by Chris Brewer
Sat, Aug 22 ? Killarney, Ireland ? Today I got to do something I rarely, if ever, get to do while covering a bike race: ride a bike. But it wasn?t just any ordinary bike ride, far from it. Today saw the inaugural Ride4Life head down the road, and I couldn?t help but draw parallels with the LIVESTRONG movement?s early days ala The Ride for the Roses.
The day started off early but in good fashion as O?Sullivan?s bike shop came to the rescue and made sure that several of us had good bikes to challenge the ?hills? (more on that soon) of the local area. After we got set up and ready to go we all rallied around the finish line here in Killarney where the pros would be ending about five hours later.
Like I said, it was no ordinary ride as we were joined by two very special Irish guests. First was Enda Kenny, former Minister for Sport and current leader of the opposition party, and second was the sporting icon Stephen Roche. Stephen not only won the Tour de France in 1987, but also the Giro d?Italia and the World Championship! To say he is a living legend is quite the understatement, but then he has a major cancer connection as well. One of his young sons is a leukemia survivor, now doing well thanks to a bone marrow transplant that one of his brothers made possible through donation. Stephen also raises funds for the fight against cancer in Ireland, giving money directly to hospitals and clinics so they can buy critical supplies they might not be able to afford.
We got the choice of doing either 25 or 50 miles, and after hearing that the truly scenic route was the longer one (of course) the majority of the 300+ riders headed out for the truly scenic Gap of Dunloe.
As the roads started to go up, roughen, and narrow ? ponies rides with their carts looking more and more appealing ? Stephen rode up and told me that in the 80s the Tour of Ireland actually used this semi-cart path as part of the race! It was hard enough to get our front group of 30 or so riders up the winding ways, I could not imagine taking over 100 riders at race pace with all the follow vehicles, etc?
The pace was truly a nice group ride tempo (but for some reason my borrowed bike went a little slower up the hills than usual ? hmmm?) and offered plenty of chances to talk to the other riders out supporting the Irish Cancer Society. Every single one of them had some kind of connection to the cause, from relatives to friends and of course personal stories. Ireland has the highest incidence of cancer in Western Europe and its people bear a great burden as a result; 28,000 Irish people will be diagnosed with cancer this year. But Ireland has also been at the forefront of cancer control for some time as a result of its successful anti-tobacco initiatives. Either way, there?s plenty of work to be done here and we?re very glad to be a part of the global process with them!
After a pretty ?technical? descent from the Gap (technical is bike terminology, best translated as ?harrowing?) we were soon headed back up one more time through another climb that the local riders swore was the last one, and not as steep but a little longer. As my new friend Patrick and I rode side by side at a leisurely pace we saw some of the red, blue, and purple sheep we?d been told about in the ride briefing. Not naturally, mind you, rather they spray them with vibrant colors so they can identify whose sheep is whose from a distance ? brilliant!
Once over the final summit we all regrouped for the one rest stop, more in line for the hard core riders as a volunteer opened up the trunk of his car and handed out drinks and bananas to the appreciative peloton. At some point someone beeped a horn and we were off again, 30 miles to go and everyone in good spirits for a quick pace group ride to Killarney. We rode in a loose side-by-side paceline with a couple of Ireland?s finest from the Garda providing a rolling enclosure as people in cars and on the side of the road cheered us on. Such a great cycling vibe here, we could definitely learn a bit from our friends across the pond.
Despite the promise of a nice tempo ride, it?s hard to have 30-40 experienced riders not hit the gas once we started to ?smell the barn?? With about 18km left and on a very nice paved highway the speed slowly but surely ramped up. With 10km to go we were definitely over 25mph, and with 5 then 1km it was as close to race pace as I?ve had in a long time. We all rolled in safely to the finish line, filled with the satisfaction that we?d been a part of something bigger and better than just a bike ride: gorgeous scenery, amazing people, and helping out in a cause where there?s so much work to do. LIVESTRONG!
PS ? while we were out riding, my colleague Allison made sure that all the fans along the rails had plenty of LIVESTRONG items, and then Mark Cavendish drove it home to take the stage win. Lance and his team rolled in safe and sound, tomorrow is the Big Day to determine the overall winner!