Me and bikes — we don’t have a thing going on. It wasn’t that I didn’t like them; they just didn’t like me.
During my teens, I only had to look at one and there was a puncture or a warped wheel. Weighing in at 18 stone, my size would be an excuse now, but back then I was simply a lanky clutz.
Invariably, my mode of transport was decommissioned and it got to the stage where my friends stopped lending me their Raleighs or Fujis. The true pals made excuses, breaking it to me gently. The others just told me I was a hex.
But my affection for cycling would not be curbed. When the Tour de France came to Ireland in July 1998, my best friend Jules Cantwell and myself decided it would be a great idea to paint the names of our favourite cyclists on the N81 in Dublin on the stage route. As you do in the Pyrenees or the Alps.
Only the garda that early Sunday morning didn’t take too kindly to our artistry. Although he did appreciate the effort, as much as Fogo and Jules looked suspicious among names like Pantani and Ulrich. Jules had scarpered but I was caught white-handed. When I was asked did I have an accomplice, I was more Frankie The Squealer than Johnny Tightlips.
Cyclists at enjoy the route at Coomakista
Perhaps, then, it was a sense of obligation that I said yes to Jules when he encouraged the more novice cyclists in our group to sign up to the Ring of Kerry Charity Cycle. The Ard Curam Day Care Centre in Listowel was my charity.
My training had been sporadic, though a 120km trip the weekend prior set me up well. Jules, tipping in at just over five hours, and Graham Scanlon just under the five-hour mark bombed ahead. Even my partner-in-climb Colm “LL” Dooley became a dot to me.
The beauty of the Ring of Kerry, aside from the scenery, is you’re never alone. The bonhomie was fantastic, although I’ll be glad not to hear “car down” for a while.
In Kenmare and again at Moll’s Gap, I met Aidan Somerville, an old acquaintance and five-time veteran of the Ring. “My favourite day of the year,” he told me. You could understand why. For one, the views from Glenbeigh and the top of Coomakista Pass are truly spectacular.
In Waterville, I swear Mick O’Dwyer’s statue was laughing at me. But there were moments of exhilaration. I might have been Donkey Kong ascending but coming down I was LeMond. Or at least I thought I was.
Finishing in just over eight hours, the sense of satisfaction was delightful. And all without a puncture. Maybe the curse has been lifted!
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