Saturday, 6 April 2013

Meeting Sean Kelly 2012 - I finally get my moment.

I've documented my history of Sean Kelly hero worship elsewhere on this site.  It's been a short 22 years since I saw him race (and crash) in Birmingham. He virtually rode past my house in 1986 and then I finally got his autograph at the Ronse worlds in 1987.

The problem was, I'd never really met him. Never looked in the eye and said "you're my bloody hero Sean". And I never thought I would. I'd stopped watching pro cycling pretty much around the time Sean finally hung up his cleated shoes. But then, a few years ago I discovered the joys of Eurosport, David Harmon and Sean Kelly. Yes, the same Sean Kelly famed whilst riding for answering questions in radio interviews with a nod. Now here he was back in my life, and now he couldn't stop talking. It brought back all the memories of his career, his hardness, his all year round brilliance and his old school approach. I couldn't get enough.

September 2012

We visited the Cycle Show at the NEC. Wandering around gazing at bikes I saw a face from the past. Not Sean, but a cycle adventurer I used to read about call Nick Sanders. Nick used to cycle round the world back in the 1980's on a Ti Raleigh pro bike with some front panniers, he travelled light and fast and was something of a pioneer of long-distance, fast touring. He was at the show promoting his book and I think he was genuinely pleased I remembered him so well.

After meeting Nick, I was thinking that the show had been well worth visiting. Then I glanced across a small staged area and saw Mr Dave Harmon himself. I couldn't believe it, and raced straight over to him exciteable as a small child. Chatting to Dave he dropped the bombshell into conversation - "Sean is here somewhere". WHAT, bye Dave - lets find Sean!!

Round and round the show we went, I couldn't think of anything but finally meeting him. Then, in a clearing in the crowd and the moment finally presented itself. I spotted him making his way through the crowd, the greatest cyclist at the show - virtually unrecognised. Not me though. I shouted "SEAN" and he stopped and looked at me. I dashed over and then froze, he wouldn't want to talk to me, would he. But out it came, the whole story - the crash in Birmingham, did he remember it? Of course he did! Then it was over, I'd told him he was a legend and I was happy. He looked at me and eventually walked off. It suddenly struck me, actually he had seemed happy to chat AND I stupidly ended it BEFORE it got going. Worse than that, I didn't even get a photo. Bugger.

I wasn't giving up though. Sean was due on stage in the next 20 minutes and I was going to get my photo!
Amazingly he reappeared a few minutes later, like the old pro he was he'd gone off to change his top (into a sponsors) for his time on stage. I dashed over and interrupted him again and got my photo. Then I left him alone.....again.



We moved away, I wanted to give him some space and respect. But I couldn't stop looking at him. Obviously he was older looking, but the piercing intensity in his eyes was incredible, he still looked in the same shape as his cycling days and as strong as an Ox. And he kept glancing over at me. I think he actually wanted to talk more about racing - he obviously bloody loves bike racing and talking about it. Before I could engage him for a third time though, someone else recognised him and started chatting to him - for about 15 minutes! I was MAJORLY jealous ( to steal one of Sean's favourite words) but what the heck, I got to meet him finally and got my photo. Maybe we'll meet again one day.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Meeting Sean Kelly 1988 - Ronse Worlds

This was the third occasion on which I hoped to meet Sean Kelly. Quite honestly, it was never likely I was going to meet him, the best I could hope was that I'd see him and see him win. I'd already got to hold his bike at the Kelloggs Birmingham city centre criterium in 1986, then witnessed his attacking power in the 1987 Tour of Britain. But I didn't have his autograph - and in those days that was what really mattered.


So in 1988 I was lucky enough that my cycling club organised a trip to the world road race championships in Ronse, Belgium.

We set off in a builders van for the long drive to Belgium, I don't remember much about the journey but looking at the van now - I'm sure it took at least two days.


Arriving at the circuit the day before, we took some time to walk some sections of the course and try and find a good spot to watch the action from. We checked out the finish and the hill climb section before wandering around to a back section of the course. At that point the barriers had a gap, and while stood there deciding what to do next one of our group spotted the spanish team coming down the circuit. Led by the 1988 Tour de France winner Pedro Delgado they made their way to OUR GAP! I was so excited and flapped to get my pristine race programme and pen out, there was literally no other fans around so his autograph was going to be mine. But no, it turned out that Pedro Delgado was a miserable git and refused to sign it! I never did like him anyway.


Despite not liking him I did feel a bit deflated, I suppose in later life I'd get used to be knocked back, but at seventeen years of age it was not a nice feeling and nothing could make me feel better.

Or could it. Moments after the Spanish git had buggered off the chosen one appeared. It couldn't be true could it - the Irish team were coming down the circuit and they were also making their way to OUR GAP!


The Irish team,was Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche, Paul Kimmage and Martin Earley. What a difference, they stopped and chatted to us. Being 1988 I had one of those awful cameras that you had to manually wind forward and missed getting a picture of Sean, I did get this one of Stephen above though.

It didn't matter about the photo though, I got the autograph! I felt a bit bad, but after getting both Sean and Stephens autographs on my programme, I decided I didn't want Martin Earley's or Paul Kimmage's on it. Good riders as they were and all that - sorry Martin/ Paul.

Soon enough they were gone.




 Of course Sean never won the Worlds that year, but the following year Stephen Roche would go on to complete the triple - Giro, Tour de France and Worlds.

I felt like I'd completed my own triple by 1988 though and twenty four years later my prized possession still lives on my kitchen wall.


Note - I stopped stalking Sean Kelly in 1988

Other race shots from 1988 Ronse Worlds.

Sean riding in peloton - Malcolm Elliott (Fagor) to his left

Sean Kelly

Sean again! Sean Yates (Fagor) in front

Greg Lemond - early aero helmet!


Meeting Sean Kelly 1987 - Sean cycles past my house

After my 1985 initial meeting with Sean I knew I needed to see him race again. Magazine coverage wasn't enough and TV coverage was very limited, I think Channel 4 had only started to cover the Tour in 1986, prior to that you had to make do with a 30 second round-up by Dickie Davies on World of Sport.

So in 1987 I couldn't believe my luck when I found out that Sean was riding the Kelloggs Tour of Britain. Better still the route went literally past my house. Well it was close by, ok it was 30 miles away but I was fit back then and thought nothing of cycling over to see them whizz past.

And whizz past they did. Fortunately for me, Sean was not one for hiding in the bunch and went on the attack literally for my own viewing. So I got a photo.



It wasn't enough though, I needed to meet the great man and wouldn't rest until I did.

Meeting Sean Kelly 1985 - Seans bike & I

I first met Sean Kelly in 1985 about the time I first got the cycling bug. Now I say met him, I doubt he remembers meeting me to be honest. And I didn't really meet him as such - but I did get to hold his bike. Life doesn't get any better than that at 14.

It was at that time that Channel 4 used to show a series of criteriums from around the UK on TV. Cycling was quite big in the UK back then and this was a one of the highlights. So a group of us from our cycling club travelled up to Birmingham to watch one of the events. To increase their attractiveness, the organisers used to bring over a big name continental star for each race - none were bigger than Sean Kelly. He was the worlds number one cyclist, a formidable sprinter and tough as old boots. He was (and always will be) my favourite pro cyclist - proper old school.

Now with hindsight I'm fairly sure that these events were organised a bit like the post-tour criterium or kermesse, in that the crowds had come to see the star rider, and therefore by some miracle the star rider always won. But at 14, no-one had told me this and what the hell, the racing was great whatever.

On this night, Sean was riding in his green points jersey, won during the Tour that summer. As the race got underway I was sure Sean would win. It was quite likely given what I'd subsequently discovered (see above). But one thing the organisers couldn't licence for was the rain. Down it came causing the road surface to be as slippery as hell. And then down came Sean.




In a way I was devastated as this was the last lap and now Sean couldn't win. But, on the upside it happened right in front of me. Soon enough everyone clambered over the barriers and so did I. In the middle of all this I suddenly found myself stood next to a now upright Sean Kelly being interviewed by Channel Four. Naturally someone needed to hold his bike for the interview and so I got hold of it, or at least the back section - I got to hold the saddle. It was a magnificent moment - a love of cycling was born.