Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Graeme Nisbet – Scottish International Roadman of the ’70s

“I loved track racing but I never considered myself a track rider, I always considered it as speed training for my road racing.”


HomeInterviewsGraeme Nisbet - Scottish International Roadman of the '70s

We’ve opened the ‘whatever happened to’ file again, this time it’s a man who many will remember dominating Meadowbank Track League in Edinburgh back in the 70’s, winning a rare (in that era) British Track Championship medal and scoring numerous, notable successes on the road; Graeme Nisbet of Dunedin CC and Roiseal Cycle Racing Team.

Here’s what he had to say to VeloVeritas, recently:

Graeme Nisbet (white jersey) looking comfortable between other Scottish greats; Jamie McGahan (Peugeot) and Davie Whitehall (Dales). Photo©supplied

How did you get into cycling, Graeme?

“I got my first road bike as a hand me down from an older cousin when I was about eleven or twelve years-old. 

“I used to go everywhere on my bike, usually flat out. 

“One day when I was about 15 years-old I saw a training ride go past and realised there must be a cycle racing club in Edinburgh. 

“I asked around the local bike shops and found out that Dunedin Cycling Club met at Meadowbank Velodrome on a Friday Evening. 

“I went along one evening late 1972 and met Angus Fraser and Ray Harris who looked after the youngsters in the club and I joined up. 

“It was after the end of the 1972 racing season so my first official bike race was the Velo Sportiv Christmas 10 mile TT at Wallyford, I recorded a time of 28:00.”

You were a Dunedin man but then went to the Roiseal CRT, why?

“My mentor and coach at Dunedin was Angus Fraser. 

“He helped me and looked after me throughout my cycling career. 

“He had a vision to take riders who were interested in travelling further to compete in the top races around the UK as well as local races in Scotland. 

“Unfortunately there weren’t enough of us in the Dunedin to justify that, so he formed the Roiseal CRT in 1976 and I was in the original setup. 

“The team’s ambition was to be more like a cycle racing team rather than a cycling club. 

“I think he was ahead of his time. 

“He invested a huge amount of his time and money for the only reward of seeing us do well in the races.”

Graeme Nisbet
Graeme Nisbet proudly displays his British Championship medal and the Roiseal CRT colours, with Angus Fraser at Meadowbank Velodrome in Edinburgh.

What are your abiding memories of the Roiseal?

“We had great fun, we had a great bunch of riders all quite talented and very committed. 

“We enjoyed our training rides, we enjoyed our racing all over the UK, and we had lots of fun and laughs. 

“It was a great time in my cycling career.”

You won the Sam Robinson in ’76 – a big result for a young guy from ‘the east’ [of Scotland, ed.]?

“Yes 1976 was the first year with Roiseal CRT and my second year as a senior rider. 

“My performances stepped up a level that year, no doubt helped by the gruelling winter training rides. 

“The Sam Robinson in 76 was my first big win in Scotland.  

“I loved stage racing and rode seven stage races in ’76 including the Scottish Milk Race where I finished a respectable 25th, and the gruelling Tour of Slovakia, where I got a hammering. 

“I was too young in ’76 for that kind of event, especially as I had a full time job and had to get time off work to go. 

“It was a real eye opener. 

“Fortunately I rode the Tour of Slovakia again in 1979 after I had been a full time rider for three years and although it was still a gruelling event I was much more involved with the racing and even managed a seventh place in a stage.”

Graeme Nisbet in the Tennets Lager Leader’s Jersey at the 1979 Musselburgh Two Day. Photo©supplied

The Girvan stage in ’79 was a biggie, and you won the Musselburgh Three day that year too.

“After such a good year in 1976 with 12 wins, I wanted to get to the next level where I was competitive in international stage races, so in 1977 I went to France to race full time. 

“I was therefore absent from most of the racing scene in Scotland/UK for ’77, ’78 and some of ’79.

“Season 1979 turned out to be my best year ever. 

“Before going to France I had a second place in an international one day race in Mallorca, I won the last stage of the Girvan Three Day.

“I won the ‘Queen’ Stage Three of the Sealink International in Ireland (I was later relegated to last in the bunch for allegedly taking pace from the TV camera vehicle, which just didn’t happen!).

“I won Stage Two of the Musselburgh Two Day and took the overall win. 

“I also won the Tour of the Kingdom before heading off to France for a shortened season over there. 

“I returned from France in June to ride the Tour of Britain Milk Race where I underperformed due to illness (gastroenteritis), but managed to finish, winning the combativity points classification. 

“Due to return to France after the Tour of Britain, I decided to return home to Edinburgh to recover from my gastroenteritis – I had lost over half a stone in weight during the T of B.  I entered a few races in Scotland and before long I was back at my best, albeit slightly leaner than I used to be, but I was flying. 

“As part of the Scottish team, I rode the five day Tour of Bohemia with the Scottish team in July, and when I came back from that I had a really good winning streak including the Inverness-Elgin and the Crieff GP. 

“In August I returned to the Tour of Slovakia and this time I felt competitive in the race, and really enjoyed it, even though it was probably the toughest race I had ever ridden. 

“I think I had 16 wins in 1979, it was my best year.”

Did you experience much of that East/West divide thing back then?

“There was always a healthy competitive spirit between the East/West but I rode with many of the West riders in the Scottish team in the major stage races and we all got on very well. 

“They were all good friends, but when it came to Scottish races it was very competitive. 

“I never felt there was an issue.”

Meadowbank Track League, I remember you ruling the roost there.

“Yes I dominated the Meadowbank track league for quite a few years. 

“I think some of the other riders were glad to see the back of me when I went to France in 1977. 

“I can’t remember how many time I won the league, probably three times. 

“I loved track racing but I never considered myself a track rider, I always considered it as speed training for my road racing.”

Graeme Nisbet takes a Scottish Track Championship. Photo©supplied

Third in the BCF 20K Champs in ’79 was a big result, very few Scots won British medals back then…

“I always preferred the scratch racing on the track and came back from the British Track Championships in 1979 with a bronze medal. 

“To be honest I was gutted at the time as I felt I should have won. 

“I had to go very early for the sprint, just because of the way the riders were winding it up for the sprint, but I had to go or I was going to be boxed in. 

“Anyway, two riders just scraped by me in the last 20 metres. 

“That’s bike racing! 

“I think I was the first Scottish rider for nine years to come back from the National Track Championships with a medal.”

You rode for Scotland in Bohemia, Slovakia and the Sealink – have I missed anything?

“Major stage races I rode for Scotland were the Scottish Milk Race (1976), Tour of Slovakia (1976, 1979), Sealink International (1979, 1980), Tour of Britain Milk Race (1979), Tour of Bohemia (1979) and the Elswick Falcon London-Glasgow 4-day pro-am (1980).

“The London-Glasgow was probably the first pro-am stage race in the UK. 

“I finished seventh equal in the GC and was second equal amateur rider so it was a good event for me. 

“The best thing was riding in the same stage race as my boyhood hero Barry Hoban!”

What was the Scotland team organisation like?

“It was very basic back then. 

“You were loaned a Scottish jersey for the race and that was about it. 

“The best thing about the Scottish team races were you always had a mechanic to clean your bike every evening, and if you were lucky George Bryce was the physio. 

“He was an excellent masseur after a long hard day in the saddle.”

What were your best results on the international stage?

“I think my stage win in the ‘Queen stage’ of the 1979 Sealink International in the Wicklow Mountains outside Dublin would have to be up there. 

“It was a shame I was robbed of the win by some very dubious commissaire decisions – it still make me very angry when I think about it. 

“Although I was relegated to last place in the bunch, I still consider it as one of my best rides. 

“Just to rub salt in the wound I’ve still got a DVD recording of the race including the alleged incident as it was shown on BBC Grandstand a few we