A tall rangy figure with a hint of a foreign accent mixed with the local brogue lines up at the start line of an evening bike race on the outskirts of a small village in rural Ireland. The machine beneath him has cables where cables have not been seen for many a year, coming out from atop the brake levers. The frame is steel and the wheels are shallow, have thirty six spokes and the sprockets have been screwed on. The bike is old and the rider feels old.
The race begins with the drop of a red flag and an ‘away ye go’ from a portly man smoking a silk cut blue. Immediately a bunch of thirty becomes a single line stretching out like an elastic band. The rangy rider finds himself in the middle but is being pushed out into the wind, both metaphorically and physically.
A small group of three create an uninhabited area of fifty meters between themselves and the chasing pack behind. With everyone going at full tilt this is either a sign of strength or over exuberance. Over the next twenty five kilometres the road that is always truthful will tell all.
The road narrows approaching a series of double bends, each well populated by divots the size of footballs, some call them potholes. A rider in red feels a hand on his shoulder. He turns to look directly into his own eyes reflected in a pair of Iridium Oakley Pilot lenses large enough to reflect the sun and light an entire town for a night. Anger is his first emotion, until a finger points down towards a bottle about to detach itself from its cage. Grudgingly he emits the word ‘thanks’ a word he is uncomfortable using in the presence of the rangy rider.
The leading trio now have a large enough distance between themselves and the marauding pack behind to be measured by the movement of a watch. Forty seven times the large red hand of a Citizen timepiece clicks forward in a circular motion from the time the trio pass a farm entrance until the arrival of the initial scouts leading the pack behind. The watch bearer senses that this is a gap that will only increase.
The rangy rider ignores the jibes and the whispered insults. He is an outcast and is comfortable with that, or so he thinks. A compulsion drives him to change gear. The change is not crisp, it is not precise but his chain does eventually drop into a sprocket with just twelve teeth, as he makes his way to the head of the pack.
Pent up anger releases through the muscles of his sinewy legs. He allows this to happen. He needs it to happen. He is not angry at being ostracised by the others, he is just angry with himself and the choices made at a time when he was perhaps too young to be a man but old enough to know better.
The trio become larger to those in the pack behind, a sign that the gap is narrowing. For ten kilometres three riders race against one, with a trailer of twenty six in tow. Eventually the tiring trio are no match for a lifetime of anger and are reabsorbed into the pack. A sign now indicates that a distance of just ten kilometres remains.
Attack after attack follows. Three times the rangy rider uses his anger and frustration to try to find that space out front where he can be alone with his anger and pain. The others will not allow this, it does not matter to them why, just who.
As a sign indicating three kilometres is passed a young gangly figure attacks. This boy will not be chased. He has just turned fifteen and has three uncles in the chasing pack. His grandfather is waiting at the finish line with a freshly lit silk cut blue hanging from the corner of his mouth . He has yet to win one of these races, but on this night his luck might just be in.
A sign indicating two kilometres is passed just as the road rises sharply. The boy up ahead is visibly tiring but there is not a desire to reattach him to the fold. Suddenly at a speed at least double that of the pack the rangy rider who had dropped off the back slightly in order to build up enough momentum and speed to prevent any front wheel attaching to his rear flies past and is soon on his way across to the boy as the top of the rise approaches. The boy is tiring as a sign for one kilometre is passed.
Behind, the pack want the boy to taste victory, but they do not want the rangy rider to taste anything other than his own blood. They face a conundrum and this leads to hesitation which leads to a sign for five hundred meters to be passed just as the duo up ahead pass a sign for four hundred.
The rangy rider tells the boy to take his wheel. He gradually increases his speed like a good team manager in fifth gear in a car getting a rider back on after a puncture. The boy is suffering but manages to keep up.
When the white finish line is in sight just fifty meters up ahead the rider pulls over and encourages the boy through. The excitement of youth creates a sprint that is more about a wobbly head and shoulders than power transferred to the pedals. The boy crosses the line first and raises a hand. He looks back at the rangy rider and gives a slight smile.
The rangy rider smiles back. All traces of anger have evaporated once more and he is happy. As happy as he has been for a long long time. Happy to have seen his son win his first race, within an hour of seeing his only son for the first time in his life.