6 Day Racing Interview with Tony Doyle, MBE

by Steve Penny
Watford, UK
17 November 2007 (interview held January 2007)

During his distinguished racing career Anthony (Tony) Doyle was twice the World Pursuit Champion and raced all over the world both on the track and road.

However, Tony is best known with cycling fans across Europe for his achievements in Six Day racing where he had no less than 23 victories from 139 starts. These two statistics put him a long way ahead of any other British rider and place him high in the rankings for all time Six Day winners and starters. If it had not been for a couple of very serious injuries sustained in Six Day crashes he could have started more than 200 Sixes and would have won a few more. Many fans will be familiar with the excellent 1992 book written by the late Geoffrey Nicholson appropriately titled 'Tony Doyle: Six-day rider'. The book remains one of the few books ever written in English dedicated to a Six Day rider and is tribute to his status at the time of publication.

Tony also had a great record in major Championships and was twice World Pursuit champion and also a medallist in the 'point's race'. These achievements are even more impressive when you consider that backing from British Cycling at that time was nothing like it is today and he had to work with his own back up team for most of his preparation. On top of these achievements he won four European Madison Championships plus British and Commonwealth Games track medals as well as more than holding his own by winning some road races.

In 1988 he received an MBE (Member of the British Empire) in the Queen's honours, receiving it at Buckingham Palace. He'll carry that title with him throughout the rest of his life in cycling or elsewhere.

Here is just part of Tony's Palmares:
    World Track Championship Medals
  • 1980 Besancon, France Individual Pursuit Gold
  • 1984 Barcelona, Spain Individual Pursuit Silver
  • 1985 Bassano Del Grappa, Italy Individual Pursuit Silver
  • 1986 Colorado Springs, USA Individual Pursuit Gold
  • 1987 Vienna, Austria Individual Pursuit Bronze
  • 1987 Vienna, Austria Points Race Silver
  • 1988 Gent, Belgium Individual Pursuit Silver
    Six Day Victories
  • 1. Berlin Six-Day, October 13-18, 1983, with Danny Clark (Aus)
  • 2. Dortmund Six-Day, October 20-25, 1983, with Danny Clark (Aus)
  • 3. Bremen Six-day, January 3-9, 1985, with Gary Wiggins (Aus)
  • 4. Maastricht Six-Day, December 13-18, 1985, with Danny Clark (Aus)
  • 5. Copenhagen Six-Day, January 31-February 5, 1986, with Danny Clark (Aus)
  • 6. Launceston Six-Day, March 14-19, 1986, with Danny Clark (Aus)
  • 7. Berlin Six-Day, October 16-21, 1986, with Danny Clark (Aus)
  • 8. Dortmund Six-Day, October 23-28, 1986, with Danny Clark (Aus)
  • 9. Grenoble Six-Day, October 29-November 3, 1986, with Francesco Moser (Ita)
  • 10. Gent Six-Day, November 18-23, 1986, with Danny Clark (Aus)
  • 11. Copenhagen Six-Day, January 30-February 5, 1987, with Danny Clark (Aus),
  • 12. Bassano Six-Day, July 12-17, 1987, Triple: with Moreno Argentin (Ita) & Roman Hermann (Lie)
  • 13. Maastricht Six-Day, December 11-16, 1987, with Danny Clark (Aus)
  • 14. Bremen Six-Day, January 7-12, 1988, with Danny Clark (Aus)
  • 15. Rotterdam Six-Day, January 22-27, 1988, with Danny Clark (Aus)
  • 16. Paris Six-Day, February 4-9, 1988, with Danny Clark (Aus)
  • 17. Muenster Six-Day, October 7-12, 1988, with Danny Clark (Aus)
  • 18. Berlin Six-Day, October 13-18, 1988, with Danny Clark (Aus)
  • 19. Dortmund Six-Day, October 20-25, 1988, with Danny Clark (Aus)
  • 20. Munich Six-Day, November 3-8, 1988, with Danny Clark (Aus)
  • 21. Cologne Six-Day, December 27-January 1, 1989, with Danny Clark (Aus)
  • 22. Munich Six-Day, November 8-11, 1990, with Danny Clark (Aus)
  • 23. Gent Six-Day, November 19-24, 1991, with Etienne de Wilde (Bel)
Tony Doyle racing in 1988

I met with Tony in January 2007, while he was working as the Event Director for the 'Tour of Britain' stage race, to ask him about Six day racing and cycling generally. Unfortunately I didn't press record on the cassette player until we'd been talking for half an hour and missed a lot of the Six Day stuff. Apologies to Tony as he was very kind to give up some of his time, I got some interesting conversation with him nonetheless.

Steve Penny (SP): Why did your career end somewhat suddenly at 36 as a lot of Six Day racers continue to 40 and over, what happened?

Tony Doyle (TD): Well I had a crash at the Zurich Six in December 1994 and fractured a couple of vertebrae and compressed two. I rode at an international event when the track first opened in Manchester (1995) and was OK, but for the long term it was just not possible. I tried numerous different treatments but overall it was too painful and I didn't want to risk doing myself severe damage in the long term.

SP: Ok, a lot of people were aware of the life threatening 1989 Munich crash from following cycling and others after reading the book

TD: At the time the book came out I was still racing and yes I was really very lucky, but even the book doesn't really tell the full story about that crash because at the time family and people close to me actually played it down.

When I had the crash, I collided with the Russian rider Ganeev. I was wearing the old style leather helmet and as I was falling four or five riders rode into the back of me. I have no recollection and was in a coma, so they stopped the racing that night as they knew straight away it was very serious. The stadium in Munich was packed and so they got me on a stretcher and walking down some stairs they dropped me off the stretcher. The local Red Cross then pulled me back up onto it by the damaged shoulder after I'd smashed the scapular in five places!!! They then took me out into the freezing cold in just my racing clothes adding a serious lung infection to my injuries. Once I got to hospital I was put straight into intensive care and they looked after me very well, and with the severe head injuries I was actually given the last rites. But being young and extremely fit I had a better chance than the average person to recover but no one really knew how bad the damage was. And so I was very, very lucky with the type of injuries I sustained. Usually only 20% of people get back to a normal working life within five years... I was back racing in six months.

SP: With the death of Isaac Galvez in Gent last November, do you think there are safety issues with track racing?

TD: I mean it was almost a freak accident and that is not to play down the seriousness of it because it was tragic, it certainly deeply affected me. I've no doubt certain safety standards will be reviewed but it was just a tragedy.

SP: With the passing of many of the old guard we have a lot of young riders now and I'd noticed there were a lot of crashes last winter

TD: No, you don't have as many Six Day specialists as you had in my day but young riders will only get experience by racing Sixes

SP: You recently went over for the 25th anniversary of the Rotterdam Six how is that returning Six going?

TD: It's been hugely successful, the last Six Days that were held there was in 1988 so I was the last winner before it returned last year and I'm delighted to see it back. The new track works very well, it's been firmly re-established on the Rotterdam sporting calendar and the public have got right behind it.

SP: It's a 200 metre track there what do you think is the ideal track size for Six Days?

TD: Yes, 200 metres is the ideal size for Six Day racing, from a spectator's point of view things happen quicker than on longer tracks. On the smaller 166 metre tracks the racing can be hard to follow as things can happen too quickly. From the riders point of view 200 metres has always been ideal.

SP: Back in the days you had the 'blue train' of regular Six Day riders such as yourself, Danny Clark etc., do you think there is a blue train today?

TD: Well, you still have the riders who are successful, riders who have the respect of their peers and the public and promoters. These are the guys who have proved themselves with their talent on the bike and by proving they are consistent, safe and professional.

SP: Recently Risi and Stam apparently came to blows of the track and I'd read a few years ago that there is respect between riders and some friendships, but not everyone gets on. With riders racing against each other night after night, how did riders get on when you raced? Were there rivalries?

TD: Yes, there would be certain rivalries between riders and even teams and you'd have the odd confrontation but the riders have enough respect not to do anything silly and make things dangerous on the track. You know it's all very intense, you are living, sleeping and eating together within a small group. You're almost living like a mole underground as at times you may not even see daylight because you're racing through the night. You could be going to bed when most people are getting up to go to work. Your whole routine is thrown out. At certain times you're racing back to back events and you are almost shut off from the real world and it's not just the riders it's all the back up staff, maybe even the cooks so it's all very intense. So with all that in mind it's only to be expected that at times tempers will be raised and people will get het up. So the top guys have to be professional enough to know that even if every now and again things could flare up they are sensible enough to know that you are working together and have to get on.

SP: Kurt Betschart has recently retired and its great news that Risi is carrying on, but those guys although very good, were quite lucky to keep there partnership going at every race, as have Slippens and Stam. You and Danny Clark won 19 Sixes together but were broken up a lot and a large majority of your Sixes were ridden with guys you rode with once or twice.

TD: Yes, if I'd ridden more with Danny I know we'd have been more successful, the promoters kept us apart a lot and we didn't necessarily agree with the decisions but that's what happened.

SP: I was surprised that they put Risi and Zabel together in Dortmund, Munich and Bremen. In my opinion, they were the only likely winners.

TD: Yes, but you can't take anything away from Erik Zabel he is a top rider and very competent on the track. He could ride with any of the top Six Day guys and have been in contention. I mean look at it another way, Betscharts retired so riding with Zabel will have motivated Risi and likewise Risi will have motivated Zabel having him as his partner. You know they'll both be saying yes I'm riding with the top guy so I'm going to have extra motivation.

SP: In your early days, breaking into the Sixes weren't quite as international as they are now, do you think being an Anglo affected how you were able to make your mark?

TD: I was very determined there had been no other Britons before me who had really established themselves although a few had tried. So that was part of my motivation and a challenge but being British probably did make it harder. If Britain would have had a history in Sixes it would have been easier or if we'd had a regular Six at home. My first Six was the Skol Six in London (Wembley Arena) but it was also the last time that event was held. If that had been continually running it would have helped as being a local guy, the organiser/promoter would have been working for me and it would have helped make the path into the rest of Sixes smoother and also meant I'd get paired at home with a strong rider.

SP: Just like Keisse will always get a good partner in Gent?

TD: Yes and he is a good rider and deserves that, also the organiser knows it's in everyone's interest that he does well there and at other Sixes too, so when next years Gent event comes around he's improved and is an even bigger star for the home fans.

SP: So Iljo Keisse seems to be good for the sport as he's a young guy who concentrates very much on the Six days

TD: Yes, we just need more guys like Iljo, Robert (Slippens), Danny (Stam) and Bruno (Risi) who specialise and make the Six Day world where they make their mark and their careers.

SP: I read in the (1992) book that you and Danny Clark were apparently quite opposite. You loved bike racing but Danny didn't, that seems strange as he raced into his mid forties. Can you shed any light on that as the impression was that he loved what he did?

TD: Yes I think he must have liked it and as the years went on it became more and more part of his life. If you broke us down in our temperament Danny would be like the aggressor and I would be the moderator. But then in our riding ability Danny was very fast, very quick and I had the power, endurance and so was consistent and reliable, so we complemented each other. When we rode together we both liked to make the race, we'd be the ones stirring things up, being aggressive.

SP: In 1986 you won in Launceston, Australia was that a one off Australian Six day?

TD: They had it a few times

SP: They've had a lot of good bike riders out of Australia?

TD: A huge amount!!!

SP: But like Britain it's always been on the periphery as far as the public is concerned?

TD: But track racing has always been more established there and they've had success going back many years. They also have had some major track races, especially in Tasmania were they have a Christmas carnival series so it's a thing people go to, the races are part of the Christmas activities over there which means the races established themselves.
Through the years they've had a lot of top guys at regular intervals in the Sixes and on the road going back to the early Six Day races in the United States (Reggie McNamara). Then Alf Strom and Reg Arnold, Graeme Gilmore, Don Allan, Danny Clark we've mentioned, then on the road Phil Anderson, Alan Peiper etc.

SP: Since I've been going to Sixes in the 90's there has nearly always been an Aussie racing, especially if you count Matt Gilmore.

TD: Yes, also with Scott McGrory and of course Bradley Wiggins' dad Garry, who was an Aussie I rode with in the 80's.

SP: I met him (Garry Wiggins) in 1999 when Brad made his Six Day debut. He seemed to fit the stereotype of the Aussie bike rider... a hard nosed guy?

TD: Very much so, he was a real tough cookie and a very good Six Day rider. He came over and started off here in England first and then went over to Belgium coming up the hard way to establish himself in the Sixes.

SP: I suppose the Aussies have always had a reputation for being tougher in sporting terms than the British, are the riders more determined having to come so far and having to make it to stay in Europe whereas for our guys, if it doesn't work out are only a few hundred miles from home?

TD: Yes the distance is part of it but the conditions and the weather elements are generally tougher out there so a lot of the guys have had to really graft. And coming over to Europe is a massive commitment and they are prepared to give it a lot more and in many cases it's the chance of a lifetime to make it as a Pro or not.

SP: It seems like in Australia the riders are still from working class backgrounds but I feel as though we've lost that a bit and it's become more middle class due to the cost of equipment etc.

TD: Well, originally a bike was a working mans means of transport and so it was more affordable before the car boom. Now though, cycling is generally more socially acceptable and regardless of your status if you've got a bike people will accept you, now in the city cycling is the in thing. People like to spoil themselves with new toys and cycling is trendy, it's flash and we've had a real boom with the mountain bike, spinning classes, people being more aware of the environment etc. But that's not just in the UK, cycling is becoming more global and it's generally raising the profile, it's no longer just a Central European sport or pastime.

SP: Do you think we'll ever see Six Day racing back in the UK?

TD: Let's hope it does return!!! Cycling in the UK now has a higher profile than it's ever had, the success of the GB track team internationally has of course really helped. Also the success of the Tour of Britain which is now in its 4th year and each time we've had a finish in the 'Centre of London'. This year we'll have the Tour De France starting in the centre of London, that means cycling's profile will be even higher. Next year we have the World Track Championships in Manchester then at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, hopefully the Great Britain team will come home with a handful of medals and the potential is that we will gain more medals in cycling than in any other sport. So the profile can only increase and as that happens that can mean attracting more events here.

SP: Most of the people who attend World Championships or similar events in Manchester are actually club cyclists rather than just passing sports fans. At European Sixes you have people from all walks of life coming to watch, do you think a British Six could draw a wider spectrum of people?

TD: Well, Six Day races are very much part of the culture of certain European cities. People will get dressed up and take the family, have something to eat, listen to music etc. But in the past French Sixes in Paris and Grenoble were different to German Sixes and Gent is different again. So why not if we ever got one back it would have a different format with a view to attracting British people.

SP: What are you doing these days?

TD: I was the Event Director working to get the Tour of Britain back on the calendar, we'd had the Pru Tour in 98 and 99 and there was a gap before the 'new' Tour of Britain. I knew we needed a major event to really help put cycling in the UK back on the map so I was instrumental with Hugh Roberts another of the Directors in getting it up and running. The Government was concerned about the health of the nation wanting people to get more active, getting children away from the TV and computer games etc. and actually get out and exercise. So we went to the Government and got there backing, went to regional development agencies and said we can bring a world class event to you. We ticked all the right boxes noting the traffic congestion issues, health of the nation, getting kids off the streets and how the event can encourage people to take up exercise, spend time outdoors and get regions, towns and cities noticed with TV and media coverage.

SP: And what is your main role?

TD: I work very closely with some of the regions and obviously I've got good relationships with the teams, riders and sponsors so I come in there too.

SP: Going back to the (1992) book, Six-day Rider, is your old club the Clarence Wheelers still going?

TD: As with most small sports clubs people relied very much on Alf Whiteway to organise, motivate etc. and really he did everything, he started the club and when he died 13/14 years ago the club almost died with him, but it's still going, though only just.

SP: We seem to have lost that whole club thing in the UK, not just in cycling.

TD: People are under so much pressure these days to hold down a job, everyone needs to work and people don't have as much free time as they did before. The youngsters are spoilt for choice so whereas you'd join a club to do sport, now kids are into their computer games and all the other forms of entertainment that are on offer to them.

SP: Thanks for giving us your time Tony