May 15, 2014 by Irish Peloton
In Dublin’s fair city…oh what a pity
This article was first published as a podcast for the Velocast and is republished here with permission. To login or subscribe to the Velocast go to http://velocast.cc
The Giro in Belfast was supposed to feel like the race had come to my home for the day, my country. But I don’t know Belfast. Was the route of Stage One of the Giro the best they could have come up with for the day’s racing?
I don’t know.
It looked great and the crowds were undeniably big. But I don’t know the streets, I don’t know the alternative routes.
The Giro d’Italia in Belfast is one thing, but the Giro d’Italia in Dublin is quite another. This is my home. This is my town. I know the roads, the buildings, the way the wind usually blows, the tram tracks, the bus lanes, the smell, the feel.
I arrive into Busarus station in Dublin at midday and start walking. The garda síochana are out and about and hundreds of volunteers and workers are busy sorting out crash barriers and advertising hoards. The one kilometre to go banner for Stage Three is just before the riders turn in away from the quays in the centre of Dublin. I decide to walk the final kilometre in towards the finish.
The banner itself has yet to be erected as guys in high-vis vests struggle to deal with the strong wind that’s picked up. I overhear in a thick accent “Are you in charge here, or am I in fucking charge. Fuck off”. They arguing continues and so do I, down along to Westland Row.
To the riders left as they cross over Pearse Street is a building called Goldsmith Hall. At the sight of it, my subconscious memory lurches into action and the hangover that I’ve been avoiding all morning gives my brain an unwelcome squeeze. It was here, as students, that we would pick up our tickets for the Trinity College Ball every April. A curious mix of a black tie dress code and a muck-strewn music festival. Mr. Hangover looks at me with disdain as he also remembers what those days were like, ‘call this a hangover?’ he says to me.
I recall giddily burying naggins of vodka in the college grounds to the riders’ right. A rule was in place that we weren’t allowed bring any drink on to the premises on the night of the ball. To circumvent this nonsensical obstruction, we would bury our liquid gold in a hedge the day before. Quite the operation ensued on the night involving a sophisticated system of lookout men. But every year, we succeeded and the burden on our wallets would ease, as we could avoid the queues for the bar and busy ourselves burdening our livers.
But there are no black tie suits in town today. The men are in suits of lycra and it is pink gold that they’re after.
There was an educational aspect to my time in Trinity College too of course, but my mind wanders and I find myself drawing tenuous parallels between the sport of cycling and the famous old university before me. Both were established in a bygone century and both have had their share of widely known characters make their mark. For every Fausto Coppi there’s an Oscar Wilde, for an Eddy Merckx, there’s a Samuel Beckett.
But somewhere along the way, the university became exploitative. The students became of lesser importance, a necessary expense to keep the machine ticking over. The new very important people became the tourists who arrive in their droves to visit the Book of Kells and the Long Room library. It’s the tourists that pay the bills now and provide the university with its new raison d’etre. I look back to my left over towards Goldsmith Hall and I see crash barriers covered in ads for soft drinks, hire cars and television broadcasters, I think to myself maybe these parallels are actually not so tenuous and I continue on up Westland Row.
I negotiate the chicane which arrives with less than 300 metres to go till the finish. I imagine that the riders will find it a lot trickier to get through it at 60 kilometres per hour than I found it travelling it at a crawler’s pace. I see the finish line for the first time and the voice of commentator Anthony McCrossan arrives in my ears, accompanied by some unforgiving beat driven music. My headache begins to thump a little faster as I curse the wholly unnecessary Jaeger bomb downed in the small hours of this morning.
I’m ushered across the road by the carabineiri at the designated crossing point, I gesticulate in Italian, he translates my arm movements and accedes to my request to take a photo of the finishing straight. I tweet the photo. Immediately someone tweets back ‘blimey, there’s potholes on the run in toward the finish?’ I look back at the road that I’ve just crossed, and there they are, I hadn’t even noticed them. Is this because of the muzzy head on me? Or having spent so much time living in this pothole-strewn country that I’ve developed a mental filter shielding me from them?
I recall when the 1998 Tour de France was due to visit Dublin. Part of its route included Templeville Road and Greentrees Road in Templeogue, a stone’s throw from my bedroom window. I remember roadworks taking over for weeks beforehand. All the roads of the route were ripped up and replaced in anticipation of the Grand Tour’s arrival.
But that was the start of the good years. The Celtic Tiger was just beginning to growl and money was more forthcoming. That tiger growls no longer, it doesn’t even purr. He’s been dead for years, buried and rotting.
The memory of Daniel Martin coming a cropper on a misplaced manhole are alarmingly fresh and I take one more look at the road on the finishing straight and I think to myself ‘well that’s another disaster waiting to happen’.
I get settled in under a big screen near the finish line and watch the action unfold 40 kilometres away, as the peloton wends its way through North County Dublin. I ponder the route I’ve just walked and begin to wonder whether my headache is more complicated than a product of alcohol, whether it’s a compound of the self inflicted variety along with something else. There’s a nagging feeling that we’ve missed a trick here with this stage route.
I see a tweet from a journalist fielding the suggestion there’s been a go-slow declared in the bunch because the roads are so shite. Whether the tweet is accurate or not, it highlights the fact that the stage has been rather non-descript. The scenery? Yeah, great, Ireland will never let you down in that department. But the racing? It’s been as vanilla as it gets with a Grand Tour stage. Maybe this is why I feel I the need for a meal consisting of water and Solpadene.
Ireland has been granted the privilege of hosting one of the biggest races in the world, but what did we do with it?
Dublin is a city divided in two by the river Liffey. There’s the north side and the south side. But these are not just geographical locations, they are two different races of people. And being from one side of the river, I can confirm, when it comes to Dublin City, we’re all just a little bit racist towards each other.
There’s a great advertisement on the railway bridge which crosses the Liffey just beside the point where the riders cross the river on the way to the finish line in Merrion Square. Like all great ads in Dublin, it’s an ad for drink, this one is for Bulmers cider. The ad reads, ‘Are you a North Cider or a South Cider?’
The Giro route evidently, unlike the rest of us has decided to be both. As my clenching headache continues, I conclude that its partially attributable to an underlying resentment that although the final kilometre is on the south side, the entire rest of the stage is not.
But apart from my childish jealousy about the latitude of the route, it’s the profile of it that is the real disappointment. Ireland has nothing comparable to an Alpe, a Pyrenee or a Dolomite, but there are plenty of hills. They’re everywhere. The route designers appear to have actively avoided them and chosen the path of least resistance from point Armagh to point Dublin.
Negotiating the appearance of the Giro on this fair isle must have been hard work and I, like the rest of the people standing around on Merrion Square, are grateful for this. But what it has meant for the Giro and for the riders is an extra day tacked on to the Grand Tour. Ironically, cyclists don’t like travelling, an air transfer during a Grand Tour is not ideal. At 112km, the first stage back in Italy is the shortest of the race and also has a bland, undulation-free profile.
I can’t help but think that the Irish Giro delegation were asked to lay down on the idea of creating tricky stages. ‘You can have the Giro, but we want lots of money and a guarantee that the stages will be easy. Physically destroying the riders is our job, and we’ll do it on our turf!’
There’s also the location of the finish line itself. An end to the stage on O’ Connell Sreet would surely have been more grand and more spectacular, just like the Tour de France in 1998. But then I remember my own logic, and decide that it’s all a case of finances. Shutting down O’ Connell street for the day poses significantly more financial and logistical difficulties.
I sigh and think what might have been before returning my attention to the big screen. 10Km to go. It’s raining again, but nobody cares. We’re used to it by now.
The race cavalcade begins to arrive as Anthony McCrossan gets louder, the music gets faster and my headache, stupefyingly, is actually abating. Perhaps I’ve reached some sort of equilibrium with the considerable noise of my surroundings. Like in the episode of the Simpsons when Mr. Burns is told that he remains alive only because he has contracted every disease known to man. Any slight change in volume and I would crack. My health is in the hands of Anthony McCrossan and Pharrell Williams.
We finally see the bunch fly by Trinity College and Goldsmith hall. I can’t say for sure what’s going through each rider’s mind at that moment. But I’m going to go ahead and guarantee that none of them are thinking about Oscar Wilde or burying naggins.
We’re presented with the confusing scenario of not knowing where to look when the riders appear before us in real life. The better view to be had is on the big screen, but why have we bothered turning out if we’re not going to watch them in the flesh. I attempt to skew my eyeballs so I can look at both at once, but the pangs are back so I cop myself on and watch them for real as Marcel Kittel wins again, this time making up an improbable amount of places on his way to victory.
Three stages, a team time trial won by Orica-GreenEdge and two bunch sprint wins for the big German. I know the riders make the race to a certain extent, but I’m still leaden with a feeling that it was all just too predictable.
It’s five o’ clock now and my hangover seems to have disappeared completely. And two hours ago, nobody would have predicted that.