If you’re a student of 1970’s amateur bike racing, in particular, that of the Emerald Isle then you’ll recognise the name, Peter Doyle.
The man from Wicklow won just about everything there was to win at home, the Shay Elliott Memorial, the National Championship, the Tour of Ireland, the Rás and a raft of other single day and stage races.
He also won stages in the Tour of Scotland and the Milk Race, which was one of the premier amateur stage races in Europe in the 1970’s.
In addition to stage wins there were overall Points and Mountains wins in the Milk Race.
And then there was an overall win in the Essor Breton, a French stage race race where the late, great Tom Simpson made the podium in 1959; which a certain Alexandre Vinokourov won in 1997 and which Warren Barguil won in 2012.
We caught up with Peter recently, but don’t expect long-winded answers – his interview technique was like his racing; no-nonsense and to the point.
We started by asking Peter if he remembered his beginnings in the sport?
“It was a local race, a circuit of Bray, 24 laps of a 2.6 mile circuit and a big attraction every year; local rider Peter Crinnion won it in 1960; he went on to turn pro on the continent riding for the likes of Urago and Margnat.
“I got interested after seeing it and ended up joining the Bray Wheelers in 1962.”
There were different federations on the go in Ireland back then, weren’t there?
“There was only one club in Bray at that time, indeed only one in Wicklow and it was in the C.R.E.”
[Cumann Rothaíochta na hÉireann (C.R.E.) was recognized by the UCI as the governing body for the Republic of Ireland and whose members could compete internationally in UCI events and in NCU-NI events in Northern Ireland, ed.]
“The N.C.A. [The National Cycling Association) which was an all-island organisation and by far the largest, but whose members were barred from UCI events, ed.] had no clubs in Wicklow so it was just a case of joining your local club as would apply all over except Dublin where riders had a choice of C.R.E or N.C.A.”
You won the Shay Elliot Memorial Race twice, did you ever compete against the great man?
“No, Shay’s career in Ireland was a long time before mine, I was in awe of him and got to know him well after his return home to Dublin from France in 1966; he was a great ambassador in every way.”
Would you say that ’68 was your breakthrough year, huge palmares; the Shay Elliott, the National Championship, the Tour of Ireland…
“Yes, probably, I had won stages in the Tour Of Ireland and had won the team prize twice so I was used to riding stage races.”
You rode the Mexico Olympics in 1968?
“Yes, it was obviously a great experience but unfortunately it was at the end of a long season.
“I won 30 races in 1968 but I had to have a yellow fever jab to make the trip; my team mates, Liam Horner and Big Morris Foster would have had them as kids; but it knocked the hell out of me, I had an orange sized lump under my arm and lost form for the remainder of the season.”
The Essor Breton stager race in ’69, a nice result to have on your palmarès.
“I lived in France that year; the first stage of the Essor went up the Mur de Bretange of recent Tour de France fame.
“I was in a break and when we hit the hill I got away and won by three minutes.
“The second stage was a bunch finish which I didn’t contest due to an unshipped chain.
“The third stage finished in Chateaulin with a few laps of a circuit and I won the sprint from a small break.
“The last stage finished in Bernard Hinault’s home town of Yffiniac, where I finished second.
“I won overall by 3:54.”
That ride must have attracted offers from professional teams?
“Yes, I had plenty of professional offers and could have ridden the 1969 Tour De France.
“I actually had offers from pro teams right up until 1976.”
You rode the 1972 Munich Olympics when the Irish ‘rebel’ riders infiltrated the peloton as a protest about their not being allowed to ride due to the UCI regulations of the day?
“Yes, but I didn’t really notice… I wouldn’t have recognised any of the riders anyway.
“I did see what I now know was the N.C.A. jersey which is not unlike the Dutch jersey.”
Was all that ‘political’ stuff not a distraction?
“No, we in Bray were outside of any hassle.
“Also the club had international riders before my time, Teddy Coates, Peter Crinnion, Tommy Fitzpatrick…”
Were you a full time bike rider during your most successful years?
“No, I always worked, with a 20 mile ride in to work before a 12 hour work day then 20 miles home at night.
“I did that for about ten years.”
Did you get much help with equipment?
“From 1964 to 1968 I rode second-hand bikes but they were ex-pro team bikes.
“Paloma ‘64, ‘65, and ’66 then Mercier ‘67, ‘68… these ones I bought.
“But in ‘70 I was given a Mercian frame and in ‘71 I got a made-to-measure Holdsworth. In ‘73 I got a Carlton bike, but that was it.”
Your career highlight?
“That’s hard to know, I enjoyed them all but I suppose winning the Rás was special because I knew I was only going to get one chance at it.”
“No, I enjoyed all of my career.”
Peter was inducted into Irish Cycling’s ‘Hall of Fame’ in 2019.