Jones Engineering are one of the sponsor names that you will see on the An Post Chainreaction Sean Kelly team jersey. For the past two years they have run a cycling day for employees and clients based in the scenic village of Ballymacarbry at the foot of the Nire Valley.
Along with giving employees and clients of the company the opportunity to cycle with the great Sean Kelly, the day also manages to raise considerable funds for a local charity.
The day began with a bike maintenance demonstration given by Ray and myself. With a varied group of cyclists the plan is to have each person leave with some new nugget of information on how to take care of their bike, or how to cope with an emergency repair, that they may not have had before.
This was followed by the cycle itself. This year there was a choice of two routes, a 60k and 67k route. Both started together and continued for a good while together but then the 60k took a flat road home whilst the 67k faced a mountain.
The spin began with a relatively flat route over to Clogheen along the foot of the Knockmeldown mountains, in the shadow of ‘The Vee’. Then back through Ardfinnan for a water and food stop.
Leaving Ardfinnan the pace increased and the hammer went down. Groups splintered along the road and now the race was on. This was not the time to be caught at the rear of the group, or what had now become groups. A frantic chase into the block headwind ensued before rejoining the second group on the road. A green jersey was coming back from a now very small and elite group up ahead. If the second group was good enough for Kelly that would do us fine too. Approaching Clonmel those choosing the 60k route turned right back towards Ballymacarbry.
The second, 67k option, gave us the opportunity to tackle the longest climb in the Comeragh Mountains. The mountain road from bottom to top is eleven kilometres of varying degrees of pain. Starting gradually from the Raheen road with a few ramps along the way to the seven kilometre mark.
There we turned right, onto an alpine gradient with switchbacks to boot. Just as we crossed a cattle grid and relief swept through our bodies a small sign directed us left. This was followed by a right that aimed us at the summit itself. At this point the gradient is not brutal but a combination of tired legs and an ever present blustery wind combined to wreak havoc on already exhausted bodies.
The summit displayed the panoramic beauty of The Nire Valley itself, which even on an overcast, windy day is still spectacular. You should see it on a clear day !
Next came a fearsome descent with a gradient that encourages very high speeds but a corresponding prevailing cross wind that terrifies those not familiar with the route.
A short roll back through the valley returned us to the Ballymacarbry Community centre where we were presented with a sumptuous feast from the nearby critically acclaimed Hanoras Cottage.
Then came, what for many was the real highlight of the day, a questions and answers session with one of the greatest cyclists of all time, Sean Kelly.
The topics ranged from Chris Froomes chances of defending his Tour title (good), through to potential future Irish stars (Dunbar). How did the bikes that Kelly raced on compare to todays ? (all were worse than todays entry level racer) What did Sean think about race radios ? (in favour of them) and is Sam Bennett a future Tour stage winner ? (yes)
When asked about suffering he said ‘suffering at the front of the race is much different from suffering at the back’
Regarding financial compensation for riders ‘Win a Classic now and you make more than I made in my three best years, and that includes accounting for inflation’
Sean remarked on how much life in general has changed since his time, and that back then every part of life was harder so bike riders were harder too as a result.
He noted that during the Celtic Tiger years there were few people who had time to volunteer with clubs and organisations and that now people have more time and different priorities, the results of which can be easily seen.
The questions flowed and the answers both entertained and informed. Then a question was asked “How come someone as tough and hard as you had to pull out of the Tour of Spain in sight of victory because of a saddle sore ?’
Silence descended on the room.
Sean looked directly at the questioner and gave a shrug
‘Well, the pain of a cut or a broken bone is one thing. The pain of a boil that has to be cut open and have three stitches. The pain of sitting on a saddle for four or five hours constantly right on that open wound. The pain of those stitches rupturing as you continue on. That is another level of pain again ! I rode for four or five days with the boil. Then it had to be cut open and drained and three stitches inserted. I rode the time trial the following day and the stitches ruptured almost immediately. After that I knew that I could not go on’
There was an inspirational feeling from that interaction. The fact that a man who many view as superhuman is actually human after all makes it possible to relate to his career and victories in a different way. If this guy is human, an ordinary man who feels pain like the rest of us, how much effort, dedication, perseverance, hard work and guts did it take for him to achieve all that he did. If he could do all that what’s stopping anybody from accomplishing more in their own lives ?
Here is a video clip of the day. Towards the end you will see Sean descend at over 80kph in a brutal crosswind.
[iframe src=<iframe src=”//player.vimeo.com/video/97596794″ width=”500″ height=”283″ frameborder=”0″ webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen allowfullscreen></iframe> <p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/97596794″>Jones Engineering Cycle Day 2014</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/thecyclingblog”>The Cycling Blog</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>]