( Great pics of The Suir Valley 3 day can be found on www.tipperaryphotos.com )
Right now as I watch a track sprinter from Trinidad in the Olympics I am reminded of a rider who has overcome many a hard road and come out on top.
Mehall ‘Fitzy’ Fitzgerald was doing a bit of track racing towards the end of part 1 of his racing career when he was invited to an international track meet in Trinidad along with Australian and British track champions a few years back.
During a road training spin between track sessions a rickety truck with crotchety brakes came in rumbling contact with the group of cyclists.
Fitzy described having a split second advance feeling of the impending impact and had just managed to begin an avoidance manoeuvre when the impact occurred. He was jettisoned from his bike and sent sliding along the rough Tarmac at 40 kph.
With 50% of his body covered in torn skin a trip to A & E was essential. Other cyclists had been injured too but Fitzy had come out worst of all. For hours they watched local after local being called in ahead of them. Then a call back to the track where a representative of the President of Trinidad who was a cycling fan was informed of the delay in the injured riders being seen. With the President himself due to watch the racing the following evening another phone call was made and the riders were seen immediately.
A few very stiff and sore riders lined up the following evening in the midst of the field in the 50 lap scratch race in the West Indies versus the World series. Bandaged and bruised whilst being asked constantly before the race if he was sure he was ok to race Fitzy was amongst them. With his whole body screaming in pain before even a pedal was turned the pain in his legs throughout the super fast race almost went unnoticed .
The final lap came and when the slightest of gaps presented itself in front of him without a thought in the world of the damage yet another crash could inflict on a body already battered and torn he went for it. Coming around the final bend he edged in front and pushed body and mind to the limit to cross the line to take yet another in a long list of victories.
In the stands watching the race the entire crowd including the President of Trinidad himself stood to applaud the bravery of the courageous Irish rider who was covered in bandages as he completed a lap of honour.
Fast forward again to today and Fitzy is on the comeback trail. Part 2 of his career has begun. With just one race under his belt in 6 years he is more than just taking part in the Suir Valley 3 day. That 1st race was in Mondello a few weeks ago where he was quickly back to his winning ways. To quote from that victory ‘we were coming around to the final bend and they were winding up for the sprint. I was waiting for them to start sprinting when I realised that they were sprinting so I said feck it I’d better start too and kicked past them all’ !
For a few months now he has been preparing for this race. Whenever he has told anyone on a training spin what he was training for the reaction has always been ‘ you’re going racing on that !’ referring to his 8 year old steel training bike. As he said himself no one asked him what or how much training he was doing. An example of today’s focus on technology and equipment over actual effort on the bike itself .
Having won the first hotspot sprint of the race in Cahir yesterday afternoon 2 untimely punctures cost him dearly later in the stage.
Lining up today he was up for a bit of racing and when a dangerous looking break formed halfway through the stage he decided that it was time to make his move. A 30 second gap to the leaders who were working very hard together to distance the bunch ,whilst dropping riders from the breakaway group would be a gargantuan challenge to most let alone a rider who has not raced at this level for many years. Fitzy, however, jettisoned the bunch dropped it into the twelve, dug really deep, passed dropped riders in their sixteens and closed the gap alone.
He was ‘just seconds away from not making it’ but years endured in the school of pain would not let him quit. Within 30 seconds of reaching the back of the group whilst trying to recover from the enormous effort a rider turned to him and said there was no way they would be towing him to the finish. Never one to be timid or shy with a response Fitzy replied ‘Dude , don’t worry about me, if I’m going well I’ll be gone up the road long before the finish !’ enough said , he was switched on for this race.
10k to go and the break was caught so time for Fitzy to start readying himself to unleash his famous gallop. 10th place into the roundabout with 1k to go, up to 6th passing Worldwide Cycles bike shop with 500m to go, up to 3rd through the final corner and then the realisation that he was overgeared and even though he was closing on the first two he would not catch them before the line.
Just after the finish line his 5 year old son stood cheering him on. When Fitzy rolled up to his proud son one simple question was asked ‘Daddy, why didn’t you win ?’ . Like father like son, the Fitzgerald DNA seems to acknowledge a good performance but is never fully satisfied with anything other than outright victory.
Winners truly are born and not bred !
To finish on a quote from the man himself ‘ They gave me the most aggressive riders jersey and I didn’t even have to get stuck into anybody ,’