This evening I stood alone on the side of a desolate windswept mountain waiting for a lone cyclist to pass by. Why, you might ask would I want to do something like that. The answer is easy. Not as in, an easy answer, but it was easy to sit in the van and drive 30k out to Mahon Falls in the heart of the Comeraghs. It was easy to listen to the radio on the way for company. It was easy to have the heater on keeping me warm. It was easy to turn on the wipers to clear the windscreen as it began to rain. My journey to that spot was a lot easier than the journey of the cyclist that I went to see.
Jim Fitzpatrick came into the shop a few years back. He was a soft-spoken wiry looking guy with a bright outlook on life. He was into kayaking and rock climbing and was looking for a mountain bike to come down Slievnamon on. Once he got the bike there was no stopping him. The steeper, rougher and more dangerous the descent the more he liked it. But then he was well used to the rush of adrenaline.
I remember him telling us about a Kayaking trip to Canada where the guy just in front of him on a rough section of water took a wrong line and ended up loosing his life. Jim was there for 2 weeks kayaking and was back in the water the following day and every other day without hesitation.
His van was always a sight to behold with the neatest arrangement possible of outdoor extreme adventure gear possible.
At a wedding in Westport one night as a number of guests were looking out at Croagh Patrick a bit of banter revolved around how fast someone could get to the top. A €50 bet was placed on a super fast time which Jim agreed to. The following morning he turned up with his mountain bike. He threw it over his shoulder, ran all the way to the top and then came back down. He was back at the start point inside the given time which had been deemed impossible for just the ascent (without the handicap of carrying a bike) the evening before.
One day he came in looking for a road bike to help his fitness for Mountain biking. Within the space of a few months he was well and truly hooked. Most training was done at an average speed of 20 mph with 100 mile spins taking less than 5 hours. Back then he always trained alone and never with a group.
The Sean Kelly tour became a goal and his biggest concern was riding in the midst of a group of other cyclists. He need not have worried as he took off and was one of the first back to Dungarvan at the finish.
Next up came a road race. I remember looking around the start line of the Bill Hyland in Clonmel 3 years ago and seeing Jim lining up. He had no problems staying with the lead bunch on a very hilly and demanding circuit.
Then came Paris Brest Paris. A non stop 1200km event. He was able to train with a remarkable amount of consistency and dedication. In the event itself he was seeded in a group slower than his capabilities and took off alone in pursuit of the group ahead. Riding solo for most of the event he managed to complete the event in a faster time than the 14 man group up ahead.
So, what next for a man who loves a challenge. Well the ultimate cycling challenge on these shores has to be The Race around Ireland. A 1350 mile race against the clock that pushes a rider’s body and mind well beyond the limits of what is deemed possible. Just down Jim’s street.
For the past 8 months Jim has averaged 500 miles per week in training. One Thursday afternoon he was in the shop and mentioned that he had to be back in Kilkenny by 4.30 as he was leaving again at 5. Leaving to cycle to Rosslare to catch the 9.00 pm ferry to Hollyhead where he cycled off and headed towards London. His wife Annette was running the London Marathon on the Sunday so he was cycling over and back to support her !
You cannot complete challenges such as these without support and Jim seems to have fantastic support from family and friends in his endeavours.
So last Sunday evening at 19.45 he set off from a wet and windy Trim Co.Meath. It is now 10.30 pm on Thursday evening and he is right now approaching New Ross and looks set to catch second place Jan Larsen very soon. He has cycled up through Newry and Lurgan, across the Giants Causeway to Derry and on up to Malin head. From the very top of the country he has gone over the Mamore gap where former winner Joe Barr ‘jumped out of a ditch’ and screamed his encouragement to drive Jim on. Through Lifford, Balina and Sligo to Castlebar. Westport to Clifden and on through Galway and down the coast to Spanish point. Limerick to Tralee and over the toughest of mountains that Kerry and west Cork have to offer before reaching the southern tip in Mizen Head. Skibareen, Kinsale, Blarney and Cork. Middleton, Youghal and on to Dungarvan before the leg breaking climb of Mahon Falls from the hard side. Past the birthplace of the great Sean Kelly, through Carrick and Waterford and on to New Ross. Wexford, Kiltealy and the savage Mount Leinster.
For those familiar with the Wicklow 200 next up comes Slieve Mann, Drumgoff and The Sally Gap. Then Straffan, Kilcock through Trim and onto the finish in Navan.
This evening while waiting, alone in the wilderness, I heard some faint music. I checked inside the van to see if I had left the radio on, but I hadn’t. Then the music grew louder. Normally the approach of cyclists in a race is signalled by the whump, whump of an overhead Helicopter but now I could make out the words of the song as the lights of Jim’s bike and support van came into view.
Christy Dignam and the rest of Aslan were letting myself and all the sheep on the hillside know that it was’ Too late for Alleluia’. But Jim’s legs seemed to rejoice as they reached the summit of the climb after he blasted up it at an unbelievable pace for this stage of such an epic ride.
A bike change at the top was a sight to behold. Jim had to be lifted off his bike and held upright as his dedicated team of helpers put on his Gillet and arm warmers,and lifted him back onboard. He set off again at a blistering speed down the hill.
I met Ray, who was out cheering Jim on near Carrick and he said that he would ride 13 Ras’s before attempting the challenge Jim is currently undertaking.
People nowadays complain that they can no longer look up to heroes like Lance Armstrong. The simple answer is to just look around instead of up. There are many ordinary people out there accomplishing extraordinary things who can be an inspiration and example to us all !