Friday 27 November 2015

1959- My bike-racing year

I recently got an email from a fellow former Eagle CRC member by the name of Rob Norton. He was writing to correct a mistake I made on another post. I had attributed the photos on this post to be from 1958. Rob is certain they're from 1959. And how is he so certain? Well, Rob features in one of the photos, and only raced for one year...1959.

While his racing career may have been short, it wasn't without distinction. Luckily for us Rob has written his memories of that year and is happy to share them. This is his story, exactly as he has written it.
Rob Norton riding that Navan Road TT in 1959!!

1959- My bike-racing year

My interest in bike racing was sown by my dad’s stories of his racing activities in the 1930’s with the “City and Suburban” Club and touring in UK and Ireland. He had a much sought-after machine, a Stenton Glider which had a stainless steel frame. He raced in time trials only, since mass start racing was illegal. They had to start their races at dawn and wear black tights. He and Joe Nash won the Irish 50 mile tandem time trial champs. Dad rode 216 miles in a 12 hour time trial- I don’t know what place that gave him. He kept going on cold sweet tea. His brother Willie played in the excellent Irish bicycle polo team in the 1940’s.

Rob's dad, Jimmy Norton (left) with an unnamed pal
on a touring trip to Yorkshire in the 1930's

In my teens while still at school, I bought “Cycling” magazine every week, which gave racing results mainly from the time trial scene in Britain, but also from the embryonic massed start scene there. It also covered leisure touring, which is largely ignored by today’s cycling press.

After a number of years hard bicycle touring in my teens and some seasons rowing with Neptune RC at Islandbridge, I bought a cheap  mass-produced  racing bike, a Hercules “Tour de France Equipe” in 1958, when I was twenty years old.  The firm of Hercules had a British professional team racing on the continent at that time, including Brian Robinson, who in 1958 won a stage of the Tour de France and had other notable successes.

My Hercules bike had eight gears including a front changer operated by a lever above the chain wheel! During the winter of 1958-1959 I used to go training alone on the Clontarf road in the evenings after work. This road had recently had sodium vapour lights installed, a great novelty at the time which gave very good illumination.

One evening (26-2-59) I was passed by a racing cyclist, also solo, and we got into conversation . We spent the rest of the evening, which probably involved going to Howth, over the summit and back, riding side by side and riding harder and harder the further we went; something of a “nudging” match having developed . He introduced himself as Sonny Cullen of Eagle Road Club, who I learned later was an Irish international. He asked if I had ever raced and when I replied “No”, he replied “You should give it a go”. Ever after, he used to call me “the nudger Norton”. He told me the first race of the season would be on shortly and how to go about entering. This involved going to the house of the race secretary of CRE (Cumann Rothaiochta na h-Eireann), Sean Fox in Drumcondra and paying ten shillings to join Eagle. I also paid 3 shillings for a racing licence. .  The internationally recognised controlling bodies were CRE and Northern Ireland Cycling Federation. The nationalist body NCA was strong throughout the country but was not recognised as they refused to accept the partition of Ireland. They were notorious for going to World Champs and Olympic races and strewing tacks on the road.

On the 1st March, I rode my first race; 100 kms massed start in Phoenix Park. Got into a lot of breaks and finished about 15th.

Second race , Eagle RC 70 mile MS, 8th March was from the Park to Dunshaughlin, Ratoath, Slane, Navan, and back to the Park. I missed the break which included Sonny and John Lackey. My group dropped to touring pace due to a fierce headwind and we finished 6 minutes down, in 3 hrs 17.

A few weeks afterwards, I went in the Norman Cycles Cup, a fifty mile handicap organised by Irish Road Club,from Santry Stadium to Drogheda and back. I went off with a group of about twelve young riders given eight minutes on the back-markers, including Sonny and others of his standard. My group included Sean Lally of Dublin Wheelers.  It did not take long for him and me to drop all the others in our group and we rode “bit and bit” together to the finish. We were never caught by the scratch men and I jumped away from Sean at a little hill at the Coachman’s Inn, a mile from the finish, and won. I was presented with the big silver cup at the annual dinner of CRE at the year’s end in front of my Dad and Mam. Unfortunately that cup subsequently went missing and is no longer raced for.
Jimmy Norton (centre) sharing a drink with Dick Comerford and Shay Elliott

My club, Eagle Road Club, is no longer in existence. We were a small club comprising three Irish internationals, Sonny Cullen, Jimmy Kennedy and J J McCormack, whose son Alan was racing professionally in USA until 1994. Other members that I recall were Dick Allen, Freddie Brew, Gerry Kinsella and Rory Harkin of Rory’s Fishing shop in Temple Bar. We trained several evenings a week - hard bit and bit sessions - and we also had club TTs and massed start races in the Park or round the Drumcree circuit. In one of the TTs I had my best 25 mile time of 1.2.22.
Sonny beating Jimmy in a RAS finish
Sonny Cullen died very young; I think in his fifties after coming home from a spin on the bike. He had a cousin in Rush who grew tomatoes and we called in one evening while out training and gorged on tomatoes.

Later that year I did the Irish 50 mile TT championship on the Navan Road. I don’t recall what place I finished in. It may have been seventh. My time was 2.11 and I recall a strong headwind on the return leg.

I was fifth in the 100 mile time trial championship on a course Ashtown, Navan, Slane, Black Bull, Slane, Navan, home. I started at Ashtown at 9 am in the pouring rain and caught six riders during the morning. About 10.30 I was overtaken by the eventual winner Magee(?) from Northern Ireland, who had a time of 4 hrs 17 mins. Since it was a flat course he used a single fixed gear. I had a 4.41. Sean Lally, who had started seven minutes ahead of me had a 4 hrs 48 mins. We crossed the finish line together.

The highlight of my year was the National 200 kms. Mass Start Championship. The course was Phoenix Park, Slane, Navan and back to finish by riding six times around the Knockmaroon hill circuit. A rider broke away on the Navan Road on the way back to Dublin - I jumped to join him and was joined by a succession of others until the breakaway group was up to twelve. This group, though dwindling in numbers, stayed away until the finish. At one stage I was out of food and Ian Gallagher of Orwell (RIP, alas) kindly gave me a big juicy pear which kept me going. Ian was involved with the sport for many years and was a race commissaire for the RAS.

Jim Maguire of NICF won. Christy Kimmage was second, Ian Moore, of Zeus RC, London was third, I think. Peter Dowling of Antlers C. C., a big red-head, beat me in the sprint for fourth place. I had been told he was not fit and hadn’t raced much that year and I did my best to get rid of him on the final climb of Knockmaroon without success. I had to be satisfied with fifth and our club, Eagle won the Team Prize, because Joe McCormack (RIP in 2010?) was eighth and Freddie Brew was 13th. I got a nice silver medal for the Team Prize which I still have. Many of my races that year were ridden on wheels with STEEL rims, but for the MS champs I had alloy “sprints”. I remember being so tired and stiff at the finish that I could hardly get off the bike.

I also rode the Coast to Coast mass start race, Dublin to Galway and back at the August Bank holiday. Won the Prime at Enfield but  finished well down the field in a bad headwind on day one, but came in third on the return leg with a gale at our backs. I broke away from the field on the hill at Lucan and finished alone in the Phoenix Park in front of a large crowd of spectators, with Jimmy Kennedy and Christy Kimmage, of Dublin Wheelers who had broken away earlier, some minutes ahead of me.

The last race I rode that year was the comically named “Tour de Wicklow”- Roundwood, Laragh, Sally Gap, Roundwood and another lap of the same. The heat was intense- the tar melted on the roads and ruined my new frame. I dropped out after the first lap. I remember the pain of trying vainly to stay on the wheel of Vinnie Higgins of Antlers on the climb up Glenmacnass. The frame was never quite the same. With a clean-up, it ended up being ridden by my brother Pat in his first few races. He of course far excelled me in his much longer racing career including a win in the Isle of Man “Mannin Veg” and a spell with a French club.

At the CRE annual dinner, I got a certificate for 6th place in the Time Trial BAR (Best All Rounders) Competition

That was the extent of my bike racing career. While I continued to tour by bike, I was bitten by the mountaineering bug and joined the Irish Mountaineering Club but that’s another story.

Rob Norton with his son, Graham, who rides for Orwell and
is the third generation of Nortons to take to the bike.

Rob Norton still turning the pedals, atop the Grossglockner in Austria, 2010

Rob's friend Michael Murphy of Westport accompanied him up in Austria, 2010

Tuesday 21 July 2015

Alpe d'Huez by Peter Cossins

Over time certain sporting venues become iconic. Sometimes because of the historic events that are held there, sometimes because of legendary performances, sometimes because of their own inate grandeur or beauty. Football has Wembley and the Maracana, tennis has Wimbledon, triathlon has Kona and Formula 1 has Monaco.

Cycling is lucky enough to have several such venues, from the bergs of Flanders to the cobbles of Roubaix to the high mountains of the Grand Tours. But one place stands out from them all in cycling folklore. To win there is to join an exclusive club, to just survive the time limit is a massive achievement and to spectate there is to participate in one of the great festivals of sport.

That place is of course the famous D211 road in the department of Isère, France which culminates at the ski resort by who's name it's better known, Alpe d'Huez.

Veteran British cycling journalist, Peter Cossins, has just published a "biography" of this amazing climb, "Cycling's Greatest Climb" according to the subtitle.

By interweaving factual detail with accounts of some of the most exciting and iconic Tour stages fought out there, Cossins brings the mountain alive for the reader. The passion, the pain, the intrigue and the excitement of the road are all captured on the pages as well as fascinating behind the scenes history of how this remote ski resort has managed to place itself centre stage in the story of France's premier sporting event.

2015 marks the eightieth anniversary of the building of the first paved road, with it's now famous 21 hairpins, up to a cluster of ski cabins and chalets. That decision, along with some very canny celebrity-endorsed marketing, inspired the rapid development of the resort into one of France's most popular pre-war ski destinations. Once hostilities were done it was hotelier George Rajon who saw the benefits that attracting the Tour might bring and who set about wooing organisers Jacques Goddet and Felix Levitan. As it happens, at the time they were looking for a way to break the stranglehold time-triallists were exerting on their race. The rest is history.

Surprisingly, given the almost mythological status now bestowed on the Alpe, it was to be another 25 years before the Tour visited again in 1977. That return, won in a spectacular race by defending Tour champion Lucien Van Impe, was to be the beginning of what's been called a love affair between the resort and the race, albeit a love affair driven by very unromantic financial considerations.

That's not to say there's been any love affair between the riders and the climb. Climbing legend Robert Miller "hated" it, while 87 Tour winner, Stephen Roche, famously said "Of all the climbs in the Alps, Alpe d'Huez is the one I fear the most". At just over 13km, it's neither the longest nor steepest climb faced by Tour De France participants, But Alpe d'Huez is special because it always comes at the end of a tough stage and because it's very hard to ride, especially since the steeper lower slopes are where the damage is often done, leaving all but the best climbers scrambling to get back on terms.

While it's the riders that make any race, and Cossins describes in detail the exploits of many who have made their name (by fair means or foul) on the Alpe, from Van Impe to Pantani to Armstrong, Alpe d'Huez has become just as renowned for the fans who line the roadside. Just like the famous "12th man" in football, the energy of the fans has been an integral factor in many exploits played out there as well as a few mishaps, as in the case of Guerrini and the camera toting German lad.

Often described as "Dutch" mountain the stories of how it became so associated with Holland are fascinating. Who knew the local parish priest for many years, now buried in the churchyard at Dutch Corner, was a Dutchman? Of course, in recent years some us are challenging that Orange dominance, hence the birth of Irish Corner 10. We have a way to go though!

Alpe d'Huez is an amazing place, with a still expanding legend being built around it. Cossins has captured that in this book. If you have going there for the Tour (at Irish Corner 10, of course) at least once on your bucket list, when you read this book you'll be adding it at the very top.

"Alpe d'Huez, Cycling's Greatest Climb" by Peter Cossins is published in hardback by Aurum Press and is available from Amazon (click here) or, in Ireland, from Easons and all good bookshops, RRP €25.50

Saturday 25 October 2014

Tuesday 15 July 2014

The Arenberg Trench

Watching Stage 5 of this years Tour brought me back to when we went over to see the similar stage in 2010. It seems like another age now as we watched pre-admission Lance chasing after the leaders following a puncture, or Sylvain Chavanel on his Yellow and Green bike reflecting his leadership in both coloured jersey classifications, or the champions jersey train of the World Champion, Cadel Evans, and the British Champion , Geraint Thomas, sandwiching the Norwegian Champion Thor Hushovd as he rode to victory on the stage.

For me, one of the highlights of that trip was the chance to see, in person, the famed Arenberg Trench. This stretch of cobbles has earned an almost mythical reputation as the key sorting-out point of the Paris-Roubaix classic. It is here, usually in the rain and mud of a northern French April, that the race comes alive. While the winner is seldom decided in the Arenberg Trench, most of the losers definitely are.

Alternatively known as the Trouée d'Arenberg, the Tranchée d'Arenberg or the Trouée de Wallers Arenberg, the "road" in question is located in the heart of the coal mining region of the Nord-Pas-De-Calais. In fact it was ex-miner, World Road Race Champion and team-mate of Shay Elliott, Jean Stablinski, who introduced the organisers to the road after becoming the first man to ride it in 1968.

At 2.4km, it's not only a long stretch of pavé by Paris-Roubaix standards, but it's also very, very rough! In fact, as someone who comes from a city with some remaining cobbled streets and having ridden the cobbles of Flanders, I'd be reluctant to call the stones of the Arenberg Trench cobbles at all. You could be forgiven for thinking they're just a flattened pile of stones left after some long-forgotten construction project.

But, as well as the roughness, the surprising thing for me was the gradient. I had always assumed that the "Trench" part of the name came from the fact that the road cuts through the forest, giving the feeling of riding along a trench. In  fact, the name comes from the road having the profile of a trench, dropping from either end to a low point almost exactly half way along. Riders thunder downhill into the trench but the difficulty comes in the second half where they have to try to maintain their momentum for the climb back out.

We didn't get to ride it in 2010, but we did walk the full length. My sore hips were bad enough after that. I can't imaging what I'd be like after racing through.

I took some video on my phone which hopefully will give you some idea of just how rough the stones are on this iconic stretch of cycling history.

View Map

Sunday 27 April 2014

Guinness was Good for Cycling

Back in the mid-80's one of the biggest backers of cycle sport in Ireland was the country's best known company, Guinness. The hard work of a few smart operators in the Irish cycling scene cultivated contacts in the company, and its advertising agencies, converting their interest in the sport into hard cash to back clubs and races.

Dublin's Emerald CRC, the home of many of the top riders in the country at the time, was sponsored for many years by the Guinness-owned brands Carlsberg and Fosters.

But the Guinness brand itself also backed several races enthusiastically. And when the Guinness marketing department got behind a race great things could happen. I did a college placement in the company in 1987 and spent several days that summer postering the city's pubs with ads for upcoming Guinness backed races. But, as well advertising in the pubs Guinness could also generate TV coverage.

These two videos are testament to both their clout and their willingness to back the sport as a whole, rather than one narrow branch of it.

The first video is of one round of the 1986 Guinness Cyclo-Cross series, held on a frosty day in the Phoenix Park in Dublin. Irelands cycling scene was relatively small in those days and there was no such thing as specialists so this race features many of the top road men of the day, particularly Joe Barr, Julian Dalby, John Sheehan and Raphael Kimmage.

The second video is coverage of the Guiness 2 day Cycle Race, also in 1986. This race featured two stages. The first was 78 miles from Cork to Limerick followed the next day by a long, flat 117 mile slog from Limerick to Dublin.

The race features some of the biggest names in Irish and UK cycling at the time including Ian Chivers, Joe Barr, Aidan Harrison, Gary Thompson, Laurence Roche, Jamie McGahan, Ger Madden, John McQuaid, Oliver McQuaid, Terry McManus, Doug Dailey, Andy Wilkinson, Anthony O'Gorman with many more familiar faces, both riders and officials, making an appearance.

Thursday 20 March 2014

1982 Carlsberg Tour of Ireland

This is a great video of the 1982 Carlsberg Tour of Ireland. It features several sadly missed faces from the Irish cycling scene as well as some of the best riders of the era, including Martin Earley, Alan McCormack, Billy Kerr, Lenny Kirk, Jamie McGahan, Stephen Delaney, Brendan Madden, Mark Bell and the Raleigh Olympic Squad (including Gary Thomson, Davy Gardiner, Paul Kimmage, John McQuaid and Seamus Downey) and many more you'll recognise.

Wednesday 29 January 2014

Calor Kosangas Coast to Coast 1983

This is a highlights package of the 1983 Coast to Coast. Stage 1 was from Lucan to Birr, stage 2 from Birr to Galway and stage 3 the marathon ride from Galway back to Dublin. The quality's not great but it features some very well known faces of Irish (and Scottish) cycling of the era.

Sunday 19 January 2014

From the archives:1950's Road Racing in Ireland

Here's another set of pictures from Dad's photo archive.

This is a mixed set showing various aspects of the Irish road racing scene in the 1950's.

As before we've made every effort to put names to faces and places. If you can fill in any blanks and/or spot any mistakes please let us know.

Clicking on a photo will open the set in a gallery.

Dun Laoghaire Grand Prix 1955.
The riders parade to the start.

Front Row: RJ (Dick) Walsh, Paddy Ellis, Sonny Cullen,
Sean Fox, Sean O'Neill(all Eagle CRC)

Second Row: Davy Byrne, Jack Coleman (both Irish Road Club),
Harry Reynolds, Tony James, Bob Maitland (all Solihull RC, Birmingham)

Third Row: Willie Black, Con Enright (both Co. Dublin RC),
Ron Cunningham (Irish Road Club)

Others in pic: Vinny Byrne (Dublin Wheelers), John Lackey, Phil Molloy,
Fred Brew (all Tailteann RC), Bob McNamara (Irish Road Club), Peter Dowling,
Tony Allen, Brendan Hore (all Antlers CC), Mick Manley, Paddy McInerney (Dublin Wheelers), Keith McCarney (Australia)

Climbing the Long Hill during the Tour De Wicklow c.1957.
L-to-R: Sonny Cullen (Eagle CRC), Gerry Kinsella (Dublin Wheelers),
Ron Cunningham (Irish Road Club), John Lackey (Tailteann RC),
Jim Kennedy (Eagle CRC), Mick Manley (Dublin Wheelers),
Sean Fox (Eagle CRC).

Eagle CRC team, Coast-To-Coast 1950's,
L-to-R: JJ McCormack, Tony Allen (in blue), Christy Lynch,
Jim Kennedy, Sonny Cullen, Gerry Kinsella

JJ McCormack, Jim Kennedy, Sonny Cullen (all Eagle CRC)
ready to go at the National RR Championship,
Markethill, Co. Armagh

Jim Johnson (Maryland Wheelers, back to camera),
Dick Comerford (Irish Road Club)
and Peter Crinnion (Bray Wheelers)
before the National RR Championships, Markethill, Co. Armagh.

Matt Scallon (Orwell Wheelers) and Peter Crinnion (Bray Wheelers), 1958

Matt Scallon (Orwell Wh), John Lackey (Tailteann RC),
Sonny Cullen (Eagle CRC), Jim Kennedy (Eagle CRC), 1958

John Lackey (Tailteann RC) wins a sprint, 1958

Peter Crinnion (Bray Wheelers) 1958

Phil Molloy (Tailteann RC) leads Peter Crinnion (Bray Wheelers)
and Jim Kennedy (Eagle CRC). 1958

Dick Comerford (Irish Road Club) on his Vincent 1000
in a race cavalcade through Wicklow, 1958

Phoenix Park, 1958.
L-to-R: Gerry Kinsella (Eagle CRC), Tony Allen (Eagle CRC), Bill Morrissey,
Fred Brew (Tailteann RC), Sean Fox (obscured), Brendan Hore,
Jim Kennedy  (Eagle CRC, back to camera), John Moore (Antlers CC - in helmet)

A Park gallop, Phoenix Park, 1958

John Moore (Antlers CC) in the cavalcade, Phoenix Park, 1958

Jim Kennedy (Eagle CRC) in front of Steve Lawless (Emerald CC), 1958

Tony Allen  (Eagle CRC), 1958

John Lackey (Tailteann RC) leading Sonny Cullen (Eagle CRC) and
Denis Whelan (Obelisk Wheelers), climbing (we think) Slane Hill, 1958
Peter Dowling (Antlers CC), JJ McCormack (Eagle CRC),
Brendan Duncan (Irish Road Club), 1958
Sonny Cullen (Eagle CRC), Phil Molloy (Tailteann RC), 1958

The first Antlers CC race.line up get ready to go in Skerries.
From left: Reg Walker, Peter Jones, Tony Allen, Sean Fox, Peter Dowling,
unknown , Brendan Hore and Paddy Hollingsworth.
It's possible future National Champion, Dowling went on to win but
that can't be confirmed.

Wednesday 15 January 2014

From the archive: Santry Stadium Track Meet, 1958

Here's another set of pictures from Dad's photo archive.

This set were all taken at a track meeting held in the brand new Santry Stadium (now the Morton Stadium), Dublin in 1958.

Although now only used for athletics and soccer, at that time the stadium contained a concrete velodrome encircling the running track. Although it was very long for a cycling track at 515 yards, Santry was host to regular track meets.

Probably the most famous occasion was the grand opening in 1959, when some of the world's biggest cycling names were enticed to race at the venue. They included local boy Shay Elliott, Brian Robinson of Britain, André Darrigade, Albert Bouvet and Roger Hassenforder of France and the biggest name of them all, the Campionissimo, Fausto Coppi of Italy. Despite an explosion damaging the track on the morning of the meet  (widely assumed to have been planted by the IRA as a response to the presence of Robinson) the Dublin crowd was treated to two great nights of entertainment.

The meeting pictured in this set was a more local affair. Dad was a member of Eagle CRC so the photos do tend to concentrate on his club-mates but hopefully they give a good flavour of the atmosphere of the event and the era.

Clicking on a photo will open the set in a gallery.

Tony Allen (Eagle CRC), Santry Stadium, 1958

Jim Kennedy (Eagle CRC), Santry Stadium, 1958

JJ McCormack (Eagle CRC) togs out. Santry Stadium 1958

Tony Allen (Eagle CRC) leads at Santry Stadium, 1958

JJ McCormack (Eagle CRC) puts the pressure on, Santry Stadium, 1958

Eagle CRC duo, Tony Allen and Gerry Kinsella sprint for the line,
Santry Stadium, 1958

Saturday 4 January 2014

1989 National Road Race Championships Video

This broadcast of the 1989 National Road Race Championships, which took place in Roundwood, Co. Wicklow, features some real legends of Irish cycling and an exciting race.


1st Paul Slane (Newry CC)
2nd Mick Walsh (Fosters, Dublin)
3rd Anthony O'Gorman (Bianconi Wheelers, Clonmel)

Tuesday 17 December 2013

From the archive: Navan Road Time Trial, 1959

Here's another set of pictures from Dad's photo archive. I wasn't able to caption a lot of these so any help with identification of riders would be great.

The photos here were all taken at a 50 mile TT, held on the Navan Rd course, just outside Dublin, sometime in the summer of 1959. The course started and finished in Ashtown, beside the Phoenix Park Race Course and took riders out to the turn near Navan and back.

Clicking on a photo will open the set in a gallery.
Denis Whelan (Obelisk), Navan Rd TT, 1959

Rob Norton (Eagle CRC), Navan Rd TT, 1959

Terry Kernan (Co. Dublin RC) Navan Rd TT, 1959

John Lackey (Tailteann RC),
Navan Rd TT, 1959

Matt Scallon (Orwell Wheelers),  Navan Rd TT, 1959

Jim Kennedy (Eagle CRC), Navan Rd TT, 1959

JJ McCormack and Rory Harkins (both Eagle CRC)
watching the TT, Navan Rd, 1959

JJ McCormack (Eagle CRC) and Christy Kimmage (Dublin Wheelers),
Navan Rd TT, 1959

John Lackey (Tailteann RC) at Blanchardstown Bridge,
Navan Rd TT, 1959

Peter Crinnion (Bray Wheelers) makes the catch at
Blanchardstown Bridge, Navan Rd TT, 1959

Mick Manley (Dublin Wheelers), Navan Rd TT, 1959

Waiting for the riders. Brendan Hore (left) and Dick Allen (both Antlers CC).