Trevor Brennan the former controversial rugby player and current T.V pundit was being interviewed the other night when he mentioned that the ‘Rocky ‘ films were a big inspiration to him growing up. This got me to thinking about the similarities between cycling and boxing , both considered among the toughest sports in the world. Then I began to wonder how Rocky would have been as a cyclist and here is what I came up with ;
‘Rocky’ Power grew up on the wrong side of the tracks in Carickbeg Co. Waterford. At age twelve his father lost his job in the Tannery in Portlaw and went to England looking for work, but was never heard from again. To help support his five brothers and six sisters Rocky being the eldest left school and got a job in a meat factory in Clonmel. His only means of transport was a high nelly bike which he pulled from a skip so he cycled the 26 mile round trip each day to and from work.
One evening on his way home from work a group of racing cyclists passed him off and he latched onto the back of the group. They were in a league race doing a lap of Glenbower ( a 22 mile circuit around Carrick ) but Rocky did not realise this. He felt nervous surrounded by the large group all traveling at speed so he went faster in order to get away from them and actually surged ahead of the race. He crossed the line first and was just continuing on home when a former schoolmate, Lenny Butler caught up with him and suggested that he take up racing. He offered Rocky a loan of his fathers 10 speed peugeot 501 and told him to meet up with the group outside the ESB offices the following Sunday .
Rocky came along and was intorduced to Mickey Ryan a former top cyclist who was once a National Title contender and now a leading coach and trainer. Mickey told him to push back his saddle and to sit over the rear of the bike and to bend his elbows and not have them locked. That first time around the 60 mile loop of Ballymac it was obvious to all present that Rocky had something different , he didn’t know how to change gears and was stuck in a 52 x 12 all the way around. What made it even more exceptional was that he broke the saddle after 5 miles and did the remaining 55 miles standing over the bike. No matter how fast the pace got he hung on, always looking under pressure, but always there.
A sucessfull underage career followed with Rocky delighted with the chance of escape from the cramped 2 bedroom terraced home and the meat factory for exotic race locations throughout Munster such as Caherconlish, Kilworth, Riverstick and the like. A belt of a pump in an under sixteen race in Tramore broke his nose but also gave him a more recognisable appearance.
However from age eighteen to twenty four the bike was forgotten and Rocky worked most weekends as a bouncer on the door of Dannos nightclub. He had a dog called buttkiss and was a regular visitor to the local petshop where a shy bespectacled girl called Mary Ann caught his eye. 24 eight kilo bags of pedigree chum later he plucked up the courage to ask her out. Their first date was to the Mayfair grill where Rocky treated Mary Ann to Sparkeys special cheese-burger and a portion of onion rings.
A relationship grew from there which led to a desire within Rocky to better himself. He had to return to the one thing he knew that he was good at, the bike.
One wet and blustery evening Rocky walked into The foresters hall in Carrick where Mikey Ryan was conducting his winter gym training for cyclists. He put his euro into the biscuit tin and took part in the tough circuit class. After the class finished he approached his former coach and told him that he wanted to make a comeback, that he wanted to be a National title contender. The wise coach who had put many top cyclists through his hands looked his former protege up and down. Then he spoke : ‘ when was the last time you looked in the mirror Rock ? look at ya, your all soft and flabby . Ya look like you haven’t sat on a bike in twenty years. O.K. you were good. You were tough but to be a contender you need to eat lightening and crap thunder. You have to eat, sleep and drink the bike twenty four seven and then some. If everyone else does one lap of Ballymac you need to do two ! If the others do Glenbower in 1.15 you need to do it in under the hour. If they do 6 x 200 metre sprints you need to do 12 x 400 metre sprints. That is what it takes to be a contender. So Rock do you think you have it ?
Rocky replied after just a little hesitation ‘ yea Mick I’m willing to do all that ‘
‘OK then I’ll see ya at 7.30 Saturday morning ‘ said the coach and of he went.
Saturday morning came and the pair of them, coach and contender set of to do Ballymac in under three hours. All along the way Mikey was making Rocky sprint for yellow signs and ride up every drag in a 52 x 12 sitting in the saddle. About halfway around they passed Mulcahys egg farm where there were always a few hens on the road . Now Ryaner slowed and spoke softly as he nodded up ahead ,
‘ Do ya see those hens up ahead there Rock ?’
‘Yea Mick ‘
‘Well those hens are like grease lightening, as soon as they hear a bike come up behind them they twist and turn and run in all directions, it’s next to impossible to sprint fast enough to catch one before it turns but that is what you’re going to have to be able to do to be a contender Rock. ‘
Well Rocky sprinted off after the hens but they ran rings around him, twisting and turning before he got to within fifty yards of them. One darted in front of his front wheel and as he swerved into a pothole he flew over the bars. Instead of a sympathetic ‘are you OK ‘all he got was a lambasting of ‘ get up ya bum , are you going to sit there all day ?’
All of his training spins were finished off with the ascent up Seskin hill which usually was undertaken in his lowest gear a 42 x 21 and a simulated asthma attack at the summit. His diet consisted of twelve raw eggs each morning followed by 6 plates of spaghetti bolognese throughout the day.
The racing season came around and Rocky made a steady progression up the ranks from A4 to A3 to A2 and on up to A1 category two weeks before the National Championships. On his final hard spin around Ballymac on the Wednesday before the Championships he was approaching Mulcahys eggs when he spotted the Hens out on the road. He launched himself in their direction in a 52 x 12 and before they even had a chance to pause from pecking the grain off the road he was upon them and even managed to scoop one up into his right arm as he passed through them. Now he knew that he was going well. He finished the spin with one last climb up Seskin, this time in a 52 x 15 and was even able to take his hands off the bars at the top in order to practice his victory salute for Sundays’ race.
Race day :
Rocky arrived in the 12 year old Izuzu trooper the rear of which simulated an Iraqi bomb site. He wrestled his steel framed Olmo from the carnage and wheeled over to the sign on. Parked right outside the sign on was his main competition for the title Apollo Fox. Looking resplendid in his silver BMW M5 estate with two blonds, one a masseuer the other a mechanic, Appolo adjusted his Oakley gas cans as he stepped towards the sign on. The journalists present all clamoured for a pre race qoute from the flamboyant ex professional whilst Rocky passed by un-noticed.
The race circuit consisted of twelve laps of the Dublin Hill circuit around Blackpool in Cork. The flag dropped and straight away Appolo attacked up the ferocious climb and dragged away a select group of fifteen. Rocky just about managed to get into the break but punctured after five miles. He got a quick wheel change from neutral service but it took him almost two laps to regain his place in the break. Next time up the hill and Appolo attacked again bringing just three riders with him. Rocky was fifty metres off the back of this group going over the top and spent the next four miles chasing hard to make contact which he did just as Appolo attacked again. Even though his legs were screaming at him Rocky latched on and managed to stay with Appolo and the final selection was made.
With just three laps remaining Appolo’s team car drew up alongside. He asked his manager what he should do to drop this new guy before the finish as he did not know how good or bad Rockys’ sprint was. The manager told him to attack up the climb in the big ring as this would have the double benefit of moving faster but also the psychological benefit of cracking his opponent. This went to plan but Rocky was not broken. With Mickey screaming at him from the car behind to get his ass moving if he didn’t want to have to walk home Rocky managed to summon all of his reserves and fought his way back up to Appolo again. Now the psychological ball was in Rockys’ court as Appolo had tried everything to drop him but just could not shake him off. It would all be down to the sprint to see who could take the title.
500 Metres to go and the wiley ex-pro Apollo manouvers Rocky into the lead out position. Rocky knows that he is in the wrong place but recognises that this is one of those life changing moments and does not wait for Apollo to come steaming by. He launches himself at the finish line with all of the strength and anger that his 24 years of lifes hardships can muster. Appolo is momentarily caught unawares but manages to react. With 200 metres to go Rocky has a lead of one bike length. With 100 to go they are side by side. 50 to go and Rocky moves slightly ahead. Then just as the line approaches at almost 40 mph Appolo throws his bike at the line and takes victory by the narrowest of margins. The crowd rush in all around the two riders in a huge throng of excitement. Everyone present feels that they have seen one of the hardest fought Championships in years and congratulate both riders.
Rocky stands tall above the crowd and searches for Mary Ann. He sees her and calls out ‘MARY ANN , MARY ANN.’ She rushes over from the McDonalds drive through and they embrace.