There I was, researching Peter Doyle’s palmarès for his recent interview with us, checking out his big French win, in the Essor Breton. I was looking at the race’s roll of honour and was surprised to see that Englishman, Jonathan Dayus had won the race twice.
Tom Simpson finished on the podium in 1959 and since then the race has been won by the likes of Alexandre Vinokourov and Warren Barguil – it’s a prestigious event.
I remembered Jonathan had won the British Hill Climb Championship because it was the year Scotsman, Alex Coutts finished on the podium but I hadn’t realised just how successful the man from Worcester had been.
We dropped him a line and found out more…
You’re a Worcester man – that’s Volta Legend Cayn Theakston country, did your paths cross?
“That’s right I’m from Worcester… I think I must have bumped into Cayn a couple of times at club time trials or events but he wasn’t riding anymore.
“I obviously heard lots of stories about Cayn from fellow club members about his cycling career.”
How did your French adventure begin?
“I came out with Ben Coekin in 1998 to ride with Pays des Olones cycliste in Vendee they were looking for foreign riders after already having another brit Mick Wellington with them the year before.
“All that was through Roger and Richard Hobby who had the contacts in France.
“It was the next logical step after racing in England.”
The first time you pop up in the palmarès sites is 3rd on GC in the 2000 Tour de la Nouvelle-Caledonie, pretty exotic. Tell us about that please.
“That was an end of season race with teams of four riders, some really good riders and a brilliant experience.
“I managed to be consistent all week long against a good field.”
2001 and a win in the Circuit des Monts du Livradois….
“That was a French Cup race.
“I was with Nantes 44 and all the GB u23 squad was with Nantes that year.
“It was a hilly race and I managed to stay in the mix all day and get away on my own with a couple of kilometres left.”
A stage win in in the Ringerike in Norway in 2002, that’s a long way from France?
“The team got the invitation through Jean Francois Quenet, a French journalist.
“It was another hilly race in Arctic-like conditions – it even snowed during the first stage.
“I won the queen stage where the finish was on top of a long climb and I won the sprint from a small group.”
And another win there in 2003 – and you were on the Ringerike team that time, how come?
“Same race, same climb and a sprint from small group again.
“The team had seen me race in Norway and the contact was made through Jean Francois Quenet again.”
And is it correct that you had Monument winner, Australia’s Simon Gerrans as a team mate?
“Yes, we had a good team with Simon Gerrans and Gabriel Rasch that year, but the team fell apart after a sponsor was involved in a financial scandal in Norway and Sweden.
“Simon then came to Nantes for 2004.
“That was a brilliant experience that year because we raced all over Europe and even started the season in South Africa.
“I got to race with guys that I never thought I’d be racing with at all.”
UC Nantes Atlantique for 2004, was that a good set up? – you were with them for a few years…
“Yes, it was a Division One French amateur team with a real solid group of riders.
“We managed to win the French Division One Championship in 2005.
“The team had the same group of riders for a good few years which meant we rode well together and had confidence in each other…
“I guess it took a few years to build all that up, with 2004 not being the best year for the team.”
And that year you came home to win the CTT Hill Climb Championships. What are your memories of that?
“I came back to England after riding the Tour de la Reunion and had good legs.
“Rob Finch and the Arctic team made it all possible but I only just won in front of James Dobbin who was a good hill climb specialist and fellow Arctic Shorter team mate.
“We won the team prize too.
“It was quite long, not a traditional short climb with undulating road on the second half of course.”
You won the Tour de la Martinique in 2006 – another exotic one.
“That was a good hilly race in hot conditions which really suited me.
“Consistency again was the key; I got in a few breaks, made some time and won the last time trial to finish it off.”
That same year you won the Essor Breton – that’s a big win.
“I was going well that year and we had a really strong team.
“We won the team time trial and a team mate won the first stage.
“It was one of those races where the confidence was high and I just rode without asking myself too many questions, it all fitted into place.”
And you won the Essor Breton again in 2007 despite being a ‘marked man.’
“There was a stage finish up a long climb and I slipped away before it after making it across to the break with a team mate.
“I won the stage with quite a large margin and my team mates controlled the race for the next few days.
“After that all I had to do was follow the guys who were up there on the GC.”
More exotica that year with stage wins in Guadeloupe and Reunion.
“Yeah, I loved racing in the French islands; it’s hot and the roads are hard and hilly.
“I guess I always managed to recover well in stage races.
“With these races it’s small teams so these races are hard to control; hard, open racing and if you have good legs you can really make use of them.
“Guadeloupe was a special one for me as I was coming back from a crash and got better and better as the stages went on.
“It was a UCI race so it was a good field. I was a long way off on GC and my team mates paced the break so I could attack to win. They believed in me and it bought out the best in me.
“I attacked five kilometres out, up a big hill and held everyone off to the finish – but it just wouldn’t have been possible without my team mates and their belief in me.”
Seasons 2008 and 2009 you were with UC Nantes but I can’t find any results?
“I was still racing a bit but I was working by then and the motivation wasn’t the same at that point.
“I started running in 2012 and I’ve done a few triathlons the last few years so I still ride a bit.”
And you decided to stay ‘en France’ – why, and what do you do for a living?
“When I met Sylvie in 2001 I’d already spent four years in France and I just seemed at home here. We married and now have two children aged 13 and 11 years.
“I can’t imagine living in the UK even if I do love coming home to see all my family and friends.
“I work in Candé between Angers and Nantes for Manitou making aerial work platforms.”
What do you rate as your ‘finest hour’?
“There are so many moments that are special but every time I won as a team or as part of a real team performance it was just so much better because you get to share it.
“I’m proud to be a National Hill Climb Champion and podium at the National Time Trial Championships. I wanted so much to get on the podium at the National Road Race but it never worked out.”
“I can’t have any; I lived the dream for a good few years and feel I was lucky to do so.”