Slán J.J., you'll be missed.

Just found out a few nights ago that my friend Paul McCormack's father, Irish cycling legend J.J. McCormack passed away on Sept. 9 in Dublin.    He was 84.

He'd had an over a decade long battle with Alzheimers, which ironically and sadly in this case first had struck a fit cyclist who had a body that could ride 50 miles, but a mind soon afflicted to the point he couldn't find his way home on rides, and later couldn't recognize family.  It was so hard on them all, even tougher on sons Paul and Alan, an ocean away in America.  The Irish diaspora is no less painful in the 21st century.  

J.J. I hardly knew ye, but I feel I knew you, by derivative, through your wonderful family.

I've known Paul and Alan for years... first banging handlebars in a Back Bay Boston criterium back when Leprechaun Alan hit the US shore in May 1980.  His kid brother Paul and I later became close friends, and collaborated on putting together the Sean Kelly promotional tour in '95-'96.  Our families are close.  I stayed at the McCormack family home in Drogmahede, on Dublin's northside last October.   And while I never met and didn't know J.J., I kinda feel a part of his extended family, especially after how I was welcomed as such by Paul's mom Rita and the rest of the extended McCormack family.   For this assimilation-resistant Irish-American, going to Dublin was like going home.  Hard to explain, something inside.

I first heard of Paul and Alan's 'Da' back in 1984 or so, when a friend back home in Beverly, Chris Finn, went to ride the Raleigh Junior Tour of Ireland.  He came back with tales of how race organizer J.J. McCormack had taken him and the other yanks under his wing, remarkably finding time to make sure they had everything they needed, giving them advice and encouragement.  Remembering their names.

J.J. was one of Ireland's top riders in the '50's,  even riding the 1959 World Championship Road Race in Zandvoort, Netherlands.   He was a doer, an organizer, a man of great pursuasion.  A friend-maker.   He founded the Eagle C.C., coached his sons, organized the Tour of Ireland, and became a honcho with the Irish cycling federation.  Oh yeah, and raced himself.  He worked hard, raised a family.  He gave a lot of himself, getting back not money, but rather satisfaction, respect, and a host of friends - many of whom paid tribute last week.  J.J's funeral was attended by hundreds.  Check out the tributes here, here and here.

In a culture defined by clans, Irish cycling culture was, and is, dominated by a handful of old line clans:  The McQuaids,  The McCormacks.  The Cassidys.  The Roches.    J.J.?  Well, he was head of the McCormack clan.

Irish Team, World's RR, 1959:  J.J. McCormack is on the left.
The photo that has pride of place on Paul's living room wall in Plymouth is not what one might expect of a former pro cyclist. It's not one of Paul racing in the '88 Olympics, or winning the Ras.  Rather, it's an old black and white photo of J.J., out of the saddle, grimacing, riding the '59 worlds.

It's a picture that whenever I see, I smile and always envision in vivid color.

Zandvoort is right on the Nordzee, a Northern European seaside resort area, much like around Dublin or Bray.  I've been to Zandvoort many times, and made some good friends there in the bike biz.  Zandvoort ironically has a great Irish pub, my friends the Versteeges would make a point of bringing me there.  Those '59 world's were on a circuit in the dunes, around the famous motor racing circuit.  One March day, the wind off the North Sea was so strong, my friend Jeroen couldn't push open the car door.   It's not an exaggeration.  The '59 Zandvoort Worlds may have been flat, but I'm quite sure they weren't easy.

Flandriacafe's condolences to Paul, Alan, Brian, John, Carol, Rita and all the McCormack family.  I'm sorry I couldn't be there to pay my respects to you personally J.J., but will raise a pint to a great man tonight.

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