After a number of years of restless retirement , Rocky Power finds himself riding down memory lane one afternoon . He had closed the chipper that he now owns for a few hours and headed out on the bike. With no fixed destination in mind, he finds himself cruising through the old neighborhood. He still wears the black woolen cycling gear that was popular back in the day. The Aluminium Vitus with a Mavic groupset looks dated but still works well enough.
He stops off at the old bike shop that he got his first road bike from. Leaning the Vitus against the window before sauntering inside he wonders if much has changed since his days as National Champion almost twenty years ago. He spots Jacky O’Keefe behind the counter and gives the man who used to service all his bikes a small wave . Jacky waves back and says ‘ Howaya Rock ‘ before continuing chatting to a group of Lycra clad youngsters all in matching white and fluorescent pink skinsuits.
As Rocky browses through a vast array of different makes, models, sizes and colours of tyres (he was used to cx tubs plain and simple) he overhears one of the riders chatting to Jacky talking about his wattage output on Seskin the previous evening. He knows Seskin hill well but the rest of the conversation might aswell be in swaheeli for all the sense Rocky can make of it all.
He is staring into a glass cabinet containing a Dura Ace electronic groupset wondering if it’s some sort of cctv system when one of the’ lycra’ group looks over and says ‘ hey love the wooly’s man ‘ .
Rocky senses the condescending tone but just replies a mumbled ‘ ahh yea , thanks ‘
The lean lanky tanned teenager sensing an opportunity to show off in front of his friends then asks Rocky ‘ How’s the farm lately ? ‘
Rocky answers without looking from the glass cabinet ‘ I dont live on a farm ‘
‘ No ?, well I bet where ever you do live it’s the type of place where men are men and sheep are nervous ‘
Jacky steps in and says to the teenager ‘ Hey Marion, cool it and show a little respect for a former National Champion ‘
‘ He doesnt look like much of a National Champion to me ! ‘
Rocky , who had been stooped over the cabinet now stands up straight and turns towards the young upstart thus exposing his formidable lean muscular physique and says ‘ Marion , huh , I always thought that was, like, a girls name ‘
The now wounded teenager does not yet have the sense to recognise defeat, and still hoping to redeem himself in front of his friends comes back with a futile retort ‘ It’s Italian like Mario Cippolini but with an ‘n’ if you’ve ever heard of him, he was a World Champion ‘
‘ Mario, yea I know him. I raced against him in the Ruben Grantier and a few other races back when I was doing a bit. When I was opening my chipper he sent his cousin over to help me out for a few weeks.’
‘You know Mario Cippolini ?’ a look of shock and embarrassment now crossing the teenagers face.
Jacky is standing behind the counter now smiling away to himself as he watches the teenager turn from ‘brash to hash’ and Rocky who could easily have further belittled the boy, instead begins telling the group of youngsters a few stories about races he rode on the continent. They are all enthralled by Rockys exploits and all shake his hand as they head on their way. The last to leave is Marion who still has a red tinge of embarrassment on his face as he apologizes to Rocky. Rocky puts his hand on his shoulder and says ‘ Hey kid , the man who never made a mistake, never made anything. Don’t worry about it. Growing up is tough, maybe today you grew up a little bit more’
When they are alone Jacky asks Rocky if he ever thought of going back racing ?
Rocky pauses before answering ‘ yea maybe sometimes I feel like I got a little unfinished business on the road, but then I think how old I am now and how much the bikes have changed. Even the training, I dunno the first thing about those whats or watts or whatever those kids are into nowadays. ‘
‘It aint about the bike or the watts Rock, it’s about the legs and the heart. You’ve still got the legs and if you still have the heart to fight to win a race you should at least give it one more try. The Nationals are back in Carrick this year and they are putting everyone off together, Pros, A1’s, A2’s and vets . Fifteen laps of straight up Seskin, down Millvale and back into Carrick. It would suit you down to the ground Rock. I’ve got the entry form here, why not give it a lash ?’
‘Aww I dunno Jacky, maybe I’m not able for that anymore. Maybe I’d be dropped on the first lap ‘
‘Not able for it !, you. You were the toughest nut ever to sit on two wheels. You always said it wasn’t about how many times you were dropped but how many times you got back on and attacked ! You gotta do this Rock, you’ll never sleep right until you do !’
‘Gimme the God damn form. I’ll give it a lash if only to shut you up ‘
And so it is, Rocky is now in training for the biggest comeback of his life .
It’s 5 am on a damp Tuesday morning. Rocky rolls out of bed and leaves wife Mary Ann alone in the warmth of the duvet. He goes downstairs and opens the fridge. He removes a carton of orange juice and a tray of half a dozen eggs. He half fills a glass with the juice and breaks the six raw eggs in to the glass also. With one gulp he downs the concoction and pulls on his cycling gear . Before heading out into the blustery damp morning he puts a tape into his sony walkman and presses the play button. The tape by a group called survivor is one of his favourites .
With the rainwater now spraying up from his two wheels and the strong wind pinning his La Vie Claire cape against his chest Rocky pounds hard on the pedals as he heads up the back road from Carrick towards Clonmel. The chain is seated on the 53t big ring and Rocky intends on leaving it there for the whole spin . A grimace of pain as he rises from the saddle to power over each hill reveals just how hard he is pushing. Out of Ballymac he drops it into the eleven and is almost chewing the handlebars as he struggles to stay in the saddle for a bit of power training on the steep incline. Dungarvan comes into sight with 46mph now displayed on his avocet speedometer. The pike was always a good place to attack in a race and to the sound of ‘Eye of the tiger’ Rocky attacks it now with the ferocity of a wild animal in search of its only meal of the day. Dropping down the new line into Carrick the adhesion of both tyres is tested to the limit as Rocky takes every chance imaginable to see just how fast he can go on a bike.
Below him now is the fast approaching turn for Seskin hill and Rocky makes the decision to leave it in the big ring for one of the countries most ferocious climbs. He had forgotten just how much pain this climb could inflict on a cyclist but now he gets remember every bit of it. Within sight of the top he drops it from a 21 to a 19 and then in 53×17 he roars over the top at a speed never before seen on such an incline . Raising both hands from the bars saluting his own efforts he now knows that he is ready for the Champs .
Race day and Rocky lines up on the start line behind the cream of Irish cycling. They are all here , Martin Daniels , Dan ‘Digger’ Philips , Benny Samuels, Donny Edmonds, Sean Damon, Christy McBrien, Ronny Nichols and the pocket rocket himself Brian O’Patterson.
The race starts at a frantic pace and Rocky struggles to just hold the wheel in front. First time up Seskin and Daniels puts in a savage attack that blows the field apart. Rocky misses the move and struggles for a full lap to get back in contact with the resulting breakaway group. Just as he latches on Christy McBrien puts in a savage turn at the front which splits the group and Rocky once more finds himself in a fight to get back on terms with the now dwindling lead group.
With just four of the fifteen laps remaining Rocky is 30 seconds off the lead group as they approach Seskin . He is in a group of twenty and is first round the corner . He goes to change down into the small ring when his front mech jams and he is forced into trying to get up the twenty percent gradient overgeared. He had done so in training but not with 11 laps of a national championship race in his legs. Summoning power from the depth of his being he manages to get the gear rolling and as he crests the top of the climb the lead group are now in sight just 10 seconds ahead. He risks life and limb on the descent to catch back up and the now group of six are very surprised to see him appear with just 3 laps remaining.
A game of cat and mouse takes place approaching Seskin with Dan ‘Digger’ Philips rolling off the front of the group . No one is willing to give chase and he is quickly disappearing up the road . Rocky knows that he will not be able to go with the counter attacks on Seskin whilst stuck in the big ring so 100 metres before the hill he launches himself off in pursuit of the lone escapee. All legs are hurting now, but Rocky is well used to pain so manages to close the gap to Philips as they begin the descent. Philips is momentarily stunned to see an almost fifty year old up with him at this stage of a National Champs but soon the two are working well together. A gap of twenty seconds is recorded as they pass through the start finish line with just 2 laps remaining.
Suddenly disaster strikes for Rocky as his frame snaps under him. He hits the ground hard but is quickly back up on his feet . He looks around for someone to give him a loan of a bike. Who happens to be across the road but Marion on his Carbon Pinarello Dogma . He is straight over and hands Rocky his bike without a second thought. The chase group passes just as Rocky hops on board , but it takes him a few hundred meters to figure out how to work the Campag Super Record gears . They are still in sight at the bottom of seskin and Rocky finds it much easier now in the small ring and on a much lighter bike to get back in contact.
Everyone is now on their limit and Rocky knows that even though his legs are screaming at him to stop that now is the time to attack. He goes for it and is joined by two others Sean Damon and Benny Samuels . Philips now has a 30 second gap and looks to have the race in the bag as they head out on the final lap . The final time up Seskin is where the race will be won and lost and where Rocky feels his rear tyre go soft . It’s a slow puncture on a tubular so he takes a chance that it will get him to the finish . He hangs on up the climb but on the descent the back of the bike is fishtailing so he has to back off a little. With just 2k to go he is in fourth place , just outside the medals . His heart sinks but then he thinks of Mary Ann standing at the finish line and puts it into the eleven . Sitting in the saddle he can see Damon just up ahead of him . Samuels has jumped the other former National Champion and it is now a four man individual time trial to the finish . Philips takes the victory and will get to wear the shamrock jersey on the continent during the forthcoming season . Samuels comes into view to take the silver medal position . The crowd at the finish are all now leaning over the barriers to see who will be next. Damon comes into sight first but just behind him wearing a mask of pain is local hero Rocky Power. Damon is sprinting out of the saddle but so too is Rocky even with the bike slipping and sliding violently beneath him . With his rear tyre now almost completely flat he lunges for the line and with a half bunny hop, half sprint is actually in mid air as he crosses the line next to Damon. It is too close to call and it is left to the photo finish judge to adjudicate. He rules in favour of …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………
Damon . Rocky missed out on a National Championship medal at the age of forty nine by just 2 mm. However he is still called up to the podium and presented with a special award for the most courageous effort ever seen at a National Championship.
Speaking with Jacky after the race he admits that ‘ I’m glad I did it , even though I didn’t get the win or even a medal . But at least it’s all out of my system and I can get back to frying chips and riding my bike for pleasure with an easy mind ‘
This was the final part of a trilogy ;
First there was Rocky the cyclist : http://thecyclingblog.com/rocky-the-cyclist/
then there was Rocky part I…V : http://thecyclingblog.com/rocky-the-cyclist-part-iv/