I loved Saturday evenings when I was younger.
I remember a time when we played underage hurling games around 7.30 and they were just marvellous; all day preparing the seven hurleys I was going to break off someone’s head, watching Rocky films, listening to R. Kelly on the way in the van, the sun beating in through the windscreen, me and my brother silent in the front seat trying to get into the zone.
‘Are you finished with R. Kelly yet?’…If Gotham City wouldn’t make you wanna take a fellow U14 hurler’s head off, nothing would.
If I was to choose where the games would be played, it’d be a toss-up between the top pitch in Riverstick or Kinsale; crammed, noisy venues where parking was a nightmare and you could hear some fella’s father call you a little bollocks in the crowd.
We used win a lot. And no disrespect to the teams we played but we’d often win fairly handy too. It’d be so handy, in fact, that I mightn’t take a drink of water at half-time.
I was a corner forward and while it wouldn’t exactly be a one-man show (joking!) half a dozen of us would get the name in the paper next week and we’d generally feel like legends.
It was always balmy up in those places and life was just bloody great. I’d chat away to my man, know what subjects he’s doing in school by the end and never (ever) pull a dirty stroke. If I did pull wildly I’d say sorry immediately.
If Oliver Webb or Benji Keohane was reffing they’d trot the 300 metres to blow the whistle for a free before making sure we shook hands.
I’m convinced neither brought cards with them to games either. It was all fun and friendly and lovely.
When we won we all won and we all went to the pub after. We’d drink coke and play pool and just strut around with smug heads…counting down to Monday until we can go into school and embellish the win to those who weren’t there…
Oh how times have changed…
Fast forward around 15 years and I’m on a climb outside a town south of Barcelona called Sant Pere de Ribes. I’m about to blow up. Heart, lungs and legs are shutting down. The head calls for one more effort.
I’m 3 minutes and 17 seconds into the race. Yes folks, you read that correctly.
It’s an amateur bike race known as a Grand Classic and all the big guns from Catalunya are here, and me.
We are racing up a climb at 44kph, albeit with the help of a tailwind.
This is absolute madness, I tell myself. It’s funny how at the moment I was on the brink that I remembered those sun-spoilt zero-stress Saturday evenings.
The beads of sweat are dripping into my eyes – even more so when I’m going upwards because of the gradient. I rip the glasses from my face and concentrate only on getting over this first climb.
We have seven laps of 20 kilometres with two climbs on each lap; one ramp reaches 100 metres, the other 250 metres.
So I do a quick math; this is the first of 14 climbs – and I am blowing up. This could be a very short day.
Without going blow by blow a break goes on lap one and there’s a ceasefire behind. That has a minute by the start of lap three.
I’m sitting in the group okay now, comforting myself in the fact that everybody else is suffering too.
There’s still 100 kilometres to go and seeing others rocking gives me great strength…until we start racing again.
Another group slips away and now I’m in group three; probably too strong to be here but perhaps not strong enough to stay in groups one and two.
Then the heat and humidity begin to squeeze my legs and tighten my throat. I need water from somewhere or my race is over.
In a Grand Classic you have few friends outside of your teammates. My teammate is up the road – as is the team car with all our lovely bottles of chilled cherry cola.
A guy from Andorra locks up in both legs, let’s a roar out and the whole bunch laughs as he grinds to a halt. We’re all a place higher on the results because he’s gone out the back door.
Another guy takes his hands off the bars to fix his glasses and a sunken manhole swallows him in half a second.
His carbon wheel crunched like it was paper maché. Wouldn’t wish that on anyone but he was okay…I saw him get up.
Long story short, the fight for water becomes critical but I got some mild relief from a Corvi rider who doused himself with his 750ml and as I was right behind him I got sprayed in the face.
It was a phenomenal moment and bought my legs a few more minutes.
There’s a saying in cycling that you do not wait for your opponent to get up from the canvass, rather you finish him while he’s down.
Well, that was very much the theme of yesterday’s battering contest where I ended up 52nd best of some 150 starters (and 60 finishers)…though crucially on the first page of the results!
Oh, and for the referee…he wasn’t near as kind as Olly or Benji mentioned above.
This guy, known in cycling as the commissaire, gave us all kinds of encouragement from the car in what was one of the funniest tirades I’ve ever heard.
A rough translation of one lashing was ‘I closed these f*****g main roads for ye to race, now get on with it, look at all the tourists ye are holding up, VAMOS, VAMOS’!!! (yes, we were on the main road to Valencia for a good stretch yesterday!)
Olly and Benji would have ordered us a bus to get us home!
Saturday evenings have changed alright.