Day 4: Charleville - Cahirciveen. The soul of the Ras.

The alarm goes off.  It's pouring outside. Still. Story of my life, eh?

I think of the story of a stormy morning long ago when Luxembourg D.S. Jean Goldscmidt famously opened the window blinds and said to Charly Gaul, just before he slaughtered the field in a similar deluge in the Chartreuse Alps to Aix les Bains in the 1958 Tour de France, "Up and at 'em soldier, this is your day."

Yup. D-Day jongen.  The day I'd prepared for for months.  Why I rode in this winter in snow and cold.

Today's the Ras queen stage.  Into the Ring of Kerry. To Cahirciveen.  A ten categorized climb, sawtooth stage profile. A road west into a green mystical landscape resembling a place that looks like a setting where Frodo would chase a different sort of ring.

Kerry's 'Terrible Beauty.'
I break the day into two sections in my mind. The four cat 3's before lunch are the focus now.  Take the climbs one at a time.

On the road, Paul and I are at the back.  It's miserable and pouring in the first hour.  I'm back here because I'm trying to save my legs. He's here because he's sick.  Bad chest cold.  Not good.

Group stop for a pee.  Paul gets in the van, changes and hops into the night bag truck going straight to tonight's hotel in Sneem. Smart move.  Paul's got nothing to prove, and he's really sick.  I'm worried about my friend.

Back on the road, it's still pouring and I turn the mind off. Don't think of the end. After awhile I move up. Working will help me stay warm at least.  At least the legs feel good today.  Really good.
Home to the other Wild Colonial Boy: "Jack Duggan was his name."

First climb is ok.  Second one to Glenquin, I pull at the front into it early, then ride the 2nd half second wheel, just behind our group leader Declan.  Declan is masters racer who looks perfect on the bike, stretched out, long, perfect pedal stroke, and very, very strong.  Toward the top it hurts to hold Deccie's wheel, but I cling there a little afraid to break from his steady cadence.  Just as the legs start to really burn, I'm happy to see the KOM flags ahead. That's 2 down.

Kerry coast.  (Joe Duffy/Race the Ras Photo)
On the nextclimb to Ahaneboy I again find myself near the front, only this time alongside Alan.  Big turnaround from two days ago, funny how that goes.  Guess I'm surviving so far ok, but still wary of what's still to come.  Alan's words of encouragement help my morale a lot.

We're stopped at the top. A few miles ago, we passed an accident.  A rider in what we've called the 'only slightly less fast' group that started 15 min before us, collided into the back of a parked truck, is down and badly hurt. Medics are attending him. We wait. Lose time.  Get cold.  They decide to regroup us at the bottom of the climb.  More waiting.  Now we roll to an airport. Another wait.  They decided to move the feed there.  We go in for a coffee.  Get in the queue.  Nope, change of plan, we're leaving now.  10 more k to the roadside feed picnic at a gas station.  More lost time.
On the road to Cahirciveen.  (Photo courtesy Joe Duffy/Race the Ras)
The real Ras is breathing down our neck now.  If we don't get to Cahirciveen before a certain time, we won't be allowed to do the final 40k circuit with its three killer climbs. We eat quickly and goose it out onto the road, riding a fast tempo. On the way, we're told we'll stop in Cahirciveen, calling it a day after about 150k.  They won't risk letting us on the finishing loop and getting mixed up with the real race.  Just after we arrive, the bunch comes roaring into town on their way to the final climbs.

A long day, but part of me feels pangs of guilt at not being tested on Coomansipic on a day the legs felt good.  I'm under no illusion though.  It would have been savage.

Not sure if these smiles are from finally seeing the sun, or for not having
enough time to ride over Coomansipic.
In Cahirciveen the sun is finally out.  It's a fantastic place. I could live, and die happy here, I think. A small town on the sea, with mountains rearing up inland.  Everything blue and green.  The sun is finally shining.  I get on my bike a climb a steep path up and out of town to explore.  It quickly climbs up to hiking paths, hundreds of feet up.  The view is simply magnificent.  Hiking here would be great. I can see why Kerry is a favorite of American tourists.

Alan and I clean our bikes, stick them in the truck and walk down to watch the stage finish outside the main pub 100 meters from the line.  I see them come in.  The Yellow Jerseyed Kiwi Patrick Bevin takes the sprint win for his 2nd stage win. Watching the rest trickle in after a killer stage, I hear the PA system announce words that pique my interest:

"There he is ladies and gentleman, the winner of the 1958 Ras Tailteann, Mick Murphy"

I'd boasted earlier this year on this blog that if I made it to Cahirciveen, I was going to shake the hand of Mick Murphy.  So looked a few steps away and there on the rail at the finish stood a stooped, very elderly man, surrounded by a few other grey haired guys looking after him, almost like they were protecting him.

The Iron Man was wearing a patchwork shawl-coat that looked like he'd clearly hand sewn it.  And he looked a little dazed by all the commotion.

I approached, but suddenly something caused me to balk.  Perhaps not doing the final climbs made me feel I hadn't earned the honor. I just know instinct told me from his movement and his fragile appearance, and his eyes that it didn't feel right to intrude or bother this man.

So I turned, and was face to face with another man who'd been part of that group of Kerry senior senators. He was standing by the door of a pub, a few steps away, alone and unrecognized.  A stocky guy with beer barrel girth, about my height, in ruddy good health with a full head of white hair.  Looked like a man who wouldn't refuse a pint, or a fry.

I know the face well.  He's never seen mine.  I smile.

"You won the Ras too."  I open with a statement of fact.

And the great Paudie Fitzgerald gives a welcoming smile back, one right out a Failte Eire tourist guide manual.


Paudie Fitzgerald, Ras winner, 1956.
(An Post Ras photo)
"Yes I did. And I rode the very first one, back in 1953," he replies, maybe more than a little surprised a yank recognized him.

But ever conscious of not wanting to be revealed as the total cycling history geek that I am,  I didn't tell him I knew that fact too. Nor did I reveal my certainty in knowing that while Iron Mick Murphy may personify the raw physical essence of the Ras; beyond any doubt this man standing in front of me, Paudie Fitzgerald, personifies its Republican soul.

Back in the 1950's he was an NCA man from Kerry.  A stalwart of the Ciarrai county team.  Along with those from Dublin, Kerry's teams dominated the Ras back then with Gene Mangan, Paudi Fitzgerald, Mick Murphy. An Irish cycling version of NY Yankees murderers row.

In those days, and as a part of that 32 county, GAA affiliated sports Federation that ran the Ras, NCA riders were banned from international competition because they refused to recognize the Anglo-Irish agreement on Ulster.  You could ride the Ras and be a national hero in Ireland.  The price?  You couldn't ride anywhere else in the world.

I was well aware that this anonymous face in the crowd in Cahirciveen had won the 1956 Ras, the year
Cookstown incident.  1956 Ras. (An Post Ras photo)
of the famous Cookstown flag incident, when the Ras tried to fly the tricolor over the border in Northern Ireland.  A fracas with RUC broke out, the stage was cancelled, but the peloton kept their flag flying.  Up the Republic.

Later that same year, Paudie was selected to represent an 'uninvited' NCA Irish team organized by Ras founder and IRA man Joe Christle to jump into the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne in protest to their ban.  That 'bandit' Irish team was not allowed in the games.  On the start line, Paudie and his teammates were taken away into custody.  Following Christle's orders, they spent the rest of their time in Melbourne taking down every Union Jack they could find. Italy's Ercole Baldini won that '56 Olympic road race at a slower average speed than that of the entire Ras Tailteann that same year.

Kerry County Team, 1956 Ras. (An Post Ras photo)
I introduce myself, and am privileged to have a nice chat with a true gentleman. Paudie tells me how he'd been watching the Tour of California on TV. Wanted to know how I liked Ireland, how I was enjoying riding the Ras. He wanted to hear about racing in America, about Boston.  I had a million things I wanted to ask about his past, but ironically found myself talking about the present. It occured to me that perhaps that's the secret to aging as well as Paudie Fitzgerald. Stay current, stay interested, stay curious.

My dime was up, I needed to get back. Didn't want to miss the bus to Sneem.  I thanked the man, shook his hand, wished him well and headed back to the bus.

At the Sneem hotel, Alan and I stay in the room and chat with Paul before dinner.  He'd had a bad stomach all day and his chest cold sounds like it's getting worse.  We arrange to have dinner sent up to him, have a nice dinner ourselves.  I give him an Airborne tablet.  He's taking antibiotics he wisely brought over for just such an occurence.

At dinner I'm happy to learn that the man who crashed today is in hospital recovering ok, but will need some facial plastic surgery.  He's lucky, could have been much worse.

Charles De Gaulle may have hung out in Sneem,
but he never won the Ras!
After dinner, Brian took Alan and I on the bus sightseeing to the posh Chateau where French President Charles De Gaulle spent holidays, to a statue to the Sneem born American TV wrestling star Crusher Casey.  And an ancient stone of ancient keltic carvings we touch for good luck.  Brian has encyclopedic knowledge of interesting Irish sites, and he's making sure I maximize taking in as much as I can. I'm very grateful.  If you ever go to Ireland, hire Brian McCormack Coaches to drive your group around, believe me you won't be sorry!

I look around wishing I could spend more time here in Ciarrai.  On the way back, the sky is blackening again. Rain again predicted for tomorrow. Tomorrow we're up at 5:30 to allow for the hour back to Cahriciveen to ride more of the Ring of Kerry.

Back in the room, Aaron and I check on our gear.  Aaron has downloaded the days data.  I go to sleep hoping Paul gets better.

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