John Herety, Manx International winner, 1980, riding for England
It was also our national championships that week, which is unusual. Neil Martin [father of Dan Martin] won and I was third, so I already knew that I was going well. I had ridden the Peace Race three or four weeks before that, so I was still recovering.
The day of the Manx International, I couldn’t feel my legs. It was the one time in my career where it was a float day, I was flying. I was in the break. Folklore has it you can only race the mountain once; ride it three times, but only race it once. As we hit the mountain for the third time, the commissaire came up alongside me and said: “Hard luck, John, good ride that, don’t worry.”
I was like Pete Kennaugh is now, always angry. I said: “It’s not over yet!”
We got caught on the steep part of the climb by the remains of the bunch, but I attacked again on my own on the false flat section. As a sprinter, God knows what I was doing, but I just felt so good, I went.
To this day, I love that jersey. It was about two sizes too big. There was both a GB team and an England team at the Manx, but they never raced together, no collusion whatsoever. The French army team always came for the whole week – Fignon rode for them that year [finishing 12th].
On the Friday night, there was a big prize presentation that everyone went to. Supposedly, the trophy has only been off the island once, and that was me…
I collected the trophy, had a few drinks, then took it back to the bed and breakfast with me. As was tradition in those days, you rode down to the ferry in the morning with your kitbag slung over your shoulder, and I had the base in my bag, but the trophy was banging away on my Cinelli stem.
I got home, my mum saw the trophy and realised it was solid sliver and probably worth more than our house. She shat herself! She immediately put it in the basket on her bike and rode down to the bank in Cheadle High Street and put in the vault, because she was too scared to have it in the house.
I would ride every race going. The cycling week was a big thing for Northerners, but also for Londoners too. The Liverpool Mercury, it was their mecca. Their rite of passage was to get on that ferry without paying.
There are so many stories from that week that are totally unprintable. They have three clubs on a little island, and they hate each other! They decided to have a joint dinner about ten years ago. There were fights in the toilets and all sorts.
Steve Joughin, Manxman and youngest ever winner of the Manx International, aged 19, in 1979
I won it the day before my birthday. It was huge even for me, something I used to dream about as a junior: three laps of the iconic TT course where I used to watch the motorbikes with my dad as a kid. It will never be forgotten.
Where the National Sports Centre is now, that used to be the King George V Park. The tarmac track is where all the current success started. Now there’s 300 children down there on a Tuesday night, so it’s a conveyor belt of talent.
Peter Kennaugh, Team Sky, from Douglas
If I did a training ride in Mallorca with the team, I would average 140-150W, because you’re in the wheels a lot and the roads are so smooth. At home, I do five hours and average 220W. That’s a massive difference.
In terms of the terrain, the wind, the roads, it’s a great place to train. You are always on the pedals. So I’m back home training apart from when I’m on training camps or racing.
Me and my brother [Tim] would race on the mainland nearly every weekend as kids. Mum and Dad downsized the house three times, just to pay for us to race. It would be £250 a time, just to get your car on the boat, hotels and food on top. We got a camper eventually, it worked out cheaper. Up until we got on the junior programme, my parents paid for everything.
You didn’t get the big names over like back in the day, but you still got a glimpse of what it was about. It’s quite old school, isn’t it, a cycling week?
I was riding when the Isle of Man Week was just dying out in the late-90s. The French and Italians would send over their under-23 teams. Me and Luke Rowe would do the crits before the adult races.
You didn’t get the big names over like back in the day, but you still got a glimpse of what it was about. It’s quite old school, isn’t it, a cycling week? But it could come back in some form.
Brian Smith, Manx International winner, 1993, riding for Banana-Falcon
I went over to the island in 1990 and lived there until 1999. Most of the time you are away racing, but I spent most winters there. I used to coach Marie Purvis. We’d go out training and she’d do three hours, while I did five. But she was fit. She won the women’s race the year I won the Manx. I helped a wee bit when the National Sports Centre started, when we’d get 20 or so riders coming down, and now they get hundreds.
Manx week was brilliant, a lot of happy memories. I’d always ride something. I got close a few times in the International before I won it in ’93. It was one of those races that I was desperate to win. There’s so much history in that race.
Apart from John Herety, who took the trophy off the island, I believe I’m the only person who got to keep it at home for the year, because I lived there.
I rode against the Kazakhs when they came over in the early ’90s – Vinokourov and Kivilev and all that lot – but they were just teenagers then. They were boys living the dream away from home. The Dutch would come over. The French were always good – Christophe Mengin won the Manx one year, he was decent.
I would try not to get involved in the social side of things, which I learnt after the first couple of times of going over there. Douglas would be buzzing. They’d all ride over to Peel, watch the races and have a few drinks, then ride back. The chaingang back was like an unorganised race, but they were half-cut!
I’d love to see it come back – I know it has in a small way, but it doesn’t feel the same. The week had something for everybody – that was the beauty of it. Mike O’Hare did a brilliant job. He’s a real character and put the Isle of Man on the map.
Michael Blann Photography: michaelblann.com