DISTANCE 36 miles or 57.6km
MAIN CLIMB Hill around Castle Rushen. Only a short climb with about a 1-in-15 gradient
TOTAL CLIMB 400m
ACHTUNG! Look out for the tram lines on Douglas Promenade which have been the downfall of many a cyclist over the years
Back in the 1980s it was nearly impossible to get a pro cycling contract in the UK unless you had a nickname. Keith ‘Legs’ Lambert, ‘Super’ Sid Barras and Phil ‘Staffordshire Engine’ Bayton were just a few of the colourful characters on the scene.
But among all of these larger-than-life figures was a diminutive Manxman who had the best moniker of the lot: the ‘Pocket Rocket’ — aka Steve Joughin. Look back on videos of the Kellogg’s Start crits, the Milk Race or the Tour of Britain and you will see him mixing it with the best, and often beating them.
There was a lot more to Joughin than just a catchy nickname. Steve, aged 48, lives in Stoke-on-Trent now where he runs his Pro-Vision cycle clothing business with son Ben. But he returns to his Isle of Man roots when he can.
Steve’s ride began outside Sir Norman’s bar in Douglas. It’s named after Sir Norman Wisdom who is the Isle of Man’s most famous resident. After posing for pictures the Pocket Rocket sets off along Douglas Promenade, fighting against a strong wind coming in off the Irish Sea.
The island, says Steve, can be a tough place to ride a bike, but despite the weather it is an ideal place to grow up for anyone who loves cycling. He heads south to Ballasalla and on to Castletown, home to Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson. Mr Clarkson is not averse to giving abuse to cyclists, but he’d be unwise to pick on the feisty Pocket Rocket.
Back for lunch
There’s no sign of Clarkson as we head to Castle Rushen and on to Peel. The ride ends back in Douglas and it’s time for lunch at Sir Norman’s, where Steve can reflect on his career and on why the Isle of Man has always produced more than its fair share of top riders.
”We used to have junior road races around King George’s Park in Douglas, and I just turned up one day and had a go racing round in jeans and trainers. I got battered first time out but I carried on and began to enjoy the camaraderie of racing,” he says.
He joined the Manx Road Club, and by the age of 16 he realised that he had talent and won the Merseyside divisional road race championships in 1976 and 1977.
He then became the first Manx rider to win the national junior road race series and had his sights set on a pro career. Money was tight, and the extra expense of having to fly or sail to the UK to race made it more difficult for Joughin than for riders across the water. But he says that the Isle of Man played a big part in his progress to the pro ranks.
“It’s a great place to train — the terrain is hard and bike riding is more part of the culture here than in the UK,” he says.
“We used to do all-day clubruns where we would get back at dusk from an eight-hour ride. Doing that sort of ride from a young age really helped me later on. The rides were fun, so you never really felt that it was training, we just enjoyed it.”
He turned pro, aged 23, in 1983, with the Staffordshire-based Moducel team, and won seven races in his first year. He went on to notch up two British national road titles in 1984, in the Isle of Man, and in 1988 in Newport, Shropshire.
But it was in the Kellogg’s city centre criterium series on Channel 4 in the ’80s that Joughin became one of the stars of the show, as UK pros did battle with the best that Continental Europe had to offer. Television viewers became used to seeing the smallest guy in the race firing himself out of the peloton, and it was this that led to commentator Phil Liggett creating his ‘Pocket Rocket’ nickname.
For Joughin, those crits provided him with some of the most exciting times of his life, with thousands turning out to watch.
“They were the fastest town centre races in the world, and the British professionals were the best around at that type of racing,” he says. “We could match anyone from the Continent. The public loved it because it was easier for them to understand than a stage race. Those crits were the only races where the next day my eyes were more sore than my thighs. The pace of the race meant that you strained your eyes because you had to concentrate so hard.”
Joughin particularly remembers winning one Kellogg’s crit in Manchester. “The crowds were 10 deep, and the voice of Hugh Porter on the PA system was drowned out by the noise,” says Steve.
But his 1987 win on the 111-mile Manchester to Birmingham stage of the Kellogg’s Pro Tour of Britain, against the likes of Sean Kelly, proved that Joughin was more than just a sprinter.
“It was a fear-based ride because we were going through Stoke the next day and I didn’t want to be struggling in my adopted home town. The stage to Birmingham was hilly and Stuart Coles and I were away on the finishing circuit.” Joughin outsprinted Coles to win.
But Joughin doesn’t mind if people look at his career and think of him as a sprinter. It’s all about crossing the line first. Of course he was fast and beat some of the top sprinters of that time. Tour de France green jersey winner Djamolidine ‘Tashkent Terror’ Abdoujaparov even saw the Pocket Rocket’s back wheel in stages of the Milk Race.
Joughin won five Milk Race stages which contributed to an impressive palmarès. He could have made it on the Continent, but he always preferred to stay this side of the Channel as he felt being away from friends and family for months at a time would have been difficult to cope with.
Nowadays his business commitments mean that he doesn’t ride his bike as often as he would like. But he loves it just as much as he ever did, and nowhere better than in the Isle of Man.
YOUR GUIDE: STEVE JOUGHIN
* Age 48, lives in Stoke-on-Trent
* Career highlights: two British road race titles (1984 and 1988), stage win in Kellogg’s Pro Tour of Britain (Birmingham, 1987)
* Fave food: Italian
* Fave music: Thin Lizzy and any ’70s and ’80s stuff which reminds him of the time when he was racing
Start outside Sir Norman’s Bar on Douglas Promenade and head south following the signs for A6 and Ballasalla. Join the A25 and then turn left (TL) onto the A5 and into Ballasalla. Head for Castletown on the A5 and TL up to Rushen Castle, then head north on the A5 and then right onto the A28 towards Ballabeg.
In the town, take the B42 and then go onto the A27 to the Round Table crossroads and turn right (TR). Follow this road then TL onto the A3 and go through Foxdale and straight on through Ballacraine crossroads. About half a mile after the crossroads, TL onto the Poortown Road and into Peel. TL in Peel city and follow the signs all the way back to Douglas. TL at Quarterbridge and TR into Alexander Drive. Follow to the T-junction, and TR and then immediately TL into Derby Road. Follow to T-junction and TR, and you are back on Douglas Prom for a short ride back to Sir Norman’s.