Ah, the life of an a4 rider by Eamonn Staunton
We are the peasants, the hairy legged low lives, the crash causing inexperienced riders, the mockery of the cycling scene.
Well that’s how it seemed at the end of the Markievicz cup in Sligo on Saturday. I was well placed, probably 8th place heading into the last 150m, feeling good. Slap, bang, boys hit the deck in front of me. For gods sake, I’m at the front, not many in front of me to even crash, but boy, was it a crash. I go flying, over the handlebars and wait for the ensuing pile up to smash into me. 1,2,3 seconds pass and no one has smashed into me. I can’t believe my luck. Straight away I knew one thing, that I was perfectly OK. I felt even better than I did before the crash, and my bike, my precious bloody bike was fine too. The front Tyre blew out but it was 7 years old and I was about to replace it anyway.
An a3 rider at the line was cursing the yellow numbers (a4). I politely pointed out that there was just as many white numbers (a3) at the front when the crash happened. But of course, only one colour would be blamed. Sure even a Tour de France can be riddled with crashes, and that’s the cream of the professionals. Crashes happen!
And so I wake up to a beautiful calm sunny Sunday morning. The surf report tells me that the winds will pick up during the day, so the still conditions are temporary. I wonder about skipping the race, burying myself around Delphi in the lovely weather, and be back home with the Sunday dinner, feet up in time for the Liverpool-United game at 1.30pm. Its tempting!
But something won’t let me. I just wouldn’t feel right for the day if I skipped the race. So I decide to drive the150 miles round trip for a 30 mile race. Crazy. I consoled myself by organizing an evening pint of Guinness with my best friend. A reference point to sanity.
I see some friendly faces up at sign on. Noel Mulroy, Sean McLoughlin, Dave Walsh. Sean asks if I’m warming up. That’s what the first lap is for. I did reccie the finish though. Just to fully make sure my bike was ok after the previous days crash. Slight drag up hill in the last 600m or so, but alas, not overly steep or hard, and no major advantage to my climbing legs.
And the race starts. There’s a big field. My aim is to sit in for 2 laps and give it a go on the last lap. I just couldn’t shake the criticism of the a4’s the previous day and I spent a lot of time analyzing the riding that was goin on. For the most part it wasn’t bad. A few dodge boys alright, didn’t and couldn’t read the movement of the group. The key is , a bit of give and a bit of take. You can’t just jump around as you please. Movements, reactions have to be quick but in a relaxed, calculated manner. Not jumpy like some half tame horse.
Even as much as you want to sit in , you have to at times, move up towards the front. Get away from the back of the group. Up the outside. I had the mantra of “moving up the outside” which I repeated out loud constantly as I did just that, move up the outside to the front. I ensured to repeat it in a soothing but firm tone, like a boring but self confident priest. Shouting it out could have caused serious panic among the more jumpy riders. Even I hate the random needless shouts from riders during a race ,that even put me on edge. Noel Mulroy got great enjoyment out of my mantra. But hey, it kept things safer.
The covies were represented on the front and out in front during the race. I got excited myself halfway through the second lap and done a little up and over off the front with another rider but with little success. Noel and Sean were busy up the front end of the group for long periods and riding really well. Great to have friendly faces in a big group.
Onto the last lap and I’m questioning my motivation to get stuck in and mix it at the front. The crash in yesterdays race has slightly gotten to me. I drift around in the top half. Sometimes wallowing in low self confidence , other times snapping out of it and trying to focus. I seriously think about rolling off the back and cycling to the finish in the safety of my own company. I just had a feeling there would be a pile up.
The bunch strings out. Nice, neat and orderly, everyone is one the right side of the road. I look up the straight road and see the right hand corner up ahead. Bloody hell! I’m in the last kilometer. I’m at best, halfway down the bunch. At worst near the back. Down the gears, out of the saddle, I start to move. Up the outside, no mantra, quietly this time. Its OK though, loads of room. I’m not going crazy, just rolling over a big gear at a reasonable cadence, 60-80rpm. I hit the corner and the slight uphill rise right at the front of the main bunch, and dig hard. A few riders ahead. I feel myself gaining ground on them and leaving the bunch behind. Oh, uphill, how i adore you.
500m to go and I’m past the front of the bunch, catching the boys that went too early, something I’m notorious for doing. A galway bay rider has also made his move. He looks strong and I get on his wheel as my legs are screaming at me to stop. I politely tell them to shut up. We pass Sean and as much as I wanted to mutter encouragement, I don’t think I was physically able. Nor did I want to let galway bay know I was on his wheel.
250m and we are passing the last two riders in front. I know they won’t be joining us. So I’m in, locked and loaded heading for the line, wondering how I managed to get there, in this position. “Shut up and focus!” I tell myself. Smashing it for the line , I wait, and wait and wait. 50 m to go, that’ll do it. So I go! But man, will my legs go much faster? No! I slowly gain but the line is coming faster. I give it my all, lunge for the line……second! I can’t complain at all. In fact I’m delighted with the result.
It was great to then watch Patjoe take a great win in the A3 race. He hit the front at the perfect time, half a meter from the line. Bam! That’s how its done. Considering there was 148 riders in the races, the Mayo clubs placed amazingly well in all of them. A great standard of riding among the clubs. Long may it last!
In to mcgings Sunday night for my Guinness. I had just the one. Maybe I’m getting sensible. Maybe I don’t want Guinness to be an excuse for the next race. I want to do it again. Be in a position to win. At the business end of the race when it counts.
And now I have 7 points.
7 points closer to the white number, 7 points closer to shaving my legs, 7 points closer to riding longer, faster , harder races.
Ah, the life of an a4 rider!