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1987 Spring

Van Gogh Clock Change Night – 30 March 1987

For some bizarre quirk of the human brain’s (or at least my brain’s) wiring system the first night after the clocks changed to British Summer Time in 1987 is ingrained in my mind. The excitement was there as we rode around the Auchterhouse circuit at the foot of the Sidlaw Hills. Colin Douglas was there and one new face for me: Ian Dyer – a guy of about 21 years old studying at Dundee University - who looked like a full blown professional to me and in fact probably was physically strong enough to have been one. Dyer’s talent was way out of proportion with his determination. He was quite content to ride the same circuit twice a day forever. That circuit was the very hilly Monikie-Carrot route. In the morning he’d do a secret lap and in the evening he’d go out with the younger guys and give us a pasting..

sunflowers

Ian Dyer had an impressive close ratio block and it looked like 12 through 17 or 18. It never gave him much trouble on these short rides except sometimes he’d have to ride off ahead on a hill just because he “couldn’t go any slower”. Ian was highly suspicious of any new guys and on a night like that of 30 March 1987, he rode on the front with Colin Douglas the whole time and I just practiced sucking wheels. Suited me fine!

To be fair to Ian he did push me up Carrot Hill once, or at least until it got too steep and the going got too slow. It was the first time I’d ever been pushed and I was knackered and not sure what to do, so I must have been freewheeling. Ian laughed with disbelief and said: “You’re supposed to keep pedaling!”

When I got home that first spring evening my parents and sister were watching television. Van Gogh’s Sunflowers had just been sold at auction for the then record price for a painting of just under $40 million. I remember this like yesterday

My First Official Race!

On 11 April 1987 I took part in my first ever race. Two weeks earlier I’d at the last moment cancelled my plans to go to the Forres racing weekend up by Inverness. I don’t know why, maybe I was too much of a home boy and the appeal of staying in the YH and then freezing to death in the middle of nowhere after getting dropped in the first mile because I couldn’t get my feet in the pedals wasn’t great? Johnny Fenwick provided the transport I heard, and gave everyone a real fright when he almost drove through the YH gateway with the bikes up top… Anyway I regretted it later because Brewster got 6th place in the APR!

Mike said we "opened a gap on field"

So instead it was the Charles Star 2-up 19 mile Team Time Trial organized by Dickie Scott. Entries were 2.00GBP per team! Superb. I was riding with club mate Jonny Carter and I believe it was also his first race. We’d come a long way since the previous August. Nowadays seven months passes when I blink, but then it was like a whole new lifetime had taken place in that period. 

My Dad was there to help us out as was club secretary Mike Burnett. Mike with his English accent was another legend of the Broughty Velo history. He was supposedly the English school boy hill climb champion in the 1950s, but he had terrible knee problems so I never saw him really ride a bike. However he put a lot into the sport in club, district and race organization. He also helped me and many others out with equipment, usually accompanied with a cockney like phrase such as, “All right, mate, you wanna buy a pair of wheels?” I met Mike again in November 2006 – it was great to see him again. I’ve a lot to thank this man for.

Jonny and I were off early in the start order and upon finishing my Dad seemed excited. He told us that Mike said we’d “opened a gap on the field.” It’s even written in my 1987 training diary. We didn’t win a prize. I still don’t know what the hell this phrase meant, but at the time it sure sounded impressive and I couldn’t wait to race again.

charles_star_2up_tt_1987_small
Great first mention in the Cycling Weekly (aka The Comic) but they got my name spelt wrong! Having said that they got Ronnie O’s and former Scottish TT champion Lionel Wylie’s names wrong too. (Thanks to Jon Carter for emailing this some 21 years after the event!)

 

The King of the Braes of the Carse

I could go on and on about the Braes of the Carse and how brilliant the many climbs are and how fantastic the scenery is, and you know what, because it is my website I think I will. 12 April 1987 saw my first Broughty Velo climbing day. This involved going from Dundee across the Tay Bridge and along the river towards a village called Balmerino where the first nasty climb of the day was to be found. This climb begins as a straight ramp of about 1 in 9 and then meanders through the trees for another leg sapping section. After this it’s a rolling route to Newburgh (where Tommy Knight used to run a bike shop) with no great obstacles. There is then a small climb before the city of Perth and we’d raid a Newsagent there for Mars Bars and Lucozade before tackling the first of the Braes of the Carse.

Andy Brewster was the champion of these hills within the Broughty Velo, though he likes to recount the time that superman Ian Dyer joined the group: Andy had had the nerve to attack Ian on the toughest climb – Kilspindie – and Ian, knowing the length of the climb, let him go. Supposedly on the last drag Ian came hurtling past the young Brewster, muttering sarcastically, “You can run but you cannot hide!”

Even if I say so myself I could look after myself okay on these climbs, but we all had favourites. Dave Milne wasn’t a great climber but he could get by and in any case if he got to the top with you he’d out sprint you for sure. So you had to shrug him off lower down and hope that the road was steep enough to hold him off. Unfortunately the first two climbs – The Murray Hospital (which emerges right out of the city centre of Perth) and Pitlowie with its many steep hairpins at the foot – both shallow out too much near the tops and Dave would typically storm past Andy and me.

Kilspindie was a different story. At more than two miles and pretty steep to boot, Dave would never get back on, so usually Brewster and I would battle it out. Johnny Fenwick and Jonny Carter would be well back. Over the years I think we were about equal for wins here. There is also a ruined castle and a farm about a half mile from the top. Often a crazy dog would sprint after your ankles here which probably helped Andy and I keep away from Dave.

The long descent down Glen of Rait was meager reward as the climb of Kinnaird starts rather abruptly afterwards with a stretch of 1 in 6. [In the late 1990s while studying the map one day I found a ‘new’ hill between Glen of Rait and Kinnaird. It was a cul de sac but what the hell, it’s worth it anyway for the final 1 in 5 section… If we’d known of its existence in 1987 I’m sure it would have featured] After Kinnaird it was either on to the long Knapp climb which takes you out at the famed Tullybaccart or up Sweaty Brae (the Broughty Velo had many strange names for the local hills. I’ve yet to meet a hill around Dundee that isn’t sweaty) and a rollercoaster route back into Dundee. It was difficult by this stage in the run to gain much enthusiasm for any more braes so we’d normally call it a day.

After living in Holland for six years it does feel very strange looking back at these numerous hills around Dundee. 14 years of riding the bike from that city and there are still climbs I haven’t done. Here in Holland I go out of my way to find every artificial garbage heap hill with a strip of tarmac across it. And then I hammer up and down the pathetic mole hill. It’s true, the old saying, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.

Kermode and Bomber: 26 April 1987

At the end of April 1987 Tayside experienced what could only be described as a minor heat wave. Temperatures soared to 27C and the Sunday run from the gates to Drumore, some high road on the way to Glen Isla, wherever that was. I just followed wheels or at least tried to. My Raleigh Equipe – The Flying Gate – didn’t help my naturally poor downhilling skills and I was dropped going down Tullybaccart (as I was in identical fashion the following evening, too!). I was upset and so far off the back going into Blairgowrie that I had no idea which way the large group had gone. I saw two riders up a street to the left so I followed them and it turned out to be the two guys who had been on the front of the large group. I think they were in Carnoustie CC colours and I didn’t know them, but they did wait for me and they saved the day in a way.

Those two turned out to be legends in the microcosm of Dundee cycling: Alan ‘Bomber’ Anderson and George Kermode (older brother of John). For some reason they were not the most popular guys in the bunch at the time and when they turned left in Blairgowrie the rest of the gang stealthily went straight on… Nice move!

Bomber had been so good before he even reached 20 years old that he was selected to ride for Scotland in the extremely tough international stage race – The Tour of Slovakia. This was a mountainous race full of drug-fuelled Eastern block riders, but Bomber hung on throughout. Unfortunately things didn’t work out too great afterwards with a lot of personal problems, much of it related to drink. He’d make regular come backs, buying the latest bike and allowing his natural class to shine very quickly before he’d disappear back into the world of rumours, selling his bike and typically buying a motorbike. He even joined the training group on his Yamaha 750cc machine some nights, taking his turn on the front, pacing boys back on, ripping Steve Crowe’s arm out of its socket when he tried to take a tow, etc.

Kermode was equally wild and also very talented although I don’t know how far he took it all. Both liked to mess about. Stories go that Kermode and Bomber rode the Sealink International stage race in England in the late 1970s or early 80s. Actually there’s another story regarding how Bomber shouldn’t even have been on the start-line due to a bizarre accident the previous week. Kermode and Bomber had taken the train through Fife one evening to ride the Kircaldy 10 mile time-trial. I don’t remember if they made it there or not, but for the return trip they bought a six-pack of beer and downed most of it before Dundee. Not wanting to waste the last can, Bomber hung it from his handlebars in a polythene bag. Back in Dundee and probably a little tipsy, they decided to ride up the Hilltown. The Hilltown does exactly what it says on the tin and no one sober would ride it unless they were paid (which is why 100+ professionals rode it as part of the Tour of Britain 1989 prologue – a prologue that Irishman ‘King’ Sean Kelly himself described as ‘insane’ and ‘the hardest prologue I’ve ever done’, though in an accent you wouldn’t understand). 

While sprinting for the imaginary finish line outside the Three Barrels boozer, the beer can in the bag hanging from Bomber’s handlebars swung into the spokes and launched him spectacularly on to his head. He fractured his skull but decided to check himself out of hospital and go on down to the Sealink International anyway.

And why not? Barry Hoban was riding there! Eight times a stage winner in the Tour de France and married to Tommy Simpson’s widow, he’s one of the most successful riders Britain has ever produced. I actually met him myself one night at the end of a training race. He was staying with Jim Brewster. Anyway, legend has it that Bomber and Kermode hung around the great rider sniggering “Harry Boban! [sic]” for most of the race.

Kermode was also known for going on brutal attacks in road races, only to reappear screaming out of a bush wearing some scary mask as the peloton passed – a bit like a half-assed predecessor of the Devil in the Tour de France.

Back to April 1987 and I was just glad to have the company of these two guys. Half way along the high road to Dunkeld they stopped to poke a stick at an adder snake on the road… They left me behind on Tullybaccart but waited patiently at the top.

Over the next few years as I reached my own limited peak, it was a great honour to receive compliments from these two talented and generous guys.

[Note: actually since writing this I have the feeling that it was not Alan Anderson who was present that day but George’s brother John. If so, I apologise!]

Crash bang wallop!

May 17, 1987 was the date of my first ever road race. It was a grey, cold, wet, windy miserable day and would get worse. The route was two laps of the Kettins circuit which involved climbing the dreaded Tullybaccart from the hard side. Actually it is an awesome route with a bit of everything: technical and easy downhills, straights, bends, flats, the lot.

A few club mates were riding including Colin Douglas. Colin turned up late and half pissed. Someone needed to stick his number on his back for him and he got on the bike with tights on, too. He didn’t really seem to know where he was. It was like a scene out of Rocky when he’s had his face mashed too much during a fight but they keep cleaning him and sending him staggering and muttering back into the fray. I was advised to stick with Colin who’d “keep me right”…

Despite being blootered, Colin managed to maintain a great position in the bunch while I was continuously disgorged from the arse end of the living peloton before making my way up the side to repeat the maneuver. 

First time over Tully, I somehow stuck with the group that included some top juniors such as Andy Young, an international. In those days junior races were full fields; tough to imagine 20 years later. End of lap one and it looked like I’d complete my first ever road race – and that was my main objective. Unfortunately just a mile into the second lap I touched wheels with local boy and top climber Eddie Flynn and came a cropper.  Brought him down too and he was yelling. I’d the usual damage – scraped up left side, but also a bizarre finger injury. I’d ripped the entire nail out from the root of my smallest finger! I showed this to Eddy and he went quiet and went away.

Colin also dropped out due to his hangover that had somehow not cleared. He and his Irish cousin drove me to hospital. We ended up at the local mental hospital because his cousin did not have a clue and Colin was in no fit state to correct him. Eventually we made it to Dundee Royal Infirmary. I remember being befuddled by the question of what my religion was. I didn’t know and just plucked for Catholic - not sure how Colin’s Northern Irish cousin reacted to this!

I was back round Kettins circuit during the following Wednesday evening APR (how’s that for cycling daft?) but my side injuries took quite some time to dry out and heal and I ultimately needed to stay off the bike for a time.

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