1976 – The year a stage of the Rás finished in…Carlow

This article is the fifth in a series which will be published daily throughout the 2013 edition of the Rás. I’ve taken the finish town of each day’s stage and looked back through the history books to a time when the Rás previously raced into the same town. Other stage towns in the series are:

Longford – 1962
Nenagh – 1958
Listowel – 1993
Healy Pass – 1984

Today it’s Carlow in 1976…


The Stage

1976 Rás Tailteann – 18th June – Stage 7 – Mitchelstown, Cahir, Clonmel, Callan, Kilkenny, Paulstown, Leighlinbridge, Carlow (135km)

What was going on in Irish cycling?


(Photo: www.rastailteann.com)

Sean Kelly, Pat McQuaid and his brother Kieron were all handed seven month bans by the Irish cycling federation. The trio, along with two Scotsmen, travelled incognito to South Africa to take part in the Rapport Tour. At the time, due to Apartheid, there were various sporting bans being placed on South Africa. Taking part in a cycling race in South Africa was prohibited. But the five riders assumed fake names and took part anyway, seeing the race as an ideal way to get in some extra racing miles over the winter.

Their presence in South Africa was discovered in the most bizarre of circumstances. A reporter for the Daily Mail was in South Africa covering the honeymoon of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. This reporter ended up with a photo of the five riders alongside Taylor and Burton. The photo was published, the riders were recognised and the game was up. Kelly and the McQuaids initially received seven month bans from the Irish Cycling Federation, throwing their participation in the following years Olympics in jeopardy.

This ban was eventually reduced to six months, but later the riders would all receive lifetime bans from the Olympics. But, despite carrying a lifetime ban from the Olympic games, Pat McQuaid, as well as being the current president of cycling’s governing body, is also a member of the International Olympic Committee.

Kelly and McQuaid were handed life bans from the Olympic Games

In a further controversial incident involving Irish cycling politics, the omission of Tony Lally from the 1976 Olympic squad led to the resignation in protest of his brother Sean as a member of the executive committee of the Irish Cycling Federation. Tony’s fianceé Elizabeth Corcoran also resigned as international secretary of the federation.

What was going on with the rest of cycling?

In a world of cycling no longer dominated by the aging and soon to be retired Eddy Merckx, Lucien van Impe wins the Tour de France. Raymond Poulidor had one final crack at the race that had always eluded him but only finished third, albeit at the amazing age of 40.

The power of Eddy Merckx was on the wane in 1976

Eddy Merckx had his last hurrah at the Milan San Remo, his 19th and final monument classic victory. It sparked off a year in which all five monument classics were won by Belgians and five different Belgians at that. This is the last occasion where one country won all five monument classics in a year.

The World road race title was also won by a Belgian, a different one again, this time it was the turn of Freddy Maertens who took his first of two career rainbow jerseys by pipping Francesco Moser in a sprint in Ostuni in Italy.

And what about other news?

Paddy Hillery was inaugurated as the sixth President of Ireland, U2 were formed at Mount Temple school in Dublin, Bill Gates founded Microsoft and Irish medal hope Eamon Coghlan finished in fourth place in the 1500m at the Montreal Olympics.

So who won the stage into Carlow in 1976?

Although this year’s stage and the 1976 stage into Carlow both began in Mitchelstown, while the 2013 version takes in the likes of Cashel and Urlingford, on Stage 7 in 1976 the riders took the more southerly route through Clonmel and Kilkenny.

Noel Clarke after winning Stage 7 into Carlow (Photo: www.rastailteann.com)

Noel Clarke of the Meath-Collins team broke clear to take the sprint prime in Cahir, taking with him a diverse crew hailing from Holland, France, Algeria and Tipperary.

The five riders managed to stay clear of the bunch and Clarke won the sprint to win his eighth stage of the Rás in six years. The main bunch came in 31 seconds later, containing race leader Bobby Power who had held the race lead for three days running and looked likely to hold on to the lead until the race reached Dublin two days later.


And most importantly, who won the Rás?

It wasn’t to be for Bobby Power as misfortune struck on the penultimate stage. On the descent from the Sally Gap down into Roundwood in Co. Wicklow, Power punctured and was delayed waiting for a support vehicle. Meanwhile, the Dutch rider Fons Steuten broke clear along with the Nulty brothers Colm and Mick. Steuten had already been in the yellow jersey earlier in the race and was just 11 seconds down on Power in second place overall. But by the stage end in Bray, the leading group including Steuten had put minutes into Power and the Rás was won by the Dutchman.

1976 Rás winner Fons Steuten (Photo: www.rastailteann.com)

Steuten had ridden the Vuelta a Espana in 1962 and took part in both the Vuelta and the Tour de France in 1964, however he didn’t finish any of them. Before the Rás in 1976 he had become the Over-35 World Champion. Although there had been an invasion of the Rás by Eastern European countries in recent years. Steuten was the first winner of the Rás from one of continental Europe’s ‘traditional’ cycling nations.

Power, for his part, would go on to win a total of eight stages of the Rás, his first in 1976, his last in 1992 – a time span of stage wins only bettered by Philip Cassidy (whose first and last were in 1983 and 2002). Power also wore the yellow jersey for a total of six days over three separate Rásanna, but he would never come as close to victory as he did in 1976.

Also of note in 1976 was the fate of veteran Paddy Flanagan. The reigning champion and three time winner of the Rás was the favourite once more. But the fight for the general classification that year was blown wide open when, five miles after the stage start in Lisdoonvarna, Flanagan crashed while wearing the yellow jersey and broke a bone in his elbow. He managed to finish the stage but was forced to abandon the Rás that evening.

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