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1972 - Tony Gowland Interview

THE “CHIPPER” WHO BECAME WEMBLEY’S IDOL
by Mal Rees, International Cycle Sport, September 1972

A relaxed and carefree Tony Gowland and his sun-kissed and delightful wife Jenny greeted  me from the well-mown lawn of their Bovingdon (Herts) home just after they had returned from a well-earned week, away from it all, in Devon. Such a rest was an essential respite from the hectic, hammer-and-tongs summer of pro road racing that the 27 year-old, one-man-band SKOL star had used as development and training ready for his forthcoming winter season and his challenge for the regretfully vacant crown of the abdicated King of the Sixes, Peter Post. Everyone wants to see the last hours of a 'six' but that too has to have a beginning so let's retrace some 12 years and start by explaining the cryptic title that I have given to this cameo.

1972WebbGowland

Ron WEBB signs-up Tony GOWLAND for SKOL

Inspiration, or the spark that ignited this fireball of a bike-rider, happened at Paddington track where a 12-man stack-up provided the thrill that a 15 1/2 year-old lad needed to show him a substitute form of excitement after his father had refused to let him have a motor cycle.
Evenings with his first bike-buddies were enlivened with a four mile, hell-for-leather bash from Kenton, culminating in an all out sprint for a favourite fish and chip shop. Last man paid for the chips! Tony reckons that he only had to fork out once, and so-from the outset the professional approach was established "It's the money that matters!"
He took to the track at 16, was 3rd in his first race, 2nd in the next and had his first win with his third race.
Gowland, the front runner, was on his way. Handsome, blond, gifted with charm of personality and the ability to express himself easily and frankly, he is equipped to be a matinee idol film star or especially the career he has adopted, that of a six-day bike entertainer 'par excellence.' Another attribute is the ability to analyse both himself and his contemporaries. For example, it was his opinion that the arrogance of Steve Heffernan (Archer/Cutty Sark) was a great asset and Steve's failure in the kilometre championship (following his accident just prior) was most inopportune. He thought that Heffernan, 'the Cassius Clay of the track' has what it takes to reach the top, great strength and abundant confidence "but he is too young yet to be thrown to the lions at the Wembley 'Coliseum' type arena". Of Martyn Roach, he thought him strong enough to top the road race game but for his Yo-yo-like unreliability of temperament. "if Roach had Heff's confidence he could roar them all off."
When I got Tony back to the subject in hand, himself, he confessed that he just CANNOT TIME TRIAL ALONG. He needs a donkey's carrot dangling in front of his nose, a wheel to chase and he can pull out speed well beyond his physical strength. Asked what he had got that the others lack, the answer was ready. "I'm a pedaller, they used to call me 'the tapper' because of my high rate of revving. I began on a fixed and learned how to get 'em round, I still prefer the fixed but have had to adapt myself for the road. My sprinting gear used to be second from top but now I am stronger I use the big one.
On his training he gave me a typical week, 160 miles one day, two hours hard at it next day, 90 miles next morning with the pro sprint championships that same evening 1 He knew how hard he had to work, knew that his manager and mentor, SKOL's wizard of the wheel, Australian Ron Webb, had all the answers and Tony was obviously happy with the treatment meted out by his firm as he proudly waved an arm with an imperious gesture, indicating the modern house, delightful decor, tastefully (luxuriously) furnished like a show house at the Ideal Home Exhibition yet no evidence of trophies, pennants, souvenirs or the other impedimenta that normally proclaim such a mans achievements to every visitor.
"This is what my bike racing has earned me so far, I'm not interested in honours, money made me win the sprints for the chip-shop and money motivates my every move as a professional. If it were not for the bike and my ability to pedal it faster than most I'd be just another factory hand. I make a living doing what I'm best at, riding a bike and intend to have enough behind me to retire in comfort when my racing days are over."
Rarely have I interviewed a cyclist so disinclined to boast nor one who was so ready to discuss what he thought were his shortcomings. Naturally, road racing figured much in our deliberations. "I'm no good at anything over I mile on the fiat". I protested that I had seen him do some magnificent solo efforts wearing the SKOL vest this season "O.K., I'll grant you that" he said "but that's no good when they take us over loose gravel mountain passes like Grinton on the I.C.S. Tour of the North" How could a teamless lone rider survive with a pack of road pro's who had everything laid on ? No team mate goes back to relay a punctured Gowland back to the field again, he has to go it alone. How? and why? "It's the money! I just have to get back or I'd miss my chance of what primes and place money I can manage to collect, I get back on my own.

Asked about his publicity value to SKOL with his road programme he replied "This yellow jersey with SKOL (in red) is tops for publicity. Spectators see a passing bunch and identify very few, except me. I stick out like a sore thumb. That's fine for SKOL and Ron Webb, but is a handicap when I want to sprint away to bridge a gap. I am so distinctive that they can see me out of the corner of their eyes before I can even get my wheel in front."
This led to the subject of his relationship with fellow pros awheel. I had noted (on the Tours I had covered) that when his speed has got him up with a break he always did his whack. Of this there can be little question, for should he puncture a break will ease and risk the time loss to let him get back on to his regular, speed - inducing stint at the front.
He admires, and envies what he called the 'hard men', Colin Lewis, Les West and Brian Jolly. We relived Jolly's terrific solo effort across the Peak district and Cheshire plain to win the ICS Tour of the North, and the great solo TOB performances of Les West and Metcalfe, in the past, but Tony has no illusions that he could ever emulate such feats - nor for that matter has he ambitions, claiming that he just has not got the strength. However, with a chuckle he agreed that they would never be six-day riders - he had done both! Speed is his stock-in-trade and he gave a fascinating word-picture of how he acquired it.
In his early days, on 65 fixed, he would jump away and chase lorries on the North Road (Al ) rev. away like mad until comfortably tucked in with the tailboard slipstream. Then the competitive spirit that has Wembley crowds standing on their seats and screaming with delight would manifest itself as he would start to overtake the lorry, find that he had to pedal faster to overtake and once abreast the cabin had to increase the revs still further to make enough space to get in line ahead and safety. So! that's where the fearlessness and ultra-fast pedalling of our comparatively tiny six-day star developed. Catching the lorry was a challenge, overtaking it was the next challenge and getting in front with unbelievable revs on a 65 in. gear was the ultimate.
Dear reader, this aged scribe has preached (and bored) generations of would-be speedmen that pedalling is preferable to pushing and here was one of Britain’s best ambassadors to the tracks of the world expounding my pet (and mostly unheeded) theories.
Eddy Merckx was used to further the Gowland argument 'that pedalling is more effective than pushing' and he summed it up this way.
"It's the man who can PEDAL the biggest gear that will prove the fastest". Tony's 1972 season on the road has developed him physically (though he realises that he will never be as tough as his contemporaries) but he has learned how to get the speed up with his unrivalled pedalling ability and then to PEDAL the biggest gear that conditions will permit - but keeping up the revs.
About to embark on his 'real' season, a winter of six-days starting on his own patch, Empire Pool, Wembley in September, the personal impact of Tony Gowland must be one of the greatest assets that SKOL has (and their sponsorship of the annual “Six” benefits from) but it is far wider than we (insular as we cyclists are) would imagine.
An example; One day, cyclist Gowland was weaving his way through the traffic of a crowded shopping area when he was overtaken by a brace of P.C.'s in a Panda who signalled him to stop. "What the hell have I done now? Don't remember jumping a light or offending at a zebra!" "Excuse the question, sir, aren't you Tony Gowland, the six-day rider?" Affirmative answer brought lavish praise from this unlikely pair, unstinted in their admiration and duly rewarded with autographs as souvenirs.
Gowland will 'carry the flag' all over the world this winter and we'll be mighty proud but let us 'render unto Caesar' and be grateful for the help and foresight of the brewers of SKOL who sponsored a promising young professional and were prepared to 'carry a roadman passenger' who surprised everyone by turning up trumps instead.
We should be grateful that they put him 'under the wing' of the great Ron Webb who did the backroom chores and left Tony to get on with the job without any worries. Yes, our thanks to Ron Webb SKOL (and Mrs Gowland) for they have all helped towards the career of a colourful potential replacement for the lamented departure of Peter Post from the international six-day 'circus'. May I add my personal approval of a father who would not let his son have a motorbike and unwittingly gave cycle sport a valuable star which is still in the ascendant.

 

Original material from International Cycle Sport magazine

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