|D. Nugent, C. Braken, J O'Halloran, G. McEnery (Manager) N. Holland|
John O'Hallorans Rás Storey 1992
If Im honest ; I was hooked from the start . The first story of the Ras ,the first time seeing a stage end , the thought of being in it I was hooked.
I got my chance in 1992. My club NT Oranmore would enter team for the first time. Apart from our mechanic Johnny Varley and the highly experienced Colm Bracken we were all new to this. there was Nick Holland [Nick the fish] and no, I have no idea why he was called that, Dave Nugent who remains a great friend and I.
Dave was 20 and I was 19 Nick was and still is ageless. The common thought around Galway was we would never finish it.
Gerry McEnerney had put his skills,organisation and boundless love of cycling into getting us there. The sense of occasion at the evening sign on was immense . There was a mix of nerves and old friends meeting.
I sat and tried to look as if I belonged ,as established internationals, foreign managers , the UK riders,tanned and seriously lean Italian and Belgians sauntered in.
My goal was simple enough " get around", hopefully in one piece and if at all possible get to the front , try to get in a break and have a" good go " on the stage 2 into Oughterard Galway.
Ahh , the innocence youth, looking back at now ; little did I know then.
Realistically, the team had an ace card in Colm he was in the form of his life winning races week in and out.
Stage one took us from Dublin to Carrick on Shannon it was a gentle enough baptism for us newbies as it was flat, straight sheltered roads , dry,sunny and little wind. I rolled back to the B and B that afternoon and I remember saying to Dave " that was easy enough" and laughing at it.
How utterly ignorant I was.
The following morning, dark clouds to the west. By roll out , rain. By the end of the neutralised section it was pelting, by km 10 I was introduced to Mr right hand side of the road unrelenting line out, cant see anything ,swerving out , swerving in, shouts of hold the effing wheel, sirens,spray and exhaust of the motos getting by, lads going backwards with mechanicals,punctures and dropped.
by km 60 I was in trouble ;big trouble. I was digging in the pocket for food and couldnt get it! " oh no, no food."
Now I had food,plenty of food but my hands were so numb I couldnt feel or grip it. It got worse and worse , we sped past a bad crash , plenty of lads dropped.
The sun came out and I knew the last 50 km well so my morale held and I got in.
The following day, a tricky stage into Ennistymon, Co Clare, Colm made the winning break. Now, dear readers at the time did I know this?.
NO I did not. All i knew was racing at warp speed, being half warped trying to stay in the bunch while up the road the big guns were flexing the muscle. My mental goals were fading quickly as reality was biting.
But here is where it gets good.
Now its good , but in a strange Ras kind of good that I know you will understand.
100% the fastest sprinter in the break , in great form , canny and experienced ; BANG ! SMASH.
Colm hits a drain cover 400m from the line and comes down hard. Very hard.
He picked up the remains of the bike , blood soaked and winded he runs over the line for a place.
He claimed the green and most importantly Yellow jersey. This was on our managers birthday into his home town in the sponsors first Ras !.
Thats how you do it, go big or go home, meanwhile I was struggling to get home. I was tired very tired , it was only day 3 and I was well into the reserves and no amount of the mothers Porter cake was going to fix that.
That evening as we had dinner Gerry ordered champagne and we each had a glass " if its good enough for the Tour De France its good enough for me he said. We toasted the race leader , he quietly and in a lot of pain raised a glass. Tony o Neill and his son Dara travelled from Tuam the smashed bike was repaired with new forks and rims ; it took 12 cups of tea, a cake and ice cream. Gerry told me later Tony refused payment for the work citing that it was the" least ya could do for the lad".
I was sharing a room with Colm , I gazed in awe at that beautiful yellow top on the dresser and I was speechless.
Colm was speechless too he slept! he never said a word about the awful cuts and injuries, when quizzed about the morrow " ahh yea, sher we'll see how it goes".
The following morning feeling a bit better and motivated we got our orders from Gerry . Car 1 in the race , respect, we were to ride on the front, I having the same pedals and bike size as Colm was to " stay glued to him all day".
I dont recall the rest of the Cyril Guimard strategy , to be honest and no disrespect to Gerry I was thinking [ how the F**K am I going to keep up with them lads even for a lump of the stage . I had more porter cake than strength left !. I was absolutely in bits with nerves, it got worse at the sign in at the start line the banter was a typical mix of craic , warm handshakes for the yellow jersey and plenty of " ahh lads yees are in for it today, " When yous are on the front will ya wave to me Mam " " getting bottles John ?, get me one too".
Colm deflated the lot and deflected the lot, " just do yer best and enjoy it, dont worry about me ride as best ya can Im F**ked too ".
we rolled out.
A crisp May morning ; the pace was crisp too. I dont remember any of the stage much as I was so concentrated in trying to hold my place and try to stick to my small roll. " do you want me to go back for a bottle?" I asked.
"No, dont , you wont make it back up its too fast".
With 50 km to go to Killorglin the chalk board told the tale and the escape with a couple of overall race contenders including the Italian duo and a Belgian were going dangerously clear. Steven Sprat glided over through the bunch . It has always amazed me how classy riders make these thinks seem so effortless and easy. He had missed the move.His team were chasing, we would have to chase. The top guys were mobilising, Alarm bells were sounding and a call to arms was on.Conversations at 50 km per hour. I hadnt a clue it was all new to me, this was well up a few leagues on me.
Decisions made, action needed and fast.
" Get up the front buachaills, time to earn this evenings dessert." announced Spratt " this is where it gets real lads"
we had yellow we had to work, favours called in and the entire race ramped up to a frenzy. riders do things in races for many reasons and sometimes the general public, the tv viewers, the media or race followers dont know why. Lads started working for different reasons, team tactics, loyalty, overall chance of winning,national pride,
friendship.To their credit Dave and Nick pulled hard.
The speed was up with a combine of different teams all chasing, we were motoring and the yellow jersey was on the front tucked low on the drops giving it his all, he pulled over and with me on his wheel he gave the universal signal of the elbow to ride through.
I did and onto the front of an international stage race I rode .
I would love to let on to ye that I drove on , pulled like a dog turn after turn stringing out the field and made massive gains on the leaders making the bunch suffer.
Did I Hell !! . Its tough up there and thankfully some one shouted quick enough to pull over to the left. We did our best , plenty of turns taken.We all rolled through. It was exciting, it was great to be part of and for a time I felt good as adrinanal surged , it wasnt enough .
I crossed the line in Killorglin utterly spent. I was sore ,tired like never before, its a strange thing that feeling of being so spent, aches where you dont expect to have pains. The legs and lungs ;yes but the pains from shoe straps, that seam of the sock ,from a nose band on the glasses, a chin strap off the helmet and where you got hit by a fly on the cheek. The can of coke or a coffee a bite and slowly its down to earth time cough ,gawks and splutters.
A debrief, a few words from some one you know but dont recognise, people talking at you but ya dont really hear them while sitting on a beer keg.I remember that, sitting on a beer keg outside a pub and some fella with a strong Kerry accent mumbling some mad half Kerry half Guinness words of wisdom, Iron man, mountain,morning, where you from bai? You Galway? good hurlers do you take a pint ? craic tonight have you the Irish? . Then the magic words " cars over here, a nice b and b tonight".
A cup of tea later , a rub and you are ready to go . Tomorrow is hump day middle of the week, day 5 and Kerry mountains , rain ?forecast.
" lets hear it for the men of the Ras"
[ in memory of Isiah Adams ]