And a roving young fellow I've been
So be easy and free when you're drinking with me
I'm a man you don't meet every day"
Cait O'Riordan & The Pogues - "A Man you don't Meet Everyday"
That's why this weekend I put in two pretty big days back to back. Saturday? 5 hours, just spinning along in a 39x16 with Joe and Tony, getting miles in the bank. Sunday it was 30 degrees and colder. Another 4 hours solo, ditto tempo and gearing, only more climbing that put the ticker up into the red 6 or 7 times. In the hills, in the wind. Felt stuck to the road, but no matter, it's all necessary you see...
Wednesday, May 21 will be stage 4 of the Ras. The longest day, smack in the middle of a long week. The stage to Cahirciveen, on the Ring of Kerry, into the extremely wild mountainous west coast of Ireland. 183 kilometers, featuring no less than ten categorized climbs that include two category two ascents, and a category one mountain. One can fake their way through an 80 or 90 mile ride. But on this rocky road to Cahirciveen, there'll be no trick a poser can pull to fake their way through.
I'm quite aware that Cahirciveen is a place neither known nor celebrated by cycling afficionados, unlike other similarly quaint small towns that have names like Geraardsbergen, or Huy.
No matter. Carhirciveen is an important cycling destination because it's the home of the Ireland's original cycling Iron Man.
In 1958 Mick Murphy came out of nowhere, or to be more precise Cahirciveen, to dominate the Ras Tailteann. Only cycling seriously for a little over a year, he showed up at the GPO in Dublin a late unknown selection for the Kerry county squad. But by the end of stage one, every man in the field knew in their legs, lungs and hearts, just who was going to be dictating terms in that Ras.
|Mick Murphy, in 1958.|
Despite being in a strong Kerry team, as appropriate for this former circus performer, his was a solo act of constant surges. Murphy won that '58 Ras, slaughtering the rest.
His preparation to enable this feat was legendary, even at the time. In Gaelic Ireland, Mick Murphy stories are the stuff of legend. Starting work at age 11 in the bogs. Working in a quarry in his teens. Picking up cash as a circus performer. Training by balancing a ladder on his chin. Travelling around as a grass track racer. Gymnastic training learned from Russians in the circus. Stealth after work training rides in the middle of the night, after sessions of weight training with bar bells made from stone weights picked up from his farm. Fanatical attention to diet. Living on raw food. Uncooked cereals, cheese, vegetables, eggs and fruit juice. And drinking cow's blood.
Suffice to say, Murphy's 'total athlete' approach was quite the contrast to most cyclists of the day. Ras legend and winner Gene Mangan, who won 4 stages of that '58 Ras said it best: "Mick said that while we knew everything about the bike, we knew nothing about our bodies."
His victory was not without drama. During that '58 Ras, on stage 4, Mick went down in the wet, crashing hard on his left shoulder. Whether it was a torn shoulder or a broken collarbone is debated, but the fact is the Iron Man, in a bad way, fought back to cross the line in 8th place that day. After the adrenaline wore off the pain and doubt set in. The next they they helped him squeeze into his yellow jersey, put him on his bike, strapped in his feet for him, and off he went. 111 miles later at the finish he vomited from the effort and the pain, but kept his yellow jersey. By now all Ireland was all in, behind the Iron Man. Against the odds he recovered, and went on to win the 1958 Ras by 4' 44".
Today, Mick Murphy lives alone in a mountain hovel outside Carhirciveen behind a corrugated iron sheet that serves as a front door. No toilet. No running water. Just enough electricity for a single bulb. He still has his stone weights, and he still has his memories. His body may have been broken by a fall from a scaffold on a building site in England a few years ago, but his sprit will never be. "No man, nor God will move me".
I know some might look at Mick Murphy and see an eccentric. I see a content genius who's been there, done that, figured it all out.
Come hell or high water, I'm going to make it to Cahirciveen. And once there, I hope I'm lucky enough to find Mick Murphy at the line. And shake the hand of the Iron Man himself.