Just after 10 this morning Fitzy stormed up the driveway in the Subaru. Today was a going to be a long one and families were left behind as we headed off on a lads day out. Whilst other Lads days out might encompass mini busses, matches, pubs, clubs and maybe a little lycra, our Lads day out would encompass a van, 2 bikes, 4 hot legs and a lot of lycra.
The straight forward trip to Carlow takes almost eighty minutes but with Fitzy in the passenger seat it often feels more like Jules Vernes ‘Around the World in eighty minutes’ . First stop was a trip to France and ACBB, then on to DCM in Belgium, a quick trip home for the Ras before heading off again to Langkawi and then on to Australia.
Fitzy has raced with the best, fought with some and thought something to the rest. Petacchi, Taffi, O’Grady and McKewan have all felt the pressure of Fitzys breath down their necks. An eighty minute drive to a race with him in the passenger seat flies by as I am entertained and educated in equal measures, along with having a pain in my side from laughing. The day was starting well.
Today was the day of ‘The Des’ if your from Carlow or ‘The Hanlon’ for those beyond the county boundary. One of the toughest one day races on the Irish racing calendar. Well placed sign posts brought us to the sign on. Hopping out of the van it was cold but dry. A good day for a hard race. We got changed and lashed on a good bit of Hot embrocation to the legs.
The A1’s and 2’s headed off first and then the A 3’s were next. This was my first day as an A3 but I still lined up as close to the front as possible. My morale was good and I was ready to race. During the week I was hearing all about how strong the current crop of juniors are so had a slight plan to try to get up the road ahead of them before we hit the climbs after Castlecomer.
From the gun George Doyle from Tralee BC attacked and I rolled up after him. We did a few turns and got a gap. A guy in a red Gillet came across and was soon followed by Ian Redmond from Fermoy. We all worked well together and the gap began to grow. This could be a good move as the reputation of the difficulty of the race could discourage many riders from mounting any concerted chase at this early stage which could allow us to open a decent gap before the climbs.
After 10k we had 35 seconds and hit a few drags where we lost the guy with the red gillet. Then just after Pedigree corner Ian was distanced which just left 2 of us ahead. With a group of about 8 seemingly coming across and the bunch not far behind we kept the pressure on. Then two riders did make it across and as George said ‘the cavalry are here’. Four was much better than two and the gap began to stretch out again as Brian McArdle from Orwell and a strong guy with a Rocky Mountain jersey both rode 100%.
After turning into the hill in Castlecomer we were joined by Shem Cullen from Iverk and Shane Scully a mountain goat from Visit Nenagh. The gap still hovered around thirty to forty seconds until we hit a good twisty section and the bunch stalled. Suddenly the gap was up to over 2 minutes and with all 6 of us rolling through nicely there was now a good chance we could stay away to the finish.
Then on the descent before the final climb of the lap disaster struck for me. I clipped a stone and immediately felt my rear tyre go flat. I may have been overheard to emit a phrase similar to ‘well duck’ quiet forcibly.
No time for theatrics. With no service car behind I pulled over as I dropped the chain into the smallest sprocket on the rear, stopped and pulled off the wheel. I fished out the tube and tyre levers from my pocket which were held together with some insulating tape. My fingers were too cold to open the tape so I ripped it off with my teeth. Then years as a bike mechanic came in handy as I popped the tyre off without having to use the levers. I pulled out the old tube, gave the new one a shot of air and fitted it into the tyre, and popped the tyre back on. I was just beginning to pump it up when the bunch came screaming past. I was tempted to just lash in the wheel with just about 20psi in but knew that would only spell disaster further on.
By the time I had the tyre hard enough the bunch were well out of sight and gone for the day. I pedalled on and Joe Hahessy pulled up alongside in the Iverk team car which had a full house. I leaned lightly on the passenger door whilst garnering some important information as the car drifted up the hill. I soon caught up to Dave Butler from Comeragh and we rode in to the finish together. I didn’t want to chance the extra lap on my own with no spare tube and the morale ship had taken on a lot of water too.
A quick change was followed by the sight of a few kind ladies in the clubhouse serving nice strong hot coffee, sandwiches and whisky cake, all of which were gladly sampled.
The long wait for Fitzy who was doing the three laps of the A1,A2 race passed quickly with time spent catching up with the lads after the race and meeting the lady who captured many of my exploits this year on camera Karen M Edwards.
Fitzy arrived in battered and bruised after a hard day and a fall, or bounce as it may be referred to seeing that he is always back up on the bike so quickly after a crash.
Then it was time for home along with our new passenger ‘The Greene Machine’ who had taken a CIE bus to the race like the men of old would have done.
Another entertaining journey followed during which I’m sure that wherever in the World Jean Francois Bernard might now reside his ears were surely burning.