Vinny Fitzpatrick and the French maid lead peloton in pursuit of Stephen Roche
Oh la la as Pamela saves the day while the Grand Marshall looks on in alarm
Grand Marshall Stephen Roche waves to the Dublin crowds.
By the time the Vernon Velo crew arrived at the meeting point in Whitworth Road, their senior pedal pusher was panting hard. Vinny Fitzpatrick felt his breathlessness had nothing to do with to his advancing age, his weight or lack of condition, but rather was due to the bulk he had been asked to ferry along the Clontarf Road in his front basket.
“How come I got the spuds, when everyone else was given bread and fruit?” he moaned as he wheeled to a stop outside the NCBI offices.
In truth, Vinny was excited as a kid at Christmas for he was about to take part in the St Patrick’s Day parade, an event which evoked memories of his childhood, holding his da’s hand and standing outside Clery’s for a glimpse at the wondrous spectacle.
Afterwards, his old man used to treat Vinny, and his sisters, to a cone of their choice in the Forte Ice Cream Parlour on Abbey Street – a magical place that once was part of Dublin town.
On this patriotic morning, Vinny was one of a hundred cyclists making up the peleton to ride behind the parade’s Grand Marshall, Stephen Roche. That Vernon Velo was involved was down to the influence of the club’s secretary Saddler Scullion, whose City Councillor brother was on the parade committee.
All things French
To mark Roche’s unforgettable Tour de France win of 1987, the theme of the riders was all things French. Vinny had gone to great trouble to source a black beret, braces, white apron and a string of onions, which he draped around his neck. For effect, he had scrawled dark eye-liner across his upper lip. His livery was complete by a glove of garlic, which he’d chewed on after breakfast.
As Saddler called everyone to attention on a bullhorn, Vinny felt a tap on his shoulder and heard a husky voice he recognised. “Allo, Allo, are we René, or Vinny?”
Turning, Vinny’s eye lit up at the curvy sight of Pamela from Bailey Bikers. Their paths had crossed on Bull Island and in Clontarf Yacht Club and now fate had drawn them together a third time.
Pamela was dressed up like a French Maid, with a low cut frilly top, black suspenders and even had a feather duster sticking out of her panniers.
She was a ringer for Vikki Michelle, the star of the Allo, Allo sitcom from the 80s, with deep green eyes, a flashlight smile and dark lustrous tresses.
Already, Vinny was half-smitten. “Ah, bonjour Pamela, mon chér. Ca va?” he said gesturing with his hands, for that’s what he reckoned French folk did.
“Bien, bien, mon ami,” replied Pamela. “You look the part and may, if I say, smell the part too. Did you pour garlic on your cornflakes this morning?” she grinned.
Vinny blushed, which he did regularly when in the company of any women who could turn a fellah’s head. “Shall we, er, ride together, Pamela,” he suggested nervously. “I’d be honoured,” beamed Pamela. “No messing now, or I’ll tickle your backside with my feather,” she said suggestively.
A few minutes later, the peleton moved off towards Parnell Square, with Saddler barking out orders about staying together and keeping their distance from the Grand Marshall, who would be slightly ahead of them.
“Listen very carefully, I will say this only once. People have come from all over the world to see Stephen Roche lead the parade. We don’t want to crowd him out. When he stops, we stop, no matter what’s happening behind. We’ll have 12 lines of eight riders, with Vernon Velo at the front. Vinny Fitz, take it away.”
At noon the parade rolled down towards O’Connell Street with Roche at the front, in a powder blue vintage Rolls Royce, which Vinny felt was far too low down. “Kids can’t see Roche,” he thought. “He should be on a giant penny farthing.”
Hell for leather
Vinny was familiar with the time when Roche, Seán Kelly and Europe’s elite went hell for leather in the Nissan Classic through Dublin’s broad streets and narrow.
While Roche was a supreme stylist, and oozed charisma, Vinny leaned towards the taciturn Kelly, who used to answer interviews with a nod. Kelly was forged from iron, the AP McCoy of his time. He’d ride anywhere, anytime, for the chance of a winner.
Like AP, as he got older, Kelly relaxed. Smiles replaced grunts. Today, Kelly was a commentator on Eurosport and you couldn’t get him to shut up, noted Vinny.
After crossing O’Connell Bridge, the slow-moving peleton skirted Trinity College and headed up Dame Street. All along, the cyclists carefully held their ground. When Roche paused, Vinny’s arm shot up right and the French fleet dropped anchor. At his signal, they resumed their pace, which was modest enough not to tax the flabby bus driver.
Vinny lapped up every moment of the gig, and raised his beret every 30 seconds or so. Never mind that he wore an over-sized pinafore and had a string of onions, this was Dublin, his Dublin.
Breasting Christchurch, the parade swung left towards the finish in Patrick’s Street. Here, the ground fell away sharply and Saddler called out for everyone to use their brakes.
Instinctively, Vinny gave a little tug on the reins. Nothing happened, except his bike began to move that bit quicker. “Hold on to your horses there, René,” warned Pamela.
It was too late, for Vinny was on board a runaway metal steed which was galloping downhill towards the Grand Marshall’s shiny rear end.
Frantically, Vinny dinged his bell but the noise of the crowd drowned out the tinkle. As Roche gave Papal-like blessings to his hometown, he had no idea he was about to be rear-ended by a rampaging rhino on the hoof.
Seconds away from the impending collision, Vinny felt a firm hand on his shoulder. It was Pamela, who was upsides and braking hard, for the two of them.
Bit by bit, Vinny’s iron charger slewed to the right, and started to slow down. Then, things became blurred.
He could recall Roche turning his head, a sense of alarm on his face. The next thing Vinny knew, he was entangled in the arms of Pamela, a net of onions and a feather duster.