The older Jason MacIntyre got, the faster he seemed to go. He won the British time-trial championship in 2006, took back-to-back National 25s and lowered Graeme Obree’s Scottish 10-mile time-trial with a time of 18-47.
For a long time, testers and road racers at Scottish events knew they were pretty much racing for second when the rangy Lochaber man turned up on the start line.
But he matched his ability with friendliness and humility, helping other riders in races and acting as a full-time carer for his daughter Morgan, born without kidneys. Family always came ahead of cycling ambitions.
We'll never know if he would have achieved his dream of competing in the Beijing Olympics. On January 15 2008, Jason was hit by a van at Carrs Corner in Fort William and killed.
Six years on, his long-time Velo Ecosse team manager Gregor Russell, close friend and fellow racer Evan Oliphant and wife Caroline MacIntyre share their memories. Their words piece together the life and times of a great cyclist and great man.
Caroline MacIntyre: I first met him on Christmas night 1997 in Fort William. I said to my friend "who’s that over there? He’s a bit of all right." I didn’t recognise him from around town: he had been racing in France that year and was back to do a bit of printing [his profession]. He had lived with a French family there, he wanted to feel what that life was like. He enjoyed it, he said he’d liked to live in Perpignan one day.
We talked and we were soon pretty much inseparable. He was completely different to anyone I’d ever met before: he’d open the door for me, he was a gentleman. He had great ambition. Later on, I told him I was the best Christmas present he ever got. He’d just smile and go ‘aye, aye’.
Evan Oliphant: When I went to university in Edinburgh, I joined the Velo Ecosse team that Jason rode for, run by Gregor. And he knew me from the north, kind of got me on the team with him and I got to know him through that. He would win pretty much every round of the Grand Prix Series - and I could come second. He’d attack up the road and I could sit in, then sprint.
Caroline MacIntyre: I’d never seen anyone with legs like Jason's. I didn’t know anything about cycling, the first time I saw him in lycra, I was like ‘what the hell are you wearing?’ I think his passion came from Billy Warnock, he really backed Jason when he was younger.
The twins, Chloe and Morgan, were born in 1999. Morgan was born without kidneys. It’s a life-changing thing, we lived a life of constant hospitals, we had to learn how to do dialysis. Morgan was put on it at eight months old; every corner of the house was packed with [dialysis fluid] boxes. I think we were like headless chickens then. Cycling didn’t really come into it at that point. As we get more used to things, it got easier to cope.
Dialysis stopped when she was four, so Morgan was put on hemodialysis which meant we had to travel three times a week to Glasgow [from Fort William]. I couldn’t drive, so sometimes Jason would stay behind with Chloe and he’d come down, pick us up and get us home.
We’d stay in Ronald McDonald House, the charity-run accommodation of Glasgow Hospital. We had a room in there for almost a year and a half. We were given a flat across the road. He had the bike set up there, he’d hammer the pedals.
Gregor Russell: I’ve never seen somebody train as hard as Jason. What he could do with his body in terms of suffering – and his daily regime - was phenomenal. He used to sometimes ride from Fort William to ours in Edinburgh [150 miles], leave some clothes, and ride back the next day. My wife Claire would give him massages.
Evan Oliphant: He burnt out all his turbo trainers, he kept getting new ones from Tacx. He wore through one of those solid metal rollers on it.
Caroline MacIntyre: He’d do it under the stairs. I always said that’s why he had such a flat position: there was only elbow room there. His breathing was laboured when he was doing power outputs. He’d keep cycling till he passed out, I’d be able to tell from his breathing how close he was. I’d go through into the hall just as he was passing out.
I’d help take his feet out of the pedals, put his arm round my shoulder and take him – he could still walk – to the kitchen and give him some water. He was gasping like a fish out of water! That happened a couple of times a week, once he was gearing up for the season. I think he came to realise that no suffering on the bike could match the pain of nearly losing a child. From then on, he always knew the body could take more.
It made me smile, I was watching a programme about Chris Hoy the other week and he had padded mattresses on either side of his turbo too.
Gregor Russell: He took a break from racing when Morgan was in hospital. Then he called and said ‘can I come and race?’ He came out and won a load of Scottish races in a row and a Premier Calendar round [Glasgow-Dunoon] ahead of Mark Lovatt. You could see he was very talented.
Evan Oliphant: Even then, if Morgan was ill and she had to go to Glasgow hospital, he would do that rather than racing. It gave us all a priority check.
Gregor Russell: I was following him in the team car for the 2002 Commonwealth Games time-trial. He had [eventual winner] Cadel Evans two minutes behind him in the time-trial. "He’s not going to catch me," he said beforehand. "Jason, it’s Cadel Evans, he will," I said. By the end of the second lap, Evans comes past. On the drive back to Edinburgh that night, we had a long chat about what he could do in the future, whether to dedicate himself totally to time-trials.
Caroline MacIntyre: We got engaged in 2003. He went into the jewellery shop and let me pick three rings, but I didn’t know which one he was going to get. The proposal was very romantic, he’d wanted the girls to be part of it too. They were on either side of him, and all three got down on one knee. He was still in his cycling gear.
Everything really changed in the winter of 2005, when he went away to Australia on a team camp. He came back in awe of this new world and the professionalism.
Gregor Russell: He wanted to go to the 2006 Commonwealths in Melbourne. He had been ill, he hadn’t ridden any UCI races so he had no points, but he had won virtually everything in Scotland. He needed a point to go and I got him to guest with Recycling.co.uk out there. The day before he left, the people at Scottish Cycling got wind of it and said it wouldn’t count. It was a bit of a shambles.
Evan Oliphant: Russell Downing was the British champ at that point and Jason was dropping him, and us all, in the team time trial in Australia. That was when he really started doing training that focused on time-trialling and got scientific about everything. It was the season after that, he started winning all these national time-trial titles.
Sometimes I’d go down to Fort William to train with him. I remember the first time: we did two weeks and I was absolutely wrecked. There was one day I didn’t give him a single turn - I couldn’t, I had to sit on the whole way round. He took the time-trial bike, I was on my road bike. We’d stop for a coffee and then get back down to it.
Caroline MacIntyre: Evan didn’t always enjoy it, but he’s got some fond memories of going out on the bike, 80 miles, and coming home up this big hill that would just destroy him, to this massive plate of pasta.… I wish Jason was here to pat Evan on the back [for how well he’s done since], he’d be like a proud dad.
Evan Oliphant: The first British title Jason got was the National 25 in 2006. We were about to get a ferry somewhere and Chris Newton phoned up [then-Recycling team manager] John Herety to say that some Scottish guy had beaten him. I knew straight away who it was. I remember Herety saying to me at the time that it was a bit of a surprise. “Not at all. I’m surprised he didn’t beat him by more,” I replied. From the times he was doing on some of the courses in Scotland on far slower courses, I knew he could do it down there.
Caroline MacIntyre: Then when he won the British national champs in the summer of 2006, he was as surprised as the next guy. He was told that he was second at the finish, then the commissaire came over to him and said "sorry, there’s been a mistake, you’re first." Jason was ecstatic.
Evan Oliphant: The last two years, practically everything he did was for the time trial. He did a hundred miles on his time-trial bike on the roads – I do ten, fifteen minutes and my back’s killing me. But he figured he had to do as much time as possible in that position.
It was tough living in such a remote place as well. In Edinburgh, there's crits with 60 guys. Virtually all the training he did was on his own. That’s why I used to quite like going out with him, we’d actually train, a two-week block, good for him and me. To go to any race, he had to travel too. Driving from Edinburgh south, it’s bad; for him, it was an extra two and a half hours just to get to Edinburgh from Fort William. Eventually, when he was doing time-trials, he’d only go to races that were important or he knew he was going to win. It was a long way to drive seven hours to a time-trial if you’re not going to do something at it.
Some road races, he’d let me win if I wanted. One year, it was the Scottish champs and we got away till it was just two of us left. I was really struggling; he got me gels and Red Bull from the following car and told me to sit on. We got over the last climb, he said "go at whatever speed you need to." He was waiting on me. I remember he turned round a bit later and said "shit, not that fucking slow!" I had cracked - but it was fine, we were a few minutes ahead. And he let me win.
Caroline MacIntyre: I’ve never seen it, but I heard stories from people: how he’d take someone with a puncture back through the bunch or help when they were hurting. When someone asked if they could win because their new girlfriend was watching, he let him.
Gregor Russell: He was a very headstrong character, he made some bad choices in tyre and bike selection. [Ahead of the 2007 British national time-trial championship], even the guy from Continental said "don’t ride these tyres for that event, you’ll puncture." But he thought ‘these’ll be the difference between me and Millar.’
He’d certainly have been very close. Allegedly, he was 40 seconds up on Millar when he punctured [and abandoned the race]. When somebody asked Millar about it afterwards he said it was irrelevant because Jason didn’t finish the race. I suppose he was right.
Caroline MacIntyre: He’d not long come back from there when British Cycling asked him to do some times at Manchester Veloodrome. Dave Brailsford was down there, it was the time of the Halfords Bikehut team. He went up to Jason and said "do you want to join the team?" Jason was incredibly loyal and had already said to Dooley Cycles that he’d be with him the next year. He said he'd have to speak to them about it, and it’d also meant he’d be away abroad a lot. Everything was falling into place. Then Jason was taken before it could materialise.
Jason was quite quiet. Maybe a little arrogant when I first met him, but I didn't like arrogance. The only time I remember him smirking and smiling was when he got sent the stuff through for the Beijing Olympics from the federation. He had the race plan, it was quite a hilly race that year which suited Jason perfectly, and was looking at the gradients. He just smiled and said "I think I can do this." He knew beating Cancellara would be tough, but Jason was convinced he’d be on the podium.
Evan Oliphant: He definitely wasn't at his best, he was just getting there. I think the year he got killed, he wouldn't have been far off breaking the national 10 record.
Caroline MacIntyre: I remember every minute of his last day. Morgan helped him to put on his hat. He was going for a hour and a bit’s spin and I was going round to a friend’s for coffee, so he said he’d see me in a bit. His last words to Chloe were ‘be the best you can be’. That’s some amazing last words to have.
A little later, I saw an ambulance leaving - my friend’s house is a few roads over from the station - and stopped dead. I said ‘that’s for Jason, that’s for Jason’. She said ‘don’t be daft’.
I just knew. I’d left my phone at her house, so I went back and there were missed calls. My friend is a paramedic and had been there, she came to the doorstep. She couldn’t look at me, she said ‘there’s been an accident’ and then…
I’d seen Jason in a lot of crashes, I knew the mess it could make of him. But there was just a scratch on his pinky finger. To look at him, there was nothing to make you think that he was gone. That day. You sit there and shake your head. This really hasn’t happened, I’m still gobsmacked that he’s gone. We all thought that Jason was invincible.
Evan Oliphant: I was in Australia, it was the middle of the night there. I think it was Gregor that told me, I was trying to change my flights to come back. I phoned Caroline, she told me to stay out there. I missed the funeral, but then I went up to see her.
Caroline MacIntyre: The first few months, I wasn’t really aware of what was going on. There was a lot of media. We were able to change the law in Scotland, we’d been trying for 25 years to get the law for dangerous driving in. After Jason’s trial, it happened because people were outraged that Jason had been taken. That showed that something good can come from it, that someone can be held accountable.
Gregor Russell: I remember him every day. There’s pictures in the shop and around the house. It makes you realise there’s more to life than riding a bike. It all pales into significance when it comes to family and friends. He left a wife and two kids, all because some idiot driver’s hit him.
Evan Oliphant: Me and James McCallum make references to him to the younger boys when we’re out training sometimes - how he just smashed us all [laughs]. He’s still got all the time-trial records around Scotland, it’ll be a while before anyone beats those.
Caroline MacIntyre: I remember him every day. The anniversary [of his death] is always a hard day but you’ve got to do your best. I’ll put flowers at the ghost bike [on Carrs Corner, where the collision occurred], to raise awareness for people. I go up to the grave and just think of him.
Morgan and Chloe are a blessing because they’re a part of him, it lives on… Chloe looks just like him; Morgan has his temperament and dry wit. Chloe’s very much into sport, she’s incredible, the school champion every year. She’d love to do cycling but she feels she’d let her dad down because she’d never be as good a champion. She’s got very much the same attitude as he did - if I’m not going to be first, I’m not going to do it.
Those two keep me sane [laughs]. And if I think of how far I’ve come, I have done really well. I think he’d be proud. The way I live is to make Jason proud and to be respectful of him. And he’s not just mine, Chloe’s or Morgan’s, he belongs to other cyclists, all cyclists.
This article was published in January 2014.