PEZ Talk: The Tale Of Darryl Webster
Before Team Sky, David Millar, Chris Boardman, and Graeme Obree, back in the 1980’s, there was a talent in British cycling who looked headed for the very top. Darryl Webster won a junior world track medal; the British pursuit title; saw off the specialist time trial riders; beat the featherweight hill climbers and on his sojourns to the continent it took riders like Johan Museeuw and Teun Van Vliet (winner of Het Volk and Gent – Wevelgem) to get the better of him.
He took an amazing stage win in the 1988 Nissan Pro Tour of Ireland, went immediately on the continental team managers’ shopping list, signed with high profile Spanish team Teka for 1989, and then – nothing.
Here’s his story.
(The BCF was the British Cycling Federation [now British Cycling] which governed road and track racing in the UK; whilst the RTTC was the Road Time Trials Council, the governing body of the day for time trials outside of stage races.)
PEZ: How old were you when you won your first British championship ?
Darryl Webster: I was 16 when I won the 1978 GHS Schoolboy National 10 miles championship by about half a minute. I’d been second the previous year but wasn’t “favourite” to win because my times were not the fastest qualifying – I never had any concern for times.
Darryl en route to winning the Lincoln GP.
PEZ: As a senior, which was your most prolific year in terms of British championships – which ones did you win ?
DW: In 1985 I won the individual pursuit for the second time; I was part of the quartets which won the BCF Team Pursuit and National 100km TTT titles; the RTTC National 25 miles (40 kilometres) TT in a Championship record of 51.16 ( my Personal Best, I achieved PBs in several championships); the RTTC National 50 miles (80 kilometres) title with a PB of 1.47.37; the RTTC National Hill Climb for the third time and was a member of the quartet which won the RTTC 100km TTT
In my career I won 23 titles British with a total medal haul of 51.
PEZ: What do you class as your best domestic result ?
DW: Always a difficult one, because I did road, track and TT and had important wins in all of those disciplines.
On the track my first pursuit title; on the road The Bristol GP and in time trialling my Isle of Man TT course record – it’s still one of the fastest ever and stood for ten years.
PEZ: You were good on the track – what was your best result there ?
DW: Team pursuit bronze at the Junior World Champs in Mexico 1980.
I also rode in the individual pursuit (7th), TTT (11th) and road race but DNF`d.
PEZ: You were second behind Teun Van Vliet in the Circuit des Mines in ’84 – was that your best amateur international result ?
DW: I think my two stage wins in the ’87 amateur Three days of West Flanders were my best results.
I was in a Manchester Wheelers team which was invited to the race, we were third in the opening TTT then I rode away from a strong field including Johan Museeuw to take the second stage.
I was third to Museeuw in the time trial but only conceded six seconds; then I won the fourth stage – but flatted on the final stage and never regained contact with the head of the race.
Webster on the top step of the podium, that’s Johan Museeuw to his right.
PEZ: Who coached you ?
DW: No one. Eddie Soens mentored me as did several others before him but I never had a coach as such.
PEZ: Tell us a little about your training in those days.
DW: Most was based around 1 hour 50 min rides at what today would be called FTP – (Functional Threshold Power: by the writer’s understanding the highest power output which can be maintained for a prolonged period, usually one hour.)
I’d do one or two long rides in the winter with company and often did split days of training and races or a second training session if the early ride had been been of the 1 hour 50 min type.
I figured that around that time was the longest I could work hard before fatigue impaired it and I saw no point working below par.
Hence, rest was as important much a part of my regime as the training.
Occasionally I’d do 3 x 3 min. flat out intervals but I hated ’em and only did ’em in the run up to the track tittles.
PEZ: You spent your amateur days with Manchester Wheelers; some say they destroyed the UK pro class – they were paying riders to stay amateur ?
DW: The Manchester Wheelers didn’t destroy pro cycling; they gave a few riders an alternative to not have to turn pro as fast as they might ordinarily have done, but the figures banded about regarding what was paid were wildly exaggerated.
I was – for around three years – loaned a car, given Ј100 a week and a small bonus scheme that never amounted to more than Ј150 per title.
From that Ј100 I paid all my fuel costs, race entries and the many other costs associated with the demands of racing up and down the UK.
In effect it meant I got to keep my prize winnings.
Pro cycling in the UK went downhill fast in ’89 onwards because of a big downturn in the economy – it was that simple.
PEZ: You turned pro with UK team PMS Dawes in 1988 – what was that set up like to ride for ?
DW: That was was a mixed year, my season was delayed due to a knee operation in December ’87 and then again in April following surgery on my perineum.
This meant that I had six weeks off mid year and started the Kellogg’s Tour of Britain with only four or five races and about five weeks training in my legs.
I finished 8th and first UK based pro after making the split on the second day up Rosedale Chimney (alleged to be the steepest hill in the UK) finishing in York.
The rest of the Tour I hung on by the skin of my teeth and suffered a lot !
There wasn’t a “set up” as such; we met at races and on two or three other occasions.
I saw injecting of dope on that team for the first time and was pretty pissed off about it, because the no one asked me If I minded; they just went ahead and did it.
I thought it was pathetic as the racing didn’t warrant it.
With the UK pro races were never as hard as I’d ridden as an amateur, but it was very controlled; when the hammer was down it wasn’t easy but team tactics played far greater a part in the racing.
Reflecting on the team, there are only two riders who I would now consider good, honest people.
Bob Rouse, the Mechanic was a gem of a bloke – it seems mechanics often are because they do it for love, I guess.
PEZ: Tell us about your ’88 Nissan Tour of Ireland stage win, please.
DW: On the second stage I’d sat up in and came in to the finish in a group around two minutes down.
I’d rarely ever done this deliberately before, and after I`d finished realised my legs felt great ; I just “knew” they were in excellent shape.
After dinner I turned to Keith Lambert, our manager and told him I wanted to ” have a go ” the next day and that I’d go 30 miles in and try to form a break.
I spent the evening stuffing my face with food and a drank a couple of pints of Guinness.
The next day when I attacked and only Steve Joughin came with me; but he dropped back after he took a couple of KoM.
I just settled down to a nice steady rhythm and the lead reached around 20 minutes with 50 miles (80 K) to go – I’d attacked with 97 miles (150 K) to go.
I had a front wheel puncture; that was quickly changed and I was led off course by the commissar’s vehicle coming into Limerick but still had three-and-a-half min lead at the line.
It was by far the most satisfying win of my career.
PEZ: Teka ’89 – how did you get that contract ?
DW: That was a direct result of the Nissan win; I was introduced by a UK clothing importer.
PEZ: Where did you live in Spain – tell us about that, and being with Teka.
DW: I never lived In Spain; I turned up where they sent me, raced and went home.
PEZ: I heard that Teka didn’t give you a good programme ?
I dont know how it was for others, but for me it was dire.
Early season started ok with the Tour Of Americas and I rode the Tour Of The Basque Region and a few other races, the names of which I forget.
I rode the Dauphine Libere and finished reasonably happy; but after that the phone never rang, and I didn’t raced with the team for the rest of the year.
I’d roomed with a northern European guy at the Dauphine and witnessed him inject himself; but I don’t know what with .
He had remarked that I should “take care” of myself as well; but all I ever took were vitamins and didn’t I inject them.
Hindsight’s a wonderful thing, isn’t it?
PEZ: Clere, Dietzen, Montoya – there were some handy boys on that team; did you have good relations with any of them ?
DW: None at all; the team was 23 strong and my language skills are/were nonexistent – they still are !
PEZ: You were only 27 when you quit – your best years were still to come.
DW: I was 28 with no contract in the offing, feeling very let down by my previous manager in England who had promised he’d take me on if the year with Teka didn’t work out – he was basically a liar who led me up the garden path that winter.
My outspoken comments re doping at the PCA (Professional Cyclists Association) AGM – I was the riders rep – I think sealed my fate.
I looked on as a plethora of second rate riders gained pro contracts for 1990.
“To hell with ’em ” was my response; there’s was no way I`d ride out of contract.
I raced for fun in 91 as a reinstated amateur, I got a bronze in the 50 km points race on the track and two Star Trophy (what is now the Premier Calendar) top tens and defeated the then national 25 mile time trial champion in my first 25 in four years .
I trained about twice a week and I guess it’s true that my best years physically were spent driving a taxi cab.
PEZ: When we were organising this interview, you referred to pro cycling as “disgusting” – why ?
DW: Because it’s run by small minded people who put winning at any price above all normal moral and ethical considerations.
And nothing has changed – only the money has improved.
The size of the bloody ego of the average Elite athlete borders on pathological.
Ironically, all of the true greats – Lemond, Kelly, Hinualt, Indurain have that “extra” that makes them more than just their wins – they have humility.
Doping is rife; has always been and is now far more effective.
Anyone who can’t understand that EPO, HGH and the rest give so great an advantage that without it all you can hope for is the leftovers, just doesn’t understand physiology.
The UCI, many race organisers, DS`s, doctors, some sponsors and the cycling media (some of the well known commentators are an insult to your intelligence) are all complicit.
Most doping riders are willing pawns in the grand charade.
I guess when your God is wealth it does that to people.
PEZ: I believe you suffered from depression after you quit – did you ever establish why ? and how is your health nowadays ?
DW: I suffered reactive depresion to personal circumstances of break up and bereavement – nothing unusual in the circumstances, but severe enough to cause two anger driven suicide attempts via overdose on presciption meds.
PEZ: With the benefit of hindsight, what would you have done differently with your career ?
DW: Broken a few noses!
I’m happy to say I kept my integrity; nothing matters more.
PEZ: What do you do these days ?
DW: I spent four years solid, immersed in study – something I’m still doing – and discovered a talent for counseling.
That’s what I do that now – and a bit of property improvement.
File under ‘perhaps Britain’s biggest ever waste of talent’ – if only we’d had Team Sky in 1987.