A man who has captured the imagination of many sports-followers beyond the fringe of cycle-racing fraternity this season is big genial Billy Kerr from Ballymena.
At the age of 34 he won this Easter Tour of the North five-day international race in Ulster, for the second successive year, and then immediately flew to Manchester to start the Sealink International, of similar duration, the very next day. To everyone’s amazement – not least the teams from Great Britain, Czechoslovakia, France, Netherlands, Canada, Norway and Denmark – he won Sealink too.
This mid-Antrim man has left no doubt that despite all his participation in international events across the world – his travels last season included Canada and West Germany, and he was ninth in the 14-day Tour of Britain – he’s looking forward specially to competing for the first time in this big National Cycling Association promotion, the Health Race. Like many other Northern Ireland C.F. riders he enjoys racing over tough routes in the Wicklow Mountains and on many hard testing sections in the West – from Donegal right down to Valencia.
In both 1977 and 1978 Billy was second in the I.C.F.’s Raleigh/Dunlop Tour of Ireland. Spaniard Angel Arroyo held him off at an unchanging margin of 38 seconds over the last five days in 1977. And last September when the race took place in some terrible weather conditions he lost by 2 minutes 20 seconds to Dubliner John Shortt (British Airways), whose strong team backing included British Cycling Federation champion Scotsman Robert Millar, after he had broken a crank at a vital moment high up in the Slieve Bloom Mountains on the second day when he stormed round a 100 miles route, including the ascent of the fersome Gap of Mamore, on the innishowen Peninsula to win from Shortt, British Commonwealth champion Phil Anderson (Australia), and Mick Nulty (Leinster), at Letterkenny, with the rest of the field six minutes and more behind.
For the past two years also, Kerr has been fifth in the 113 miles Manx International road race and he elected to miss that notable event year (June 22) so that he could travel to Dublin for the start of the Irish Health Race. In Ireland this season he has had some fine wins – the Ritmo Fiat two-day at Drogheda, the Toyota North Down two-day at Bangor and the Double Diamond Cup at Dundalk.
He first raced as a junior from 1961 to 1963 with no apparent special talent. He then dropped out of the sport for seven years, returning in 1970 at the age of 25. His belief was that if one is prepared to train hard enough and often enough and to dedicate himself completely to the job, then in time he must become a worthy champion. He followed this philosophy with unswerving fervor, and through many a set back, and proved it true.
Time trialling has traditionally been part of the NICF riders’ stock-in-trade and for those who appreciate “riding against the watch” Billy’s 1978 performances included a 57 minutes 23 seconds effort at 25 miles (winning the NCIF-ICF championship on the Dublin – Navan road). At 50 miles he took the NCIF championship with 1 hour 58 minutes 46 seconds on the East Antrim course. His last 100 miles trial was in 1977 on the none-too-fast North Antrim course when he clocked 4 hours 12 minutes 38 seconds to win by the huge margin of 17 minutes.
Lose, win or draw, Billy Kerr’s style is that of the honest workman. Tactics there must be, but unsporting acts never. He competes by the strength of his legs, the power of his lungs and the sweat of his brow. He will enjoy the widespread enthusiasm for cycle-racing in the Irish Health Race – and the spectators will appreciate him too.
|Rás Tailteann Health Race 1980|
|Billy Kerry Scottish Health Race|