Cycling history


The return of ‘The Silent Ones’

The Isle of Man CC is the intellectual property of Greenrock Ltd

Top image: Ellan Vannin (Isle of Man) Cycle Club late 19th / early 20th century (© MNH)

With huge thanks to Katie King of Manx National Heritage for all the information and images on this page, which are taken from the exhibition ‘Our Sporting Life’ at the Manx Museum, Kingwood Grove, Douglas. 

Cycling and the Isle of Man have a history, from the annual Bicycle & Athletic Festivals of the nineteenth century to the excitement of Manx International Cycle Week. The Island’s first Commonwealth Games team contained six cyclists, with a Bronze medal being won by cyclist Stuart Slack. The Island has since gone on to win two further Gold medals in the Commonwealth Games with Peter Buckley in 1966 and Mark Cavendish in 2006, and our cyclists make up a good portion of the Isle of Man team at every Commonwealth Games and also dominates the Island Games. The Beijing 2008 Olympics saw two Manx cyclists competing for Team GB and we have high hopes for Manx success at the London 2012 Olympics.

The Isle of Man has been producing talented cyclists since the 1950s, competing on the British, European and world stage with Millie Robinson, Ron Killey, Reg Quayle, Mike O’Hare, Peter Kennaugh Snr, Steve Joughin, Mike Doyle and Marie Purvis being just a few well known names.  The success of these individuals has inspired consecutive generations of young sports men and women to follow in their wheeltracks.

The Isle of Man today is punching well above its weight in terms of cycling talent. The question asked by many sport commentators is how a population of just 80,000 can produce so many world class cyclists? The successes of Mark Cavendish, Jonny Bellis, Peter Kennaugh and the many more talented youngsters ready to follow in their wheel tracks is nothing short of remarkable. So great is the Isle of Man’s reputation for cycling that two of the UK’s top cyclists, Rob Holden and Ben Swift, have even moved to live here!

So, what is it about the Isle of Man? Is it our roads, our history, our passion, our development scheme – or does success breed success?


Mark Cavendish – The Manx Missile

Mark Cavendish MBE, the Manx Missile, is a professional racing cyclist, heralded as the fastest man on two legs. Achieving 11 wins in his first professional road race season, his was the most successful debut in European road racing history. Mark won the points jersey in five major races, and most impressively of all, beat some of the established legends of road sprinting. In the 2008 Tour de France he won four stages, a then unprecedented achievement for a British cyclist.  He now has 20 Tour de France stage wins under his belt and in 2011 made history by becoming the first British rider to win the Tour’s prestigious maillot vert, the green points jersey.

‘Cav’, as he is universally known, started cycling for fun at the National Sports Centre and developed his skills on the challenging Manx roads. His prodigious talent was noticed and he was admitted onto the British Olympic Academy programme. Together with his achievements on the road, Mark is also a double Madison World Champion, won a Gold medal for the Isle of Man at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne 2006 and competed for Team GB in the Beijing Olympics 2008. His phenomenal success on the professional road racing circuit has inspired many hundreds of the Island’s young people to take up the sport.

Mark continues to dominate the road racing circuit and has won stages at all the major classics, including winning the Milan-San Remo. He has been described as the fastest sprinter in the world. Now riding for Team Sky Mark is looking forward to achieving more success on the road and has his eyes set on the London 2012 Olympic road race. 

Isle of Man Youth Development – The Conveyor Belt of Inspiration

What kept me going was that I wanted to do what Steve Joughin was doing, winning Merseyside titles and National titles – it was like a conveyor belt of inspiration – as it is today with Mark Cavendish.”

Mike Doyle, Former Pro Rider and Isle of Man Cycling Youth Coach

Former professional rider Mike Doyle has played a pivotal role in coaching the Island’s young riders in recent years as they seek selection for the Great Britain Olympic Development programme. For most talented riders in Britain the Academy is still the best route to a career as a professional cyclist.

Mike has been able to share his experiences of the professional road race circuit with the youth talent on the Isle of Man, so that they realise what it takes to commit to cycling. It is this firsthand experience that is so crucial to the success of Manx cyclists. The role of the Isle of Man Sport Aid and Institute is also critical at this stage in allowing elite competitors to secure financial support together with a full range of sports science services for them to fulfil their sporting potential.

Cycling in the Blood – the Kennaugh Family

For many people on the Isle of Man cycling is not simply an individual passion, but can be traced through consecutive generations of families committed to the sport. One such family is the Kennaughs.

Both Peter Kennaugh, and his younger brother Tim, are current professional road and track cyclists with 2012 Olympic aspirations. Their father Peter was also a successful road racer, their mother Jackie a talented cyclist, and their grandparents Roy and Dorothy were early members of the Manx Road Club. Their cycling pedigree can even be traced to their great great great grandfather and uncle who were also influential on the Manx cycling scene – a case of cycling really being in the blood!

We didn’t encourage them into cycling at all. I knew how expensive it was to do and how hard it was…cycling is such a tough sport. Some have likened it to four Man United games being played back to back for three weeks and that’s what riding the Tour de France is like. It is tough, really tough…we told them to stick to the football! But we support them, of course.

Peter Kennaugh Senior, 2011

Peter Kennaugh

I have lost count of the number of times I have seen Peter Kennaugh piling up the miles. In the winter, when it was raining so hard it was bouncing off the road, he was out there. That’s what it took for him to become a pro rider.Richard Allen, Sports Journalist

Peter Kennaugh Junior is currently one of the rising stars of British cycling, on both track and road. He has been riding for British professional Team Sky since 2010.

He has received worldwide plaudits for his 2011 season with outstanding performances at his first Giro d’Italia. His ‘all round’ talent has him tipped for Tour de France glory in the future. He is the current British Madison Champion; British Under 23 National Road Race Champion; Junior World and European Track Champion; is a member of the British Cycling Olympic Academy and is one of the Island’s 2012 Olympic hopefuls.

Tim Kennaugh

It’s all about balance and doing it because you want to do it and because you enjoy it. If your Mum and Dad are paying for you to go away and train and race, then you’ve got to show a certain amount of commitment to put the yards in. 

Tim Kennaugh

At only 20 years of age Tim Kennaugh has already made a name for himself in British cycling, being selected to ride for the British Talent Team in 2007 before entering the British Cycling Olympic Development Programme and Olympic Academy.

In 2009, he became one of the youngest riders ever to win the Manx National Road Race Championships. In 2011 Tim signed for Italian/Polish Team MG.K VIS-Norda Whistle along with fellow Manxman Chris Whorrall. In his first professional season Tim is expected to compete in 50 races, including the Baby Giro d’Italia, thereby following in his brother’s footsteps.

Ian Sharpe – Paralympian

Visually impaired athlete, Ian Sharpe, is the Isle of Man’s most successful Olympian. He has represented Great Britain at the Paralympics on five separate occasions, initially as a swimmer, and more recently as a cyclist. He has won five Silver and five Bronze medals at the Games to date and is hoping to increase his tally in the London Paralympics 2012.

 Ian began training seriously as a swimmer at the age of twelve when he joined the national development programme. After achieving success at European and World Championship level he was selected to represent Great Britain at the Seoul Paralympics 1988, where he won a Silver and two Bronze medals, and became the first British disabled athlete to break the one minute barrier for the 100m freestyle. Further Silvers were to follow in the next three Paralympics in Barcelona, Atlanta and Sydney in 2000.

 Ian retired from swimming after the Atlanta Games to focus on his career but decided to have a go at the triathlon while working in Cambridge. Ian unofficially set the second fastest time in the world for a disabled athlete in the Olympic distance event in 1998 with his guide, Toby King. But following the decision not to include the triathlon at the Paralympics in 2000, Ian returned to swimming once again for the Sydney games which became his most successful ever, bringing back two Silver medals and a Bronze.

 In 2003 Ian then made the switch to cycling when he met Paul Hunter while looking for a potential tandem pilot. Despite many logistical challenges, funding problems and disagreements with British Cycling they qualified for the Athens Paralympics in 2004 and achieved the remarkable feat of winning a Bronze medal in the Men’s Individual Tandem Pursuit and another in the Men's Tandem Kilo at their first Games together. Even greater success followed in 2005 when Ian and Paul became double world champions in the same events and also picked up a Silver in the road time trial.

 Ian is currently training hard and looking for sponsorship to support him in the run up to the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

I would love to do London 2012 – if the games had been anywhere else I think I would have retired by now, I’ve spent most of my life competing at the highest level and I'm not getting any younger. But the only medal I haven't won is a Paralympic Gold and to have the opportunity to compete, let alone win at a home Games is just something I couldn't ignore. Call it blind faith if you will but I still believe there's enough in my legs to achieve this goal. "

Manx International Cycle Week – The Silent Ones

The Manx International was a big race in its own right, but for a Manxman it was something special. I was riding in the colours of the Manx Road Club but I was carrying the hopes of the Isle of Man…That day was one of the greatest moments of my life. Things like that stay with you forever; it’s the kind of moment that motivates you to make all the sacrifices you have to make to be a success in a sport a tough as cycling.”

Steve Joughin on winning the Manx International Road Race in 1979

The Isle of Man’s hilly terrain makes it ideal for road racing and historically mass start road racing was always popular on the Island. The famous Motorcycle TT Mountain Circuit was perfect for cyclists and cycle racing began seriously on the course with the Bicycle TT in 1936. Competitors were known locally as ‘the silent ones’.

The event evolved into Manx International Cycle Week, organised by Manx cycling legend Curwen Clague. The event attracted thousands of enthusiasts to the Island who could get close to their cycling heroes and compete in their own fun rallies during the week.

During its illustrious history the event attracted the top racing cyclists of Europe. In 1963 and 1967 England cycling legend Tommy Simpson was a popular winner. The Isle of Man International Road Race Meeting included the Manx International Road race, over three laps of the mountain circuit, the Viking Trophy Road Race over two laps, and high speed town centre Criteriums. The event even had its own ‘King of the Mountain’ sections. In 1979 the Manx International Road Race was won by local hero Steve Joughin, a highlight of his own successful professional cycling career. In 1993 Olympian and World Champion cyclist Chris Boardman set a blistering record time over the mountain of 1 hour 23 minutes and 54 seconds, a record that still stands.

Manx International Cycling Week, including events run over the mountain circuit, continued until 2003.

Steve Joughin – The Pocket Rocket

Had I really just won the national title only a few hundred yards from where I grew up, and in front of all my family? Winning the pro title was amazing enough, but to do it on the Isle of Man seemed too good to be true”. 

Steve Joughin, Pocket Rocket (2010)

Steve ‘The Pocket Rocket’ Joughin is a former professional Manx road racing cyclist. He was the first Manxman ever to win the British professional road race title (twice); won stages at the prestigious Milk Race; represented the Isle of Man on two occasions at the Commonwealth Games; and became the first Manxman to win Manx International Cycle Week.

He was a popular local hero, at a time when the Island was an important location for British road racing competitions. He was arguably one of the best UK riders of his generation, coming to prominence as a sprinter in the 1980s – the golden age of British cycle racing.

His journey from the Isle of Man to popular British cycling success was hard fought, struggling to travel away to compete and to earn a living at the sport. Steve’s journey, like many from his generation, was not one of Olympic training programmes but gritty determination to succeed against the odds:

We didn’t have a World Class Performance Plan – we had what I called the ‘DHSS Performance Plan’. At a time where there was mass unemployment in the UK, myself and many riders signed on the dole at the DHSS and claimed unemployment benefit in order to be able to pay the bills while we trained in the hope of getting a pro-contract…When money was really tight, I would play hide and seek on boats bound for England and stowaway on board to save paying the fare so I could race.”

Steve Joughin, Pocket Rocket (2010)

Steve, now living in Stoke and running his cycle business, Pro-Vision, is still influential on the British cycling scene.

Millie Robinson

Millie Robinson took up cycling after moving to the Isle of Man in her late teens and started competitive cycling at local grass track events such as the Andreas Sports. As a member of the Manx Viking Wheelers she won the Women’s National 25 mile time trial championships three years in succession during the mid-1950s and was the British best all-rounder over 25, 50 and 100 miles.

She won numerous UK events, both time trials and mass starts, and events during Manx Cycle Week. She was the winner of the first two international races ever promoted for women in France and broke three world records on the track in Milan, including the hour record. She retired from competitive cycling in 1960.


Marie Morgan (formerly Purvis)

Aged 26 I thought, there must be more to life than just vegetating on the sofa, and so I got an old bike out of the shed and went out riding. I was so unfit that I could only do three miles at first, but it was a gradual progression from there.

Marie Morgan (formerly Purvis) is a true inspiration. As a latecomer to cycling she went on to achieve extraordinary success in her eight year career, becoming the Isle of Man’s most successful female cyclist to date. She was the British Women’s Road Race Champion five times; competed at four World Championships; was British National 10mile and 25 mile time trial champion; contested two Olympic Games and represented the Isle of Man at two Commonwealth Games.

After disappointment at her first Commonwealth Games at Auckland she went on to lead the road race at the Victoria Games four years later, only to suffer mechanical problems which meant she finished in fourth place.

I’d made the transition from local to national level very quickly, so when it came to my first Commonwealth Games I didn’t really know how good the standard was, and I got the shock of my life…within two laps I was dropped off the back. I didn’t realise how hard the next level was. But I remember thinking I have a starting point now, I know what I have to do to get there. Train harder, race more. It made me more determined…within two years I’d been selected for the Barcelona Olympics.”

She made an impressive debut at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Road Race, attacking early and leading the race until a slow puncture and mechanic crew confusion cost her a winning position. At the 1996 Atlanta Olympics she finished in an impressive eleventh place. Marie was also the first British woman to win a mountain stage of the Tour de Femmin (the female Tour de France) in 1993 and finished sixth overall at this prestigious event.

Stuart Slack – First Commonwealth Medallist:

Stuart Slack was actively involved in Manx cycling for over fifty years, until his death in 1998. The former Ellan Vannin Club rider was well known by many on the Isle of Man for his Commonwealth Games glory. He won the Bronze medal for the 120 mile road race at the 1958 British Empire & Commonwealth Games, becoming the first Manxman to win a medal at any Commonwealth Games competition.

…his amazing finishing spurt after a gruelling race run in terrible weather, heavy rain and a high wind, had his team mates and officials in a frenzy of excitement as he burst through to achieve what seemed the impossible.”

Isle of Man Weekly Times, 28 July 1958

The Isle of Man welcomed Stuart, and the team, back to the Island as national heroes and his success has inspired future generations of young cyclists to attempt to follow in his wheeltracks. His success also spurred the Isle of Man to send a team to compete at every subsequent Commonwealth Games, buoyed with confidence that our small nation can achieve at world class level.

Stuart Slack was a local boy, a local hero, his victory did so much to encourage cycling over here. Within a few years of his victory the Onchan Stadium opened with a cycle track around the outside and cycling on the Isle of Man has gone from strength to strength ever since.”

Brian Whitehead, Commonwealth Games Athlete


Many thanks to Manx National Heritage (MNH), Peter Kennaugh Senior, Jean Slack, Reg Quayle, Diana Killy and Marie Morgan for giving permission to use their photos above.

Curwen Clague

Manx sporting hero Curwen Clague can be credited with developing International Cycle Week and founding the Isle of Man Commonwealth Games team.

He was a founder member of the Manx Viking Wheelers in 1932 and helped organise the Bicycle TT in 1936. Massed start cycle races were unheard of in the UK at that time, but the event was a great success and continued as International Cycle week until 2003. He was appointed as an official for the Olympic Cycle Road Race at the 1948 Olympic Games in London. Curwen’s contribution to cycling was recognised in 1976 when he was awarded the Gold Badge of Honour by the British Cycling Federation, their highest accolade.

Curwen also played a vital role in the formation of the Manx Commonwealth Games Team. After watching the Empire Games in 1954 he drew together the leaders of the various sports on the Island and suggested the Isle of Man could form its own Commonwealth Games team, which went on to compete successfully in the 1958 Games. From 1962 until his death, Curwen was the manager of the Isle of Man Commonwealth Games Team, and was responsible for representing the Isle of Man at the highest level of the Commonwealth Games Association.

Cycling Roots

The success of Manx cyclists on the world stage has meant that the sport is hugely popular on the Isle of Man, especially on a junior level. The Isle of Man Junior Cycling Summer League sees over 300 under-16’s compete in organised weekly races at the National Sports Centre (NSC) in Douglas and also organises trips to the UK to compete. Dot Tilbury MBE, who organises the junior league, has been admitted to the British Cycling Hall of Fame for her enthusiastic work with junior cyclists over the past 25 years. The ‘Tuesday Night’ sessions are where all our famous cyclists first fell in love with cycling.

One second, two seconds, ready, steady, GO! and two minutes later, I’d finished the course – a single lap of the NSC car park – in last place. Dead last. In my first race.”

Mark Cavendish, Boy Racer (2010)

At the age of 16 talented young cyclists are further developed by former professional rider Mike Doyle. Both Dot and Mike believe that having the opportunity to compete off Island, at both track and road events, is crucial to the development of our young cyclists. It enables them to improve their performance through competing alongside the best of British talent. The Isle of Man has a highly successful road race league at which amateur cyclists often line up against our professional cyclists who return to the Island to train, another factor in our success at cycling.

There is certainly a structure in place on the Isle of Man for young cycling talent to develop their full potential, but it also requires immense dedication from the individuals involved. The Isle of Man may be a unique place with a unique set of circumstances, but without the dedication to get out and train for hours every day in all weather there would be no cycling champions.

International Cycle Week ca 1950s (© MNH)

Highland Games, Onchan Stadium, 1967

Tom Kennaugh 1912

Roy Kennaugh, Manx Cycle Week 1951

Peter Kennaugh Senior, Manx International Cycle Week 1980s

William Kissack, Manx Cyclist, 1869 (© MNH)

Mr Keen, Manx Cyclist, and Penny Farthing and friends, late 19th century (© MNH)

Commonwealth Games cyclists Stuart & Reg Quayle receiving a hero’s welcome on their return to the Isle of Man in 1958

Top Manx cyclist Reg Quayle finishing the Manx International during Cycle Week, 1950s

Manx International Cycle Week, 1950s (© MNH)

Ron Killey OBE

Ron Killey has had a lifelong commitment to cycling and the Commonwealth Games movement.  As a top Manx cyclist he was a member of the original 1958 Manx team which competed at the British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Cardiff.  Since then he has gone on to attend twelve Commonwealth Games on behalf of the Isle of Man –  first as a cycling representative, then as  Honorary Secretary of the Isle of Man Commonwealth Games Association (1982-2003), Vice President of the Commonwealth Games Federation London Sports Committee (1982 – 1990) and Vice President for Europe of the Commonwealth Games Federation (1990 – 1994). His dedication to the Games has been quite unique, giving 45 years of continuous service. He was awarded an OBE in 1998 in recognition of his outstanding commitment to sport and in particular for his work developing youth cycling on the Island. 

The highlights of Ron’s own cycling career include finishing sixth in the 1962 Commonwealth Games road race in Perth and gaining a similar result in the Manx International road race during the 1950s. On retirement from cycle racing in 1965 Ron became a qualified British Cycle Federation coach and was appointed as the Isle of Man National Cycling Team Manager. During this period, the coaching system he set up on the Island resulted in many Manx cyclists achieving a high standard of excellence which enabled them to represent the Isle of Man at the Commonwealth Games and Great Britain in many international events.  Three of these Manx cyclists went on to become top British Professional Cyclists, namely Steve ‘Pocket Rocket’ Joughin, Nigel Dean and Mike Doyle.  During his coaching career Ron was also chosen to manage British Teams in the Milk Race (1972), the Scottish Milk Race (1982) and events in France and Norway in the intervening years.  Although now in poor health, Ron is still the Life President of the Isle of Man Cycling Association and is a highly respected member of the Manx cycling community.

Manx International Cycle Week, 1950s (© MNH)

Manx International Cycle Week, 1950s (© MNH)

Manx International Cycle Week, Ron Killey (in cap) and Reg Quayle ca 1950s (© MNH)

For more information contact:

Laura or Joe Mearns

Greenrock Ltd

Tel  01684 892 465



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