The Pit-Washer’s Story
Round 4 of the Munster CX League and Munster Championship, Limerick Racecourse
“You’re just the man for the job” said Greenmount’s Liam Kennedy to the Pit-Washer. “I’d do it myself and all, but I’m after losing the power in my fingers from cutting the course with a lawnmower. Sure there’s nothing to it, much, and you’ll have the best seat in the house.”
The Pit-Washer was not so sure. He had heard about the rush on water in Drombane and there were rumours Upperchurch-Drombane CC’s Jerry Ryan went on the run afterwards, claiming asylum in the UK after the cyclocross worlds in Ipswich. He relayed his fears to Kennedy.
“Not at all, they were just rumours, Jerry just didn’t want to take away the glory from Richard Maes 5th, Trever Wood’s 7th, and Pa’s Clifford’s 22nd at the world masters (and no, Grace Young didn’t travel, she’s only 21, winning again today ahead of Fiona Mangan, too young to be 21.)
“You’ll be in complete control” reassured big Liam, and if you’ve any trouble at all Pat Forde will be there and Mick ‘The Whistle’ Twomey will keep it all under control.” The Pit-Washer toyed with mentioning that he had seen how they use water canons at street protests, but he thought better of it. Instead he checked online for the best ways to powerhose a bike without being sued for the price of a sealed bottom bracket. “It’s all about catching the ankles” said the marshal in riot gear. Damn, wrong video! “It’s all about getting the right angle” said the mechanic in rain gear.
“This isn’t so tough” thought the Pit-Washer on Sunday morning. He had been given a steady stream of water, a fence to park the bike, and had the occasional visitor from the curtain raiser underage & B-race to whet his appetite before the Munster Championships took place. But for the first time in this years Munster League the A race was bigger than the B, with medals for senior men and women, teams, juniors, 40’s, 50’ and Birchalls, and the Pit-Washer was about to meet the detritus of the many facets of the race-track course.
Liam had warned him he might have a few requests from A-race riders before the start. Did he what! “Could you do my jockey wheels one more time?”, “A bit more on the discs please” “Could you give the tyres a little clean?”.
The Pit-Washer felt an affinity with the tyres he had sprayed clean. Out of his sight, he knew they were on the startline, rocking back and forth, salivating for grass, mud and sand. He had noticed how some of the tubulars had indented as the spray caught them, others just sprayed it right back. Tyre choices had been made between soft, medium and hard, but which was going to be the right choice? The Pit-Washer knew to keep a good view on the off-camber wall of death for the first signs of right choice and bad choice.
The starter’s whistle blew the defining note over the paddocks. Within 45 seconds the riders came into view, down the asphalt hill and sharp right onto the off-camber. The early travellers opted to ride, but at 35psi, a ‘bad choice’ lost his grip, and started to fall. Bikes slid to a halt, feet slipped to fall, shoulders dipped towards crossbars and rear wheels began to rise, all the while the netting plucked at handlebars.
“Sure, I’ll have no work at all if they all carry their bikes” thought the Pit-Washer.
How wrong, how wrong, how wrong.
Riders clambered aboard after collapsing off the slope, unmounting again to get through the sheds, they re-entered the off-cambers muddy first cousin and back towards the grass. The Pit-Washer could see clumps of grass spat high into the air as the riders hit the boards. The fore-runners arrived.
“Next lap, next lap, next lap” riders shouted in at their pit-crews as they headed for the sand-trap. Out on the course, the riders rode high towards the stands before dropping into the sand and into the double barrel of Sean Rowe and Michael Buckley’s lenses.
“Full gas” they all had been told as recent rains made for a track of asphalt compared to Youghal’s seaside sands. Garmin’s stretched from averages of 3 mph to highs of 20 mph before the riders remembered the approaching wall and left-turn switchback. Back on Liam’s freshly mowed path, certain grinding noises reminded the riders that a bike change might be on track.
Once around the gnarly tree, the riders’ tyres choices decided just how much grass bottom brackets were going to attract. No time to think, there’s a ditch on the way, and a drop, and over the top, and “noooo” a rider goes up but also over, adding nettles to their bike’s muddy soup. Back on the bike, they drop down and up, and down and up, and finally switchback into Storm Barra’s little brothers’ best headwind and back towards the pits.
The Pit-Washer eyes the anxiety of the teams. Will they want to change now? The wind blew the teams shouts beyond the riders’ ears and only at the entrance gate were minds made up, choosing straight ‘not yet’ or veering left into the pit lane and shouting ‘change’.
Volunteers lined up to receive and dispatch bikes. The discarded bikes showed evidence of some but not all of the course. The Pit-Washer cleansed sand and mud from derailleurs and cassettes, winding chains back and freeing brakes. Bottom brackets engorged with earth returned to the pristine carbon shells intended by the marketing department of their manufacturers.
A quiet descended on the pit. The bunch had disappeared yonder and gave time for the banter. The Whistle regaled us with tales of 1950’s grasstrack and cyclocross racing. A master commissarre, he consulted his watch and was able to calculate the arrival times of at least five riders, and name all the favourites. The Pit-Washer kept his distance. He wanted to wash all bikes equally.
Out yonder, the riders were engaged in the many twists and turns of cyclocross, with an added twist; tape. Storm Barra’s brother had already toppled a few barriers, and a few riders had torn some tape. Marker tape, as we all know, has an ‘opposites attract’ relationship with cyclocross sprockets. It’s only when they’ve tied the knot, they realise they hate each other. The divorce courts would be busy on the back of this. The strewn tape section brought the riders through the forest, a deeply rutted section which morphed into a deeply rooted section.
It’s here, far away from prying eyes and applauding parents a cyclocross novice showed some senior riders how to find the right track. Her mentor was overheard advising her to find the grassy paths – what little of them were left – and there she was leading the ways for others who really should have known better. Shout out to Chloe Bennett of Comeragh CC, sandwiched on the podium between Sliabh Luachra’s Kate Murphy and Hannah Hayes of TC Racing.
All the while, leaves, branches, tape and twigs conspired against the competitors, nestling in the raised beds that were once bicycle frames and cyclists legs. But near as the finishing straight was, the riders didn’t get out that fast, as where there’s a bog there’s ‘S’ bends , which eventually led to that dreamed of tarmac through the start finish gate and the inner relief of a ‘a lap’. From here the Pit Washer could hear John Kennedy’s tones. It was clear Maes was in the senior lead, but whereabouts was Barry?
The off-camber wall would soon announce the pecking order. With a good lead the front runners had choices, most giving way to temptation to cycle the whole blasted thing, few did, those that managed will talk to their grandkids about it. Once again through the maze and spat out on to the asphalt all that was left was a bit more grass and boards of indeterminate height. The pit lit up again. Bikes were held by holders half their height. Parents and guardians gave gentle instruction. The Whistler set his lips tight.
Riders barrelled through, picking up new and perfectly washed machines, pirouetting perfectly onto saddles in their ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ techniques. The muddied machines were brought by their dispatchers, lap after lap, and increasingly by the half lap. An urgency accompanied the shouted terms ‘brakes’, ‘derailleurs’, ‘tyres’, ‘backpedal’, ‘turn‘, ‘go’. The Pit-Washer plied his trade with gusto, recognising the bikes that would no longer go out from those that would once more return to battle. These bikes were increasingly more freed than polished. They can deal with the tubes later, seeing brand names was now a luxury.
The Pit-Washer looked up and saw a face he didn’t recognise. A whisper went though the pits. “Is it?”, “couldn’t be”, “but I thought he was…”. The Whistler turned to the doubters, “What do you want to do, put your hand on his bars or make sure he hasn’t left Killarney?”. John Crowley flashed by, in hot pursuit and on home turf was Barry Sutton, followed by Midleton’s David Baily. Ahead of them all Trevor Woods eschewed his age group, following Richard Maes and Richard Barry to third.
“That’s it now” The Whistler held forth sagely. He knew the game, once Maes was through the rest would make their way through slowly and surely. “You can knock off now” he shouted at the Pit-Washer, “but let me tell you this John Mangan, they couldn’t have done it without you”.
Images ©Michael Buckley Photography and © Seán Rowe