Back in the late eighties and early nineties the Irish cycling season began on the first Sunday in March with the Jack Woodcock Memorial race in the Phoenix park in Dublin . Riders the length and breadth of the country used to train obsessively throughout the winter months to ensure that they would arrive on the start-line of ‘the Woodcock’ in peak condition . The reason for this obsession was the well known fact that the winner of this race was guaranteed a place on all Irish teams up until the Ras and if they managed to get through that in one piece they than went on to remain on all teams for the rest of the season .
These were the heydays of Kelly and Roche thus ensuring enough UCI points to afford an Irish team entry into pretty much any amateur international event worldwide . And worldwide they went with teams going everywhere from Colombia to Malaysia and all places in between .
I remember riding it in 1990 when it was won by John Brady who was riding for the 7-eleven pro team at the time . This was the first occasion that an Irish Pro rode a normal domestic Sunday race , and there were more than a few unhappy home based riders when they saw their chances of international travel disappearing up the road in the last 200 metres . In their eyes this long blond curly haired plastic yank had some cheek to arrive home from sunny California and deprive some poor misfortunate Paddy who had spent all winter out in torrential rain and wind including the odd snow shower, of the chance to see a bit of the world . He won the race well but was soon on a plane back to California .
That was then and this is now .
The season now begins next Sunday , the last in February , with The Lacey cup in Tralee . Last years winner and this years favourite if he can close the eight minute handicap to Martin O’Loughlins vets group will be Paul Griffen . A pro with the Giant Asia squad . Maybe the fact of a pro winning the first race of the season is similar to before , however nowadays each and every Sunday their tends to be any number of Irish pro’s competing in domestic events . This can only be a good thing as it gives younger riders a recognisable goal to aspire to .
Most International travel is now either to the Kelly house in Belgium or to Lanzarote or Tennerife under ones own steam . This year a huge number of Irish riders will be lining up for the season opener with naturally tanned legs as opposed to the Ambre solaire tans of old .
Winter training seems to have gone up to another level with 6 and 7 hour spins being undertaken where before 4 would have sufficed . If it continues at this rate there will be a dawn till dusk group on the road within another few years .
And , whatever happened to John Brady . Well his main claim to fame as a pro was being assaulted by Roberto Gaggioli in the final lap of the Manhattan Grand Prix a few years back . In 2004 he was on the same Ofoto Lombardia team as David O’Loughlin and is currently to be found still competing in the Boston area . He also cut his hair .
John Brady then and now