Minding my own business, that’s what I was doing. Just sitting at the back of the group, listening to the gridding and accepting reality, when from the top of his voice and most definitely off the top of his head race organiser Pat McHugh called my name. Only I was wearing antlers and not a curly tail it would have been the perfect Miss Piggy moment. “On the grid. Moi?” The chorus suitably guffawed.
The grid I now find has its advantages. You get to hear more of the repartee, like “I believe there’s an undertaker with flowers at the first corner”, or the wind-ups like “straight down and turn left”. There’s a greater view of who’s ahead of you, and in this case, accompanied with a murmur as our better view of the ladies race suggested there were two visitors in the Munster midst. “Anyone heard of Donkey racing – other than on a beach, no – and who’s the Orwell Wheeler?”
“Grace Young is going to have her work cut out today” opined John Kennedy from the commentary booth. “She’s bossed all the races to date, but now she has new competition. Welcome please Leinster’s Stephanie Roche and reigning national champion Maria Larkin who are joining Marcia Salvador, Louise Mulvany, Berdien Driscoll and Sinéad Rock on the start line.”
From my new-found position in the grid, I envied John Kennedy’s position. He could say anything at all I guessed, like:
“That’s Maria Larin there, racing in her Donkey Label gear. In an equestrian centre Maria? Maria also has a master’s degree in irony but she’ll find no sanctuary here.” He probably wouldn’t say that though as she’s also backed by a US cycling legal team of FK Law.
He would probably steer clear of “This will be donkey versus human as Grace rides for All-Human Velo Revolution, Stephanie Roche should know about that, her clansman Nicholas once rode against a horse, and lost. Stephanie is backed by investors and a bicycle company, maybe she should consider investing in Ballindenisk Equestrian centre.”
In the end John opted for ‘and they’re off” and us on the grid heard from one of us “I think I might stop just to watch that”. That would be prove to be a very considered position.
My considered position on the grid was soon in jeopardy too when the Over the Hill CX B-Race began. I had taken the inside and only line available to me. As one of my competitors struggled to get his foot into the pedal and careered in front of me, the undertaker undertook a semblance of reality. His poor flowers would have wilted in the expletive heavy cacophony, as we turned into that right hand pit-side corner in a tumult of slipping tyres, unclipped feet, sandy shrapnel spray and near death experiences. Basically CX racing at its best.
After manoeuvring through the chicane the course took a right turn through some shaley BMX lumps and into a bog. This was cyclable, but at what cost? We were then diverted into the top field, through so many turns I could not tell, but just enough back and forth that I could see who was ahead of me, who was behind and who had disappeared.
We were then tantalisingly offered some pathway, only to find ourselves diverted into rushes and when the path finally reappeared it was turned upwards, throughout the gates of hell, where the Midleton CTC supporters could be heard yell “There’s Will Rock and Dave McCarthy’s back – Go neirí thú Cian – Sprint Daire sprint – And finally, “Here’s Rudolf.” Rudolf was having a bit of a scrap himself, pursued by Michael Prancer Hines and Niall Dasher Ryan. It seems they were still smarting since Santa McHugh brought me to the front of events.
Now at the back of the course, there was a lovely little straight which brought you down to an off-camber maze. For anyone preferring to cycle – or unable to run – this was a section of quick thinking turns, trust in tyres and 5 Hail Mary’s. This is where time was to be lost and advantages found. It was here I first spied Maria Larkin, seemingly close by, but not for a while. Behind her, eyes in fixed determination Grace Young bided her time. “Not now – hold tight” she thought, perhaps she was waiting for Maria’s first slip?
Through the turns The Over the Hill Course had another signature dish, the river dash, down in and up and out to the left. There are right feet out there that still haven’t dried out. The key was to pedal through it and into the arena, and the strangest surface I’ve ever cycled on. It had a surface the texture of the top of a rice pudding – a disgusting dish at the best of times – and the consistency of overcooked porridge. It was like cycling through middle-class mud, sophisticated and unstained. Over the Hill went beyond the call of duty here, providing us with straights and then turns, and these turns proved consequential.
So inseparable were Maria and Grace that when they caught and passed me that had they both been wearing green you would have sworn it was Eve McCrystal and Katie-George Dunlevey on a Treksilized tandem. Grace was obviously still hoping Maria might slip, and Maria was hoping to give Grace the slip. And so, in formation, on they rode, two mannerly athletes, one stubborn and the other not willing to be stubbed. All the while John Kennedy wove a web over the crowd.
“This is some race, no this is not A race, this is THE race of the season”. He was right too, and the news spread throughout the course. As I entered into the awful camber section I had a birds-eye view of the action, and paused to remember the words of my gridmate – “I think I might just stop to watch that”.
So with one eye on the course and the other on the arena I watched Maria’s White and Green Ireland jersey appear into the arena. In hot pursuit the colourful colours of Grace’s Velo Revolution suit. Maria had a lead, but the rice pudding was ever so soggy now, sapping the strength from Grace’s final effort. Maria made the bends, Grace got through them.
Grace made amends on the straights as Maria fought through them, taking the final turns with seconds to spare she dug in to mark a memorable win, which, for all-time, shall be known as the day of donkey racing in the equestrian centre– please don’t sue me Maria!
As for me, it was the day Rudolf was once again brought to the front with his face so bright. Well Prancer Hines and Dasher Bright had really taken that red nose thing bad, and they hounded and hunted poor Rudolf to the very line and gave him a very good work out!
With thanks to the members and volunteers of Over the Hill CC, the organisers of the Munster CX League, photographers Michael Buckley today and Sean Rowe throughout the season, the Racing Timing Guy & commentator John Kennedy (I may have put some words in your mouth!) and all the racers and, ahem, gridded riders like me!
All images © Michael Buckley, Velo Revolution