For many years now The Lacey Cup in Tralee on the last Sunday of February has been the season opener for Munster riders. A hard circuit with two tough climbs it always manages to blow out the cobwebs of the winter training regime and also gives people a good gauge of where their true fitness is at. With the idea of riding a few races this year after an eight year sabbatical a chance conversation with Vinnie Maher in Carrick convinced me this would be a good place to put my name on a sign on sheet for my first one back.
It wasn’t the talk of two good hard climbs, nor the chance for A4’s to pick up a very well compensated prime along the way that convinced me but rather the whole arrangement that Tralee BC have with their club and race sponsor, the Manor West hotel that made my mind up for me. The Hotel was offering a special discounted rate for participants along with a 4.30 check out and full use of the Leisure club facilities for all the family. I could bring my gang along and they would enjoy it too which is important to anyone with a young family.
So off we set shortly after lunchtime yesterday (Saturday) and arrived at the Hotel around 4pm. The staff in the hotel could not have been nicer to the kids and I was delighted too to see a secure room with cages for individual bikes where my other baby could spend the night safe and warm. On into the leisure centre, where the Tralee BC framed jerseys take pride of place, and there was Vinnie and his gang too. The kids were enjoying the pool so I hopped into the sauna. Soon a conversation developed and there were the locals all chatting about the Lacey Cup. Everyone seemed to do a bit on the bike and by the time I left all were wishing me well for the race. Cycling and the Lacey Cup in particular is a big deal to the people of Tralee and Kerry in general.
This morning as we strolled out of the dining room after breakfast there was the sign on right alongside so over I went before heading upstairs to get changed. A more relaxing way to spend the morning of a race I could not imagine. I also had my own toilet which can be a big deal before a race !
Now on to the main event itself. We rolled out from the front door of the hotel at 11.45 towards the official start out near Blennerville. I was in the group of 111 A4’s who were left off 2 minutes ahead of the A3’s and so on. I was expecting a hammer drop from the gun but as I looked down at the Garmin to see us doing 28 to 30kph I thought that in the Carrick training group someone would be shouting to ‘drive on’ at this speed with the slight tailwind. I was thinking of how soon the A3 group would be up to us and then how quickly the rest would follow.
There were a few attacks and a group strolled up the road and got a decent enough gap. Then a Frenchman from Killarney took off 20 meters ahead of the bunch for a k or two. The reason that I know he was French is because he spent that whole 2k stuck to the ditch on the wrong side of the road, around blind bends with double white lines, the whole lot. Eventually his croissant repeated on him or something and he was back in the fold and I didn’t spot him again. Perhaps he went off in search of Kerrygold butter or something.
The disadvantage with not having raced for 8 years is that you don’t know who the strong guys are and when ones and twos started drifting up the road at the bottom of the climb up Gleann na Gealt I convinced myself that they would be caught when the hammer went down. I also wasn’t paying enough attention to which were A4’s and which were A3’s and soon there was a considerable gap open as we were now over half way up the climb. I tried a few attacks to bridge the gap but didn’t have the legs to drive all the way across. The cup on offer at the top would have impressed the kids and was targeted but I just ended up going over the top between the break and the bunch with a Tralee CC (not BC on this occasion) rider who looked strong on a nice Giant TCR.
On down through Annascaul and the break were doing a fine job up ahead as were the A1’s who were closing in rapidly behind. Just past Inch strand and there they were. The posse had arrived and were intent on doing some damage. Now the serious attacking began. I was looking around and now saw some familiar faces from before. Howaya Robin, Howaya Paudie, Howya Rory, Howaya Timmy, Howaya John. These guys I raced against before and now something in my brain switched on. Instead of being a good sensible A4 and sitting in trying to save enough energy to get over the final climb there I was attacking off the front. Whenever I saw a gap or there was a slight stall my brain would say attack ! and off I’d go while my legs would just shout up at me ‘what the hell are you at you eejit ?’ I couldn’t help myself, sure I knew that I didn’t have the power to launch a proper decent attack but I was racing and not just being a bit of bunch fodder and I was loving every second of it.
There was another thought floating around too. To get good at anything you must do it again and again. To get to the stage where I will be able to launch proper attacks I have to launch plenty of the ones that I’m capable of now and everytime I do that, it will make me stronger for the next race.
I saw a strong looking break head up the road and then noticed Iverk’s Rory Wyley bringing John Dempsey to the front where he took off and managed to get across. One of many good examples of teamwork in action that I noticed today along with impressive cohesive riding by Aqua Blue and Planet Tri.
On through Castlemaine and to the foot of the final climb of the day up Slieve Mish. I was convinced that all hell would break loose here and hoped to just try to hang on. I slotted in about 8 back from the front on Barry Twohig’s wheel to give myself some sliding room when needed. Paudie O’Brien went to the front with Barry Meade and they set a very strong tempo which discouraged any attacks and began closing the gap to the break up ahead. I was digging in holding on waiting for the onslaught of attacks which didn’t seem to be happening. 2k to the top and I was feeling a little more confident about holding on. Then about 500m later there was an attack which was closed down pretty quickly when a gap opened in front of me. Sure what could I do but have a go. I was closed down again pretty quickly but when I looked behind the group was pretty lined out and the guy who brought me back looked under a bit of pressure so I went again. I got about 50 meters and going over the top was praying for someone to jump across and see if we could lash it down the descent. My prayer was answered when Eoin Whyte from Youghal came along. A junior international in the past and a good strong rider, if the group ahead started messing around before the sprint and the bunch stalled behind who knows what could happen. Sadly nothing happened and we were swallowed up half way down the descent now only 3k from the finish. I tried to hold a good position and with just 1k to go I was on Robin Kelly’s wheel with his aqua blue train in front and Barry Meade on my wheel. Then low and behold after all jumping around the road going nowhere my legs when introduced to the twelve decided to cramp up. That’ll teach you they said, so I just had to roll across the line chatting to Timmy Barry who has grown a bit of a beard since that last time I raced against him. That was something I wasn’t expecting.
Ciara and the girls were at the finish line and of course the first question 5 year old Kate asked was’ Why didn’t you win Daddy ?’ Now, she thinks that I’m like the Superman Daddy on the new Toyota ad so ‘I just wasn’t good enough’ wouldn’t cut the mustard and instead I had the chance to go through the ‘I didn’t win but I did try my very best and gave it 100% which is what’s really important’, conversation and that seemed to get a good response.
Back to the hotel for a lovely shower under one of those rainfall shower heads, the only type of rain that I saw all weekend. Downstairs where a great spread of tea and sandwiches was laid on for all and finally checked out just after 4pm which was just so handy.
The organisation was superb with every junction and obstacle well marshalled. Photographers on Motorbikes patrolling the race giving it a real professional feel. Most of the photos are available from www.blackumbrellaphotography.com
Sean Lacey won the race today and if anyone had a ‘Carlsberg day’ it was him. The Lacey cup in honour of his grandfather and organised by his father and uncle is now the biggest one day cycle race in Kerry. To win it once would have been fantastic but today Sean Lacey won the Lacey Cup for the fifth time in a row. In Kerry that’s as good as 5 All Ireland football medals and in Irish cycling it’s just incredible.