Friday, June 21, 2024

Chris Wreghitt – British Cyclo-Cross Star of the ’80’s and Successful Businessman


HomeInterviewsChris Wreghitt - British Cyclo-Cross Star of the '80's and Successful Businessman

The current state of British cyclo-cross is perhaps similar to how the road scene was before the days of Peter Keen, lottery money, ‘the Plan,’ David Brailsford and Sky came along.

No real development system, just the odd talented individual who forces their way through.

John Atkins and Keith Mernickle dominated British ‘cross in the 70’s – and on ‘raids’ across the channel, acquitted themselves well.

Atkins never stood on the podium; but made the top ten at the Worlds three times.

The juniors have fared better; with both Stuart Marshall and Roger Hammond bringing home rainbow jerseys.

Marshall faded away; whilst Hammond went on to have a long and distinguished road career – with cyclo-cross taking a secondary role in his programme.

But the rider who perhaps aroused the most excitement was a tall young man called Chris Wreghitt.

He ended the domination of the UK ‘old guard’ of Atkins, Mernickle, Stone and Davies with five consecutive wins in the British championships and produced some fine performances on the continent.

When he proved he could also ride well on the road, he was snapped up by the mighty Bianchi squadra.

And then…?

We thought a chat with the man might be in order – here’s what he had to say to us;

Chris Wreghitt
Chris winning the British Cyclo-Cross Championships in 1978.

Why cyclo-cross?

“I started cycling as an 11 year old when at Loughborough Grammar School, inspired by Peter Hopkins who was Head of English there and a cycling fanatic who ran a cycling club in the school.

“My first race was the under 12 Midlands English School Cyclo-cross Championship and the second was the National Championship and I won both – so began my love of cyclo-cross!

“At school Peter introduced me to all types of cycling, from road, time trialling, grass track and touring, as well as cyclo-cross.

“As a 12 year old he took a group of us on a Lands End to Loughborough bike tour, which was quite an adventure for a 12 year old back then.”

Five national titles on the trot, pretty impressive.

“I won my first British Pro/Am cyclo-cross title at the age of 18 in my last year at school and then won the title for the next four years as well.

“For three of those years I was at Birmingham University reading a history degree so cycling wasn’t then a full-time career; but in 1982, on graduation, I went out to live in Switzerland (the hotbed for cyclo-cross at the time) to pursue a full-time career.”

Chris Wreghitt
Chris featured during the winter in the British magazines.

You had some big results, podiums in Belgium, Germany and Switzerland.

“In my first year doing the sport full time, I won the Zurich Waid Pro/Am cyclo-cross event (while still an amateur) which is one of the biggest cyclo-cross races of the season – this put me on the international map.

“That year I was probably one of the favourites to win the world amateur title in Lanarvily in France; but I was brought down by another rider while in third place, just behind the leader on the last lap and finished 11th.

“This was probably my last competitive world cyclo-cross championship as my focus then switched to the road and anyway I spent much of the next cyclo-cross season nursing a knee injury, which I sustained half way through the season.”

Was the Zurich race your best result?

“The Zurich Waid race was probably my biggest cyclocross win and brought me some accolades back home; winning runner-up in the Midlands Sports Personality of the Year award for example.”

Which courses did you like best?

“My favourite courses were probably the fast, technical courses.

“I wasn’t a bad runner but some of the Belgian ‘mudplugs‘ favoured the lighter riders or specialist runners.”

How long were you in Switzerland?

“I spent nearly three years in Switzerland, as it was really the centre for cyclo-cross at the time.

“I had became friends with some Swiss riders whilst spending a few days racing with them in a series of races in Luxembourg one New Year and they helped to introduce me to the Velo Club Steinmaur near Zürich.

“The club welcomed me as one of their own – I am still an honorary member of their club.

“My coach there, Fritz Schaerer, was tragically killed while racing a few years later, but he and his family gave me much help and support and I am still in touch with the family now.”

Chris Wreghitt
Riding for the GS Allegro-Puch team.

The road?

“As I had gone out to Switzerland to live, trying the ‘road’ seemed a logical thing to do as I was at somewhat of a loose end when the cross season finished!

“The Swiss amateur road scene was fortunately very well organised with the Elite amateurs competing against each other as part of 10-12 man semi-pro sponsored teams.

“I was fortunate to have had some backing from the UK Sports Aid Foundation but was also sustained from winnings and appearance money from the cyclo-cross races and backing from my Swiss road teams – especially GS Allegro-Puch.”

You won the GP Lugano – that’s a nice race.

“The 1982-83 cyclo-cross season was ruined by a knee injury but this meant that I had an enforced rest, so started the 1983 road scene relatively fresh.

“I won the early season Classic GP Lugano while still an amateur, beating top Pro’s Gilbert Glaus (former World amateur champion) and top pro Erich Maechler.

Chris Wreghitt
Still an amateur and on the top step of the podium at the GP Lugano in 1983.

“That season brought further accolades. I rode the Peace Race with the GB amateur team – my first three weeks tour. Unfortunately I lost half an hour on one stage in Poland when my frame broke and I was left alone to chase the field for the last three hours into a head wind.

“I didn’t lose a great deal of time after that and, in fact, got second on the last stage into Prague and was fastest rider on GC in the Czech stages of the race. I came away from the Peace Race with great form and went on to the Tour of Sweden (Post Girot) with the GB amateur team.

“I held the yellow jersey for several stages and was spotted there by the Bianchi Piaggio pro team manager, Giancarlo Feretti, whose team was there competing with their Swedish Pros, Tommy Prim and Alf Segersall.

“I signed a contract to ride for Bianchi at the end of that season where Tommy Prim and Silvano Contini were the team leaders.

“I relocated to Italy, living in Imola, near Bologna – another country, another language.

“I had become quite proficient in German by the time I left Switzerland, but apart from the two Swedish riders, none of the team spoke any English so I threw myself into learning Italian, which I still speak regularly now, as I do a lot of business in Italy.”

Did you let the ‘cross go due to road commitments?

“I rode a few ‘cross’ events that winter but was under orders not to ride a full season as I needed to have some rest for the road season. I rode most of the important early season races in Italy, including the Milan San Remo and finished not far off the pace and things looked promising.

“I then went with the team to ride in the Tour of Romandie back in Switzerland and was involved in a nasty crash on an alpine descent. All I remember was that I came around a corner only to see a sea of riders on the deck and, as I fell, my back landed, I think, on an upturned pedal.

“As you do, you dust yourself down and jump back on but I started to get some pain in my back and my left knee. Initially I had therapy for my knee, but I was later diagnosed with a compressed vertebra, which was giving me a weakness in the left leg.

“Back in 1984, an operation was considered risky and, despite various attempts at manipulation, traction etc, the back continued to give problems and eventually in August that year, I quit the sport after I decided that I was unlikely to get back to a condition where I could sustain consistent form and fitness.

“It is frustrating that I will never know what could have been. I retired at the age of 25 with hopefully, I thought, still my best years ahead of me.

“On the other hand, I have always tried to look forward in life rather than backwards.”

Chris Wreghitt
Chris is awarded The Old Loughburian’s Spring Trophy.

What then?

“I had no clear idea what career path I would follow. I had a vague idea when I was at University of becoming a lawyer but my father’s background was in retail buying.

“I was equipped with a University Degree and relative fluency in French, German and Italian and a good knowledge of the biking world. My father’s background in retail buying prompted me initially to look in this direction and within the space of a few days I was offered jobs at Halfords as their Cycle’s buyer and a also a sports equipment buying job at Olympus Sport (now JJB).

“David Duffield was the buying controller at Halfords and that, along with my passion for bikes, swayed me in favour of the job at Halfords. This decision put me on course for a lifelong career in the cycling industry.

“I spent seven years at Halfords learning the business world but eventually, feeling a little stifled in the corporate world after the takeover of Halfords by Boots, I set up my own worldwide sales and marketing agency, Global Opportunities, in 1991.

“Twenty years on the business is still going strong.

“Thwarted in my cycling career by injury, I looked to other sports for recreational fun and fitness and play now competitive golf, tennis and badminton. Only in recent years, inspired by friends in Worcester, have I got back on the bike.

“Alongside my day job at Global Opportunities, I went into partnership with a friend, Ian Moseley, and set up a bike website The Green Bike Company specialising in selling quality second hand bikes and we then went on to open our first retail shop in 2010.

“One of the suppliers of The Green Bike Company is Yellow, owned by my good friend Phil Griffiths. Back in the mid-eighties, I provided the winter exposure for Phil’s GS Strada’s sponsors and Phil and I have been good friends ever since.

“I had been sponsored while racing in Switzerland by Toni and Elaine Maier of Assos, then a young up and coming brand. I introduced Phil to Tony Maier when Phil, who was coming to the end of his biking time, was looking for a new career.

“Assos has now become the heart of Phil’s ‘Yellow‘ business and, for Assos, the UK is one of their best export markets.”

Now we know – with thanks to Chris for giving so freely of his time and photographs.