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Andy McGhee – Scottish Star of the 60’s and 70’s

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July 1972, the outskirts of Ullapool in the North West Highlands of Scotland, top Scottish road man, Andy McGhee and his lovely wife, Rose are having a picnic on the grass overlooking the town and Loch Broom.

Remarkably, the weather is glorious.

Enter former Scottish Junior BAR, Colin Carmichael, Dave Chapman and yours truly having just ridden up from Dingwall on our bikes, where we’d competed in the ‘Brahan’ road race, the day before.

That nice roast chicken which Rose had bought for their picnic went down a treat, sorry, Mr. and Mrs. McGhee!

Fast forward 46 years and VeloVeritas is sitting down at the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome with Mr. McGhee to apologise for pillaging the chicken and to reminisce about his career, over a coffee.

And on the subject of coffee, the lass behind the counter reckons that ‘the cyclists’ are the worst for nursing half an inch of cold coffee at the bottom of their cup rather than buy another – come on guys and girls, you’re spending five grand on bikes!

Andy McGhee
Andy McGhee. Photo©supplied

Were you a man who kept records of career wins and placings Andy?

“Naw!”

[Not a good start then but we reckon his wins must be up into three figures, ed.]

We’ve looked back at your results and we make your biggest results:

  • The Musselburgh Three Day
  • The Dave Campbell Memorial
  • A stage in the Journal Two Day
  • The Crianlarich Circuit
  • Glasgow-Dunoon
  • The Ayshire Grand Prix
  • The National Road Race Championships
  • The Tour of Scotland …

… have we missed anything?

“Well, you mention the Musselburgh Three Day, the Ayrshire Grand Prix and the National Champs, but in fact I won those three times each.

“And I won the Scottish Road Race BAR which was based on points for major Scottish road races across the year.

“There was also my win in the GB Selection Race at Barrow-in-Furness in the spring of 1967 where I was up against guys like John Bettison, Roy Cromack, Pete Matthews and Sid Barras.”

How did it all start?

“I was a village boy from Houston and a friend coaxed me into joining the Kinning Park Clarion.

“Kinning Park was on the Southside of Glasgow but the membership tended to be from Johnston, Kilwinning, Paisley, that sort of area.

“The membership at that time was largely made up of road racers who were coming to the end of their racing careers.

“I remember Jimmy McGinty asked me if I’d like to join the Regent but I stuck with the Kinning Park Clarion.

“We used to have a club pub night where I’d have a glass or two of shandy but some of the boys would have a bit more than that; by the end of one of these nights we had renamed the club to ‘VC Phoenix’!”

Andy McGhee
Andy takes the Scottish Road title in 1966. Photo©supplied

Three Scottish Road Race titles, which one do you remember most fondly?

“The first one, 1966 in Fife.

“At the start there was really strong representation from the East of Scotland with Johnny McMillan, Ron Gardiner and Brian Temple all there.

“They were all strong guys and I was thinking that it wasn’t going to be an easy day – but on the last of the three climbs of Cadgers Brae there was just Johnny left, I attacked and won on my own in Kennoway.”

Tell us about your 1966 Tour of Scotland win.

“I wasn’t originally in the Scottish team but Sandy Gordon had a bad crash in the Tour of Austria and I was promoted to the national team.

“There were five stages; the first stage was 68 miles, Glasgow to Largs, Graham Owen (Liverpool) won that one with me third.

“The second stage saw us all ferried over to Arran where there was a 91 mile stage which took in the very tough ‘String Road’ across the island – I was third again with Geoff Wiles (England) taking the stage and the jersey.

“Stage Three was Largs to Dunbar – that’s 140 miles!

“Billy Bilsland won that stage, I was fourth and took the overall lead.

“The next stage took us all the way back from Dunbar to Dumfries but that was only 110 miles… The Pole Czeslaw Polewiak won that one and we defended my jersey.

“Stage Five was 105 miles from Dumfries to Ayr with another Pole, Stanislaw Gazda taking the stage. Gazda was a strong rider, he won Peace Race stages and the GC in the Tour of Poland.”

On the subject of the Tour of Poland, you rode that in 1966.

“Yes, and the whole team finished – which was quite an achievement.

“It was the first time I’d ridden on such long stretches of wet cobbles like that – our bikes were all built to be responsive with a short wheelbases and forks with very little rake.

“For the cobbles you need a longer wheelbase and a decent rake on the forks.

“Josef Gawliczek won the GC, he was an excellent rider; he also won the Milk Race that year and was a stage winner in the Tour de l’Avenir, Tour of Slovakia and Poland.

“The race was very tough but the accommodation was OK which made life more bearable.”

Andy McGhee
Andy (right) and his Scottish team mates in the 1970 Scottish Milk Race. Photo©supplied

The Tour of Scotland changed for 1967, didn’t it?

“Yes, the field was much stronger, in ’66 we had Scotland A and B plus East and West Scotland but in ’67 there were just the two Scotland teams but you had Poles, Czechs, Belgians and the Dutch team.

“The Dutchman Rene Pijnen won – he went on to become one of the most successful Six Day riders in history – from Joop Zoetemelk who went on to win the Tour de France and the World Championships.

“Racing against those guys was a shock to the system.”

And you rode the Peace race in ’68.

“Yes, I was notified by the BCF in January or February that I was riding; they sent me a pair of tracksuit bottoms and some under vests. They asked if I had a coach, I said; ‘no’ but they didn’t make any suggestion about getting one.

“I lined up for Stage One thinking that this will be great – and then in the neutralised zone of that first stage there three or four crashes.

“There were tram tracks in the middle with cobbles both sides and guys were trying to jump across but getting their wheels caught in the tram tracks – it was crazy.

“Alf Butler was our manager and Geoff Wiles our captain on the road – Geoff was a really good leader.

“On one of the final stages two of our riders had breakdowns, they were sitting on the kerb in tears and couldn’t go on.

“Geoff had us all turn round and go back for them; we nursed them in to the finish, we lost 15 minutes that day but it was a great demonstration of team spirit,

“One of the things I remember about the race was the wee boy who met you at the finish with a blanket to wrap round you and he had a couple of tea and sausage roll for you.

“Mind, it wasn’t like a nice fried Scottish sausage – it was one of those boiled things!”