot out.

“I rode the kilometre and team pursuit but was obviously not at my best.”

Sandy Gordon
Photo©supplied

You rode the Scottish Milk Race several times?

“I finished it seven times and chucked it once, that was 1970 and my preparation had all been geared towards the track at the Edinburgh Commonwealth Games.

“It was a hard race and you were up against the best of the East Europeans.

“I remember we rode one stage from St. Andrews to Largs where we were in the saddle for six hours and 20 minutes.

“Another time I was in the break coming into the finish in Kirkcaldy, maybe 12 of us, I started edging up for the sprint then moved out to go for it – but nothing happened, I was just swamped, the East Europeans were at a different level.

“When I look back to racing in Austria and Czechoslovakia you remember the Italians with their beautiful wee wooden boxes which contained gleaming syringes – ‘vitamins,’ they said…

“On the subject of that kind of thing, I remember one race where Arthur Campbell ceremoniously placed little pills on our tongues before the start, in front of everyone – Smarties!”

What was the Tour of Czechoslovakia like?

“On the flat stages the echelons formed in the cross winds and if you weren’t strong enough then gradually you’d slip back from one to the next and eventually out of the back of the last one.

“There was one day I was dropped and was way off the back when this motorbike with a guy driving and a lass on the back appeared.

“The girl had on a big black leather coat and she took the belt off and passed the end of it to me; it didn’t need it explained to me, they towed me for miles and I got back on.

“Ian Thomson said; ‘how did you manage to get back?

“I replied; ‘it was a hell of a chase!’”

Sandy Gordon
Photo©supplied

And you were suspended for racing in South Africa?

“It was at the time when South Africa was ostracised by sporting bodies because of the apartheid regime – but ironically there were black African guys in the race as well as Portuguese, Rhodesian and Italian squads.

“We knew the score, we’d get a two month suspension when we got back and that would be over the winter; but Arthur Campbell, who was very influential in the UCI and SCU – pushed for us to get a nine month ban.

“I didn’t get back to racing until the end of June 1975 and left The Wheelers because of it [UCI man Campbell was one of the bedrocks of the Glasgow club, ed.]

“Arthur Metcalfe of England won the Rapport overall but the late John Curran from Ayr who was on our team won the last stage.

“The other riders were Sandy Gilchrist and Drew Robertson – we all got banned.

“Sean Kelly went out in 1975 and got himself banned from the Olympics because of it.”

Check out Part Two of our interview with Sandy.

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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