Tony Gibb had been a classy track rider since the mid-90’s, winning medals at the British Championships since 1998 in the Scratch Race and the Points Race, but he hit the headlines in 2002 when he won the bronze medal in the Manchester Commonwealth Games Scratch Race and then went on to win silver in the same discipline at the World Championships in Ballerup that year.
The Middlesex man holds the record of four victories in the prestigious early season Eddie Soens Memorial road race in the UK and he has won nine British Championships in his career – so far, he’s not finished yet.
These days now resident in Wooburn Green, Buckinghamshire, Tony keeps himself busy racing for and managing his Metaltek/Scott/Knights of Old team, coaching and training riders, and was invited to attend the official opening of the London Olympic Velodrome with Lord Sebastian Coe.
But we also see him on TV regularly adding expert insight to the Eurosport coverage of cycle racing as a pundit in the studio and we hear him providing commentary on the live action too, usually for the biggest track events.
With Tony back in the commentator’s box for the Olympic Games, we thought this was the perfect time to find out more about the man behind the voice and the loud stripey shirts.
You’re going to be working in the commentary box at the Olympic track events Tony, and we last heard your work at the World Track Championships, what did you think of that event?
“I thought the track champs were very good, GB lost a bit of their advantage over the past two years but they seem to have got it back now, they are not quite as dominant as they were but I think there is being a bit of a changing of the guard.
“After the Olympics I think there will be a lot of changes, both riders and personnel from within British Cycling.”
What’s was your favourite race to commentate on?
“Without doubt, the Madison.
“There is so much going on, it’s much easier to do them when you are on site and can watch the whole of the track than just doing it from a screen in a commentary booth, when you can see the resting riders and what they are about to do it gives you so much more insight in to what’s going to happen, attacks, sprints, combines, etc.”
Do you get any advice or training from the producers, or is pretty much left up to you?
“We don’t have ‘talk back’ when we are commentating so we are pretty much left to it.
“We get ‘Q points’ when breaks are coming up or when a certain country is joining or leaving the programme, but from a content point of view when we are live it’s just down to us.”
You’ve been commentating or adding expert punditry for a few years now, and you’ve obviously got a natural ability to communicate clearly and with humour, but how did you get into the media side of things? Were you spotted, or nominated, or put yourself forward?
“I think the 2007 track worlds was the first “gig”, I just had a call from Tim Ufton at British Eurosport who had been given my name and it went from there really.
“It’s been good, I really enjoy it but I haven’t gone out looking for any more work – I’m happy with the amount Eurosport give me and they gave me a chance when I had done zero work so I owe them some loyalty.”
We see you on TV in the Eurosport studio with the likes of Rob Hayles adding expert opinion and analysis – that must be pretty scary?
“It’s never really been much of a problem, if you’re commentating on site it can be a little nerve-wracking but if you’re just in a sound booth it’s all pretty sterile and contained.
“If I’m doing the studio stuff it’s weird; there’s me and usually James Richardson in the studio plus one other guest, and you just forget that there’s a million people Europe-wide watching you!
“I remember the first time I did it, I was loving it, all was going well and I was nice and relaxed, then suddenly time crackled in to life in my ear and said “right we’re live in 10, 9, 8, 7…”
“I suddenly thought, what the hell am I doing here… I have no idea what I’m doing… help… run away…”
Which do you prefer doing – the TV work in the studio to camera or the “voice-only” commentary?
“It’s all different, different challenges, different pressures, I enjoy it all.”
And you’re coaching now too?
“Yes, that’s another thing that’s been growing for some time now.
“Most of my career I’ve been coached by Professor Greg Whyte, who most people will know from the sport and comic relief challenges.
“We have now opened the Centre for Human Health and Performance at 76 Harley Street – it’s a pretty impressive address and a pretty impressive set up too – but just wait until September when we open the ‘all-new’ “CHHP at 76 HS”!
“All I can say is; SRM testing rig, bike treadmill, six-point super-slow-mo HD camera positional analysis, and much much more!”
Fifth in the Eddie Soens Memorial this year for your Metaltek/Scott/Knights of Old team shows you’re still fit and able to place well, do you still harbour ambitions on the racing side?
“Very much so.
“I haven’t done too much this year because I took a decision that I was going to accept all – and any – work that popped up this year, it’s an Olympic year and it’s in London – that’s not going to happen again anytime soon so I decided to make the most of it just for this year.
“Next year, it’ll be full-on racing again.”
The Eddie Soens seems like a special race for you!
“It suits me down to the ground, it’s pan flat, and usually windy!
“I seem to have a reputation as a sprinter but of the four times I’ve won it two have been from small breaks and once I even buggered off on my own for most of the race!
‘I’ve only once won it from a bunch gallop and anyway it’s good to win the ‘Northern World Championships’ as it’s known – not sure they like me doing it though!
“I think if I won it again I’d be even more disliked!”
You spend a lot of time organising your team, signing riders, obtaining sponsors and sorting out the kit and logistics…
“Yep, it comes from my days back at Plowman Craven, when I was cut from the GB Programme there was no way I was going to retire and I have never really been comfortable with other people controlling my destiny anyway.
“I had a lot of experience from riding with GB and had also made sure I spent time with all the staff, the mechanics, swannies, and even managers.
“I learnt as much as I could, made lots of contacts – somehow I have always been good at networking.”
What’s your most favourite memory from your racing days?
“That’s a tough one, there are so many highlights.
“I have been lucky to have raced all over the world, I’ve won big races in the UK, crits, the Tour Series, Premier Calendars, National Championships at time trials, track and crits, so I have been very lucky indeed.
“I think if I had to pick one thing it would be when we raced in California for three weeks in 2009 when there was a foot and mouth outbreak in the UK. I had a big result in a crit in Ojay and all in all in was a great trip with a super group of lads.”
You race road and track, with your major medals coming in the track disciplines – but which do you feel you were better at? And which did you enjoy more?
“In the same way I love commentating on Madisons, I love riding them too.
“I seem to be able to read the race, I can get the “flow” of the race, slow things down, see what’s going to happen next, I understand the race totally.
“Ever tried explaining to someone how to ride a madison? You can’t, it’s impossible. You just have to do it and then realise why you did it! Why you were in that position, why you moved, why you changed with your partner where you did.”
I saw you race in a few Six Days, I remember you in the Amsterdam Six a few years ago getting stuck in (but having to wear horrid brown jerseys). Did you enjoy the Sixes, and do you wish you did more of them?
“The Sixes were hard!
“I was never one of the ‘favoured’ riders so was always down the back of the string fighting for my dinner!
“Not a lot of people know this but I did actually win a Six Day: Torino in Italy – with Olympic Champion Scott McGrory!”
Would you do anything differently if you had your time again?
“I think I would be a bit more forceful.
“In my GB days, I just went with the training I was given and believed it was the best and that everyone on the squad was treated equally and getting the same attention paid to their training.
“I would insist that Greg coached me all along, if I had my time again.”
Any regrets Tony?
“Without meaning to sound negative, yeah – but I’m not going to dwell on them and spend the rest of my life being bitter.”