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Drew Wilson – One of the Best Scottish Roadmen in the 80s and 90s

“The best days were when Brian Smith and I were juniors, travelling down to the Peter Buckleys with his mum and dad, stopping to have picnics.”

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When I asked Drew Wilson (or ‘Mr. Visualbikefit, as he’s known on social media) if he’d like to do a wee interview with us here at VeloVeritas he replied that he wasn’t sure he had enough interesting things to say?

We said that we’d risk it and we’re glad we did…

Drew Wilson
Drew Wilson has been involved in cycling as a amateur and professional, working for manufacturers and nowadays fitting riders and sorting positions out. Photo©supplied

Scottish Junior Road Race Champion in 1983, your first result of note?

“Yes, I beat Martin Ferry and Davie Finlayson to that one. [With Graeme Obree fourth. ed.]

“The year before I’d ridden the British Schoolboy Championship at Brentwood so I guess that was my first Scotland ‘cap’?”

You had some nice results in the 1984 season-long Peter Buckley Junior Road Race Series in England.

“Yes, good days, I’ll be forever thankful to the Smith family for those times; Brian and I would travel down to those races with his mum and dad.

“The first one was the Peak Forest at Buckstone, the hilly course suited me and I won it.

“I had two other decent placings, fourth places in the Stokesley Classic, Chris Lilywhite won that one and the Junior Peaks which Simon Cope won.”

[1983/4/5 saw some very strong junior riders active, Chris Walker, Deno Davie, Rob Holden and the late David Rayner were also on the scene those years, ed.]

“Those rides got me on the national squad and selected for the junior Worlds for the first time, I went again the following year.”

Drew Wilson
Drew Wilson at the Junior Worlds in 1984. Photo©supplied

Tell us about the Junior Worlds.

“I went with a wee early break in ’84 but was done in after two laps, my arms felt weak on the main climb which was 3.25 kilometres long, it might have been down to the heat but when I spoke to Jim Hendry he said that I should do work on my arms to strengthen them.”

[Tom Cordes of The Netherlands won a tough, dangerous race on narrow roads in which of 167 starters there were 84 DNF; Cordes would go on to be part of the winning 1986 Dutch Worlds TTT squad and have a successful professional career which included a Vuelta stage win and a victory in the famous Baracchi two-up TTT with Germany’s Rolf Golz, ed.]

“To be honest, I don’t remember much about the ’85 Junior Worlds except that they were in Germany.”

[The 1985 Junior World Championships were held in Stuttgart with the road race won by Raymond Meijs of The Netherlands who subsequently enjoyed a professional career which stretched to 2004 with numerous wins but none at a high level.]

“A certain Mario Cipollini finished fourth in the road race after having ridden in the victorious Italian TTT squad.

“Best British finisher was David Rayner in a solid 14th place.”

[Drew finished 71st after having been in an early break; Brian Smith finished 86th, ed.]

Drew Wilson
Drew Wilson (2nd left) lined up in 1996 with GS Bottegone. Dave Rayner 4th left and Mario Cipollini 4th right. Photo©supplied

GS Bottegone, in la Bella Italia for ‘86, how did you get that ride?

“When I was at the Worlds with David Rayner in ‘85 he said he could get me a ride with the team.

“I was actually in line for a ride with ACBB in Paris for ‘86, too – I had a meeting with Robert Millar at Brian Smith’s house and when I told Robert about the potential Bottegone ride, he said; ‘go to Italy, you’ll get treated better there.’

“And he was right, I couldn’t fault the set up; it was very professional, there was a team car, we had an apartment, fed at a restaurant every night…

“But we had to wait until June until we could race, the Italian Federation had brought out new regulations to limit the number foreign riders, especially the Russians and East Europeans coming in and pinching all the prizes. 

“Dave Rayner and I just spent our time training until we got licences through. 

“When we started racing, I didn’t get the results I thought I should and came back to Scotland to try to gain selection for the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh.

“It’s a real regret that I didn’t stick it out, it was hard to get onto a team like that.

“But I did some good rides back home and was selected for the Games.”

The Edinburgh Games ’86, eighth place, not a bad ride?

“I believe that if we’d had a strategy before that race then Brian Smith or I might have come away with a medal.

“There was no plan, just ‘go and out and do your best’.

“It wasn’t helped by the fact that Brian and I had fallen out over the ‘ticking of the clock’ I had in our room, apparently it was ‘too loud’ – it was just daft! 

“I also think that if I’d ridden the TTT they’d have returned a better result.

[Scotland finished seventh in 2:22:49 to England’s winning 2:13:16, ed.] 

Dave Hannah had been injured and hadn’t fully recovered – he went off really early in the day.”

Drew Wilson
Drew Wilson during the 1986 Commonwealth Games Road Race, up and down the soon-to-be-opened Edinburgh City By-Pass. Photo©supplied

You took a break in ’87?

“I was in Mallorca early season in ‘87 with Sandy Gilchrist, he’d organised things well; Tolo’s Bar were providing sponsorship.” 

[The owner, Tolo sponsored two teams in the Cinturón Cyclista Internacional that year; a Scottish team and an ‘English’ team – which in fact only had one English rider, Mike Harrison. The rest of the team were Scots, ed] 

“But I just thought to myself; ‘I’m sick of this constantly fighting to make teams, the Junior Worlds, The Games…’

“So I decided I needed a break.

“I was talking to Tommy Clark [then owner of Semple & Cochrane an engineering services company, keen cyclist, provider of support for promising west of Scotland riders and former Scottish Hill Climb Champion, ed.] about it and he suggested I go and spend some time with a friend of his who lived in the USA in Connecticut; Jim Fraser was a wee wiry Glasgow guy who had been Scottish Road Race Champion and US Veteran’s Road Race Champion.

“And that’s what I did, I ended up getting a job on a horse farm doing fences. I stayed for seven months.

“The folks on the farm asked me to come back for 1988, I did that then started working in a bike shop back home at the tail end of the year.

“It was late in 1991 before I got back into the bike, I rode the Scottish Championship where I was sixth.”

Drew Wilson (front row, blue top, right) with the Scotland and ‘England’ teams at the 1987 Cinturón Cyclista Internacional. Tolo (far right) sponsored both teams to give as many riders a start in the race as possible.

You finished up with six Scottish titles to your name.

“I won the road race championship in 1993 and that was the first time the criterium championship was held, which I won too.

“That was at Kelvingrove, a full field with the City of Edinburgh RC track guys turning up to ride too.

“I won the criterium champs again in 1997 and won the road race ‘Best All Rounder’ title twice, so with my junior championship, yes, that was six titles.”

Drew Wilson
Drew Wilson (c) with GS Modena teammates Finlay Gentleman (l) and Brian Smith (r), with Martin Coll and Willie Gibb of the Johnston Wheelers. Photo©supplied

You did well in the Scottish ‘Classic’ road races.

“Aye. I won Glasgow-Dunoon twice, the Davie Bell Memorial twice, in ’96 and ’98, and the Drummond Trophy three times.

“I think probably the most satisfying one was when I beat Mark Walsham to win Dunoon, I looked across and I’d put half a wheel into him… he didn’t look happy!”  

You rode stagiaire with Banana-Falcon in 1993.

“Yes, Brian Smith was going to Motorola for 1994 so it was arranged that I would ride stagiaire at the end of ’93 and take his place in ’94.

“The team was run by Keith Lambert and apart from Brian there were Chris Lilywhite, Keith Reynolds and Shane Sutton on the roster.” 

Drew Wilson
Drew Wilson (front row, 2nd right) with the Scottish Commonwealth Games team set for Canada in 1994. Photo©supplied

And for ’94 the team became Foremost Contract Furnishers with Keith Lambert continuing at the helm, retaining Lilywhite and Sutton, with you and Neil Hoban coming aboard?

“That’s correct, the Banana Group had pulled out and Keith had to search for a new main sponsor. 

“Peugeot supplied the bikes but he needed a title sponsor; Foremost Contract Furniture was one of the now-notorious Eddie Cairney’s companies.

“I remember we had the meeting about setting the team up at Cairney’s hotel in Gourock.

“I had to have someone cover my salary though, that was made clear to me and Tommy Clark again came to my aid saying he would cover my salary on the team for the year.”

Drew Wilson
Drew Wilson placed well in the biggest British road races in 1994. Photo©supplied

How did the season go?

“Shane and Chris didn’t have the best of form early in the season so it was down to Neil and me to get results.

“I was fifth in the Archer GP which was won by Paul Curran and fourth in the Lincoln GP which was won by Chris Walker, after I sparked the winning move, so I was getting up there.

“But it was confusing because Keith as manager and Shane as road captain would often issue contradictory instructions.

“I might be in a move and working, Keith would come up in the car and say; ‘What are you doing? Sit on!’

“And I’d say; ‘But Shane told me to drive it!’”

Drew Wilson
Drew Wilson at the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Canada.

No renewal for 1995?

“We rode the Tour of Austria and Post Giro Sweden then flew back to the Isle of Man for the National Road Championship.

“I was tired after the racing and traveling but Shane insisted we pedal over to and ride a criterium on the other side of the island.

“He half-wheeled me the entire way, we rode the race then pedalled back to the digs – I was shattered.

“Right after that episode a situation occurred which put a huge dent in my respect for – and confidence in – the team.

[Drew explained the incident to us but publication would almost certainly land us in a court case which we can’t afford. ed]

“Things in the team were never the same again.

“The incident had such an impact on me that it shattered my confidence and I told Keith that I was going to turn down my Scottish selection for the Commonwealth Games in Canada. It was the first time the Games were ‘open’ (where professionals as well as amateurs could ride).

“He said that it was up to me, so I called the late Alan Hewitt, who was Scotland team manager, and told him of my decision.

“Then Keith came back to me and said that he wanted me to ride; I had an obligation to the sponsors…

“So I had to call Alan back and tell him to reverse the previous decision. 

“Unsurprisingly I didn’t ride well and was eventually DNF.” 

Drew Wilson

And after Foremost?

“I was back with my original club, the Johnstone Wheelers for 1995.

”I was due to ride with North East RT alongside Jeff Wright but Hardisty Cycles pulled out of sponsorship after giving me a bike to ride during the winter which they were really good about and let me keep.

“In ’96 I joined Paul Curran’s Optimal Performance RT which was backed by Dave Loughran of Planet X fame. 

“I was with them for two years, it was a very professionally run team where everyone knew what their role was; I rode with the likes of Mark Lovatt, Kevin Dawson and the late Ray Eden.” 

Drew Wilson
Drew Wilson (rear, left) with the Scottish Commonwealth Games Cycling Team in 1998. Photo©supplied

The Commonwealth Games again in Kuala Lumpur 1998.

“I was with Clark’s Contracts that year which was another well-structured team.

“That year I was the ‘Pedalling Postman’, I was working with the Royal Mail. They were very supportive if you were on the Games team.

“In KL I was an early break but punctured out unfortunately.

“My last season was 1999.”

Drew Wilson
Drew Wilson, the pedalling postie, in 1998. Photo©supplied

But you’ve never been far away from bicycles since then?

“No, I worked with Massi, Raleigh and Ridley and now I have my bike fit business, so I’ve always been involved in the sport.”

With hindsight?

“I wish I had stuck it out in Italy and that the Foremost involvement had been different – that plunged me in to depression.

“The best days were when Brian Smith and I were juniors, travelling down to the Peter Buckleys with his mum and dad, stopping to have picnics…”

Drew Wilson
Drew Wilson is kept very busy with his Bike Fit business. Photo©supplied

Drew would like us to mention his thanks to his parents, Marie, Kenny McDonald, Johnstone Wheelers, Dooleys Cycles, the Smith family and Tommy Clark for their help and support throughout his career.

Ed Hood
Ed Hood
Ed's been involved in cycling for over 47 years. In that time he's been a successful time triallist, a team manager, and a 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 for some of the world's top riders. 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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