The main road between Carrick on Suir and Clonmel is probably the most heavily populated cyclists route on a Sunday morning in Ireland . For well over thirty years now any Belgian or French holiday maker would have felt right at home should they travel this stretch of road between nine and ten AM on any given Sunday . There is , of course more than one group or ‘gang’ of riders and over time a natural selection process has occurred .
The ‘racing’ gang has gone through a number of phases . Back in the days of the ICF and the NCA there were two racing groups , Cidona and Carrick Wheelers . But just as the Good Friday Agreement calmed the mood up North , a similar atmosphere of peace and reconciliation decended upon the racing cyclists of Carrick as two became one . The ‘Tony Ryan’ group as it became known catered for all racing , former racing and wannabe racing cyclists around Carrick and Clonmel . At 8.59.15 AM each Sunday morning Tony would roll out of his back gate on O’Mahony avenue and pass by the old ESB offices at 9.00.00 AM and everyone present would fall in behind in a tightly packed two abreast manner . The tempo would always be steady -hard and you were always sure of a good workout . ‘Ryaner’ would always know where the group should in order to ensure a 3.05.00 60 mile lap of Ballymac . Unfortunatly Tony now trains less and does his own 1.30 min spin on Sunday mornings so the gang can sometimes be left a little rudderless .
At the same time as Tonys gang was at its peak another gang formed to cater for the more leisurely cyclists . Jim O’Keefe formed Carrrick Touring Club and here the pace was a little more sedate and it was an easier way into the sport for beginners . It even became a feeder group for riders who wished to progress up to the more intense pace of Tonys group and many are still there today such as Vinny Cronin and Theo English . As time has passed Jim’s group now contains as many Hybrids as Road bikes but the consistency of numbers is still there with at least ten to twelve out each Sunday morning .
The ‘racing’ gang can fluctuate wildly with sometimes eighty riders on the road in mid-january to perhaps just eight or ten at this time of year . This fluctuation is due to a number of factors . Mid-winter all of the racers are present and correct as is the big man Kelly himself . The wannabe racers see this as their season and their chance to beat Kenneally , Clarky or even Kelly into Carrick and so are there in force . Pre-Ras everyone races every Sunday and there are plenty of local races to choose from so numbers go well down . Then as the summer progresses races are further afield , the peak of the season ( Ras time ) has passed and the group begins to enlarge once more .
The pace , however , of both groups would always see the racing gang travelling at least two to three mph faster than the touring group , or so it was until yesterday .
Passing Barlo’s garage the noise level increased slightly and without looking around all of the riders in the ‘Racing’ gang knew that the group had quickly doubled in size . Just as approaching thunder can be felt in the air each rider knew immediately that another group had caught up to them . The nervous glint in one or two eyes betrayed what they thought and feared . In a split second calculations were made . What other group would be on this road today ? could it possibly be the touring group that had caught the racing group ?
All of their fears were confirmed as seventy three year old Jim O’Keefe confidently rode up along the outside of the group on his paganini carbon hybrid to the head of affairs . George Bush once spoke of ‘Shock and Awe’ and this is exactly what was felt as Iraqi suicide bomb brigades would have found willing volunteers for a few brief moments among the so called racers . Luckily Ryaner was off in the other direction heading between Faugheen and Piltown at the time and was not there to see it .
By the time both gangs reached the far side of Clonmel two miles later normal service had resumed and valuable non dilly dallying lessons had been learned by all racers present . There was some speculation that perhaps a double agent may have been the cause of what happened as Theo had spent quite a bit of time at the front of the group and he had begun his career in the touring gang although this was later discounted .
The day , however , belonged to Jim O’Keefe and his band of merry touring men who have now earned at least five years of bragging rights over the ‘racing ‘ gang .