|Soigneur secrets of the Ras number 44:|
Niall is living proof of the efficacy of Ireland's
time-tested cure for a hard blow to the face.
It'd be Niall. No doubt jongen. By a long shot. 'No one else in the photo' as they'd say in Belgium.
I met Niall on the road on the first day of the Ras. He looked totally euro pro, Assos shorts, kit all matching, bike clean and impeccable. Pedalled great, smooth on the bike, perfect position. He was familiar with most of the climbs we'd be doing. He knew their savage nature, and counseled us yanks to respect what lay ahead.
Niall was also patient. For being the total idiot I am, for the next few days I mis-remembered his name and kept calling him Colin. He graciously let me off the hook, "Eddy, my name's Niall." Sorry Colin ;)
Wrapped up in my own personal pain cave at the finish in Lisdoonvarna, word filtered in later that Niall had been taken out by someone sprinting for the finish who rammed him from behind. It was a bad crash. His road rash was extensive. I saw him on the line the next morning though, arm wrapped up, yet shrugging it off as if it were no more than a paper cut.
|Road rash didn't slow Niall one bit.|
But Niall was at the start the next morning though. Brushing it off again. Concerned, I asked him how he was feeling. He stoically shurgged, and said it wasn't broken, it wasn't so bad. No doubt about not finishing. A real hard man.
Eddy Merckx got up from a smashed cheekbone to finish 2nd in the '75 Tour, leading the pack into Paris, still attacking Thevenet till the end. It was a courageous feat on cycling's biggest stage that many still remember.
|Wounded Merckx on the Champs Elysee: |
1975 Tour de France.
No matter. I'll always remember it as being just as impressive.
Years from now, when my mental film of the Ras week has blurred together in a melange of rain and wet clothes and Guinness and damp cold and GAA tea stops and green and sheep and laughter and heavy roads, my memory of this quiet, courageous hard man from Cork will remain crystal clear.
Because Niall is my Man of the Ras.