Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Tony Doyle

“No Briton had cracked the Sixes and I wanted to be the first.”

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Britain’s former World Track Champion Tony Doyle has died from pancreatic cancer at the age of 64, only four weeks after his cancer diagnosis.

Tony won Individual Pursuit World titles in 1980 and 1986, in addition to winning four European Pursuit championships and 23 Six Days.

After retiring in 1995 through injury, he later served as president of British Cycling and was the founding director of the Tour of Britain.

A three-time Commonwealth Games medallist, Tony suffered brain trauma in a near-fatal crash in 1989 but battled back to competitive racing at the highest level. He was also made an MBE for services to cycling in ’89.

Former World Pursuit Champion Colin Sturgess today posted: “Rest in peace – Vale Tony Doyle. Kinda spun out by his passing; class bike rider. A rival, but also somewhat of a hero to a younger me.

Chris Sidwells, podcaster and author wrote: “Very sad to hear Tony Doyle has died. A great champion, an extremely kind man who helped me keep things going when my wife Kath was ill, and after her death. He never left me more than a few days without a reassuring supportive phone call, and helped me get back on my feet again.

We interviewed Tony back in 2012, so as our tribute to the great man we thought we’d re-run that piece here. Our thoughts are with Tony’s family and many friends at this time. Rest in peace, campione.

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This article first ran on 4th December, 2012

As a web site which tries to keep its readers in touch with what’s happening on the winter boards; it’s remiss of us not to have spoken before now to Britain’s greatest ever Six Day rider – Tony Doyle, MBE.

Other ‘Brits’ rode the ‘races to nowhere’ – Tony Gowland even managed to win two Six Days (off 31 starts); London (with Patrick Sercu) and Montreal (with Gianni Motta).

Nigel Dean and Hugh Porter both rode the winter boards – whilst Maurice Burton forced his way into the inner circle, starting 46 Six Days and riding with honour, but never pulled off a win.

Doyle won 23 Six Days off 139 starts, finishing 128 of those races; 19 (off 35 starts) of these wins were with Australian Danny Clark, making them the third most successful team in the history of Six Day racing in terms of wins behind Risi/Betschart on 37 (130 starts)and Killian/Vopel on 29 (48 starts).

Doyle/Clark also took 15 second places and 11 third places

We actually caught up with Tony earlier this year, but by the time we got round to putting a piece together Het Nieuwsblad had come along – and then it was the Classics season, and then the Giro…

So, without further ado, here’s what Britain’s best ever Six Day rider had to say to VeloVeritas.

Tony Doyle
Tony Doyle. Photo©Pedalite.com

Thank you for taking the time to speak to us, Tony – first question; why the Six Days, you were a strong road rider?

“When I was over racing in France as an amateur in 1979 I picked up 13 wins and was offered a pro contract; but I decided I wanted to wait until after the Moscow Olympics before I turned professional.”

Moscow, the Olympics 1980 – that was a saga for you, wasn’t it?

“I’d call it a fiasco!

“Jim Hendry was in charge of the team and Willi Moore was the track coach. In their wisdom they decided – and this is three days before we’re due to race – that there should be a ‘ride off’ between Sean Yates and myself to see who gets the Games spot.

“Then, as it is today, there was only one slot available per nation for the individual events at the Olympics. We duly rode – under race conditions – and I was comfortably fastest with a personal best and British record.

“This simply endorsed that I was in good shape and in contention for a medal. Sean and I rode back to the Games village with no hard feelings.

“But then Jim Hendry spoke to me and said; ‘me and Willi have made up our minds – Sean is getting the spot.’ So what was the point of the ‘ride off?’

“To this day I’ve never got to the bottom of that decision.

“Sean qualified but was beaten in the quarters; he was younger than me and less experienced – I think I’d have coped with the pressure much better. And I think the rides left him tired for the Team Pursuit, which came two days later.

“The team was me, Sean, Malcolm Elliott and Glenn Mitchell. We qualified with a World Record [their record was subsequently broken several times over the course of the qualifying round, ed.]

“In the quarters we were against the Italians and Sean was dropped after his first spell – that left us with three riders.

“Malcolm was young and having to do the extra spells took a toll – by the finish he was struggling.

“Hendry’s decision cost me and the team our medal chances – I’m sure of that.”

Tony Doyle in action in his first ever pro Six Day – the Skol Six in London, 1980. Photo©John Pierce/PhotoSport International uk usa asia

I remember it all being big news at the time.

“There was uproar, but rather than get on my soapbox I trained even harder – I found it therapeutic after the disappointments of Moscow.

“There was no point in brooding. I turned pro, won the British pro Pursuit title and two weeks later was in Besancon and won the Worlds. I beat Ponsteen in the final and HansHenrik Ørsted – who took bronze in Munich – was third, again.

“The World Title was my route into the Six Days, I was hot property and my first race was in London, the Skol Six Day.

“Then I rode Berlin and Dortmund and got a taste for the world of the Six Day – even though I was getting my head kicked in!

“No Briton had cracked the Sixes and I wanted to be the first.”

Gaining acceptance is hard, isn’t it?

“When I turned pro I had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to ride in the Six Days – and the way events turned with my World Title, I was able to ride a full season; nine races.

“When I was a kid I had posters of Danny Clark and Patrick Sercu on my wall – and here I was racing against them. In November I rode an omnium in Switzerland; the final event was the Pursuit.

“Sercu – the boss of the Six Days – came to me before I was due to ride against him and said; ‘you’re going to beat me but don’t make me look stupid, don’t catch me!’

“Freuler won the Omnium, I was second and Sercu third – it was fantastic to beat him. When I got home I discovered they’d given me Sercu’s medal – I still have it!

“Sercu was a remarkable athlete – Olympic Kilometre Champion, World Sprint Champion, green jersey in the Tour and king of the Six Days.”

How did you come to partner with Danny Clark?

“In the ’83 Worlds at the Oerlikon track in Zürich I finished fourth in the Pursuit – I was very disappointed with my series. But I rode a good Points Race despite the fact that I was the only Briton against three Swiss. 

“The Suisse Franc carried a lot of clout and Freuler paid off the combine against me. I was fifth but it was accepted that I’d been the best rider on the track.

“There were a lot of promoters there – Otto Ziegler for instance (he ran Berlin and Dortmund) and they saw how I’d ridden. Don Allan had just retired and they were looking for a new partner for Danny Clark – I was young and on the way up, so I got the ride.

“We won Berlin and Dortmund in ’83 – which was a great start to our partnership.

“We’re still friends and exchange emails at Christmas and New Year, but he was a tough, ruthless character who lived on his nerves. I was calmer than Danny, more relaxed, he was hyper; he always thought that people were out to get him.

“But our characters complimented each other and on the bike we were both very aggressive; Danny the sprinter, me the pursuiter – ideal! We were the team of the 80’s with 19 wins – and if we’d had the chance to have ridden more, we’d have won more.

“The roots of the Sixes were in Germany, though – half of the calendar took place there. For us as a Commonwealth team we had no Six Day promoters behind us – there was no Skol Six in London anymore and no pro Sixes in Australia.

“The likes of René Pijnen the Dutchman and Didi Thurau the German had the promoters in their corner. In 1988 we started five German Six Days and won them all – Munich, Berlin, Dortmund, Munster and Bremen.

“After that we only rode together another three times – the promoters said we were too strong to ride together as a team.”

The World Championship Pursuit in Colorado in 1986 saw Tony Doyle win with a new World Record. Photo©John Pierce/PhotoSport International uk usa asia

In ’89 your career almost ended, didn’t it?

“That was in Munich. The Russian rider, Marat Ganeyev cut across me and took me down – it was a terrible crash. I had brain trauma, but I don’t think people realise how serious that crash really was.

“I was in a coma with multiple fractures and the first aid people dropped me off the stretcher as well! When I got to hospital they gave me the last rites.

“But I was young and super-fit so I had a better chance than most.

“I was in a coma for ten days and for ten weeks after that I had no memory – then it was another ten weeks before I could walk or speak and do things like use a knife and fork.

“I pulled through – even though I didn’t think it was possible.

“As I was coming towards the end of my recovery, I went to see a neurologist in Harley Street for a final assessment.

“‘You must know that chap, Tony Doyle?’ he said to me – on my files it said Anthony Paul Doyle MBE – ‘I had to go and see him twice whilst he was in hospital?’

“When I told him that was me, he couldn’t believe it; he said that no one could make such a recovery from those injuries – he reckoned it was a miracle.

“I went back to Munich one year after the crash, and won it; I’d place that as my greatest achievement on the bike, even above winning the World Titles. The doctors and nurses in the hospital in Munich had looked after me so well that I went back to see them, to say, ‘thank you.’

“The nurses recognised my wife, but not me, they said; ‘that’s really nice that you’ve come all the way from London to see us.’

“When I said that I was there for the Six Day, they thought I meant to spectate – when I said I was there to ride, they didn’t believe it.

“In the end I got them all tickets for the final night.”