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AJ before beauty

It’s not a disgrace to be lapped in cyclocross – there are a myriad of reasons why – but damn it when you’re overtaken by a newbie riding a hybrid bike pedalling like he’s late for mass well that’s just not the look you’re going for. But like the American electorate it was all my own fault. It started with a text from AJ Murphy:

  • “Was thinking if you can’t make Aghada I might borrow your cyclocross bike”

  • “Well the good news for you and me is that I’m racing myself but I bought a second hand CX frame and could build it if you’re stuck

  • “This is my bike for Sat it’s an old hybrid I had anyway so worth a shot just ordered set tyres mtb pedals and shoes should b fun oh and I’m blaming you for this madness. Where could a fella practice?”

  • “I’ll have kids at home but was going to put up some planks in the garden for practicing the jumps. Seriously!”

Seriously became Saturday morning and as I gave the Aghada route my usual non-chalant courtesy practice lap I noticed an absence of AJ. Had he chosen against the madness? If he had wisdom would forgive him. I got distracted by the children’s race where my son collected his medal and third place. “I was third Dad” he beamed. “There were three in the race” his sister happily chimed. The image of the three U-10 competitors shaking hands and backslapping is a great way to thank all those involved in the CX league for organising the kids races. Thank You All.

‘Thanks’, though, is through gritted teeth on this tough CX lap to De Ronde CC, Tom Mulqueen and co. Different to last year it rode the East Cork Adventure Grounds anticlockwise and while it lost the punishing crazy golf it gained paint balling and as close to a ski slope slalom as you’ll find. Starting with an uphill push on a gravel path, the course traversed hardcore dash and into a leg-sapping quagmire. All the paint ball was missing was paintballs, but it would have been like shooting fish in a barrel so slow were the wood chippings. Then back down to the stones and through a gap in a hedge a farmer would have blocked with a pallet. If only the farmer would have levelled the way too, it was like cycling through a bowl of sugar lumps. Then onto the grasslands, the planks and toward the ski slope. A switchback or two brought us over chickenwire bridge and then to log jump and more fieldwork. Finally back onto the gravel path, past the pits and the supporters and shouters.

Our B-race group was only 20 competitors, but there he was, the one newbie, on the parish priests bicycle. His very presence doubling the Midleton CTC entry, I gave him the benefit of my knowledge which didn’t take long. I inexpertly reduced the pressure in my rear tyre and we were off, heeding the Cycling Ireland Commissaire’s advice to be kind to each other, there’ll be plenty of time for over taking. Well Commissaire they didn’t take their time overtaking me! Despite my determination for a good start I seemed to be on the back pedal from the get go, but never one to let my own failings get in the way of a damn good excuse I pinch punctured quickly and ended up riding the first lap on a flat (a fate to befall MCTC’s Peter Meaney in the A-race too). Meanwhile, somewhere ahead of me, on his flats, AJ pedalled on.

Pretending or hallucinating I entered the pits like I was Lewis Hamilton and called upon my untried unbranded spare steel CX bike. This 70’s machine had cost me the same amount as most of my competitors would pay for a spare tyre but in value terms it was the difference of paying an entry fee for 10 minutes instead of an hour. I roared out of the pits – no I didn’t – I was still trying to get my SPD shoes into toeclips – but hoped I could possibly find a backmarker and reset my dream from a good start to a good finish, or at least not to be lapped. I set off again and the untested bike felt comfortable underneath, but I was careful not to press it too much, nor did I have plans to puncture. Up through pallet gap I decided to test it a little bit and it took the first lump well, but unlike the song, these lumps of sugar didn’t make the medicine go down, instead I did. Tyre in gloop, bike in ground, head in ditch. Elsewhere AJ had already ditched the competition.

I wish I could write more about my competition, but I hardly saw them, and I need to seek their forgiveness maybe for even calling them that. Still I reckoned I hadn’t been lapped but listening to the loudspeaker telling some competitors they had 2 and others 3 laps to go made me fear the worst. Instead I focussed on my ride, pitiful as it was, but was admiringly happy with my steed, this old French cross bike which on such short notice was balancing perfectly and upstaging the even more beautiful Alan. I must have got distracted as soon after I felt AJ looming and he was catching me. Damn it. If only I could hold him off. No chance. He was on his way to his first vicxtory. On his hybrid. I let him through, and thought to myself

‘after you sir, AJ before beauty’!

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