Shay Elliott Memorial… Truth be told it wasn’t him but his double, Paul Tabak, manager of Dutch outfit BRC Kememesland — burgundy blazer, black gingham shirt, grey flannels and shades — dapper guy! Dead ringer for Nicholas.
A tad incongruous among the club jerseys, tee-shirts and fleeces at the managers’ meet though.
The UCI guys were really nicely turned out in blue, logo-ed shirts and body-warmers, so now you know where all that money goes.
The Elliott race in Ireland is UCI, 1.5 open to, ‘TT 11’s or T 111’s and other entities.’ In other words, every team from Domina Vacanze and Kelme downwards, it’s the real deal. Incidentally, there are no UCI road events in Scotland.
So how did I come to be with Nicholas at a 1.5 in Bray, Eire at 7.30 pm on a Saturday? W
hen Brian Smith, one of Lance Armstrong’s former lieutenants asked me if I wanted to come to Ireland to the Shay Elliott; ‘to give a wee hand with the team,’ I wasn’t about to say, ‘no.’
In addition I had never visited Ireland before and Elliott was one of my boyhood heroes.
A young Irish rider who made the move from the back waters of Irish racing to the head of the continental peloton.
Planes and Boats
My pilgrimage to Elliott started at 8.30 am on saturday morning when I left Kirkcaldy to meet Brian and collect the team bikes.
First part of the mission was to pick up Lee Whitelaw, Edinburgh Road Clubs’ croupier turned roadman/tester. Introductions over we headed for Uddingston to pick up roadman Stewart McGregor’s (Glasgow Couriers) machine.
Next stop North Beach Hotel at Prestwick to drop Lee to await his lift to the airport and to pick up the final two bikes.
Brian had arranged for the team to fly over whilst we took the bikes over in the car. Scottish BAR Jim Cuisick of Glasgow Couriers and best roadman of the season so far Paul Rennie of North Beach-Dooley’s completed the team. An Astra coupe, two men, four bikes and seven pairs of wheels? Just!
Stranraer, Stena Line, Irish Sea, Belfast — what can you say about ferry journeys?
The quay-side at Belfast must be the biggest builders merchants yard in the world. Bricks, blocks, sand, and cement line the water front to feed the building site that is urban Ireland.
Sure, you’ll be in Ireland now
The only part of the journey from Belfast to Dublin where one would be aware of anything being different from home is at the border. The actual border is not marked in any way and there are no controls.
The roundabout just before the border area is ringed with orange and white pennants, just up the road is a huge, hand painted sign, ‘Release the Colombian Three.’ Money changers and cheap liquor stores abound for a mile or two, then were it not for the prices being in euros and the road signs it could be anywhere in Scotland. Anywhere affluent that is.
We arrived in the seaside resort of Bray, south of Dublin just in time for the managers’ meeting. A friendly enough wee affair where the organiser and UCI commissaire told us how the race would be conducted and drew lots for positions in the race convoy, we drew number eight.
The organisers had picked up our riders at the airport and driven them to our sea front hotel, showing them the tricky race finish en route. Enterprising lads that they are, they had availed themselves of the self catering facilities and were fed and watered by the time we arrived.
Guiness and Craic
Brian and I headed for the hotel restaurant where, unprompted he plonked a pint of Guinness down in front of me. I never liked the stuff in my youth but it’s true, it does taste totally different over there! A nice meal, and then off to Frank Duff’s bar, shrine to Irish cycling. Being with Brian reminds you that the man had a long, successful Professional career, in 1992 he won the 105 mile East Coast Classic here in Bray. This, coupled with a good manner means that old friends appear on average every five minutes. Frank Duff’s is no exception, he chatted to all manner of folk while I wandered off to check out the memorabilia.
There are pictures of Route de France winner, Peter Crinnion and hugely successful amateur, Peter Doyle; framed newspaper covers of Kelly and Roche in their glory days; one of Kelly’s authentic Kas team bikes; framed, signed rainbow jerseys from Roche and Scanlon, but best of all for me, one of Elliott’s faded amarillo leaders jerseys from the 1962 Vuelta, a race he lead for nine days and finished an eventual third overall in.
Shay Elliot was a hero
Elliott is a rider time has not been kind to, nearly no-one remembers what he did. His palmares are amazing first English speaker to lead the Vuelta; first English speaker to lead le Tour and ONLY English speaker to win Het Volk. We spoke to one of the bars’ patrons about Elliott’s career; Stablinski double crossing him in the Paris-Luxemburg; his troubled personal life and eventual suicide…. Or was it? The coroner recorded an open verdict and the conspiracy theory is that he was murdered by a crime syndicate.
Brays’ wild night life was just getting in to gear as we turned in at around 11.00 pm. It was just petering out as I returned from my pre-breakfast stroll at 7.00 am!
A laugh a minute
Six men, four bikes, 14 wheels, no pump. I scrounged one from the Energy Cycles team and promptly burst one of Stewart’s valves out of the tube, he took it well. Tube changed, tyres all up, we had breakfast in a dining room where Malcolm Elliott sat alone, happy as a condemned man. After breakfast we bumped into the Planet X team, another bunch of laugh a minute guys misery must go with being a tough roadman?
Brian’s pre-race briefing was a light hearted affair and the riders were as relaxed as they could be whilst contemplating 100 miles through the Irish mountains. The race started on time with the usual chaos and air horns, 111 of the 138 entries answered the call. Immediately the race was de-neutralised attacks went off up the dual carriageway which rises up out of Bray into the Wicklow countryside.
The car speedo registered 30 mph steady for the first half hour, despite the consistent high speed, no one was dropped. This part of Ireland is affluent, neat bungalows everywhere and huge road improvement programmes. Elliott had perked up and won the first prime, don’t know if he smiled.
Ashford at 26 km saw the race take to the B roads through rolling green country side. Pat Casey is the man to vote for in the local elections, so the roadside posters told us.
The climb at Rathdrum at 40 km saw the first casualties sliding out of the back. The aptly named and beautiful Meeting of the Waters saw the bunch roll steadily past one beautifully maintained golf course after another. The hurling park murals announced neat and prosperous Arklow to us, hurling being a type of organised violence involving sticks and a ball.
The hammer goes down
The first king of the hills was just past Arklow, the Old Wicklow Gap. Irish International, Dave McCann stamped hard on the pedals and mayhem ensued. We drove up past weaving, sweating bodies, the creak of shoe plates and the rattle of gears in spokes clearly audible over the wheezing of those fighting the gradient and loosing.
We were gratified to note that there were no Scotland jerseys on the slide as we squeezed past tired riders on rough, narrow roads. The rolling, hedge rowed roads after the climb saw a “regroupmente” and small groups of desperate men weaved through the convoy.
Just as we made it up to the back of the bunch one Irish lad went down hard in front of us, it’s easy to forget what a dangerous sport it can be, especially with tired riders in a big bunch. By this time our race radio had expired and Brian decide to pass the bunch to see the lay of the land.
A man in the move
I spotted Stewart, Lee and Jim but no Paul. The conclusion was that Paul was in the lead group, Brian’s driving immediately went from demented to diabolic. I have never been so happy to see cyclists backsides, isn’t 30 mph nice and safe?
The group comprised all the big hitters, and there was our Paul, sitting comfortably at the back. We got up to Paul and gave him a bottle, Brian told him not to do any work in the group. Along the Balnaclash road, the surfaces were grim but fortunately there were no punctures. The pub at the bottom of the main climb at Glenmalure saw a host of Celtic strip clad locals, clutching pints, cheer the race through. The riders turned right and the climb started immediately, three kilometres through the trees to the moors and the memorial to the man who gives the race its name.
The first half of the climb saw Paul looking good. Three Km’s is a long way though, and despite handling the steeper lower slopes well, as the gradient eased the speed went up and Paul was in the wrong end of a split. If the climb has a redeeming feature it is the fact that the top is the top, there are no false flats or plateaus.
Just past the memorial to the great man the descent begins. We had hopes of a regrouping on the long, winding descent but the leaders were flying, Elliott chasing the dosh like the old pro he is and the Irishmen chasing the UCI points for Olympic selection. On faster tarmac Paul would have been fine but these were rolling, heavy r oads. It was painful to watch as Paul slid out of the back, despite our exhortations he was off, on his own and toiling. Those, ‘Vote for Pat Casey’ posters appeared again so we knew the finish wasn’t too far.
Getting back on
One of Nicholas Parsons’ boys caught him but Paul could not hold the wheel. A “sore sprackle” ensued, Planet X man Tanner, Andrew Roche from the Isle of Man and another four caught him but again he could not catch the train. The final, fast descent to Bray gave him a new lease of life, next thing he was in the Chiapucci bum over the saddle position and dropping like a brick towards the coast, down through the cars and buses, back on. ‘Good boy Paul!’ We went up and gave him a last bottle, no need to tell him not to go through this time! With just the minor placings to fight over the speed was not too bad and Paul held on into Bray.
The finish was soon upon us, passing the appropriately named, Bray Wanderers ground the cars had to peel off. ‘Did you sprint?’ I asked him. ‘Well, I tried to speed up a wee bit,’ came the reply. Whilst Paul had been fighting his battle, up front David O’Loughlin of Total Cycling had jumped the other four and soloed to the win. Things in Ireland are different, strongman McCann preferring to see his compatriot go up the road rather than set it up for the rapid Elliott.
The final scores were, Paul in the prizes in 21st spot, Lee 50th, Jim (with dicky tummy) 85t, both in the bunch. Stewart finished in the ambulance with a badly done-in knee.
The four riders enjoyed the experience, this was Lee’s first exposure at this level and a bunch finish in a 1.5 is no disgrace. The ride Paul put in was a good one, he took himself in to physical and psychological territory where he does not have to go in Scotland. If he was exposed to this level week on week there is no doubt he would soon be up sprinting with the happy guys.
The journey home? I’m just happy to be alive and writing this.
P.S. ta for the Guinness boys, but PLEASE trim those brake cables!