I raced against Brian’s father Don, sadly no longer with us, in the 70’s and 80’s and I remember Brian as a very talented junior. We met up through a mutual friend in 1990 and I was his mechanic when he rode the Tour of Britain (Milk Race) that year, but we lost contact until last year when we were both at the Quick-Step team press day in Spain.
Brian was part of a the 1994 Motorola squad – along with big men of the day Steve Bauer, Andy Hampsten. Raul Alcala, and a young World Champ called Lance. (Brian is 5th from right.)
During those lost years he had turned pro, twice become British National Pro Road Champion, finished the Giro d’Italia, carved out a good career, retired and moved into TV work. He had also started the Braveheart Fund to help young up and coming Scottish cyclists to live their dream.
The death of Jason MacIntyre shocked many people, not just in Scotland, but all around the world, he was to be funded by Braveheart to help him towards going to the Beijing Olympics, (read remembrance here). Speaking to Brian about Jason led to some more questions on Brian’s career and cycling in general, but we have to start with the difficult subject of Jason MacIntyre first:
PEZ: Recently there was some terribly sad news of the death of probably the most talented rider on the fund, Jason Macintyre, I thought donating his fund money to his family a great move, was that an easy decision?
BRIAN: Very easy. I had no contact from the family and I felt I needed to do something. Grieving affects people in different ways. I needed to do something and concentrate on a goal. Money will never bring Jason back but it will help the family over the next few months. On the day after the funeral I was told we had reached our target of Ј20,000. Amazing to think with all the bad publicity in cycling that the cycling community is still a very close knit community with plenty to give. Donations came from all over the world for a family that has been devastated. Jason had twin girls. He was full time care giver for Morgan and having spoken to Caroline, his wife, recently has just found out that Chloe is also registered blind. This brings life into perspective and I think this tragedy has touched many lives. Chris Hoy, our patron, has been in touch with Caroline and has invited her down to the next Revolution. Jason was going to take her down to the World Cup for her birthday this year to meet one of her hero’s Chris. Donations still can be made via the Braveheart Funds site.
British Road Championship 1991: Brian flying the Team Banana colors.
PEZ: What do you think would be the best way to commemorate Jason MacIntyre, a monument, an annual ride…?
BRIAN: Can I just say that Jason was a better person than most top cyclists. To get to the top in sport you need to be single minded and selfish. That’s where Jason was a world champion in cycling. Family came first before cycling. Something very rare in our top athletes. That’s why we have lost a very special person. I set up a memorial ride when my father died. It died away in numbers for a while until more effort was put in. Now many people don’t know who he was. On this note it would be a crying shame to see something set up and disappear in the future. Hence I think a permanent monument to a unique person would last forever. His efforts in his family and cycling life need to be a permanent memory.
Now for some easier questions.
PEZ: Other retired riders have said the hardest day of their career was the day they stopped racing, what do you say about that?
BRIAN: It certainly is not an easy decision to decide to retire from cycling but after a week or so it feels as if a huge weight is taken off your shoulders. I am now still involved with cycling and that helps my sanity. My hardest racing days were when I was younger and learning to suffer. I used to give up until I learned to suffer and was rewarded by my first win. The transition from being able to suffer and feel the buzz of winning was a contributing factor to my career.
PEZ: You won the GP Midtbank, that’s a big race, tell us more?
BRIAN: Yes, a big race in Europe but not known in most other places. A few years ago I got a call from Alex Coutts. He was riding the event the next day and was shocked to find that a wee Scotsman had won it before. I told him he had to do the same to which he laughed. It was actually the first European win of the 1994 season by the Motorola team. I was sent there with Norman Alvis to represent Motorola in Denmark. I was living in Nice and when I arrived in Herning it was cold and wet. The person that picked me up at the airport did not get a very good response from me, “don’t know why they have sent me here?! I’m supposed to be a climber”. The day before the event a couple of the locals took us round some of the course. At least Paris-Roubaix has paving stones. These were dirt roads. The locals had to wait for me after every section. Anyway back to the race. Some mad Danish riders, gravel roads, rain and wind, everything I could of wished for! This was enough to get me concentrated to do my professional job. On the podium the person that picked me up at the airport was there again so I asked what his roll was. Turned out he was the organizer and had a laugh at my expense when he told everybody what my reaction was by being at the event. The Danish have a good sense of humour and I learned a lesson.
PEZ: Which race would you say you enjoyed (bad word) the most and why?
BRIAN: I enjoyed many of the European races due to the fact I used to read and watch them as a boy but the race I enjoyed the most was the old Nissan Classic (Tour of Ireland). It was a late season race with a relaxed atmosphere. The roads and scenery were great and I got the chance to race against some of the world stars. Some of the stars were not on top of their game so it gave me an opportunity to take a few scalps. Still love watching the bit where I beat Kelly over the top of one of the mountain points.
Milk Race 1992: Brian flyin’ the National Champ’s jersey.
PEZ: You rode and finished the Giro, how did you feel at the start and what feeling did you get when you crossed the line in Milan?
BRIAN: You sure? Can’t remember much about that race… At the start of the race I felt good until after the prologue results came out. I felt I had ridden as hard as I could but was way down the results. I know I am no TT specialist but I have pride but so do all the Italians who represented the majority of the field. I then realized that this event was going to be very tough. 22 days with no rest day… the TT’s will need to be my rest but the time limit has to be met. I didn’t sleep well that night. I think there were only 90ish finishers that year and at no point did I think I was never going to finish. My concentration was making sure Andy Hampsten was looked after all the way to the finish. Crossing the finish line in Milan made me feel very proud and satisfied and looking back at it now I really enjoyed myself although at the time my body was aching all over. The real feelings come when you return home and wake up the next day with no stage and riders village. On your own with no tifosi and empty training roads.
PEZ: You must have one of the best records in the British National Pro Championships, two firsts and two seconds in four years, that must have been one of your aims for the season and career?
BRIAN: I chose the British Champs as a way out of Britain – if I was to be honest. My childhood goal was to be a continental pro. With very few UCI points up for grabs in the UK this was the best place to get them. If I could get as many as possible then maybe a European team would take me. The first time of wearing the champs jersey made me stand out which took a bit of getting used to. By the time that happened Yatesy stole it off me in my backyard. Elliott then put half a wheel ahead of me in my adopted home in the Isle of Man. On my fourth attempt 2 weeks after finishing the Giro I made sure nobody was going to beat me. That day I enjoyed that race and loved pulling on that jersey again. You don’t realize how much you love something until you lose it.
PEZ: You were racing with Motorola at the same time as Lance Armstrong, what did you think of him as a person and as a rider?
BRIAN: I got on fine with Lance. I respected his abilities as a bike rider but treated him as I would treat any friend. That’s why I think we still get along… or was it because he thought my accent was funny. Even when I met him at the Tour a couple of years ago he still says “I never could understand a word you were saying!” All that advice I thought I was giving him was going straight out the window due to communication problems. To think what he could have achieved… Lance away from the media was cool and fun and as a rider he was awesome and focused.
PEZ: Have you read the book L.A. Confidential? What do you think?
BRIAN: I have never had the inclination to read it. Same reason I don’t read comic books except ‘Oor Wullie’ (long running Scottish cartoon character).
PEZ: How is life now, do you miss racing?
BRIAN: Life is hectic at the moment. I sometimes miss the buzz from racing but have got very good at trying to enjoy a more relaxing time on my bicycle. That way I get to see more beautiful scenery and eat and drink what I want.
PEZ: You work for Cycling.TV, how did that all come about?
BRIAN: Three years ago both David Harmon and Anthony McCrossan said to me I would be a very good pundit for TV. More like a great face for radio! They both got the same confused look from me. Over time I became good friends with Anthony and decided to give it a go. I have never looked back. Anthony is still my partner in crime and has also set up his own company, Cyclevox, to deal with other business within cycling.
PEZ: Would you like to do more TV work, Eurosport etc?
BRIAN: I really enjoy doing my cycling pundit roll and look forward to doing much more. With over 150 days of commentary last year I am starting to get a bit better. I have done 2 years now as a pundit and can now read races much better. It’s just a shame not everyone can understand my Scottish accent… eh… what… ouch aye the noo!
PEZ: You are also behind the Braveheart fund. (www.braveheartfund.com); it must take up a lot of time?
BRIAN: It takes up more time than I care to admit. I get a lot of personal satisfaction and find it hard not to help. I just want to see Scottish riders experience what I did. Every year at the annual dinner I am deeply amazed at the generosity. There is never a dinner goes by without me getting goose bumps and shedding an emotional tear at the success stories.
PEZ: How do you raise the money?
BRIAN: We raise most of our money at the annual auction dinner in October. We also have a charity ride (race) on the same day and various donations from clubs and individuals. We are always looking at other ways to raise money away from the main generation paths but this takes time unless we get volunteers.
PEZ: I’ve heard the forum is quite popular?
BRIAN: I know the forum is popular with regards to page views but it is lacking in participants. We have inherited some nutter who reports for PEZ and likes to stir things up. It always brings a smile to my face when I read some of the posts. The cycling community certainly has its fair share of characters.
PEZ: There was no Braveheart fund when you were a young, up and coming rider living at home in Paisley, how did you manage?
BRIAN: Quite simply my family. Without them I had no cycling career. I was lucky I had a cycling mad family and a star studded local chaingang with the likes of Robert Millar, Willie Gibb, Jamie McGahan, Bobby Melrose, Davie Whitehall and Alastair Hamilton (well, maybe not the last one).
PEZ: How much do you think cycling has changed since you were racing?
BRIAN: Cycling develops every year but the biggest thing I see now is the social side has gone. Pulse and power meters have taken something away from the social bunch rides. For all coaches out there…. let the youngsters enjoy their bike more before you kill them off with interval training.
PEZ: What advice do you give to young riders when they say “I want to be a Pro Cyclist”?
BRIAN: I have set up a fund to help those who say that so I would have to say that I am delighted to hear those words. Everyone needs a goal and fantasy and I would rather it was in cycling than any other sport.
PEZ: Drugs in cycling, what is the answer?
BRIAN: Don’t take them! You ask any cyclist “Have you ever cheated”, if they say no then they are lying. All sports people look to take advantage of many things to be successful. It’s just a pity with the pressures in cycling that riders try to take the easy way out by using performance enhancing products. There is no substitute for hard work and a motivated mind.
PEZ: Are the UCI doing enough? And what about WADA?
BRIAN: I leave the governing bodies to get on with what they need to do. I don’t know if they are doing enough or not. They seem to be cleaning up the sport which is a good thing.
PEZ: Who impressed you the most on a bike?
BRIAN: Gianni Bugno. I rode both Worlds he won and witnessed his cool style in the Giro. When riding piano in events I used to hang round the back until the action started. Bugno used to do likewise but he got to the front with ease when the action started. He was class on top of class on a bike. The other rider that impressed me was Sean Kelly. He was a hard b******!!! Enough said.
PEZ: And which rider of this generation impresses you?
BRIAN: Cadel Evans. A very good professional and knows how to suffer. The other rider would have to be Lars Boom after commentating on the cyclocross worlds recently.
PEZ: Do you have any hero’s, cycling or otherwise?
BRIAN: Freddie Maertens and my father Don. Robert Millar was a big influence in my career and still remains a good friend today.
PEZ: What is your best memory from cycling and from life?
BRIAN: My best memory from cycling is back in Scotland on a summer’s day. Riding round the Largs coast before heading inland to a place called Beith. Filling up with some supplies before heading up in to the nearby hills for a ‘drum-up’ [wood fire surrounded by sweaty cyclists drinking tea and talking rubbish] beside a reservoir. Having a dip in the water, heating soup on the fire and relaxing with some great Scottish banter of how I could have won this or that race.
PEZ: Any regrets?
BRIAN: Not getting to ride the Tour. Retiring from cycling at 32 due to patella tendonitis.
If it hadn’t been for the tendonitis Brian might have won more races and maybe rode the Tour, but that could have been to the disadvantage of Scottish cycling as the Braveheart Fund may never have seen the light of day. We only live this life once and the energy Brian put into his cycling he is now putting behind Braveheart helping many young riders trying to emulate himself, Robert Millar, Billy Bilsland and all the other top Scottish riders of the past. William Wallace was not the only Braveheart!
• See the Braveheart Fund website.
• And check out BrianSmithCycling.com