Showdowns at the Spaghetti Grounds – De Ronde 21
The wind may have come in from the north at De Ronde Cross, but the turns came from North, East, South and West. Amongst the A’s were the Richards, Barry and Maes, and there in the B’s were Terence ‘T’ Rea and me.
The two A’s got off to a cleaner start, being grided at the front, unlike T and me who were girding ourselves at the back of the pack for what was to come. In fairness, as the results would prove, our respective positions on the start-line were well deserved, racers to the front, messers to the back. Yet, in positions we had a common interest, as each wanted to be one result in front of the other.
The A race being but half as populous as the B race, allowed all the A racers to a reasonable start. For T and me though we may as well as have got stuck at a pelican crossing waiting for a school group of senior infants to pass under the watchful eye of their teacher before we even got around the first corner. In the far distance we could just see the head of our race. And yet the race was in front of our eyes, between you and me T.
“Between you and me’ muttered Richie Barry as he followed Maes into the off-camber trench that bordered the eastern perimeter of the De Ronde Course. “Catch me if you can” was Maes response, as his tubular tyres chewed the grass of the highline. Richie Barry opted for an existing rut, but there was only so much grip to be had on the soft mud and he came unstuck. A good start for Maes it seemed.
It wasn’t so much starting as stopping everybody behind him that occupied T. Taking the time to fix his grin, he slowed to ensure that his best angle was snapped before proceeding through the trench and holding up everybody behind him. His seemed like a good wheel to follow until I realised that he was as mystified as to his whereabouts as anyone else. He quickly corrected his trajectory while I wrapped my handlebar in marker tape and wrapped up everybody behind me. Curses, I could see his jersey disappear into the distance.
Distance is a strange thing in cyclocross knows Richie Barry. Your competitor could be in touching distance, on the other side of the tape and right beside you, but out of reach. Maes knows that in cyclocross, anything can happen, and you’re best be ahead before a faller fells you, or indeed a mechanical or calamity of your own making undermines you. Time gained at the start while others get waylaid behind you can be very precious when you have a lead to defend, or an interminable twisty turny course to navigate.
“Twisty turney” is how Michael Corkery described eating spaghetti to Terence Rea one day at the De Ronde club lunch. The waiters looked confused when he exclaimed “Hold the sauce! I think I’ve just seen the perfect cyclocross course”. They turned their eyes to heaven when he took out his phone to snap a picture of what would become the Munster Showground cyclocross course, but they got very cross indeed when he said “mud and weather will make the perfect sauce”. The club took up their knives and forks.
Out on the course, Terence stuck his fork into his mental voodoo image of my bike, and I shuddered to a halt. ‘Marvellous, a mechanical’ I thought as I surveyed the bike for the possible problem. “A mechanical, marvellous!” thought T knowing exactly what his mind had caused. I could spy his sky blue even further in the distance while cyclists I had just managed to overtake breezed past me. I jumped on again and shot the chain up a few sprockets.
Richard Maes’ chain denied his sprockets as he faced derailleur problems. Richie Barry looked up and could see Maes figure bent down over his bike. A chance! He set himself to steely and rained down on the corners and spaghetti junctions of Corkery’s course. If Maes’ problems persisted he’d have him in thirty, now twenty seconds. Maes acted fast, dismissed the damage and landed himself back in the saddle. Barry had to mind his gaskets and with Maes now back pedalling he changed his settings from pursuit to persistence. Maes woud be angry, but how would he control it? A mistake would be to Barry’s advantage.
The only advantage to being so far out the back for me was to try harder and faster on the corners, knowing nobody would get hurt other than my ego. Pretending to myself I was at the head of the A race, I entered the corners with my shoulders angled low like Maes. Taking the turns tighter and tighter I began to catch some fellow competitors, until there, not so far ahead of me, was T Rae, my quarry, albeit wounded from a Youghal fall. His fork in my mind, I shouted ‘I’m coming for you ‘spare rib’”.
Richie Barry’s ribs heaved as he powered out of the saddle on the one steep embankment on the western perimeter of the course. Maes was already descending on the other side of the line and heading into the tight circle that marked a change from turns to straights. He had more than enough gears to navigate this, but it was bigger ones he wanted for the stretches ahead. His All-Human Velo Revolution support crew had felt powerless when they witnessed his problems from afar. Now it was their time to shine, one ready to receive the discarded goods, the other with his spare bike in gear. Another perfect change for Maes, Barry’s St. Finbarr’s teammates counted, ten was back up to twenty seconds.
Seconds now were all between T and me. The north side of the course was home to a fast arc that required deep concentration to keep the racing line for the inevitable upward trajectory. It was here I caught T, our tyres in rubbing distance and our pedals turning in unsion as we approached the grandstand and the supporter’s cacophony: “Go on T!” “Come on Brendan” (and of course ‘Santy where’s your sleigh?)
Maes slayed his misfortunes with an attacking ride. His enemy was no longer Barry nor Conor Hennerby, but time and the laps left. Perhaps his mid-way misfortune had offered him a breather as he gained time and confidently created tracks. Behind him Barry did his best, athletically finding the line, spinning the wheels and dropping his gears but never his head. He rued the lack of running, and while thankfully today’s good conditions would save time from cleaning bikes afterwards, some good old pick up your bike mud-plugging might have helped him bridge that gap between Maes first and his ultimate third (2nd to 3rd due to a rolled tub I later learned.).
A gap appeared between T and I on our last lap. We had swapped places and insults, harried, prodded, poked, pushed, called out to the Gods, called out to the supporters. Amongst the many downs and ups on the Southern side of the course, we again changed places, and changed back again. My chance appeared at the top of one turn as he opted to go wide and I sought the inside. This time our tyres touched, and I had to save myself from falling and he from name calling. His ribs must have clicked back into place and now I was the spare one. There was daylight between us, and we ended up 29th and 31st.
Picture credit: Rory O’Toole; Michael Buckley: Seán Rowe; De Ronde van CC.