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Cycling: interview with Billy Bilsland

With all the pomp and ceremony surrounding the build up to the 2014 Games, I decided to take a look back at one of Scottish cycling's favourites - Billy Bilsland.

An Olympian and a competitor in the Commonwealth Games too, Billy was born in 1945 in Glasgow. He showed promise from an early age, winning a slew of Scottish titles in his teenage years.

His amateur career brought continued success, and he travelled to the Commonwealth Games in Jamaica in 1966 and rode in a Scotland jersey. Aged 19 at the time, his talent and pace saw him into the leading pack coming towards the business end of the road race. A puncture and some quick repairs by the road side meant he ended up with a still commendable 9th place, however this could have easily been so much more.

Back in those days, there was not the level of support afforded to the riders as there is now. Billy worked full time as a joiner in Glasgow, trained in the evenings after work and raced at weekends.

"I used to finish work and then go out on the road. Back in the 60s the roads weren't just as busy.

"I would finish work at half four. I would go home and have a light tea and then I would go training for a couple of hours.

"You can only train so much, obviously if you don't work, you can maybe train twice a day.

In Jamaica 66, there were three Scottish riders sent to compete, the maximum number of total personnel the Scottish cycling union could have sent. Billy explains: "The Scottish Cycling Union could have sent one rider, a team manager and a mechanic but they decided that, okay, it would be best to send three riders.

"When I came back from the Olympics [in 1968] I went to France the next year. I was racing in France and won a few races and in 1970 I turned professional for Peugeot."

"I was getting paid for something I enjoyed doing."

Billy spent the next five years racing around Europe. In Belgium, Switzerland, Spain and plenty more besides. After three years with Peugeot and a further two with Raleigh, he had had enough and moved back to Scotland.

There was still some involvement in cycling, and Billy did his fair share of coaching after moving back home. However, in his own words "time marches on," and this too came to an end.

For the non-cyclists among you who think that the name Bilsland sounds familiar. That's because there is a cycle shop bearing his name right here in Glasgow.

Given my recent trip to the Sir Chris Hoy in the east end of the city, I was eager to get Billy's thoughts on it. There is no doubt that new facilities can bring out new talent, just as in Edinburgh in 1970.

"They built a new velodrome in Edinburgh, and since then track cycling in Scotland has come on leaps and bounds, he said.

"Hopefully some Scots will win medals at the games this summer, but the velodrome will lift Scottish track cycling."

Billy has a final word for me as a newcomer to the world of cycling, "Younger people come in with new ideas, but at the end of the day the principles are still the same, you know? To get from point A to point B as fast as you possibly can."

It's as simple as that.

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