Will Curtin has been on the Irish cycling scene for a long time now. As a former junior international who competed at the World Championships, he now coaches many of the top domestic under 23 riders who race with his Cork Giant race team, which he also sponsors via his Giant brand store in Ballincollig on the outskirts of Cork city. Here he gives an open minded perspective on a topic that is making headlines at present with Lance Armstrong coming to Ireland soon to speak at the one zero conference. He also points out where we might look to find the real heroes of cycling.
With the recent TUE reports being leaked by a bunch of Russian teddy bears or something, it has brought not just cycling but sport in general into the spotlight for all the wrong reasons again. Isn’t it just amazing that soon after a number of Russian athletes get banned from competing in the Olympics that a group of Russian Teddy Bears all of a sudden publish all this information on some of our favourite snow white athletes ! Good old Vladimir isn’t the type to go down without a dirty fight first I think.
How do we all (unknowingly) aide the rise and fall of athletes who are heroes one day and villains the next, like Lance Armstrong for instance. It goes back to same thinking of how we now demand everything. We want our athletes to both show vulnerability and power in equal measures! We want to be entertained on our couch while drinking our beer convincing ourselves that if I buy the bike and gear etc. cleverly showcased by the big guy’s on TV adverts in between Lance attacking on some alpine stage again at the tour, we too can be like him a little. Lance then was the ultimate pin up advert for both all our demands and the business’s that need him to promote and sell their product! Nike, Trek, UCI and even Livestrong did incredibly well out of Lance. Fast forward to his “downfall” if you like and all of sudden all these “brands” are shocked and horrord at the “revelation” Lance doped!! Of course big bucks made, now was the time to step back quickly and disassociate themselves from Lance. And they did but what’s interesting to me, let’s look at Nike for example, how many of these “scandals” have Nike being through with various athletes and sports?? They still continue to support these sports though don’t they? and we continue to buy the products that support and even encourage these athlete’s to keep pushing and pushing the limit!! Now there’s a thought, are we playing our part?? Should we then be so quick to critic Lance and others on social media platforms?? It’s very complex to say the least! Looking back on all of what Lance did and especially the Irish involved I think to myself if Emma O’Reilly is big enough to forgive Lance and move on then maybe we should too. I once messaged Emma and to my surprise she replied, what a role model and ambassador she has been for our little country!
My first encounter with Lance was with a magazine called “Winning”. It was late 1993 and I had just stopped off in a shop on my way home from swimming lessons in Mallow swimming pool. I used to go every fortnight or so with neighbours and always on the way back we would stop at a shop for sweets. This is where I first saw Lance on the front of winning cycling magazine. I desperately wanted this as I was instantly drawn to the sheer aggression on his face winning the world championship. The fact that he was American and won at the time appealed to me because in general it was often an Italian or Belgian or Dutch guy who won the Worlds so this added to excitement. I’m from that generation where even to this day we wished Sean Kelly won a world title and we all believe if Kelly was of the generation of 22 speed di2 group sets with sprint shifters then he would have pissed that gallop in Chambery in ’89 and Lemond would have been a good 2nd! Even to this day we want to believe if Kelly decided to race again there would be a chance he would win the world’s……
To get that magazine I had to ask the lady behind the counter to hold onto it for me, for six weeks she held onto it, allowing me the read it in store every fortnight until I had saved all my sweet money up to purchase it. Once I did that, I read it back to front over and over again, unlike today’s news where it gets updated by the minute or you can switch from YouTube clip to YouTube clip as you wish without finishing the whole thing, I had to save up for that magazine and as such the value and respect for it was huge and your attention was held!
As a kid racing in Ireland in the early 90’s the most I really knew about pro cycling was the Nissan Classic so what really was fascinating to me was the local scene. I got to see the big senior races, Blarney Three day (now Ras Mumhan) from a neutral service car and if I was lucky John Joe Daly from Listowel was driving, which to me was like being a double 0 in the lakes of Killarney. The Ras from either the finishing barriers truck or next to Peter Reilly holding the finish flag or my absolute favorite, “the Kingdom series” usually in a commissaries car. I got to see all the action and all I wanted to do was grow up fast and race all these guys! The Kingdom Series was like a huge cycling holiday, families took the week off to race the week where underage riders and the coutries best seniors got to race on the same day. My favourite was in Athea where the Mulvihles always put on a big spread and since it was a downhill into a left hand turn for the finish there was always some sort of excitement. These guy’s I could see week in week out at races and the kingdom series gave us a chance to be at the same races and feel part of it all, we looked up to those riders and wanted to be like them. So in a time of TUE’s, Doping Confessions and constant demand for everything to be perfect maybe we should look around rather than up to find that,
“A Working Class Hero is something to be”