Guinness is the answer but what is the question ? Well the question is what can save cycling ? and the answer really might be as simple as a few pints of Guinness.
Pat McQuaid as president of the UCI is the most powerful man in world cycling. Paul Kimmage is the crusading journalist who has dedicated his lifes work to exposing the cheats within the sport. Both men are from the greater Dublin area. Both grew up in homes obsessed with cycling and both have loved the sport from a young age.
The McQuaid and Kimmage families are probably the two best known cycling families in Ireland. Their fathers raced against each other, Pat being a few years older did not race against Paul but their brothers raced against each other at the highest levels. For many years there was always a Kimmage or a McQuaid on every Irish national cycling team. In 1991 Pauls brother Kevin aka ‘Jacko’ won the Ras and in 1995 Pats brother Paul also won Ireland’s greatest race.
When Paul Kimmage achieved Ireland’s greatest ever placing at the amateur World Championships by finishing 6th in 1985 the Irish team manager on the day was one Pat McQuaid.
From then on their paths diverged.
Kimmage became a pro and was one of the fab four. Kelly, Roche, Early and Kimmage were the heroes of a generation of young Irish cycling fans much like the beatles were to music lovers of the sixties.
What they were achieving on the continent was incredible but it wasn’t until the Nissan Classic showcased their talent on Irish soil that they were fully appreciated in their homeland. The ‘Nissan’ gave young Irish fans access to these new found heroes and a whole generation were inspired to get out on their bikes and try to follow in the wheel tracks of the ‘Fab four’. The main man behind organising the Nissan Classics was again none other than Pat McQuaid.
It wasn’t the only time he managed to bring cyclings’ elite level riders to our shores. He was also responsible for securing the start of the 1998 Tour de France on Irish soil.
For teenagers who were inspired to take up cycling, often they pretended to be one of their heroes. On the road from Carrick to Clonmel you were Kelly in Time trial mode. An imaginary Jimmy McGee was commentating in your ear as Bonnie Tyler sang in the background. Up around the hairpin bend on the mountain road you were Roche coming into view on La Plagne with Phil Liggett getting all excited. At the end of a spin lashing around the corners on the way back into town you were Early taking the final corner on the way to a Tour stage win in Pau. But on Sunday when you were hanging on for dear life on the spin around Ballymac, needing to dig a little deeper and in search of the tenacity to fight to hold the wheel in front you were Kimmage and you always made it back into Carrick in the group.
For a small country Ireland tends to have a disproportionate effect on global affairs. After the great depression they went out and rebuilt America. Right now Aer Lingus planes leaving Shannon bound for New York are full of Irish Carpenters, Electricians, Plumbers and Brickies all ready to get stuck in rebuilding areas devastated by Hurricane Sandy. The Irish may have a huge role to play in rebuilding cycling after the current turmoil but will have to get over the nations other favourite pass-time of fighting amongst themselves first.
Many Irish pubs have a snug. A small area with access to the bar but separated from the rest of the pub by frosted glass. Many a priest has heard confession in the snug and many a barman has heard a whole lot more. There is no surveillance device known to man that can pick up on conversations that take place in a snug. Perhaps Paul Kimmage and Pat McQuaid should meet up for a few pints in a snug.
With no money grabbing Laywers or hurlers on the ditch around and no clowns like your man from Skins trying to gain exposure from others adversity interfering they might be able to have an open and frank conversation.
Regarding that Skins guy who only began cycling sponsorship in 2008 and is looking for $2 million he might want to look in the mirror and ask why he didn’t turn on his computer and press the keys g.o.o.g.l.e. followed by c.y.c.l.i.n.g. space, d.o.p.i.n.g. if he was so concerned about negative effects on his business before entering into any sponsorship agreements. As the famous Spratty once said ‘ Steady Trapper, get of a that wheel Bubba !’
Over the first pint their might be a lot a name calling like f****r and b****cks but by the second they would have that out of their systems and begin to mellow a little. Over the third they might find a mutual acquaintance to take the piss out of and by the fourth they might reminisce about a good shared experience in the past. By the fifth pint a few apologies might be proffered and then there would be a row over each trying to take the blame upon themselves. After the sixth they might have their arms around each other and be singing ‘A Nation once again’ .
Meeting over breakfast the following morning could be the decisive moment. If Pat were to ask Paul to become his vice president at the UCI in charge of anti-doping a whole new era for cycling could begin. Pat, who has made mistakes in the past, has all the connections and handles the political side of cycling but Paul could be the vicious anti doping terrier who would have any cyclist considering doping shaking in their Northwave shoes. It would also be the ultimate way for cycling to regain some credibility with the general public.
Last Sunday out on a 3 hour spin in a group of almost 50 it was noticable how little talk there was of Armstrong or McQuaid or Kimmage. The general cycling public just want to get out and enjoy riding their bikes. When I got home, after a nice dinner that Ciara cooked I threw myself down on the couch only to be assaulted by two kids and a dog, and I was happy out. Then I casually picked up my phone and flicked around various sites reading about claims and counter claims and a thought struck me. Neither Paul Kimmage or Pat McQuaid could have been relaxed and at ease with an easy mind last Sunday.
Back when we were pretending to be our heroes out on the road it made you go faster. Having the right frame of mind pushed you on but there was a reverse side too. I remember one day going up Knocklofty hill I began to think about the 200 lines of ‘I must not fly paper aeroplanes in class’ that I had to do when I got home and I hadn’t even made the bloody thing. Suddenly the power went from my legs and I really struggled to make it to the top of the hill. The BCF and their sports psychiatrist Steve Peters understand all about the effects of how the mind works on producing results in races. If the two main protagonists in cycling are focussing their efforts on trying to bring each other down the whole sport can only suffer as a consequence.
Imagine if Pat McQuaid and Paul Kimmage could settle their differences over a pint of Guinness rather than in a court room, and if they could then go on with clear heads to work together how much could be accomplished by two men who deep down really do love the sport of cycling.
As for David Walsh who has also done huge work in exposing drug cheats in cycling, there are many other sports that really need his passion for exposing the truth to be focussed on them and it would be greedy of cycling to try to hang on to him too.