Giro hits Clontarf and Vinny takes a ride to remember
Our steward for the day helps out team Roche and pulls a cheeky stunt
Vinny Fitzpatrick’s pal Nicolas Roche leads his Tinkoff-Saxo team-mates across the line during the Team Time Trial of the Giro D’Italia in Belfast. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
When the rider clad in blue and yellow garb slowed to a halt on the Clontarf Road a few yards away, it took Vinny Fitzpatrick a moment to realise the significance of his number: 201.
“By jiminy, it’s young Roche,” he said aloud before scurrying kerbside to offer his support. As he arrived on the scene, so too did a growling Saxo-Tinkoff car, lights flashing.
Within seconds, Roche was mounted on a spare bike by a burly mechanic and pedalling furiously in pursuit of the peloton as it swarmed past the entrance to the Scoil Uí Chonaill GAA grounds.
“Allez Roche. Allez” roared Vinny, forgetting for a moment which of the Grand Tours was on his Dublin doorstep.
By his calculations there were about six kilometres left to the finish, which was sufficient time for Roche, who had team-mates with him, to regain contact with the bunch, before they hit the quays.
For a captivated Vinny, the dramatic moment of Roche’s puncture, right under his nose, was the latest act in a day to be cherished.
From the moment he sat astride his old TI Raleigh racer that morning, Vinny had been in gung-ho Giro mode – he’d even skipped his shave to encourage a rugged Spaghetti Western look.
It was a blustery, showery, Sunday but the Vernon Velo crew were geared up to play their part as race stewards, standing guard on junctions between the Bull Island Causeway and the Alfie Byrne Road.
As a prep, Hervé, their swashbuckling team leader, had organised a morning ramble to Kilbarrack Cemetery and back, before a barbecue in the Dart car park, after which the riders would be assigned to their stations.
While Vinny’s hamstring was still giving him jip from the tennis trials, Joxer Hand, his physio, felt a gentle push on the pedals would be of benefit.
Given the occasion, Vinny had eyed up Angie’s pink Dublin jersey as his tunic of choice, but as he could barely get it over his head, never mind his stomach, he’d given up the fight.
Instead, he settled for an XXL canary yellow cycling top, bought in Lidl for a tenner, which could have doubled up as a one-man tent.
The morning spin was taken at a sedate pace, allowing Vinny time to observe the blushing cheeks of the Clontarf Road as she awaited her suitor.
Many shop fronts had made an effort. “Clontarf Wines Says Ciao To The Giro”, couldn’t be missed, while Foley’s was decked in so much pink bunting it resembled an orchard of apple blossoms.
Further along, number 207 on Clontarf Road was painted stucco pink, which seemed fitting.
The Big Start
As a plus, the awful election guff had been removed, to be replaced by “The Big Start” posters, all flecked in pink.
If Vinny had one quibble, it was the ebbing tide in Dublin Bay, which would reveal the north shore coastline in all her darkened gloop and dubious odour.
Then again, time and tide waits for no man, or cyclists either for that matter, he noted. In sunny mood, Vinny rode alongside Hervé for a kilometre or two on the return leg from Black Banks.
Hervé, who claimed to have been a top Belgian amateur in the 1970s, was more Walter Mitty than Walter White.
Today, he recalled how he almost won a stage on the famed Tireno-Adriatico race which runs coast to coast across Italy each spring.
“My gears got stuck on the final corner and Merckx flew past me in the last 50 metres to win. C’est le vie,” he shrugged.
“Yeah, right,’”thought Vinny as the middle-aged roadies rolled back into the car park at the Dart station, tummies grumbling.
‘Make sure all my sausages are pink in the middle,’ grinned Vinny, before wolfing down a monumental hot-dog, dripping in grease, mustard and ketchup. It was so good, he was soon chomping another.
After the break, during which Vinny helped cull the national pig herd, Herve called the group together and handed out pink armbands, with “Giro ‘d’Italia” written on them.
He then deployed his team at various points on the Clontarf Road between the Bull Island Causeway and the Alfie Byrne turn.
Vinny was given the Oulton Road junction, near the old sea baths, to his slight dismay as that particular stretch of road was quick and the riders, he knew, would speed by in a blur.
So imagine his unbridled glee some time later when young Roche, one of the only two surviving Irish riders in the Giro, braked to a halt with a flat tyre right under his oxter.
What happened next was unexpected. As Roche pulled away, the mechanic who’d got him going took a tumble and fell heavily on the asphalt.
Instinctively, Vinny reached out and hauled the mechanic to safety, just as another team car buzzed past.
As the Saxo-Tinkoff car pulled in, the back door swung open. Vinny helped the dazed mechanic in and then, for a reason he wasn’t able to explain later, got in beside him.
“I’ll watch him. You watch the road,” he barked at the startled driver. ‘Pointing to his pink armband, he said: “Giro officiale. Avanti, Avanti!”
The driver shrugged, gunned the gears and set about weaving through traffic to catch up with Roche, and the other Saxo-Tinkoff riders.
As they slalomed through team cars, narrowly avoiding the tail-enders, flanked by roaring Clontarf crowds, Vinny was exhilarated.
‘Just wait till Hervé hears about this,’ he grinned.