For many, life and its infinite distractions mean bike racing occupies a period of time in their life, with most moving on to less physically demanding pursuits. Perhaps returning when time, career and family allow or just settling for listening to Brian Smith on Eurosport. The idea of winning Scottish titles over five decades would seem inconceivable to most. But not all.
Racing a bike is a demanding pursuit, endless time getting the miles in, winters in the gym, fettling bikes, spending your hard-earned on the latest must-have components, it all eats up both precious time and money.
Winning a bike race for most takes even more commitment, focus and dedication. Many often conclude the reward is disproportionate to the effort. As a result some when they achieve a degree of success shortly thereafter hang up their races wheels. Been there done that, time to try something new.
For a limited few the desire to keep racing and winning seems never to dim. Their enthusiasm replenished year after year and with it the commitment to training and everything else required of a racing cyclist.
Maybe it’s just better time management than most of the population, or a prioritisation of the bike that others can’t or won’t accept. Maybe it’s natural ability and it comes easier. Maybe it’s a focus that few can sustain or maybe they just love racing more.
Or maybe it’s just most racers get their fill of sore legs, gravel rash and kickings, eventually realising that the return on their investment just isn’t good enough.
Whilst some talented riders come and go having put in a few years of racing, won their fill, there are others who keep going and going and winning and winning.
For me David Gibson is one of those guys that seems to never have stopped, although in reality it’s been few years since he last raced. To be fair it seems reasonable for him to at last ease up a bit.
Although he takes full advantage of the early morning drop-in sessions at the Sir Chris Hoy velodrome to keep himself in shape and unofficial they may be but for many it’s a twice weekly race on the indoor boards. The old timers revival includes the likes of Steve McCaw, Kenny Clark, Graham Barclay and Jamie McGahan, enough ageing talent to hurt a few younger guys legs!
David is a former teammate of mine back in the days of GS Modena and a man who almost machine-like, churned out win after win in the eighties, nineties and into the noughties.
The longevity of the racing career meant I decided to try and catch up with him and find out just what motivated the man.
I was also curious to find out how many wins he actually had. The latter proved to be trickier than I had thought. I spoke to David after he had finished his latest session on Zwift, a chain gang organised under the banner of the Renfrew bunch. With lockdown David has been managing 15 hours a week on Zwift and has racked up over 3,500 miles virtual miles since it started.
When I first met David he was winning road races and stage races it appeared at will. Some will remember him best for his hill climb championship wins, others his road racing and others his time trialling.
David Gibson’s palmarès is glittering and won’t be beaten by many Scottish Riders. When I spoke to David he was able to detail 51 Scottish titles, not including team wins at individual time trial championships.
So to the incredible detail. It all started with a win in the Scottish Schoolboy Road Race championships in 1977 and has potentially finished (never say never, is there an over 60’s Road race championship?) with victory in the Veterans Over Fifty Road Race championship in 2010. A career that spanned five decades is exceptional.
“I joined the Batley CC in 1982. This came about through my friendship with Jock Kerr, a former pro who I’d met at the Guiness School of Sport as a schoolboy.
“I previously rode for the Glenmarnock but there was a problem which meant the Glenmarnock might be banned from racing so I jumped at the chance to keep racing. After 2 years in the Batley CC I joined GS Modena in 1984.
“This was like turning pro for me, the clothing provided was incredible and there was great attention to detail. Ed Hood, sponsor and team principle had gone on some shopping spree and we were all amazed at the quality of the stuff. Skinsuits were in their infancy, we all got them.
“Around this time my coach Stewart Sutherland introduced me to a new focused way of training which suited me. Stewart was a great supporter and we went all over the country going to races. Without him I would probably not have achieved half of what I did.”
In the eighties David predominantly focused on the road with some notable success including wins in classic Scottish races including the Drummond Trophy and Inverness-Elgin.
There were some memorable battles with equally famous riders. Round Four of the 1984 Road Race Best All Rounder organised by the Cumbernauld CC was a ‘death race’, with Jamie McGahan, back from racing in Italy; he and David had escaped from the break and slugged it out until McGahan took the victory by inches in Lennoxtown, with the third placed rider over two minutes adrift.
Stage racing saw David take victory in the Border Four Day, where he beat northern hard man Wayne Randle, picking up two stage wins along the way.
The gone but not forgotten Tour of Speyside he won on four occasions. Stages were won but exactly how many is now a bit woolly. David recalls Race organiser Colin Horne vowed to stop him winning the following year, asserting that it was the uphill time trial to the ski station that had ensured his win. Quite why this was an issue for Colin I’m not sure. True to his word Colin’s plan was to introduce a points classification with time bonuses in an attempt to foil David winning the following year. With two stage wins and the Points and General classification David foiled the dastardly plan.
The Tour of Argyll, sponsored by the now infamous Eddie Cairney, saw stage wins but no overall victory. Prize money won was not forthcoming. David recalls winning the final stage on his way to the KOM title one year, attacking the break with thirty miles to go with Davie Whitehall, Steve McCaw and Mike Lawson amongst those chasing, whilst Eddie Cairney cleared a path with his Jaguar for David through the sheep blocking the road on the final climb ten miles from the finish.
Road race titles surprisingly don’t include a Senior Road Race championship, that coveted single day title eluding him. However his consistency did result in multiple wins in the Road Race BAR as Senior and Veteran. Specifically:
- Five times Scottish Veterans Road Race series champion
- Three times Scottish Road Race Best All Rounder
- One Veterans Road Race championship
Road success impressive as it is was, was perhaps eclipsed by Time Trial titles. The list of championship wins here is extensive and includes:
- One Scottish 10 mile time trial Champion (personal best 19mins 47 secs)
- Four times Scottish 25 mile Champion (PB 49mins)
- Six times Scottish 50 mile Time Trial Champion (PB 1hour 43mins)
- Three times 100 mile Time Trial Champion
- Nine times Scottish Middle distance BAR Champion
- Eight times a member of the winning team in the Scottish 100km Team Time Trial Championships
- Three times Scottish Olympic Time Trial Series Champion.
There were Team winners medals in many of the Championships David won but these are not readily remembered nor detailed here. It would be reasonable I think to assume the number of Scottish Championships won in reality exceeds sixty. Wins in classic time trials include four wins and five second places at the Tour de Trossachs and four wins at the Tour of the Campsies.
Not only could he go fast on the flat, six Scottish Hill Climb championships proved he could go uphill fast too.
And on the track? Less well known for his track exploits David did win a Scottish Team Pursuit Championship at Caird Park in Dundee, with GS Modena. This was one of his more satisfying wins, the red hot favourites being the City of Edinburgh RC. So sure were the organisers of the result they had already written “C.O.E.R.C.” on the envelope containing the winner’s prize money, which was crossed out quickly post race.
What’s not been recorded or remembered for posterity are the numerous other road race wins over the years and as David says himself “too many second places to mention”.
I was surprised to find that despite all this success there were no appearances at the Commonwealth games, having missed out in 1982 it didn’t happen in 1986 as David was sitting his accountancy exams and by 1990 he was not in the hunt. This did nothing to diminish his enthusiasm for domestic racing and desire to win.
Scotland caps did come his way with rides in the Scottish Healthrace on three occasions. He describes the year the Poles dominated as an eye opener;
“I realised how it was, the order of things.
“In that race the Poles gave us a kicking.
“Then the Russians gave the Poles a kicking when they raced them, then when the Russians rode against the pros they got a kicking.”
In the days when Scotland sent teams to big races like the Rás Tailteann David made the trip across the Irish Sea three times, helping Jamie McGahan take second place in 1982 in his attempt to defend his title. Scotland also sent teams to races like the Star Trophy series, where David pulled on the classic blue jersey in many of these.
He also rode the Manx International in the Isle of Man on three occasions. He recalls his first ride there at only eighteen. He got in the break and was away most of the day before cracking on the final ascent of the mountain. This was an eye opener, having recognised that many riding were in effect pros; full-time sponsored riders, training whilst most others were working. David recalls this being the point he decided to become an accountant.
The highlight of his team time trialling and arguably his best race representing Scotland was winning the BCF 100km TTT Championship in 1988 in a team comprising himself, David Hassan, Findlay Gentleman and honorary Scot Dave Smith.
David recalls it as a brutal race on a dual carriageway course in Wales, sitting in 53×13 all day. Although having travelled home on the Saturday night it was up to Aberdeen for the Grand Prix road race the next day.
“It was a very healthy era for Scottish bike riders with the likes of Jamie McGahan, Willie Gibb, Bobby Melrose, Davie Whitehall, Graham Barclay, Andy Mathieson, Steven Finnegan, Davie Toole, Roddy and Kenny Riddle and loads of others making the racing really competitive.
“In the international events you had Malcolm Elliot and all the domestic pros at that time. The amateur/elite distinction was really just full time bike riders.
“I always raced whilst holding down a full time job.”
I ask if his time overlapped with Robert Millar (nowadays Pippa York) at all. David recalls riding as a schoolboy “the big coast run”, an eighty five mile marathon that passes through Newton Mearns onto the Fenwick moors, before heading down to Largs before the return leg back to Glasgow.
” I was hanging on at the back.
“The big hitters Drew Brunton, John Clark and Ian Thomson were getting in to it and I was wheeling about at the back with a junior, Robert Millar as it turned out.
“It was a hard day out.”
More recently David has had the opportunity to see Katie Archibold up close on the famous Bundy chain gang. He notes that unsurprisingly she carved her way through the lead group of riders like a shark zeroing in on its hapless victim to take out the final sprint. Class!
Racing in the 80’s meant there was not a bit of carbon in sight. Toe clips, down tube shifters, and small diameter steel tubed frames being the order of the day.
David had his fair share of nice bikes, from a steel Puch to a nice Gazelle to a number of Treks (rumour has it Trek considered whether they should withdraw their lifetime frame warranty following the number of frames replaced having been torn to pieces by a certain Scotsman – four or five David reckons). A Boardman inspired Lotus time trial frame was a sure sign times had changed and aero had arrived.
Today David has a couple of Pinarello’s, an F8 and an F10 with electronic shifting and powermeters, and appreciates the improvement in quality and performance. That and Zwift means riding in bad weather is a thing of the past and a new source of motivation.
Whilst bike technology was slowly improving David was ahead of most of the opposition in having a coach for the majority of his career on the bike. Stewart Sutherland, himself a former multiple Scottish champion and internationalist provided David with an approach to training that worked very well and suited him. Focused and intense it was too hard for many but for David it was ideal and he is quick to point out that without Stewart’s approach and support he probably wouldn’t have won half of what he did.
And finally the question “What motivated you for all those years?”
“I like winning.
“When I won a title I would wonder can I win it again? and again?
“I like to apply myself and do the best that I can at whatever I do. I give 100%. When I stopped giving 100% I stopped.
“My last race was the 25 Champs a few years back. On the line at the start I was thinking I don’t want to be here. I rode round, going through the motions. I finished half a minute off a medal.
“I had half a minute in my legs. I was disgusted with myself. If my coach had been there I might have focused – he could motivate me.”
So that is the tale of David Gibson, winning machine and an exceptional rider. I for one would not bet against further Scottish titles wins to come!