I had been warned that you had to be in good shape to participate in the time trial, but at 14 and a half – halves still count when you’re trying to catch up – I couldn’t be too careful . After all, I had my race bike with the curved handlebars, which allowed me to point my head into the wind, that was surely half the battle.
had hovered around the CYMS bike club on the corner of the Quai, and the Firmans had taken me in their Volkswagen van when they had accompanied the South East stages of the Rás Tailteann, today an international cycle race called the Rás.
Their son Peter was part of the CYMS team, so we drove behind the race, ready to hydrate anyone who waved at us. Watching their maneuvers up close from the van was cathartic.
Teamwork is an essential part of cycle racing, riders feed off each other, extinguishing in the lead position. I never knew if it was purely psychological or practical. It was a kind of meditation; you stare at the pilot wheel in front of you and think of nothing else, watch it spin. After a while they changed position and left the other tail. This is part of the reason why leaders who break away eventually get caught up with the main group.
Mrs. Firman was making French bread and corned beef sandwiches, washed down with a flask of tea. We were in for the fun, as we rode amid sweltering athletes riding their bikes at 20 to 30 miles per hour. It’s no surprise that I bit the bug and got myself a hire-purchase race bike as soon as I could – much heavier work and cheaper than those guys, but I have never been shy about gear, whatever you have, make the best of it.
Later I discovered that this attitude could work with a musical instrument, but I’m not sure if it works with a bicycle.
“Did you do long distances?” asked Peter.
“Yes,” I lied.
We were outside Firman’s house on the quayside, about six of us, pretty serious guys in work shoes and bike shorts, ready to ride to Waterford and back. Everyone was busy pumping their wheels and refilling their water bottles, they really had no reason to worry about me, Peter was the only one.
It was a beautiful sunny day and to my delight I was able to follow them all the way to Waterford but once I got there I was exhausted and on the way back my legs turned into goo. Peter must have stayed back and kept an eye on me; as I clung deliriously to my saddle, Peter pushed me halfway home. Without being discouraged, I still participated in the time trial when I heard about it.
We were started at five minute intervals from Ely House to Gorey and back. At first I thought I was fine, then they started to pass me. Quite a few passed by and tried to say hello, but serious contestants don’t observe the social niceties. When I came back it was dark and I was completely fucked, but I still wondered what my timing was. But when I crossed the finish line, the timekeeper had gone home. Everyone had passed me.
The racing bike leaned against the wall in the hall after which my father rode it on his way to work, where cheering workmen waved him across the winning line outside Pierce’s Foundry.