Sunday, October 17, 2021
HomeInterviewsPat McQuaid - "Shay Elliott was my idol as I was growing...

Pat McQuaid – “Shay Elliott was my idol as I was growing up”

“I was always a good sprinter and tended to win most of my races with a sprint.”


Pat McQuaid, former UCI President; people forget that before he moved into cycling ‘politics’ he was a good bike rider.

We thought it was time someone gave him a break, stopped asking about Lance and Hein and took him back to those days when he was pushing the pedals rather than a pen…

Coming from the family you did was it possible you could be anything other than a cyclist – and there were a few of you McQuaid boys on the go?

“No, there wasn’t much possibility. 

“My father Jim was a successful cyclist – indeed I saw him win races when I was a child. 

“Of his 10 children, seven were boys and all had a go at racing at some stage or another with different levels of success including two, Kieron and Oliver who competed in the Olympic Games.”

Your first race?

“That would have been an informal race among a group of kids aged around 12 years-old around a big square in a residential estate close to where I lived. 

“During the summer holidays from school we used to meet there every evening and race each other around.

“My first ‘organised’ race would have been a U16 race on the Santry Stadium track.”

Pat McQuaid
A young Pat McQuaid and team mate.

Was there ‘stick’ around the dinner table if you hadn’t performed?

“Of course there would be. 

“All our meals were filled with cycling talk – much to the chagrin of my three sisters – and we were always expected to win. 

“My father was a ‘winner’ and he expected us to be the same, though it was always more by encouragement than by any level of force.”

Your ‘breakthrough’ year was 1972, why then?

“I was a good junior in the mid-sixties with several wins in junior events and then turned senior in 1967. 

“I won my first senior race the Tour of Dundrod in Northern Ireland that year beating all of the top names from a breakaway group, Morris Foster, Joe Smyth, Davey Kane amongst them. 

“Then in 1969 I won the first stage of the Tour of Ireland but lost the jersey the following day.

“At that stage I decided that rather than head for Europe and try my hand there I would go to College and so I went to St. Mary’s College, Strawberry Hill in London, to study Physical Education. 

“I did a bit of racing in that area while I was at College but nothing serious.

“However I came home from doing my final exams in June 1972 and rode the Shay Elliott trophy, one of Ireland’s Classic races in the Wicklow Mountains. 

“The great Peter Doyle got clear at the beginning of the main climb, Glenmalure and over the top I started chasing, I caught him and worked with him to the finish and in a rather surprising sprint I beat him by inches. 

“It was the first time he had been beaten in 16 races over the previous two months so it caused quite a stir!

“And it put me in line for Olympic selection but in the end I didn’t get selected and my brother Kieron did.”

The Shay Elliott win, I believe he was an inspiration to you – that must have been a special day for you?

Pat McQuaid
Pat McQuaid turned pro with Viking in 1978. Photo©John Pierce / PhotoSport International UK USA Asia

“It was, for the reasons I laid out above. But yes, Shay Elliott was my idol as I was growing up. 

“My father had raced a lot with him when he and Shay were young and they were good friends. 

“I followed his career as closely as I could; remember, there was no internet in those days, it was just little result articles hidden away in the national papers every day. 

“I remember well one Saturday night – I would have been about six or seven years-old – being brought downstairs from bed to meet Shay and his wife who were visiting my father and mother. I was, as you can imagine, very shy and awestruck.”

The Tour of the Grampians that year, as a Scot I’m interested in your memories of the Scottish mountains.

“I remember them as being not as hard as those later encountered in the Tour of Britain Milk Race. 

“They were very ‘raceable’ for a rather big guy like me. 

“Another race I enjoyed in those days was the Scottish Milk Race, which also wasn’t overloaded with hard climbs.”

Two Ràs stage wins in ’74 – you won two of Ireland’s biggest races, the Shay Elliott and Tour of Ireland but the Ràs escaped you?

“Yes, but remember the political divide in Irish cycling which went on for many years, resulting in two separate racing calendars in Ireland and no crossover for competitors. 

“I was in the ICF and had never ridden an NCA race. 

“However talks between riders had got underway to bring the two associations together (the political leaders were never going to though) and this resulted in an ICF team being invited to the Ràs in 1974 and an NCA being invited to the Tour of Ireland. 

“Our team had not long before completed the Milk Race and we had great form, resulting in us cleaning up, winning most of the stages and the overall too, with Peter Doyle.”

You were National Champion in ‘74, that must have been hard to win, you’d be well marked?

“The National Championship is always a hard race. 

“Yes, I would have been marked but I did something I rarely did in my career; I took off alone with about 50 miles to go, got a good lead and held it easily to the end. 

“I was always a good sprinter and tended to win most of my races with a sprint.”

Pat McQuaid
Pat McQuaid was one of Ireland’s best cyclists before retiring and moving into the sport’s administration. Here he gets a kiss from his sister, Siobhan. Photo©John Pierce / PhotoSport International UK USA Asia

Two stage wins in South Africa’s Rapport Tour in ’75 so no Olympics for you, your thoughts on that adventure, all these years later?

“This has been fairly well documented. 

“After the Tour of Ireland in ‘75 which I won, Sean Kelly and I were in prime position to go to the Olympic Games in Montreal but our season ended with that Tour as the Irish calendar more or less finished at the end of August. 

“It meant we wouldn’t be racing for six months. 

“We got invited to South Africa which, for us, meant extending our season right into November. 

“Also it was a very hard race with 11 of the 14 days racing having double stages. 

“We were found out of course, politics in Ireland (both national and cycling) came into play very strongly and we got suspended from the Olympics. 

“We weren’t suspended internationally because we rode the Milk Race in May but we couldn’t ride the Olympics in July. 

“Indeed, in the Milk Race Sean beat the future Olympic Champion Bernt Johansson in a stage into Sheffield!”

Two Tour of Ireland wins – your memories of those?

“Great memories. 

“I had a great team on both occasions with my brother Oliver and a young Sean Kelly.”

The Tour of the Cotswolds, a second place and a win – that was a tough race, why did it suit you so well?

“I was a teacher and rather heavily build so it always took me some time into the season to get going. 

“Irish schools closed in June for the summer so then I could train full-time all summer and by August I would have good form.

“The Tour of the Cotswolds was a great race, long, hard and usually very warm. 

“It was up and down all day and I could cope well with that type of terrain.”

Professional with Viking in ’78, how did that come about?

“Viking were based in Northern Ireland and so having an Irish rider in the team suited them. 

“My good friend John Pierce, the photographer, was doing some work for them and he told Alan Rushton about me as John had both ridden the Tour of Ireland with me and then became a photographer on the race.”

Pat McQuaid
Pat McQuaid taking the win in the 1978 Tour of the Pennines ahead of Les West.

A win in the Tour of the Pennines, never easy to win against the English pros. What are your memories of that one? 

“Yes, again that was late in the season on a very hard course but one which I liked. 

“Our job that day was to ride for Sid (Barras) and Keith (Lambert), our two leaders. 

“During the race I went into a break, mainly to look after the team’s interests, but the break stayed away. 

“I got stronger as the race progressed and ended up alone with one of Britain’s greatest cyclists, Les West. 

“However Les was never known for his sprinting prowess and when it came to the finish I won easily.”

You rode the Worlds in ’78 – your recollections?

“A great experience on a very hard course, the Nurburgring, in Germany. 

“I wasn’t used to racing at that level and so when the going got really heavy I couldn’t stick with it and climbed off.”

Did your time as a pro stand you in good stead for your later career in cycling administration?

“Not really… it was all of the different experiences I had as a cyclist, my education, my coaching, my race organisation, which guided me later.”

Back to amateur in ’80 – why no third year as a pro?

“I was getting a bit fed up with the constant travel to the UK for racing.

“My family were growing up and as such I had responsibilities to meet.”

Pat McQuaid
Pat McQuaid.

You were still a young man when you called ‘time’ on your pro career?

“I was relatively, yes; 31 years-old compared to what they are doing nowadays but I immediately went into coaching and loved that, particularly building a successful group to go to the Los Angeles Olympics.”

Anything you wish you had done differently?

“To be honest, no. 

“It was a well-travelled road with lots of turns and twists, lots of highs and lows but a great experience. 

“I think history will show I made a difference in our sport.”

Ed Hood
Ed's been involved in cycling for over 45 years. In that time he's been a successful time triallist, team manager, and sponsor of several teams and clubs. He's also a respected and successful coach, and during the winter months can often be found working in the cabins at the Six Days. Ed remains a massive fan of the sport and couples his extensive contacts with an inexhaustable enthusiasm for the minutiae and the history of our sport.

Related Articles

Alan McCormack – Part Two; Building a Successful Career in the USA

In Part One of our interview with former Irish Champion, Alan McCormack we covered his junior days, his seasons as a pro in the UK with Carlton-Weinmann and in Belgium with Old Lords-Splendor then his introduction to the 80’s US scene. By seasons ‘83 and ‘84 he was a fixture on the US race scene...

The VV View: Lefevere’s Comments, UCI and Gravel Bikes, and More…

It’s a while since we had a rant so we discuss Patrick Lefevere's recent comments, what exactly is 'Project GO'?, the UCI getting it's claws on gravel biking, and John Purser fondly remembers Norman Hill.

Ryan Mullen – Silver Medallist in the World U23 Time Trial Championship

Ryan Mullen’s (Ireland & AN Post) progress through the sport has been little short of meteoric. Mullen won a superb silver medal in the Worlds U23 TT in last year's Championships in Ponferrada with only a heartbreaking 0.48 seconds behind Aussie winner, Campbell Flakemore – who’s now with BMC. We caught up with the Irish flyer early in the New Year as he returned from stocking up at the supermarket in Mallorca where he’s training with the Irish track squad.

The VV View: The UCI is Always Right?

The UCI is Always Right? Not for the first time, I’m confused by the actions of our sport’s governing body. First, let me quote what World Track Championship scratch and madison animator Andreas Müller told me the other day regarding rulings by the commissairs in Melbourne...

Alan McCormack – Part One; From Dublin to Pennsylvania, via Flanders

I used to look at those ‘Winning’ magazines in the mid-80’s and think how glamorous and cool the US scene looked, especially those super-fast criteriums with huge crowds and big bucks sponsorship and prize lists. A man who lived and raced through that golden era of US racing was Irishman, Alan McCormack who was not only a North American ‘crit King’ but rode the Olympics and Vuelta along the way.

Conor Dunne – A Switch to JLT Condor and a Win in the Melton CiCLE Classic

We first came across Conor Dunne in his AN Post days, dueling with those hardy Topsport boys in a big kermis at Westrozebeke in Flanders. The next thing we knew his 6' 8" frame was on the tele from the 2015 Richmond Virginia Worlds, initiating the break of the day for his team Ireland jersey and spending 200 K 'up the road.' VeloVeritas recently caught up with Conor after his fine win...

At Random

Tour de Trossachs 2010 Preview

Although the start sheet for the Tour de Trossachs is still to be finalised, it's looking to be a very interesting race - the field has been extended to accommodate 140 because the race is proving to be popular with riders of all abilities, and sees National Champions and World Champions taking part, as well as newcomers interested in trying out this classic course. Arthur Doyle (Dooleys RT) will defend his title for the third time, but the big question is will he manage to beat both the hill climb and course record set by Jason McIntyre in 2007...

Giro d’Italia 2012 – Stage 19: Treviso – Alpe di Pampeago 197km

Joaquin Rodriguez sums it all up, neatly. It was an epic stage to Alpe di Pampeago... A courageous but ultimately doomed breakaway (just don’t tell Vik I said that, Sandy Casar is number three on his hate list behind Moncoutie and Dumoulin).

Thomas De Gendt – Grateful to Mother Nature

Who were the men of the Giro? There was Ryder, certainly – and Rodriguez; but there was also Guardini’s confirmation; Ferrari’s transformation from from villain to hero; Cav and Taylor Phinney’s displays of grinta; Marco Pinotti’s class in winning the last time trial and Basso’s heroic but ultimately doomed bid for the podium. But perhaps the man of the race was Belgium’s Thomas De Gendt, who threatened to turn the Hesjedal/Rodriguez battle into a sideshow...

Reflections on the 2011 Track World Champs – Part III, Endurance Races

We conclude our review of the 2011 World Track Champs from Apeldoorn with a look at the endurance events; only one of which will be in the Olympic programme - the team pursuit. The individual pursuit, madison, scratch and points have all been axed from London.

Henrietta Colborne – Looking forward to racing in the Spanish hills

It’s not just the boys which the Rayner Fund supports, the young ladies get their opportunities. Here’s what 19 year-old Miss Henrietta Colborne from the north of England had to tell us...

“Pre” – Giro Catch Up

Back! Just a quickie before the Giro starts (well, only three days after the Giro started, but near enough). March and April saw a nice turnaround in the fortunes of the team: only two fractured collarbones and two major concussions! MUCH less hectic! We also put in some very good results, popping up with wins in both individual stages and overall races (on one memorable day we won three times: two stages and an overall race. Very nice!). We also had some very strong showings in some of the biggest one day races on the calendar. Very nice indeed! March also saw a grand turnaround in the life of Tobias, with the arrival of Mands to sunny Girona. Good times!