In 1990, I lined up for my second FBD Milk Ras as part of the Clare team.
Part sponsored by ‘Rebel Menswear’, a small clothes shop in Ennis, my teammates and I hounded local businesses, friends and family for the remainder of the finances needed to get us around Ireland for what was then a nine-day, ten-stage race.
1990 Clare Riders
60. Barry Sutton
61. Philip Colleran
62. John Hassett
63. John Colleran
109. Sean McIlroy
Although I would never have been considered a pre-race favourite for anything going into that year’s Ras, I knew I was in good form, having won the final stage of the Earl of Desmond 2-day with an attack from the breakaway in the last kilometer claiming the victory from Julian Dalby, John Sheehan, Jamie McGahon and the late Bobby Power among others.
The Ras that year was typically fast. Indeed the second stage from Mullingar to Westport was one of the fastest days on the bike I can remember with the 160 strong peloton covering 178km in a blistering 3 hours 45 minutes.
Another stage finished into my home town of Ennis where my parent’s house became the headquarters for our Clare Rebel team with 1981 Ras winner, Scotsman Jamie McGahan, helping out with the team that year.
In one of his pre-race motivational talks McGahan told us that while we were never going to win the Ras, but I had a good chance of winning a stage. Up until then I hadn’t really believed a stage win in Ireland’s biggest bike race was a possibility but the 163km stage from Macroom to Clonmel changed all that.
Heading down to the sign-on that day to be greeted by the ever smiling Dignam girls, which was an incentive in itself to ride the Ras, I had no idea that what happened on that day would be still today a talking point.
Starting in Macroom, we headed towards Ballynagree, before climbing up Musheramore Mountain, into Mallow, Castletownroache, Ballyhooley, Fermoy and Ballyduff, before climbing The Vee and descending into Clogheen and Ardfinnan before finishing in Clonmel.
Sitting on the start line, I saw a penny stuck in the road underneath my bike. After frightening the life out of our team mechanic by shouting for a screwdriver with just minutes to go to the start, I leaned down and used the tool to wedge the penny out of the melted tarmac and promptly stuck it in my jersey pocket. “See a penny, pick it up and all the day you’ll have good luck.” Or so my Granny used to say. My fellow riders must has though I was nuts.
Having climbed Musheramore towards the front of the bunch, I punctured my rear wheel about 40km into proceedings.
I stuck my hand up, stopped at the side of the road and took my wheel out ready for neutral service to come to my rescue. Mechanic Mick Twomey was at my side in a flash and I was back on my bike in no time but in the rush to get my wheel in, he’d dislodged my brake block from its shoe.
Having tried to shove it back in, I then squeezed the brakes in the hope of fixing the problem but it didn’t work and just resulted in a pinched finger for Mick, who told me to go anyway.
“Go and we will fix later”,
I rode back to the bunch but, with no rear brake working and another descent ahead of us, I decided to hang around the back for a while until Mick’s neutral service car made his way back through the cavalcade and began to try to fix it on the move.
As you can imagine, trying to fix a brake block within millimeters of a moving wheel was easier said than done and having made my way back into the bunch, I was forced to stop again. As Mick fixed the brake block, my Clare Rebel Menswear team car pulled up alongside too but as it was so early in the stage and I was still feeling fresh, I easily weaved my way up through the cars to rejoin the bunch.
As we climbed The Vee, about 100kms later, I was still feeling good. So good that I turned to local rider Declan Byrne alongside me and told I was thinking of attacking and enquired whether he’d like to join me.
With Declan having politely declined, I got into a group of nine escapees on the descent. Bobby Power, Scotsman Martin Coll, Ger Madden, Darragh McQuaid were all there, as well as a few of the dominant French team of that year.
With a pretty straightforward run in to the finish, I was nearly jumping out of my skin been in the move. I can remember the driver of the commissaire’s car giving me the thumbs up sign out the window as I sat there petty confident the break would stay clear and delighted at my worst case scenario of finishing ninth or tenth on a stage of the Ras.
As we headed into Clonmel with the river to our left and about a kilometre and a half to go, we turned left over the bridge. A rider attacked but was shut down immediately. We then turned right and another rider attacked with similar consequences.
I was still sitting there, surrounded by these top riders, delighted with myself and how well I was going.
Knowing that a top ten stage placing was safe now, I decided to attack the group. In much the same manner that had brought me victory in the Earl of Desmond, I jumped down the right hand side and went for the line.
I knew I had to go under the tower in the town centre yet. I knew I might blow up before the line but I kept going as hard as I could and surprised everyone in the race, including myself to win the stage.
My hands were in the air so long after crossing the line that I nearly ran into the building in front of me in excitement.
|Crossing the Line in Clonmel 1990|
Winning a stage of the Ras was the same as winning the Lotto to me. It was absolutely surreal. It was my billion dollar day and I was on top of the world as I was congratulated by everyone before receiving my jersey as stage winner up on the presentation podium and doing an interview for TV.
|Speaking to the Press.
Gene Mangan & Billy Kennedy in the Background. Photo by Paul Cooley|
|Photo by Paul Cooley|
After the presentation I rode to the B&B on my own, where I sat, still in my gear, in a mixed state of ecstasy and disbelief for a couple of hours until a car containing race organiser of the time, Dermot Dignam, and Tony Campbell pulled up outside.
“Barry’s there’s been a bit of a problem,” they advised, and after a quick shower the duo escorted me to race HQ in the town.
As we entered the room, I glimpsed a stack of GC’s printed and ready to be distributed. Glancing at the sheets, I noticed my name wasn’t at the top of the results
Second placed Scotsman, Martin Coll, was down as winner of the stage while I had been relegated, before any meeting even commenced.
I was then told that my number had come up during the stage for brief pacing after my mechanical and as a result I had been penalized 10 seconds and my stage win had been taken from me. Mick Twomey was not present at the meeting and was never asked for his input or an explanation of what happened earlier in the stage.
I was 20 years old and in the space of two minutes I was gone from a historic stage winner of the Ras.
We had a split stage the following morning. I rode the race against the clock with hands on top of the bars and while the amount of people cheering me on and telling me I won the stage was inspirational, it was never going to lift my spirits.
At the afternoon stage start, a strike was arranged by some of the senior riders such as Kevin Kimmage and Philip Cassidy and when the flag dropped on Main Street nobody moved. It was a nice show of support from my fellow riders, even if the Irish team were the first ones to break the strike and ride off. In defiance, I rode at the front until the rider was brought back but soon after I drifted out the back of the bunch. Cracked.
A few days after that Ras the FBD Insurance Manager of the time came to my home and presented me with a cheque to the same value as the stage winner’s prize, which was a nice touch.
Martin Coll handed me back the stage winner’s jersey too and I have it on my wall at home and every rider of my generation knows about the guy from Clare who won the stage but had it taken away.
There’s been a lot written and a lot said about that stage over the past 24 years but none of The Ras Books authors have ever asked me what actually happened.
The race organization while privately admitting they were wrong, have never said so publicly and to this day, my Ras stage win still leaves me discontented.
Irish Papers Headlines
“Sutton Lose Stage after Long Enquiry” The Irish Times
“Sutton’s ten-second tragedy” Cork Examiner
“Penalty Madness” Irish Independent
“The Ecstasy before the Agony” Irish Press
Paul Kimmage wrote : The Sunday Tribune
A strange thing happened in O Connell St. Clonmel on Thursday.
A young man from Clare called Barry Sutton came over the finish line with hands waved high. And the journalist on the podium looked at each other. Who was this guy? And why shouldn’t we be surprised? Men from Clare that won stages in the Ras were as rare as trees in the Burren.
It had happened.
The 20 year old from Ennis had won. He was on the podium after. They gave him flowers and a white jersey and he was asked questions on tv and radio and by the pressmen from Dublin. It was the happiest face we had seen on the podium all week. Barry Sutton was famous.
One hour later they took the jersey back. Sixty miles before the finish of the stage a judge had reported Sutton for briefly taking pace behind his team car after puncturing. They gave him a 10 second penalty and presented the stage to the Scot who finished second.
I abhor cheating but I could have written an entire page making a case for Barry Sutton. Every cyclist in the race would agree with me. The judge wouldn’t. The judge is always right.
Barry Sutton got famous.