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FEATURE I PRO-CYCLING IN IRELAND


peloton. In fact, he drives it so hard that he blows himself up. It’s a long way from sunshine crits in Adelaide here for the Cork- born Australian. Kurt takes a rice cake when I offer it to him. They’ve three cards left, one’s a joker (Wilson), a bit of a decoy; two are pocket aces (Downey and Doull). Boom. The front group start racing to get across to the break. Kurt can see it. We can all see it. The race is back together and we start the rip-roaring descent into Glengarriff. The plan is working. Stacey Kelly (daughter of Irish cycling legend Sean), their soigneur, is there at the base of the climb with musettes and Kurt tells her wait for Shane. If they are to win, Shane must come home inside the time limit. It’s worth noting that a day earlier from Charleville to Caherciveen, Shane was last man on the road. Today, he would be second last man home. We drive on. Suddenly, there’s a skirmish up ahead. A group has broken clear. A dozen or so. There’s a green jersey in there and they are motoring up Derrycreha….and there’s a green jersey in there! “12 men breaking clear….stand by for numbers….” An eternity ensues. “Number nine….” It’s Downey.


“They have a gap of 200 metres…. can we get a car here,” demands the commissaire. This is dangerous. Two Austrians, two Italians, two Madison Genesis, the defending champion are there amongst the others. And Downey is definitely there too. The gap goes from 1’55” to four minutes in a little under five kilometres and Kurt is the happiest man in Ireland. He has turned matters around


28 www.cyclingworldmag.com


dramatically. Instead of the hunters they are now the hunted.


The boys behind have stalled and as we start the last climb of the day, at Cousane, the gap has extended to six minutes. The craic is good in the car now and I’m getting to learn the inner workings of Bogaert’s mind. This s**t makes him tick. We have more rice cakes. He even offers me a sandwich. We talk about (or he does) bio-rhythms, the team, training, power meters, Philippe Gilbert, his family and it quickly becomes apparent he is more Irish than I thought.


“If Bennett and Van Avermaet were sprinting for the win at the Worlds, who would you shout for?” I ask. He looks at me twice to see am I taking the p**s. “Bennett of course.” I definitely insulted him with the question. Bogaerts is a born and bred Belgian but he sees Bennett as almost like a son.


Amazingly, about one minute later a text arrives from Sam himself, wanting to know if Downey is riding into yellow. It’s a beautiful moment. Though Sam has left what Kurt calls the “An Post family”, he’s still very much a part of it.


Downey comes back for instructions. The gap is eight minutes. He wants to know who can sprint, who can punch, what the finish is like. The Banbridge man is smiling, he’s actually smiling! He knows he’s heading for arguably the biggest result of his life. His mother and father are at the line too, and his brother Mark (an Irish international and European track silver medallist) is tweeting furiously. His only regret is his girlfriend isn’t here but you can be sure she’s hanging


on every tweet too.


“Believe in yourself now, you are sprinting very well this year,” encourages Kurt, “but you must try to test them; on the next hill I want you to attack…see who is strong.”


“Attack from rider number nine,” crackles race radio, quickly followed by “all back together.” Tension mounts as the riders up ahead weave left, dive right, jab and move, jab and move as the line nears….Downey jabs again, the others counter….Bialoblocki goes….all back together…the Italians try to one-two the rest….they’re neutralised… we’re heading for a sprint. Inside a kilometre to go and the shadow boxing is over. Bialoblocki lands a crushing blow and takes the win. Downey is boxed in at the final bend and has to settle for eighth. He’s dejected. His mother doesn’t know how to react because her boy is the first Irishman home but he isn’t exactly laughing. She’s still the proudest person there. Father Seamus offers a well done and Kurt is next on the scene, helps him off the bike and waits for an explanation.


“I just got boxed in by (Ian) Bibby (Madison Genesis) and had to lock up so I started…..I had to start my sprint again… .I’m sorry,” he rues, and he hangs his head ruefully. Kurt says nothing. They live to fight another day. Archbold was 35 minutes down. Stacey Kelly waited on her own, as usual, to feed him as she would all the others. They didn’t win the race, but they won a lot of respect.


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