The career of John Patston lasted three decades; he represented GB at The Worlds, was a multiple Division and National Champion and medallist, he won Star Trophy races, the Cycling Weekly Campagnolo ‘25’ Trophy series and in 1975 he notched-up 63 wins; 42 on the road and 21 against the watch.
And despite being a bank manager, a pillar of the Establishment, his rebellious streak got him into trouble with the RTTC [forerunner of the CTT] more than once, with the inevitable suspensions following. We remember Mr. John Patston…
John, thank you for taking the time to speak to us; do you remember your first race?
“It was the 27th of March 1960, the Century Road Club’s Novices’ ‘25’ – I recorded 1:15:28 including an obligatory stop at the traffic lights in Stevenage.
“The last race would be 1991, my career rather petered out around then but I did win the BCF vets road race in 1989.
“I was having marital problems and we broke up around 1990; my first wife ran off with a Chinese fork lift driver from Stoke-on-Trent. It’s OK to print that.
“I’m happily married again so there’s no problem in saying that.”
The thing I remember most about you John, apart from the nice position and cool glasses was the prodigious training load you subjected yourself to.
“I started off on the East London TT scene and then gravitated to the track where I came under the influence of the late Norman Sheil.
“He was a disciple of interval training but it simply didn’t agree with me.
“It wasn’t until I moved up to Birmingham and started to train with the lads up there, Phil Bayton, Howard Darby, Graham Knowles – doing 100 mile plus ride on a Sunday and a long ride on the Saturday too, that’s I started to get the results I wanted.
“Those long, stamina building ride really suited me.
“I’d also go out in the winter with Hughie Porter, he didn’t like hills so he’d do six hour runs on flat roads on 66” at around 100 rpm.
“I’d go on what was called the, ‘Hagley Bash’ chain gang which started at Hagley roundabout outside of Birmingham, two or three times each week.
“In the winter, I finished work at 4:00 pm and used to ride down the A38 towards Worcester and back; doing 50 miles each night – the good thing about that road is that it’s lit, most of the way.
“I used to see Phil Bayton and Bob Jones on there quite a bit too; I never stopped, I trained right through the winter.”
No coach or mentor then, after Norman Sheil?
“I did my own thing but would listen to advice and filter out the good stuff – but intervals just didn’t agree with me.
“Those long, hard miles gave me what I needed, irrespective of the discipline, I’ll give you an example:
“In 1978 I was in the South East team which came second to the Martyn Roach’s team by 38 seconds in the National 100 kilometre TTT Championship and in the same week I was second to Tony Doyle in the British Individual Pursuit Championship with a ride close to five minutes – but I’d sat up when I could see I was beaten.
“Those performances were both on that same training diet.”
I remember you as a solid team pursuiter?
“I was in the Polytechnic team which won it in the 60’s with Ian Alsop and Tony Gowland.
“Then I was in the Birmingham RCC team which won it in ’67 with the late Roy Cox, Fred Booker and the late Trevor Bull.
“I was also in the winning Brum teams in ’70, ’71, ’72, ’73 with the likes of Bob Jones, Alan Lloyd and Dave Bond.
“I rode the team pursuit for GB at the Worlds twice; Leicester in 1970 and at Varese in 1971.
“In Leicester it was Ian Hallam, Ron Keeble, Willi Moore and me, we qualified with a 4:46 but went out to West Germany in the quarters despite improving to 4:41; the Germans went on to win it that year.
“Varese was a bit of a shambles, the digs were above a noisy bar about 10 miles away from the track.
“I crashed in training before the competition, I collided with an East German and fractured my skull so they brought Dave Lloyd in for the first round; he was strong but didn’t have speed, albeit the team qualified.
“The manager, the late Tommy Godwin asked me if I’d ride the quarter finals, something I shouldn’t have done with a skull fracture; but I came back in with Ian Hallam, Mick Bennett and Ron Keeble.
“We rode 4:36 but went out to the Russians who did a 4:29 – they finished fourth in the competition, the Italians won that year.
“But you know, I should never have ridden team pursuits, I never told anyone but after I was involved in a really dreadful track crash in 1968, where I landed on my face, my left eye was out of control and I never really knew where I was on the bankings.
“After 1971 I stopped riding team pursuits at international level, it was too scary.”
After that you concentrated on the road and time trials?
“I liked to mix up my racing; I still rode team pursuit for the club, competed in the track league and got up for Divisional Champs on the track; I won the Division Madison Champs several times for example as well as the kilometre, individual pursuit, team pursuit and 10 mile titles but I didn’t ride at international level on the track.
“On the road I won the Birmingham and Essex Division Road Race Championships, the Stafford GP, the Zorbit GP at Hyde, was second to Steve Heffernan in the Lincoln GP and second to the National Champion at the time, Kevin Apter in the late season Criterium de Vainqueurs which only the best guys got to ride.
“My best year was 1975 with 63 wins between road and time trials, 42 on the road and 21 in time trials.
“Obviously there were a lot of ‘chippers’ in there but a lot of nice results too, against quality opposition.
“Grant Thomas calls 1975 my ‘Bionic Year!’
“One of my friends worked out that I’ve won 800 races in my career between road, track and time trials, 600 of those on the road and TT – I took 53 Division titles during my career.”
You were a mean ‘tester, winning the season-long Cycling Weekly, ‘Campagnolo Trophy’ series for 25 milers.
“That was in ’75, I was second the year before and decided I was going to win it; I won five out of the six counting events, only losing one to Phil Griffiths.
“But that was with a puncture, the wheel change was a nightmare, because the bike was so tight at the back we had to let the tyre down to get the wheel in, then inflate it again.
“During the series I beat all the ‘hitters,’ Derek Cottington, Eddie Adkins, Alf Engers, Pete Wells…”
Alf beat you for the ‘25’ title in 1974, how did you get along with him?
“Alf is a good friend, a terrific rider, wasted really because all he ever wanted to do was take the ‘25’ record under 50 minutes.
“But he rode the fastest-ever pursuit in Britain at the time and was team pursuit and kilometre champion but wasn’t allowed to compete internationally on the track because he was a re-instated ‘independent.’”
Like Alf, you had your brushes with authority?
“I was suspended once for referring to RTTC officials on an interview with local radio as, ‘little tin gods.’
“Apparently I was, ‘bringing the sport into disrepute.’”
And there were the tandem record attempts with the late John Woodburn when you were both suspended.
“Yes, we were suspended for falsifying entry forms.
“It was the late Ken Bird’s idea to attack the records, to get publicity and raise two fingers to the RTTC.
“It was a beautiful machine but we’d never ridden on it until just before the first attempt.
“John was a man for eating, he ate all the time during the rides, there was one time I reached back into my jersey pockets and he’d pinched all my grub too!
“I think we took five records: London to Cardiff [5:56:20], London to Pembroke [9:59:31]; London to Brighton and back [4:07:26]; London to Bath and back [8:40:57] and London to Portsmouth and back [5:43:59].
“They all still stand but the London-Brighton and back was a bit hairy with Mickey Mouse lights on the bike and the mist steaming my glasses up.
“We were down on schedule with five miles to go and Ken Bird was screaming at us – but I knew we were OK because those last miles were downhill.
“We covered them at 50 mph – on 28 spoked wheels with silk tubs on them…”
You were a Birmingham RCC man but then joined CC Orpington which was sponsored by Ken Bird, was it a worthwhile move?
“Very much so, he cajoled me into joining but was very supportive, attending a lot of the races – you need support, someone to look after the bike so all you have to think about is the race.
“When I moved back north with my job I joined Worcester St. Johns and it gave me a new lease of life.
“Ian Fagan, who went on to be a professional, was on the way up and I used to train and race with him.
“In the Divisional Pursuit Championship at Salford Park I rode a 5:02, which took five seconds off Hugh Porter’s track record.”
What would you class as your ‘finest hours’ – track, road and time trial?
“Track: I think my second place to Tony Doyle in the British Pursuit Championships was a good ride, I just wish I hadn’t sat up in the final or I’d have dipped under five minutes.
“I’m proud too of that 5:02 ride on Salford Park.
“Road: Winning the Zorbit GP in ‘76 was special, it was my first race after suspension, I was away with Don Awcock the last 20 miles and we never had more than 30 seconds.
“There were some handy boys there that day including Paul Milnes, John Dowling and the late Paul Sherwen.
“Time trials: Winning the Campagnolo Trophy with five wins out of six events was good but I always went better on the hard courses rather than drag strips.
“I remember I put a minute into Ian Cammish with a ‘54’ in June 1981.
“In the Evesham ’25’ which had a course record of a ‘58’ I took three minutes off the course record with a 55 minute ride, I won by four minutes.
“The course really suited me, there were three legs of four miles out and back and it was good for my concentration, I could really blast each leg – concentration in time trials was always a problem, my mind would wander.”
And are you still on the bike, John?
“Oh yes, single freewheel, I knocked out 35 miles in 1 hour 30 minutes the other day, along the Suffolk coast…”
Some things never change, with thanks to John for an entertaining conversation – they don’t make them like that anymore.