CLUB-RUN FINISH TO AMAZING IRISH RACE
Only 15 of 108 starters finish course
WHAT looked like a dozen or so crazy cyclists riding back home after a day in the Wicklow Hills approached Dublin on Sunday night. They all wore abbreviated capes from which emerged legs covered only with ankle socks and flimsy shoes. On their heads they wore racing hats, crash hats or thick cloth caps. They needed them, for it was pouring in torrents and the wind was howling in their faces. But they were not on a club-run in the ordinary sense, and far from being the "tuggoes" they looked from a critical clubman's standpoint, they were 15 men finishing one of the most amazing stage races in history.
They were all that were left of the seven-stage Tour of Ireland which had started with 108 competitors (in conditions that would have been the envy of the Cote d'Azur), and there, in the middle of the "club-run," laughing away in his white racing capelet and looking more than ever like Jacques Anquetil, was the winner of the race, Bernard Pusey. Next to him was Shay Elliott, now every little Irish boy's hero, for was he not second on general classification, had he not won the King of the Mountains prime and led the Irish team to victory?
In the pack with them were other English national heroes, a Scottish one, too, and sundry lads from Irish, Scottish and English clubs.
The 15 were the survivors of an utterly fantastic sixth stage when, beneath six hours of continuous rain, hail and snow, 59 half-frozen had to retire.
One rider was so cold he broke a tooth with the chattering!
I rate conditions on that day to be even worse than on the corresponding stage of the Paris-Nice, which was reckoned by old-time race followers to be the most gruelling for 32 years.
Moreover these boys were amateurs, and most of them totally unprepared for anything of the kind. Had there been a few good Belgian or French soigneurs around at the start with their bottles of warming oil, back plasters and sundry other devices, I reckon the retirement list would have been reduced by half. ,
If that sixth day showed up the inexperience of the field in this direction the early stages revealed them (and their managers) as having a superabundance of tactical knowledge: Basically, much of it was good and showed a nice sense of loyalty, but the marking-match between the English and Irish national teams went too far, and one or two very good men, who might have excelled if given a free hand, were forced into neutrality. But all this intense rivalry was wiped out on the Saturday when the finishing list of 16 showed only two complete teams to be still in the race.
Both of them were fully there on their merits: The Irish "A" being led by King-of-the-Mountains Elliott, and the North Eastern B.L.R.C. boys by E. Robson, an absolute terror in a bunched finish.
The Tour created enormous interest all round Ireland, and the voluntary officials - led by Jack Fagan and Bill Sleith - did, a fine job of work.
The race was marred by a tragic accident on the decisive Killarney-Cork stage when 19-year-old Dennis Weston collided with a runaway horse and cart and was instantly killed. He was then lying twenty-ninth on general classification and leading the Long Eaton C.C. to third place in the club team race.
Stage by Stage
Stage 1 DUBLIN-ATHLONE
THE first stage, Dublin-Athlone (reported in last week's issue of THE BICYCLE) was won in a "solo" finish by Bernard Pusey, England " A,', who became the first wearer of the 1954 An Tostal jersey with a lead of 4m. 43s. over the second man, J. Kennedy, Scotland.
More about this race as a competitor is online in Alf Buttler’s Blog
Stage 2 ATHLONE-BUNDORAN (107 miles)
THE chronicles of cycle-racing are packed with, stories of great enterprises thwarted within sight of victory. To them must now be added the tragedy that befell Shay Elliott, Ireland, and Stan Brittain, England " B." who were caught a mile out of Bundoran after having been on their own for the last 15 miles - the survivors of an eight-man breakaway that had kept clear of the group, foe well over four hours.
It also said that beyond the first four places no further places declared, 37 other riders having been clocked-in two seconds below Boyd. One of them was Bernard Pusey, and he therefore automatically retained his Purple jersey.
But if the cold, cruel result sheet shows nearly -40 men to be of equal merit on the day's riding, a brief run through the proceedings will show many at least to have earned honourable mention for cramming the stage with interest.
First, Elliott and Brittain When finally they parted company with their six companions beyond Sligo, in the beautiful Yeats country dominated by the Table Mountain of Ireland, they had it in their power to stay away to the finish. But Brittain, although riding for England "B” was (under instructions from the joint team manager) working for England "A" and unwilling to help Elliott draw away from Pusey; the pair of them therefore stumbled their way into the tragedy of the finishing line instead of storming in to a triumph.
Their six companions had been J. Flanaghan, Dublin Wheelers; R. Longstaffe, N.C.U., Newcastle; T. Hoar, England "B": C. O'Rourke, Ireland "A"; W. Batty, N.E. England. B.L.R.C., and Harold King, England "A". The complete group of eight had a maximum lead on the main bunch of 3m. 50s. (at 45 miles) and of 2m. 45s. at the first "mountain" (600 feet) of the climbing contest out of Boyle where Batty took the one minute bonus by outsprinting Elliott.
On the descent D. Crease, London N.C.U., took to flight from the peloton together with M. Fagan, Tailteann C. C. (Dublin); they were eventually reinforced by D. King, N.C.U., Midland; J. Pilling, England "B"' H. Hardcastle, Manchester Wheelers’ team; S. Gargan, Ireland C and J. McCormack, Ireland A.
Again the complication of team loyalties prevented their arrival in Bundoran well clear of the main pack. Of the big peloton interest must be centred on Pusey, who was being given little rope by the green-jerseyed Irish riders in his vicinity. Incidentally with three Irish teams working together and two English, honours in the team section must go to Scotland, the only other formation left in the international . competition.
Australia's' entry was reduced to two from the original three following an accident in yesterday's stage to F. Maher
Stage 3 BUNDORAN-GALWAY (141 miles)
FIRM believers in the old saying "never two .without three" were not surprised to find the initial break of the day bringing~off the spoils. Big spoils; a stage win and general classification lead for one, a big jurnp on for the others. The chief winner of the day was Bernard King, and the chief loser Bernard Pusey. But that did not mean that the overnight England "A" team leader had been double-crossed by his namesake.
In fact, when King associated himself with the group of nine which formed on the first miles out of Bundoran on the morning of unparalleled loveliness, he was, in fact merely looking after the interests of his team leader, because there were one or two dangerous characters around.
But that group gained steadily from a 40-second lead at Sligo (22 rniles) until at Balling, the busy little gateway to the wild moors of County Mayo, it was more than six minutes ahead of the big bunch.
In that bunch Pusev was having his worst bout of watchfulness yet, being "marked" by club and national teams and individuals alike. With this situation, it was obviously King's duty to get moving in the front because not only had he a chance of a stage win, but (being the highest placed on "general” of his group) to take over the lead from his persecuted pal.
This King did, and if his relays were riot immediately Anastasi-like, it must be remembered that today's trip was almost the longest race in which he had ever ridden, and in his first stage race at that.
Who were this advance guard in addition to King? They were D. Addie, Scottish Individual; J. McQuaid, Ireland "B"; C. O'Rourke Ireland "A"; D. Sanderson, NE England B.L.R.C.; R. McNeil; J. Christison, Scotland, and E. Hawkins, Western C.C., Belfast. Christison and Hawkins had joined the original break going out of Sligo; R. McKay, Scotland. and D. Thompson. Newcastle N.C.U., had been dropped from it. Dowds had been there, too, only to puncture once again: D. Crease, Belle Vue, dropped off voluntarily, not believing in the success of the venture.
Between Claremorris and Tuam, Christison (who had had cruel wheel and puncture trouble yesterday) punctured again. His lone 22-mile pursuit to the finish was the best ride of the day.
Most sporting ride of the day was by R. Longstaff(e), when 40 miles from home with the big bunch he came across his team mate D. Thompson (prominent earlier on) looking on the road for his broken chain. Longstaffe went back up the road. found it, waited while the
Simplex van made it whole again, and helped his mate back to the finish.
Pluckiest, unluckiest man was the opening day Irish hero John Lackey. To-dav John hit a dog when in the big bunch.
Stage 4 GALWAY-KILLARNEY (129 miles)
First, a three-man attempt, plus Harold King (looking after brother Bernard's interests) petered out. Then after 40 miles at Ennis, the county town of Co. Clare, Harold was again away with another similar mission in hand. At Limerick his party was 13 strong, Harold not only had the satisfaction of winning the prime sprint on the approach to the city, but to see the comforting retour from behind of Bernard and the peloton at Newcastle West 26 miles later.
By cutting out Listowel and Tralee, the day's mileage had been pruned by 20 miles, but the shortened route took in Elonsharoon Hill, which, coming as it did at 20 miles to go, had a decisive affect on the re-formed group.
At the top of this unscheduled 900-ft. obstacle Tony Hoar was leading a small group comprising F. Brazier and D. Matthews, Australia;. W. Batty and E. Robson, N.E. Eugland B.L:R.C, D. King, N.C.U. Midland; the astonishing John Lackey; D. Addie and D. O'Connell, Ireland "C"
On the fast run into Killarney towards the jagged outline of the great McGillycuddy Reeks looming from the haze, Brittain's, team-mate Tony Hoar shot away to a convincing win, while Brittain himself was awarded second place from the exellent Leaguer Robson. Brazier was there, too, and quite pleased with life despite a strained knee - apart from a track 100 km. event, he had never raced longer than 60 miles until this tour!
More bad luck for the Scots. John Kennedy fell, finished with a badly damaged wheel. Christison punctured again when up with the important early break.
Stage 5 KILLARNEY-CORK (120 miles)
WITH the profile sketch map in the programme showing the Killarney-Cork loop as something like a minor mountain stage'of the Tour de France it seemed pretty certain there would be an early sorting out of the field.
Yet apart from one or two riders tailed off, there was a big, long peloton strung out behind Paddy Boyd and Shay Elliott as the 850 ft. rugged summit of Windy Gap was topped after a climb from Killarney's immortal lakes.
Swooping down into Kenmare and over the suspension bridge, the collar- work, began all over again with an even tougher climb to the 1,250-ft. above-sea-level tunnel leading out of Kerry into County Cork. Still the field was together, B. King taking the prime from Elliott, who - with three seconds in the three counting climbs - took the award for the best climber of the Tour.
Strangely enough, it was on the descent that the decisive move of the race came innocently about. Bernard Pusey shadowed Elliott as he narrowly advanced the field and there being no voluntary gap-fillers forthcoming, the pair were soon away on their own along the shore of Bantry Bay. At Skibbereen (70) it was two minutes, at Bandon (101), 4 3/4 minutes, and the next group of 11 on the road not including Bernard King, Pusey was within striking distance of getting back the leader's jersey.
When the Irish-English "tandem” eventually sprinted it out on the down-hill finish into Cork City they were nearly 10 minutes in front of Bernard King's party.
Members of the all-important group of 11 which followed Elliott-Pusey in, McNeil, Robson and Park, moved up remarkably on “general" while O'Rourke dropped back with a damaged - wheel. Poor Christison punctured for the sixth time in the race, yet came back magnificently with the loyal help of McKay on the second mountain, but finally had to retire with a badly swollen ankle.
But whether they had a good day or a bad, nobody is happy to-night. All in the leading bunch had seen the runaway horse and cart coming straight for them as they approached Glengariff at the end of the mountain swoop from Turner's Tunnel, and marvelled how they missed it. But a group of five, rounding a bend, were not as lucky. The riders' communal dinner is a quiet one tonight, each having a small black ribbon pinned to his track-suit or sweater to mourn the unluckiest of them all, and a pencil mark through No. 97 on our programme marks the premature retirement of Dennis Weston, Long Eaton C.C.
Stage 6 CORK-WATERFORD (117 miles)
ON the starting line the field of 75 riders and the race officials observed a minute's silence in tribute to their friend Dennis Weston.
Back in the right direction again through the sleet and snow there appeared in rapid succession literally dozens of bikes stacked up in twos or just abandoned loosely by the roadside. Some of the owners were thawing out round the old turf fire in thatched roof homesteads, others had piled into any kind of mobile shelter they could find.
One such conveyance we came across in Clonmel contained Messrs. J. Thomas, J. Martin, W. Batty, S. Thompson, J. McCormack and J. Pilling.
At length, after a long chase, we caught and dropped the survivors and checked them through at Callan, where they still had 40 miles to go. Lackey-Pusey-Hoare-Elliott were now well away, four minutes up on the five-man outfit of T. Duggan, K. McCarthy, E. Robson, P. Boyd and D. Courtney, 12 1/2 minutes on A. Smith and R. Hetherington, with a further contingent of eight another two minutes behind.
At Kilkenny the route did a "hairpin" to strike south for Waterford. With the wind on their backs the five gained rapidly on the leading four, and 12 miles from the end the junction was made on a hill, under the impulsion of Paddy Boyd, but Courtney was left behind: So was Robson (who had to dismount to put his chain right), and a great pity, too, because the presence of this accomplished routier-sprinter would have given the finish an even greater interest.
Conditions were now great. It had stopped snowing, it wasn't even sleeting - it was just raining in torrents. Splashing through the puddles and shower-bathed by passing cars, the Englishmen stirred the pace up so much that first Lackey, then McCarthy, and finally Elliott had to give in about five miles from home.
Stage 7 WATERFORD-DUBLIN (137 miles)
DURING the night the wind howled from the North and when it stopped raining it snowed. Our first glimpse of the Final Day revealed a white covering on the low-lying hills above the swollen River Suir.
In club-run formation, the 15 rode steadily, passing by a giant bonfire (a traditional Irish welcome) tended by a cheering group of stokers.
Some idea of the speed was forthcoming at New Ross, the 15 miles taking 53 minutes. Here Tony Duggan took the prime. Occasionally, when an exposed height of the undulating road topped 400 ft., there was a stretch of snow slush for the riders to squelch their way through.
From then on the log of this strangest of club runs (with the official primes thrown in to liven things up) read like this:- Enniscorthy (38 miles) in 2h. 3m, Gorey (58) 3h. 10s. Arklow (69) 3h. 48m. Bray (98 miles) 5h. 55m.
The final miles into Dublin were ridden into driving sheets of rain to the cheers of the thousands of brave spectators who gave a heroes' welcome to the 15 men who had endured a 900-mile tour of their lovely land.
But just in time, the rain stopped for the final sprint of the race, where, on the fine broad highway of St. Stephen's Green, Tony Hoar out-sprinted Karl McCarthy to take his third stage of the tour.
Pusey was mobbed by a great crowd as he received a garland of honour from the Lord Mayor of Dublin.