Call it overlap or whatever you wish, the fact is that people who partake in one sport generally retain at least a passing interest in at least one other code. Noel Meade is an avid GAA fan, RMac and GMac follow Manchester United, JP McManus loves his game of golf and Sir Alex Ferguson loves his horses. You get the picture…
Going into the recent Meath/Tyrone game, I had, amongst others, All Ireland winning point scorer Brendan Reilly and his family for company on the train. Along with Cormac Dunne, a talented GAA player in his own right, but equally adept on a soccer pitch with a badminton racquet or a golf club, and Darren Ennis who is heavily involved with Inspiration Cycling Club. So, the conversation was bound to be diverse!
Anyway, when talk did eventually wheel around to affairs of the bike, it was great to hear of Dunboyne’s Ryan Fitzpatrick, John Mitchell and Patrick Goszczyk put in some great performances at the recent Leinster Championships. As ever, congratulations are extended to all club members who’ve been competing and doing well of late.
Good news stories have been as thin on the ground in cycling lately as have good prices for beef cattle. Hardly surprising, that, given the way the sport was sullied by Lance Armstrong and others. When the good stories have an Irish – or even better still – local slant on them they become even more especial.
While Fitzpatrick et al have been excelling on the local scene, Dan Martin has been making even greater waves on the world stages. By equalling the feats of firstly Sean Kelly – by recording major victories in Spain and Italy earlier in the year – and then those of Stephen Roche after he became the first Irish man since the latter to win a stage of the Tour De France since 1992. All of which magnified the comparisons between this year and ’92 as one of the greatest ever for Irish cycling.
What achievements like that do, mostly, is increase interest – and as a knock on effect – participation in the sport. It’s been obvious on the ground too. Not just in terms of the annual frenzy of interest generated by Le Tour – as Wimbledon does for tennis and the World Championships do for snooker.
Yet, for all that obvious positivity, darkness remains. Scepticism shouldn’t be allowed leave a cloud over genuine class however. How often has the propensity to tar all in the sport with the one brush been commented upon here? Cycling certainly can’t afford to shoot itself in the foot either.
Knowledge of the sport is, admittedly, always on the increase in this seat. From the outset, mind, it would’ve been felt that Team Sky espoused all that was good therein and that the chief thereof, Dave Brailsford, symbolised how the sport had turned a corner for the better.
That’s why it was disappointing – if sadly hardly surprising – to see suspicion and rumour bubble up as Sky dominated their way to a second consecutive conquest of Le Tour. Chris Froome this year taking the place of Sir Bradley Wiggins. Most disappointing, maybe, was the fact that a lot of the negativity came from a quarter that, beforehand, would’ve been held in high regard for being good for the sport. Worse still is the feeling that the negative bile was designed to cause maximum damage.
A bit of context is required here. Cycling is, essentially, an individual sport. It, tennis and athletics must rank among the most gruelling individual pursuits going. There is a team element too, of course, and in such an epic event, doesn’t it only make sense if the collective aspect can be used to your advantage.
Bad as that was, the kerfuffle over Froome taking on ‘food’ – gel energy bars – at the wrong time was even worse. To compound an already ludicrous situation, the rider was docked time for the ‘wrong’ he committed. What would the powers that be prefer, that he supplemented himself with something more ‘colourful’ before he went out?
People, and particularly those in positions of influence within cycling, need to put down the tar brushes and accept sporting greatness for what it is.