TONY DOYLE. "Don't try this at home."
Updated: Mar 18
When the whistle blurted out and pierced the air I can’t say I was surprised. Now to find out whether I was about to be D’Q’d or given a warning. As my bike finally slowed down enough to drop off the banking I could see the Head OBRA official Candi Murray walking toward me and my rehearsed defense of “ But Tony Doyle told me to do it” sounded completely absurd in my head. Candi pointed at me and sternly said, “Don’t ever do that again.”
“I won’t,” I said bracing myself for the DQ that fortunately never came.
The next bit about a madison is important to understand the illustration. If you know what a Madison race is skip ahead to the next paragraph. The “Madison” is the hardest race I have ever done on a bicycle. I have never been in more sustained pain while being in a big fishbowl where everyone can tell exactly how fit you are or in my case, aren’t. The “Madison” (named after Madison Square Garden) is a mass start, two-man relay race where one rider is racing at full gas for two laps or more, and the other one rolls above the action and blue line waiting to relieve his partner. When it is time for “the exchange” the teammate moves down-track to just above the redline with their left hand placed palm-up on their butt. The fast-moving rider comes flying up from underneath and behind and grabs their teammate's hand. He continues to roll past until their arms are at full extension. With a mighty heave the lead rider “slings” their partner forward and into the action. The exchange is complete and the teammate is now racing.
When done properly, the thrown rider is launched into the fray at sprint speed without having to accelerate at all. The rider who did the throwing loses almost all of their momentum and just plunks off the track and onto the apron. It is now their job to look back and thread their way onto the track to get up above the blue line while recovering as much as possible. Repeat every two laps for an hour. If that doesn’t already sound completely nuts throw in the fact that there are as many as 15 other teams on the track and there is a sprint for points every 10 laps. Communication is important in this event. Being out of order or getting caught under another team's exchange is a potential disaster. “Go fast and go high” will get you out of trouble 98.3% of the time but it is challenging to trust in the moment.
The real focus of my illustration is the rider in the middle. Tony Doyle is a Legend for a variety of reasons. During his career he won 23 six day races and most of them were with his favorite partner Danny Clark. He also won the professional world pursuit championships twice, finished 2nd three times and 3rd once. He also won a silver medal in the points race. He and teammate Gary Wiggins, father of Bradley Wiggins, won the European Madison championships too. In an ironic twist, Tony was not chosen to represent England in the 1980 Olympics for the Pursuit even though he was National Champion. Rather than wait another 4 years he turned Professional right after the Olympics and won the World Championships. Sean Yates was chosen instead and finished 7th. I know you are wondering how he might have done in the Olympics because that was my first question. The distance of the Professional World Championships was 5km instead and the Olympics are 4km so direct comparison is a little more difficult. To me it seems like England gave up a Gold Medal because of some political bullshit. (Hold that thought in the back of your mind)
I met Tony for the first time after I managed to talk my way into the most epic boondoggle of my time at Nike. I was able to attend the February training camp in Javia, Spain with the United States Postal team. (Stay tuned for those illustrations and stories.) In a nutshell, the stars all aligned and I found myself kitted out as a “Postie” on my 2nd hand White Carbon Trek Madone while sitting at the back of the team train while it cruised along the coast. We were riding two by two and I was at the very back with the only other guy who wasn’t officially on the team. I rode next to Tony Doyle and we chatted. Actually, I would ask a question with what little air I could manage and he would launch into one epic story or another. It was an amazing, “pinch me, I am dreaming” kind of moment. Orange groves flying by, the entire postal team in front of me and riding next to an absolute Legend.
Later at dinner we talked and I mentioned how I loved racing on Alpenrose, Velodrome in my hometown of Portland, Oregon. I even told him how much I enjoyed racing the chaos of the Madison. After telling me a few more stories and extra pointers he gave me this gem.
“You need to attack thru the exchange.” He said.
“Do What??” I asked.
“You know, right as the guys are lining up to make the exchange, and your timing needs to be perfect, you attack thru the middle!” He said with a glint in his eye.
“Between them?” I asked again.
“Yes!” He said.
“Woah!” I said to myself and then the next question died on my lips as I pondered the idea. I hadn’t read anything in the rules about this move or even considered it as a possibility. I was pretty sure this would fall under the category of “Dangerous Riding” which is a good catch-all for most stupidity at the level I was racing.
I must admit it was at this moment many years ago that my mind flashed with the image I have drawn of Tony Doyle rocketing through an exchange and then applying his world championship speed for a couple hard laps. The gap created by scaring the crap out of his opponents was enough to give him the advantage. I also wanted to place it on the Munich velodrome in 1989 for the following reason.
While we were talking over dinner I also heard the story of the infamous 1989 Munich 6-day crash directly from the man himself. I so wished I had a tape recorder at the time. Deep into the race, Tony was hurtling over a group of lapped riders when the lead rider veered up track and swept Tony off his bike. Tony came down and hit his head hard enough to be knocked out. He was quickly put on a stretcher by the emergency crew with the plan to hustle him up the steps out of the velodrome to the waiting ambulance. At this point, three events unfolded. The first is that the undertrained morons never strapped him to the stretcher so when they headed up the steps feet first Tony Slid backward off the litter and on to the cement stairs with his head. In more of a panic, they strapped him on and headed out the door into the midnight cold of the January Munich winter. It was at this point they realized they had gone out the wrong exit and were on the opposite side of the velodrome from the ambulance. In a day before cellphones, they made the KeyStone Cops decision to run him around the Velodrome outside. They never put a blanket on him and he was only clothed in his wet and torn racing kit. By the time he actually made it to the hospital he was in a bad state and lingered in a coma with Bronchitis for a couple days. It was so “touch and go” that his wife called a priest to deliver Last Rights. Miraculously, he pulled through. A year later Tony proudly returned to the Hospital a couple days before the 1990 Munich Six to thank the doctors who had brought him back from the brink of the abyss.
“Are you here to see the event?” One of the doctors asked him.
“No, I am here to race.” Replied Tony.
Tony and his teammate Danny Clark won the Munich 6-day the following week.
I have ridden with Tony a few times since then and each one is story worthy.
The first is when he came out on a Nike lunchtime ride with the “testosteroney” crew. The best way to sum up the average Nike lunchtime ride is that I put them into my training diary as hard days if not race days. When Tony came out for our ride, rather than play our games, he did what a pro does and sat on the front in double formation and went at a speed that forced us all into survival mode. I remember looking down multiple times during that ride and seeing 24mph pinned on my computer. Uphill and downhill rolling terrain I might add. This was hands on the tops, chatting and not looking like you are in any pain pace for Tony. For the entire ride Tony sat on the front railing along. Our local Alpha Steve Wright, once a pro for LA Sheriffs, did the best job of riding next to him for mile after mile but finally succumbed to the speed and swung off. At the start they were being cheeky and pretended it didn’t hurt by chittering away. At some point one of them even asked me a question and between breaths, I called them on their bullshit and yelled to the group I wouldn’t be playing their game. At the end of that ride my legs just about refused the walk to the shower. That ride went into the diary as a race day.
Another time I was super happy to have Tony show up on one of our Team Oregon Saturday training rides. He even brought his Nike UK friend Ian and we kitted them out with Jerseys so they felt part of the team. Showing his class in a different situation he dialed the speed back for the level of the team and we had a solid ride where everyone had to do some work to say they hung on with a World Champion at the helm. What I didn’t know when I took this photo is that when I looked back at it a few years later I could say it contained Two World Champions.***
Lastly, and most humorously, was the time I got to ride with Tony and Ian again at Lance’s Ride for the Roses down in Austin, Texas. The strong lead group of about 100 racing cyclists were flying along when we took a hard right for home. 80 miles in we now had hit with a brutal cross wind. Fortunately, most everyone knew what to do and we formed a couple echelons. It was then that Tony appeared with Ian on his wheel and rode by themselves in the 15 feet between the two echelons. It should also be noted that they were completely out of the way. I laughed to myself as mile after mile of crosswind rolled by. More concerned with my own survival I looked over after a bunch of rotations to see Tony slogging away in the same place, going the same speed with Ian tucked behind. It was then that someone in my group felt it necessary to go and tell Tony how to ride a cross wind. This short, strong, young, burly guy in a black kit rolled over to Tony and told him what he was doing was wrong.
“We’re good mate! We’re out of the way.” Said Tony.
The guy persisted and Tony didn’t bother responding again and just got on with the business of keeping Ian protected and away from the now-confirmed chuckleheads I was rotating with. Finally, the guy realized how hard the wind was there and came back to the protection of our group and got into the rotation next to me. He was still saying something and I couldn’t help myself.
“You know who that is right?!” I said.
“That is Tony Doyle.” I said and I could tell from his response he didn’t really care who he was because he wasn’t doing it right and said something to that effect.
“I think he is more than fine there and he knows what he is doing. You should look him up when we get back.” I slung at him as a final shot. Magically the next time I went through the rotation he was no longer next to me. A couple miles later we turned into a headwind that stood the whole group on it’s nose and I was happy to be tucked in the middle. The last 10 miles ended in a fun moment with Ian and Jim Ochowicz sprinting it out for some competition I was unaware of but had them laughing as they crossed the line. I said goodbye to Tony and Ian and that was the last time I would see them both.
I was happy to hear a few years later that Tony had taken the Helm of the British Cycling Federation on a platform of “Transparency*.” 5 months later I was surprised to hear he was under pressure to resign and there was a failed vote from the committee to oust him. A few months later he did resign after being Sued. He won the lawsuit. I found a couple articles with vastly varying opinions but I like to think the "correct article" was that he used that time to ferret out some of the corruption and a few of the old boys that were probably making the same enlightened decisions that kept him off the Olympic Podium. The article basically said that without Tony there would be no Chris Hoy, No Bradley Wiggins, No Mark Cavendish***, and no velodrome full of Olympic and World Championship medals.
Every Time I see a video of a modern six day race my mind goes back to the time with Tony Doyle, Danny Clarke, Patrick Sercu, and a host of other legends that made that the most popular Era of track racing since the first First World War. It was raw, powerful, smokey, grimy, dirty, electric and utterly Fantastic. It was a time when splitting an exchange might get some folks pissed off at you but it was all part of the show and you better be able to handle it.
fast-moving**Larssyn Staley would go on to win 14 national championships, and UCI World Championship gold medal and jersey in the Women’s junior points race in Moscow.
She went on to become a professional cyclist in Europe.
***Mark Cavendish still wears nike shoes I bet you have never seen at retail. The connection started with Tony Doyle I believe. He even wore the same shoe I designed for Lance in a custom color.
Tony Doyle British cycling articles
Olympic 4km Pursuit times
Harald Wolf (GDR)1st 4:39:96
Hans-Henrik Orsted (DEN)2nd 4:39:98
Sean Yates (GBR) 7th 4:44:69
World Championship 5km pursuit time
Tony Doyle (GBR) 1st 5km 5:42:69