Thursday, June 13, 2024

Keith Lambert – Part One; Three Times British Champion in the ’70s and 80’s


HomeInterviewsKeith Lambert - Part One; Three Times British Champion in the '70s...

‘Legs’ they called him, on account of those massive thighs, but he was christened ‘Keith Lambert.’

And the triple British Professional Champion recently gave freely of his time to take a wander through his career with VeloVeritas.

You signed your first pro contract with Falcon in 1972 Keith, that must have been exciting for a young amateur?

“It was and it came rather out of the blue.

“I had a good year in the amateur ranks in 1971 but I didn’t feel I’d had any recognition for it.

“But local ‘old pros’ like Ken Jowett, who rode for Viking and Pennine, had a word with Albert Hitchen, the Falcon team manager and said; ‘you should keep an eye on that lad.’

“Albert phoned me out of the blue and said he was willing to give me a chance – and I took it.

“It perhaps wasn’t the strongest team but I got stuck in.

“That was Olympic year but I’d already concluded there’d be no selection for me so I took the opportunity which Albert offered me.”

Do you remember your first pro win?

“I do, it was Stage Two, the Tour of the West, into Penzance down in Cornwall – but it took a while coming !

“It was harder than I’d expected, riding with the pros; now it’s ‘open’ but back then there was practically no ‘cross over’ so you didn’t have the opportunity to gauge yourself against the professionals as an amateur.

“My first race was a circuit race down in Surrey and Colin Lewis lapped me twice – I remember thinking to myself; ‘what have I done?

“But I buckled down and decided I’d have to up my game, there was no going back – it was two years before you could reinstated as an amateur.

“There were some good riders around then, guys like Colin, Les West, Brian Jolly and Sid Barras.” 

You rode the Worlds that first year, at Gap in France.

“That was a tough one, I punctured twice and was DNF but it was a fair way into the race before I climbed off.”

Keith Lambert
Keith Lambert. Photo©Wim Dingemanse

The Holdsworth team for 1974.

“That was a good period for the British pro class and it was a very strong squad with guys like Colin Lewis and Les West, men I’d been looking at pictures of in the magazines not so long before.

“They were great riders but they put a lot of faith in me and would ride for me.”

And you won the national for them in ’74.

“It was especially nice to be beating a Scotsman!

[That horrible Fife accent of mine is difficult to disguise, EH.]

“That was Billy Bilsland, he thought he would come off my wheel and win it but he couldn’t so then he accused me of switching him.

“I replied that I’d closed the door but hadn’t switched him.

“The president of the BCF was there, Arthur Campbell who was also Billy’s father-in-law.

“Billy lodged a protest but Arthur just said to him; ‘you went the wrong side, Billy.

“I think Billy was just upset at losing, that’s what it’s like right after you cross the line, adrenalin is running high . . 

“It’s pretty special to pull that jersey on for the first time; look at Ben Swift, twice a podium finisher in Milan-Sanremo but still bowled over by winning the National.”

Keith Lambert
Keith Lambert rode with Holdsworth-Campagnolo for four season. Photo©Daniel Schamps

Season ’76 was a good year for you.

“I won quite a few that year, yes – I’d learned a lot and my physiology was maturing plus I’d gained confidence as the seasons went on.

“As I said earlier, the professionals were a separate class and as an amateur you’d no idea how good the pros were.

“You saw that when the continentals came over here to ride the criteriums, they didn’t have it all their own way by any means.” 

You finished Paris-Roubaix in 1977.

“I crashed in Arenberg, there were about 35 went up the road and that was the last we saw of them.

“The day was dry but is had rained the day before and there was a lot of standing water, it was hard to read whether it was just a puddle or a pot hole.

“I was just glad to get round, it was a great experience.” 

Keith Lambert rode with Viking-Campagnolo in 1978/79. Photo©John Pierce / PhotoSport International UK USA Asia

You went to Viking for 1978.

“That was a crossroads, up until then I’d been working as well as riding as a professional but this was my opportunity to go full time.

“It was a risk but they were paying good money.

“It was a wrench to leave Holdsworth although Colin Lewis had quit by then and Les West wasn’t as serious; but it was still difficult to leave, that team was a good time for me.” 

The Valkenberg Worlds 1979, 26th spot with just 44 riders left at the death, with no other Brit finishers, a strong ride.

“I actually had better legs than that, I missed the split and went across with Kuiper; but we got on just as the race hit the Cauberg climb where it split again with 24 or 25 getting away – I nearly got on to that, if I hadn’t had to chase with  Kuiper I’d have made it across.

“That was one full-on race from the off.”

Season 1980 with Weinmann and third in the Druivenkoers Overijse behind Fons De Wolf and Rudy Pevenage?

“There were five of us clear, those two and that year’s Tour de France winner, Joop Zoetemelk and Robbie McIntosh the South African rider; I got away with Pevenage but he wouldn’t work with me so I sat up.

“It was a selection race for the Worlds and De Wolf was desperate to win to seal his selection – he sneaked away to win with Pevenage doing the same for second place.

“There was no way I was missing out on the podium though and hit the other two hard at the end, so much so that I almost caught the other two on the line.”  

Keith Lambert pipping Bill Nickson to the 1980 National Road Championship in 1980. Benny Foster in the yellow jacket. Photo©John Pierce / PhotoSport International UK USA Asia

And 1980 brought you another National title?

“Yes, beating more Scotsmen!

“Bill Nickson was an honorary one wasn’t he?

“And Robert Millar was there too; there had been six in the break originally but that had whittled down to just Bill, me and Robert.

“Robert had won the amateur championship for the last two years and wanted to win this one too.

“It was a hilly course but the hills were short so Bill and I could get up them on power, they weren’t long enough to give Robert the chance to use his pure climbing skills.

“The roads were new and slick; whilst Bill and I were cornering and negotiating the roundabouts gingerly, Robert was just floating round them and he gapped us. 

“Bill was worried that we’d let it slip away; but I said to him just to let Robert dangle out there on his own.

“He was out there on his own for a good bit then just blew, he couldn’t even hang on for a medal, Dudley Hayton and Phil Bayton caught him, Dudley got bronze and Robert was fifth.

“Bill sat on me for the last two kilometres; he was a fast guy at the end but was a ‘wind up’ kind of finisher, he didn’t really have a ‘kick.’

“There was a left hander with seven or eight hundred yards before the finish; I hugged the gutter and thought to myself that I would make a move until Bill did, I wasn’t really thinking about what he might do.

“But he’d laid off me into the corner and hit me right out of the corner.

“I went after him and just aimed and aimed at him – it was the longest two man sprint in history; I saw him look back then change gear – that was his mistake, his legs folded and I got him right on the line.”

Falcon in 1981 and six seasons there.

“It was the start of one of those troughs the British pro game suffers from time to time and I was glad to get the ride.

“Falcon always supported the sport.”

Goodwood 1982, a great experience to ride your home Worlds; you finished 45th that day.

“It was a great experience but I was looking at some BBC footage of Goodwood at the Harrogate Worlds last year and couldn’t believe the size of the numbers they had us wearing – you ended up sitting on the damn things.

“Harrogate was going to be my last appearance as GB u23 team manager – albeit I’m still with BC – and it nicely squared the circle, riding the 1982 Worlds then there as a manager in 2019.”

Keith Lambert
Keith Lambert takes the National Criterium Championships in 1983.

And after all them crits you rode you finally won the championship