I thought it would be interesting to try to compile my Top 10 Scottish cyclists of all time, after being inspired by a podcast called the Two Johns, during an episode where they discussed a Top 10 list of American cyclists.
My main criteria for this list are achievements on the international stage- be that Grand Tours, Olympic Games, World Championships or Commonwealth Games. This has been deemed by some as a limiting factor- favouring racing cyclists. But after all, isn’t racing a way to measure greatness? Anyway, some acknowledgment has been given to Scotland’s touring greats, but I doubt if I will please everyone.
In addition to medals and results, other Scottish qualities are also valued, including: hard work, innovation, determination against bigger, stronger opponents, honesty, and other “underdoglike” traits such as riding well but not winning, or being a contender for a big victory.
As ever, this type of list is never definitive, all about opinions, and really just a bit of fun. Please feel free to comment.
10. Jason McIntyre
Jason McIntyre’s achievements came in the face of adversity, and this often typifies Scottish sport. Tragically his career was cut short by a fatal road accident, which ended his life just as his career was belatedly taking off. 10th spot in my list could have gone to any number of riders, but I give it to Jason for the way he battled back from hardship in his personal life to become a National champion in his 30s, achieved so much from a relatively remote base in the highland, with little support, and looked to have much more to offer before his career was cut short.
15th Commonwealth games road race 2002
first Scot to win the British 25-Mile Championship- 2006 and 2007
Beat Graeme Obree’s 10 mile TT record – the mark of 18m 47s still stands (2017)
Tour of the Trossachs 50 mile TT – great write-up here on Pez
9. Mark Beaumont
Mark Beaumont’s 2008 round the world record- 18,297 miles (29,446 km) in 194 days and 17 hours- is sometimes hotly debated as a cycling achievement, but for me it embodies the ultimate in the cycle touring tradition.
For some it is a feat of logistics as much as cycling, but consider this- 100 miles a day for nearly 200 days, in all weathers and conditions. Carrying 30-4kg of equipment. Unsupported. Logistics is naturally a challenging part of this feat, but then logistics is a part of any cycle tour, or even a road race. The team support for the Tour de France is a vital part
He didn’t just cycle around the world at a leisurely pace. He did it faster than anyone else, ever, smashing the previous record by 80 days. Beaumont took the round-the-world to another level, and it is being attempted in 2009 by another cyclist,
Compare this to Ellen McArthur, who sailed round the world in record time- an achievement that necessitated overcoming logistical problems as well as supreme endurance. The world sailing circumnavigation record is a prized goal, but for some reason, the cycling equivalent was not. Beaumont’s record has taken this event to the next level, and I’d say Beaumont is the McArthur of the cycling world, and his feat should be recognised more prominently.
Mark’s record was subsequently beaten several times, and in 2017 he is embarking on a new round the world record – in just 80 days.
8. Craig Maclean
Craig Maclean raced, and won, at the top of the track scene for several years in the late 90s and early 00s. As such he will always be in Hoy’s shadow somewhat, but with Ross Edgar he was part of a formidable Scottish team sprint team at the 2006 Commonwealth Games. His other medals include UCI Gold and Olympic Silver- Craig was a very strong rider and a consistent performer for many years.
Gold Team Sprint 2002 UCI World Track Championships
Gold Team Sprint 2006 Commonwealth Games (Scotland)
Silver Team Sprint 2000 Sydney Olympics
Silver Team Sprint 1999, 2000 UCI World Track Championships
Bronze Team Sprint 2001, 2003, 2004 UCI World Track Championships
1st place: various individual and team sprints events, British National and World Cup series level.
7. Brian Smith
Brian Smith won the 1991 British professional road race championship (his first pro season) and went on to complete the 1994 Giro d’Italia for Motorola, on a team that included Andy Hampsten and a young Lance Armstrong. Internationally he represented Scotland at the 1984, 1990 and 1998 Commonwealth Games and Britain at the 1996 Atlanta Games. He also won races in the USA for Plymouth Racing Team.
He continues to have an influence in the Scottish cycling world through the Braveheart Cycling Fund, which supports young Scottish riders of all disciplines. A worthy cause- I look forward to seeing the next Scot challenging for the Tour de France!
3 Commie Games ’86, ’90 + ’98
Twice GB PRO Champ ’91 + ’94 (2nd ’92 +’93)
1994 GP Midbank first European victory for Motorola CT
6. Billy Bilsland
A stellar international amateur career ensued with stage victories in The Tour of Czechoslovakia, the Peace Race, the Tour de l’Avenir, the Scottish Milk Race and the Milk Race. He rode the 1968 Olympics, making it into the winning break until a puncture ended dreams of a medal. -He recounts his 14th place in the 1971 world championship road race in an interview here.
He raced for three years as a pro with Peugeot, finishing 11th in Paris – Tours and 10th in the Tour of Lombardy. Making it on the continent in those days was not easy- as Ken Laidlaw, Robert Millar and Graeme Obree could attest to.
After retiring, he set up a bike shop, which his son now runs.
2nd British national road race 1974
3rd British national road race 1973
Bilsland was part of an early generation of British cyclist to make forays into Europe.
The best account of it is William Fotheringham’s book, Roule Britannia.
5. Ken Laidlaw
Laidlaw is somewhat of a forgotten man of Scottish cycling. He is not frequently mentioned, but finishing the world’s greatest bike race is a big achievement in itself. From a British point of view, this might sound like a ‘plucky loser’ tag, but it isn’t. Over the Channel, the French afford considerable respect to the last man- the Lanterne Rouge- because to finish the Tour is such a feat.
Ken was interviewed in 2004 by a local newspaper in Savannah, Georgia. Re gave an account of the 1961 TdF, and what racing was like then. “In my tour, we averaged 139 miles a day – flat out”. In those days, the tour was 800 miles longer than it is today.” Without the nutrition, sports science and bike technology of today, it would have been significantly more difficult. Interview is reblogged here.
First Scot to finish the Tour de France 1961.
Most aggressive rider of the day during stage 16 1961- led the stage but fell back with 7km to go to finish 19th. 65th place overall- only 72 of the 132 riders finished.
6th Briton to finish the Tour? ref
Ken Laidlaw is also mentioned in William Fotheringham’s book, Roule Britannia.
4. David Millar
David Millar’s career as a whole must be viewed in the context of the 2-year ban he received in 2004 for admitting the use of EPO. However his honesty and determination to spread an anti-doping message have set him apart from other banned riders, and he is now seen as an ambassador for clean cycling. For me, he took the punishment and then went on to make significant amends- not only being outspoken, but working with WADA, and helping to establish a stringently clean, independently-tested team in Slipstream.
Although the suspension does tarnish his reputation, he won Grand Tour stages and races before and after it and these results still put him amongst the most successful Scottish cyclists of all time. He was the youngest ever holder of the yellow jersey in 2000. It is tempting to ‘relegate’ him a place or two for the doping, but I feel his anti-doping work have made up for it, and even the non-doped results are still stronger than any other Scottish road racer.
There is a slight question over his Scottishness though- he was born in Malta, and has lived in Hong Kong, England and Spain. His parents are Scottish and he was selected (but did not compete) for Scotland in the 2002 Commonwealth Games. He is generally known as a Scot (as listed as Scottish on the Garmin-Slipstream site, and frequent media references). I would be very interested to know his personal feelings towards Scotland and whether he has a connection to the place.
Tour de France 1 stage win: 2000 stage 1. (2 stage wins during doping period? 2002 stg 13, 2003 stg 19)
Vuelta a Espana 2 stage wins: 2006 stage 14, 2009. (2 stage wins during doping period? 2001 stg 1, 2003 stg 17)
UK Time Trial champion and Road Race champion 2007
Tour of California 2008- 2nd place overall.
various other palmares
The value of Graeme Obree‘s achievements is heightened by the fact that he undertook them as an amateur and in the face of great adversity. For me this embodies the Scottish underdog spirit. He broke the hour record and won world pursuit championships on a bike he designed and built himself, and in the face of obstruction from the UCI. He overcame personal problems to achieve these results and as such, is an inspiration to cyclists and people everywhere.
After the records, he entered the pro cycling world at the height of the doping era. When he refused to take anything, he was unceremoniously dumped- a great shame that we did not get a chance to see more of him.
Now in 2009, he has announced he will attempt the hour record again. As before, he has pushed the bounds of innovation and created his own bike, to meet the UCI regulations but to match his riding style. He has massive gear ratios, a custom hand position, but traditional frame and wheels. Good luck Graeme!
World hour record: twice holder, in 1993 and 1994. Beat a nine-year record held by all-time great Francesco Moser. Beaten first by Chris Boardman, before regaining the record and then Miguel Indurain.
Individual pursuit (4000m) world champion 1993 and 1995.
British 10mile Time Trial record holder- 18:57.
Graeme Obree’s autobiography is an honest and dark account of his struggles and triumphs
Ed Pickering’s book, The Race Against Time, focuses on the Obree-Boardman hour record rivalry
His training manual, The Obree Way, shows you specific advice and ways to think outside the box.
His wife has also published a book, Mrs Flying Scotsman, recounting the highs and lows during their time together.
2. Sir Chris Hoy
Track champion Chris Hoy’s three gold medals on the track at Beijing 2008 speak for themselves. 3 golds at a games is was the best medal haul for any Brit, for over 100 years. This is before you mention his numerous world championship medals at the kilo, the team sprint and the keirin. And his valiant attempt at the outright kilo world record, where he came up 0.005 seconds short at altitude in La Paz in 2007. He has simply dominated short-track racing for almost the past decade. And he made it look so easy.
Good luck for 2012 Sir Chris, we’ll be rooting for you.
[2015 – edit – Chris Hoy continued to win with 2 gold medals in 2012. He set a new World Record in the team sprint and his performance to win the keirin is one of the most outstanding performances I have ever seen, making him the most decorated British Olympian of all time. I’d put him #1 if I was rewriting this list today]
Chris Hoy’s autobiography charts his start in BMX racing through to his olympic success.
Chris Hoy also now writes the Flying Fergus series of children’s books.
1. Robert Millar
Robert Millar’s King of the Mountains win, and his fourth overall place in the 1984 Tour de France puts him ahead of any other Scottish (or even British) cyclist, so for those two achievements, he is the #1. But he also has three Tour stage wins to his name, as well a Giro and a Vuelta stage win. He might have won the Vuelta a Espana, had Spanish riders (of different teams) not worked together against him to preventing him retaining his time advantage in the GC.
Millar is known an enigmatic and elusive character. It is the stubborness of this quality (also displayed in several of Scotland’s other top cyclists) which afforded him the single-minded determination to succeed in the sometimes unwelcoming world of European cycling. His achievements and subsequent disappearance are recounted by Richard Moore in his book, In Search of Robert Millar.
Tour de France
3 stage wins
KOM winner 1984 Tour De France (first time a Briton had won a major Tour classification)
4th overall 1984 Tour De France (highest Tour classification of any British rider, ever)
1 stage win
KOM winner 1987
2nd overall 1987.
Vuelta a Espana
1 stage win.
2nd overall in 1985 and 1986
KOM winner 1987
Evan Oliphant, currently a pro in the british peloton, is going well and can progress further. He was three-time Scottish road race champion riding for Plowman Craven although he has recently switched team to Scottish-based Endura Racing (June 2009).
Ian Steel was a Glaswegian rider who won international recognition as winner of the Warsaw-Prague road race (Peace Race 1952?), and he also won the Tour of Britain in 1951, including three stages, and the British National Road Race championship in 1962.
Jackie Bone of the Glasgow Wheelers acquired national fame when he became the first British cyclist to attain an average speed of more than 20 mph in a 12-hour race. Jackie also rode as a member of the British team in the road race at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
George Berwick is another great in the touring/randonneur tradition, and although not a racer with competitive palmares to his name, he still holds numerous records for touring routes and annual mileage totals.
Tommy Chambers– cycle touring great who would ride 18,000 miles a year, and was once credited in the Guinness Boook of Records.
Davie Bell, pioneering off road cyclist and tourer/randonneur extreme, and for years had one of Scotland’s toughest one-day races held annually in his honour. David Bell’s The Highyway Man cycling column, was published as a book that is now difficult to find. His articles were originally published in the Ayrshire Post, and subsequently published as a book in the 1970s.
Ross Edgar, a prolific track racer who also represented Scotland but was born and lives in England.
Silver: Keirin 2008 Beijing Olympics, Team Sprint 2007 UCI world champs; Bronze Keirin 2007 UCI world champs; Gold 2006 Team Sprint Commonwealth Games.
Caroline Alexander, born in Lancashire but represented Scotland. Good palmares, and the only mountain biker in and around this list- strange with the quality of Scotland’s trails.
British National Mountain Bike Champion (XC) 6 times, 1995 European Cross Country Champion, 1998 British National Cyclo-cross Champion, 2nd UCI Mountain Bike World Cup Series 2 times (according to wikiP).