Thursday, August 5, 2021
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Sandy Gordon – Part Two: Shipyards and Scottish Championships


In Part One of our interview with Sandy Gordon, we heard about his horror crash at the 1966 Tour of Austria and missing the Jamaica Commonwealth Games, helping Brian Temple secure a silver medal at the 1970 Commonwealth Games and racing in the Tours of Scotland, Czechoslovakia – and getting banned for racing in South Africa at the Rapport Toer.

We continue the chat by finding out more about Sandy’s other overseas races and his many domestic successes…

The Christchurch, South Africa, Czechoslovakia, Austria – where else did your international duties take you?

“In 1967 I rode Ronde van Midden-Zeeland in the Netherlands with Reg Smith [Smith went on to be a successful British professional, ed.] , the late Danny Horton [Horton too went on to a successful pro career, winning the British Professional Road Race Championship, ed.] and the late Graham Webb – who went on to win the amateur Worlds that year.

“There was a team time trial and Graham chided me for going through too strongly…

Sandy Gordon

Did you ever think about a pro career in England or the continent?

“Not in England, no.

“I remember in ’65 Billy Bilsland and I went to Belgium to race on our holidays for three weeks. We finished that six hour Milk Race stage on the Saturday, travelled to Belgium on the Sunday and rode a 100 kilometre kermis on the pave in the wet on the Monday – I could hardly move after it.

“My best placing was 11th on that trip – there was no messing, if you were in the break then you went through or ended up in the ditch. It was very hard racing but you would have adapted to it if you were living there.

“I remember guys coming back from the Peace Race, where they took a hammering, but were flying compared to our level in Scotland.

“When Billy went to France I remember my mother saying that I had a good job, why throw it in?

“And how many guys really make it over there?”

Back to Scotland, seven Scottish championships in 1972?

“There was the ‘50’ where I tied with Gilchrist, Ron Gardner was a good bike rider and he was almost four minutes back so it tells you a bit about how hard that morning was – Sandy started behind me so he had the advantage of time checks.

“I won the road race, beating the late Drew Robertson; the 4,000 metres pursuit where I beat the late ‘Clanky’ Clark; the one kilometre time trial on the track and the 15 kilometres on the track where I beat Tommy Banks – I also won the Road race Best all Rounder and Track Best all Rounder.

“I have a box full of medals somewhere!” [Gordon also took bronze in the 100 mile championships that year, ed.]

Sandy Gordon

Three Scottish Road Race Championship wins…

“Yes, ’70, ’72 and ’75 – but the one where I beat Sandy Gilchrist to win in 1975 is my favourite.

“I’d ridden the team pursuit champs the day before and we’d been beaten by the Musselburgh Roads CC so I was a bit ‘down’ after that.

“I had a few drinks on the Saturday night and wasn’t going to ride the road race champs but my wife talked me into it.

“It was on the Balfron circuit I was a bit disorganised with having a hangover and even forgot my feeding bottle – my wife had to go home for it.

“I was actually dropped at one stage and if it hadn’t been for Ian Humphreys I’d never have got back on, he was off the back too but we worked together and got back.

“At the death there was a break of maybe 16 riders with Clanky just off the front, Gilchrist took a flyer up to him but I shouted, ‘Clanky !’ as Gilchrist went across, Clanky looked back and half responded, I used his momentum to get me half way across to Gilchrist – I eased a little in the sprint, then went again in 54 x 14 to take it. Happy days.”

The Hour Record?

“The Dundee boys were having a track meet and wanted me to ride and go for the record.

“I rode a ‘25’ at Irvine the week before to get used to riding solo, I didn’t ride a lot of time trials, Drew Brunton won with a long ‘57’ and I had a short ’58.’

“I won every race at the track meet on the Saturday, stayed over in Dundee and went for the record on the Sunday.

“It’s wide open up at Caird Park and I remember the wind getting up; it wasn’t easy, I was on 28 spokers with silks – I have a picture somewhere of me after it and I’m not looking happy!

“But I added 470 yards to the old record.” [Gordon achieved 41.411 kilometres in his 1973 ride to break Eddie Brown’s 1957 record of 40.915 kilometres. The record stood until 1980 when Steve McCaw took it to 41.932 kilometres, ed.]

Sandy Gordon

Your training?

“I did a lot of ‘fartlek’ training which is where you make a lot of fast efforts of varying lengths but it’s not structured like interval training – which I also did, designing my own programmes.

“Jimmy Dorward was the pioneer of interval training but I was actually doing it before he got big into it.

“But I also did the miles, I liked to ride my bike – but always remembered that you had have something left for the weekend race, you didn’t waste the best of yourself out on training runs.

“The words the former world professional sprint champion, Reg Harris stuck with me; you have to be able to go but then go again in a sprint and I trained with that in mind.

“In the winter I’d do weights Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday morning with circuit training on Tuesday and Thursday – and I’d cycle to work.

“It was a way of life for me.”

And you always worked during your racing career?

“In the shipyard offices; coming up to the 1970 Commonwealth Games the boss approached me and asked if I wanted to go out on the sea trials for a new frigate which the yard had built.

“You’d be at sea on the ship for a spell but the money was good; I declined, I couldn’t swan off at a crucial time in my training for the Games.

“The boss couldn’t understand how I could pass up on such a good money-making opportunity.

“But it so happened that the trial was curtailed because of mechanical problems with the ship and put back until after the Games, so I went out on her after all and got the good pay-day.

“My wife used to say that if I fell in the Clyde, I’d come out with a fish supper in my hand!”

Sandy Gordon

We saw you up at the Tour de Trossachs recently, how did things compare to ‘your day?’

“It was a well organised event but the entries and crowds were well down, on the hairpin on the Dukes Pass – which we used to call ‘the agonies’ – there would have been a big crowd, this year I counted eight of us.

“And back then the English lads would come up to ride it – guys like Ray Wetherall from the North East.

“It was very much an occasion, the start of the social season; we’d stay in the hostels at Loch Ard and the Trossachs and the lads and lasses from Dundee would come down too – great times.”

Any regrets?

“Not really. Jimmy Dorward used to say that I ‘liked the bright lights too much’ but I remember being on the Scottish team with Robert Millar, Manchester-Rhyl it was I think, and I just couldn’t be like that – he was a total introvert.

“I was always an outgoing sort.

“And before we finish, I’ve been told by Drew Brunton and the rest that I have to name check the Tapas Café in Kilmacolm, it’s where us ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ crowd meet up for our banter – but don’t turn up if you can’t take a bit of a ribbing!”

With pleasure, Sandy – with thanks again for your time, an easy interview subject and great bike rider from a time when Scottish road racing was thriving.

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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