The East Cork Ploughing Championships

Like some of you I too built a cyclocross course in the garden with old rope tied to older furniture, or anything else that would act as a stake.  No doubt those garden courses have taken a battering from Ophelia.  Yet, I was surprised to find one old chair broken up even before the storm, the lashed rope on the remaining leg the last reminder of what it was for.   “The hurricane broke it Daddy” Sam explained when I wondered aloud what had happened.  “I didn’t tell you because I thought you’d be cross.  I was coming down the hill and the hurricane just went straight into it.”  My young meteorologist was training for the St. Finbarr Crossbarrs CX race in Fota on his ‘Hurricane’ bike.  At the event the U-8, U-10 and U-12 cyclonic variables showed great determination and bike handling through troughs and depressions in full precipitation, preparing the ground nicely for riders to come.  Images from Seán Rowe show the nature of the cxlimatic development.  Cue forecasters wink!

The Junior, Men’s A & B and Ladies riders to come were participating in the main event, the East Cork Ploughing Championship.  Despite objections from the Clydsdale Association of Ireland, well over 80 iron horses lined out for this expanding competition in front of some very tough judges.  Oh there was nothing the Cyldesdale men would have liked to see more than a few disqualifications and it seemed their dreams were about to come true.  The judges raised queries about lack of uniformity in the furrows, the pits and indeed the whole B-race pack, to the back of which I was attached.  Cautioned and threatened for sins such as leaving the pits in a mess, eating and drinking in the field and wearing socks at half-mast, we set off brows more furrowed than the sod.

Different to last year’s race start (, race organisers St. Finbarrs were anxious to put their county’s name on this round of the Munster CX league ceremony.  We were squeezed into a bottle neck and visibly shaken after the commissares warnings, took flight, rebounding off the first corner, just like the time Dad exuberantly opened a bottle bubbly and hit Grannie in the eye.  We all knew it was going to be a bruising affair.  After a few furtive glances and ‘ouch that hurt’ winces we had the long drawn out silence before it all went downhill.  I’m talking now about those early bends and that damn long straight and not about what did or did not happen Dad.  But I think you all know he was on a slippery slope too.

Most managed to cycle down it but then the ploughing started.  It quickly become an off-bike dash to the oncoming elevation. I had remembered the hill from last year and had heard whispers of Spanish steps in the advance repartee.  The frontrunners dismounted and ascended hastily but for a man of my rank all that was missing was a lift button that said ‘up’ and humming along to elevator music.  “Dum, dum, dum…How do you do? 12 steps, funny indeed. Sorry, must dash.”   The twisting track from the first floor led to a series of on the bike-off again-on the bike-off again manoeuvres which obviously led to naming of our SPD pedals of choice “SHOES PLEASE DOCK!”

There then came a fast descent and eventually I could take hold of one of cycling’s great inventions, the bar end gear lever, and shove it down into fifth gear.  Push on, push on I thought, only to be rebuffed by a front fork that just accommodates a 700×30 cyclocross tyre, one of cycling’s worst inventions.  Sliding and slipping around corners I kept bike and soul as close to the margins for the tufts of grass untouched by the ploughs ahead.  On we scuppered around the branches that still go ‘thwack’, a structure that I think is a sceptic tank (though I couldn’t smell roses) and toward the regulation planks.  A chap called ‘plank’ once hosted a TV show that became too tiresome. Ditto.

Off to the woods with us now.  This is the part of the course where our fresh climatic variables had experienced troughs and depressions.  No sooner were we under cover but we were over inflated.  Tyres that wouldn’t leave muck alone now didn’t want to touch the stuff.  Our climatic variables believe faeries bewitch such places, but in my slipping grasp of reality fairy liquid bedevils it.  I meant to ask our MTB friends, and overall winners, what they made of it.  Had the Clydsedale men been around I would have asked to be harnessed by my shoe irons and dragged around on my bare ar…bicycle. For sure I would have been quicker.

Staying on the equine theme we were out of the hunt and onto the gallops.  Again a tight grasp of gear lever and speedily around chicanes, right angles and marker tape.  A chance to assess positioning and eye up the opposition.  That was easy as from here I could see far off into the distance.  Being lapped was far from my mind, but didn’t seem to bother any of the overtaking 16 year olds.  Past the pits I spied a set of tyres littering the track side of the line.  Waiting to be taken for fingerprinting I guessed.    Onto the finish line and over the time-keepers mats.  It is these carpets of truth that mark the full Crossbarrs lap and for today represented the only bit of traction in East Cork.

Now I could keep you here all day talking about what a great days ploughing we had and just ‘how so’ the mud caressed the inside of your calves.  I could wax lyrical about hand pumped tyres to 40 psi. I could digress indeed on the merits of spare bikes, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit the truth.  Traction, tyres and tape combined two laps later to sow the seeds of my downfall.  In my pursuit of virgin verdant my beloved bar end levers caught the inside of the marker tape and down I fell.  Luckily being so far back in the pack there was nobody around to run over me.  A Sliabh Lúchra man had that opportunity but instead kindly asked after my well-being.  He may as well have asked “any craic?” as yes there was. One, possibly two.  I got up, and knowing truth would also take the oxygen of my on-looking wife’s planned trip abroad sucked it up for two more laps till I was lapped on the line, an unasked mercy from the 1-2-3 combo of winning MTB men.   From my ‘four lap’ vantage point I watched the B-race competition cross the carpet for the fifth time and gasp for air.  B race it may be, but they rode themselves to breaking point and none were breathing easy.  Just like me.

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