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Davie Whitehall – Versatile Scottish Rider in the ’70s and ’80s

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He’s a man we should have caught up with long ago – but one of the few good things about ‘lockdown’ is that it has given us the time to catch up with riders who have ‘slipped through the VeloVeritas net.’ At last; Mr. David Whitehall.

Davie Whitehall
Davie Whitehall on his way to a stage win in the Ràs. Photo©John Pierce / PhotoSport International UK USA Asia

Davie, as a junior you had the misfortune to be a contemporary of a certain Robert Millar who beat you for the Scottish Junior Road Race Championship in 1976.

“That’s true but I beat him for the Scottish Junior BAR that year! 

“I had a 59:22 for a ’25’ and 2:03:59 for a ‘50’ with Robert returning a 58:48 and 2:05:24.”

You were 10th in the British Junior Road Race Championship in 1977.

“Yes, that was on the Isle of Man, Steve Joughin won that from Russell Williams, I made my predictable move on the hill too early, I should have sat in and played my hand later.” 

In ’77 you won the Scottish Junior Pursuit Championship the first of a long sequence of success in the discipline, Scottish senior champion: ’78, ’80, ’81, ’82, ’83, ’84 and ’85.

“I think that I was only beaten once, by Jamie Henderson of the City of Edinburgh RC. He beat me by one second but he was running a rear disc and I didn’t have that kind of technology at my disposal.

“I don’t know if you know but I had the British four kilometre record for a while with a 4:59.1 ride, the previous record had stood to Ian Hallam.

“I was down at Leicester track at a meeting with Ian Thomson and just decided to go for it; to stand as a record it had to be done out of competition with only one rider on the track – there was a drug test facility there too so the record was all, ‘by the book.’”

You won the Scottish Kilometre, 15k and Track BAR too.

“The only track in the west of Scotland at that time was Westhorn and it was pretty dangerous; I ended up in hospital after crashing there on one occasion so steered clear of it after that.

“Apart from the odd times I’d get a lift to Edinburgh I didn’t have any track preparation other than practicing standing starts on my track bike in the street a fortnight before the championships.

“I’d just arrive at Meadowbank and ride…”

Davie Whitehall
Davie Whitehall rode for the Greenock CC in the mid-80’s. Photo©supplied

I remember seeing the late John Clark mentor you at Meadowbank.

“That was in my days with the Ivy CC. After that I was with Jimmy Dorward at Scotia Sports and did his infamous ‘long intervals’ outside the cemetery.

“I was also in the Regent and latterly Greenock RC-Eddie Cairney Sports but in my last year of racing, 1987 I left after a disagreement with Cairney and joined the VC Olympia as I was friendly with the Wilson brothers.

“I didn’t start racing until May that year but won the first race I rode – Glasgow-Dunoon; I also finished third in the Scottish Road Race Championship that year behind Finlay Gentleman.

“I was always looking to join a setup where I could get help with expenses and support; I didn’t have a lot of money – with the Greenock it ended up that they were due me money, ‘forgetting’ the cheque book to pay our hotel bills was a common occurrence…

“I didn’t just race in Scotland, I used to go down to Star Trophy races in England and that wasn’t cheap.

“I remember going down to the British Track Championships at Leicester in 1981, where I think I was fourth, getting on the train with two bikes, spare wheels and my bag – but that was just the way it was – I could really have done with more support.” 

You went to the Commonwealth Games in Canada in 1978.

“Yes, I rode the Team Pursuit with Clanky Clark, Roy Crombie and Ian Humphreys. We finished fifth with a 4:50 ride; the Australians won that from New Zealand.

“I also rode the road race but punctured out of it. Phil Anderson won that one.”  

Davie Whitehall
Davie Whitehall was a super-stylish pursuiter. Photo©supplied

You were seventh in the 1982 Commonwealth Games Individual Pursuit in Australia.

“I qualified seventh fastest with 4:58.178 which I was happy with. I was faster than Brian Fowler, the New Zealand rider who was in the silver medal pursuit team at those ’82 Games then he was silver medallist in the road race in the ’86 and ’90 Games. I was also quicker than Daryl Webster and Tony Mayer who were both good English track guys at the time.

“In the quarter-finals I met the Aussie Mike Grenda and went out – but I improved to 4:57.435 to Grenda’s 4:53.877.

“Grenda’s team mate Mike Turtur won gold from England’s Shaun Wallace with a 4:50 ride, with all my rides done on a gear of around 88”.”

But no Games in Edinburgh in ’86?

“No, I had started a new job and was down in Reading for three months so that season was pretty much wiped out.”

Time testing – you had the ‘10’ record twice.

“I broke the late Alan Hewitts’s 1980 record of 21:27 by two seconds in 1981 then took that down to 20:49 the next season; that stood until 1989 when Graeme Obree took one second off it.

“I rode 53 x 12 top gear on the second one, which was on the Loch Lomond course.”

Davie Whitehall
Davie Whitehall spent several seasons in the Regent CC colours. Photo©supplied

You had a good record in hilly TT’s, winning the Tour of the Shire, the Tour of the Campsies and the Circuit of Bute but never the Trossachs?

“I was third in the Trossachs the year Davie Gibson won it from Sandy Gilchrist but by that time of the season I was getting tired and looking forward to a break.

“I was second once to Dave Hannah in the ‘25’ Champs at Gala in 1980 but Dave was a real specialist.” 

The road: wins in the Davie Bell, Drummond Trophy, Sam Robinson, Glasgow Centre Champs and Tour of Argyll – what have I missed?

“I won Glasgow-Dunoon a couple of times, in 1987 I actually got dropped on the Rest and be Thankful climb but fought my way back up and attacked to win late in the day.

“I also won Inverness-Elgin in a bunch sprint.

“There was one year in the Tour of the Kingdom, ‘84 when I’d been training like a demon in the week and when it came to the first stage I was tired and lost time.

“On the first stage from Leven to St. Andrews I lost time but then won the next two stages; St. Andrews to Leven then Leven-Tayport-Leven but Bobby Melrose won overall and I was fourth.”

You won a Scottish Health Race stage in 1983.

“That was the last stage, I was working for Jamie McGahan, who won overall, but an opportunity arose and I sneaked away in a break of five or six with no one dangerous to Jamie and won in Holyrood Park in Edinburgh in front of a huge crowd, which is always nice.” 

Davie Whitehall
Davie Whitehall’s (r) ‘long intervals’ with Scotia Sport’s Jimmy Dorward pay off in the Musselburgh Two-Day. Photo©unknown

And you won a Ràs stage that year too.

“That stage was in the Wicklow Mountains, I won it solo; Jamie was third overall that year behind Phil Cassidy of Ireland and I was seventh on GC and won the King of the Mountains.

“That was a crazy race, the field was bigger than the field for the Tour de France, something like 230 riders, if you weren’t in the first couple of dozen riders at the start, you were off the back!” 

Any other nice road results I’ve missed?

“I was in the Scotland team which won silver in the BCF Team Time Trial Championship in 1983 with Jamie McGahan, Ken Clark and Stevie Finnegan.

“Stevie couldn’t contribute from pretty early in the day so it was just the three of us, we finished in 2:13:42 to GS Strada-Eiffel who had Eddie Adkins, Sandy Gilchrist, Keith Reynolds and Chris Wreghitt – we were only 50 seconds back so you have to think that if there had been four of us going through then we could have won it. 

“I took eighth place in the British Road Race Championship at Kilmarnock in 1984 behind Neil Martin.

“Another ride I was proud of was second in the Yorkshire Classic to Deno Davie in 1985 but that was another race where I lacked support, it was a scorching day and you perhaps needed about six bottles during the course of it but I had no one to hand up bottles so had to make do with the two I carried on the bike. 

“Jim Hendry the British team manager said to me after rides like that he’d see about GB selection for me but it never happened.

“There was a lot of politics in cycling back then, Jim and the late Arthur Campbell didn’t get along.”

Davie Whitehall
Sir Chris Hoy with Davie Whitehall at the velodrome in Glasgow which carries Chris’ name. Photo©supplied

Did you ever consider a move to the continent?

“I used to work with Robert Millar and when Richard Moore was writing his book [‘In Search of Robert Millar‘, ed.] he came to see me to ask me about my recollections of Robert.

“Richard told me that whilst Robert was still communicating with him he had told him that he thought that I had the qualities to, ‘make it’ over there.

“But there was always that spectre of doping which I just didn’t fancy…”

With thanks to Davie, who’s still involved in the sport as a coach at the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome.

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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