When I was sixteen , school and riding my bike took up most of my time . There was very little left over for a part time job to earn some money to help finance my cycling addiction to Winning Magazine and Vittoria CX tubs for my Mavic GP4′S . When my friend Bernards’ sister asked if I would be interested in some babysitting I was delighted at the opportunity to earn some cash . That’s when I first got to know 2 year old Jamie .
Even then , he was a huge sports fan . The picture that took pride of place on the mantlepiece was one of Jamie all dressed in the blue and gold of Tipp along with his hero at that time Nicky Engine ( or Nicky English as some people called him )
Jamies’ grandfather Joe (1961) and grand uncle Johnny(1969 x 2 ) had both won stages of the Ras and Johnny had even been second overall . His uncle Bernard was a successful underage rider so it was almost inevitable that young Jamie would become infected with the cycling bug .
About 8 years ago he bought a Specialized Allez from us and soon began racing . The stars and stripes helmet that he sported on St. Patricks day in Carrick was easy to pick out in the under sixteen bunch as was Jamie’s bright smile . He was enjoying his debut in the ranks of bike racers .
He rode the junior tour in 2002 alongside this years multiple Tour stage winner Mark Cavendish , whom he got the chance to catch up with at the Tour of Ireland last Sunday .
He was probably too nice to be a great bike rider . Jamie has a relaxed confident charm that endears him to everyone he meets . Grandmothers , mothers , sisters , wives and girlfriends all ask ‘How’s Jamie keeping ‘ and he is just as well thought of by the fathers , Grandfathers and brothers . Once you meet him , you will remember him for his like-ability .
At this years Tour of Ireland a few more people got to know Jamie .
Back in 2003 Jamie went to the tour and the picture of ‘Nicky Engine ‘ was replaced . He had a new hero . Lance Armstrong was winning the Tour and Jamie wanted to meet him . After one of the stages he took off and cycled behind the US Postal bus and managed to meet and get a photo with Lance as he climbed of the bus on his way into the hotel . Not alone had Jamie met Lance , but Lance had met Jamie .
Roll on to 2009 , and The Lance Armstrong phenomenon arrives at the Tour of Ireland . Jamie is determined to get his photo with Lance signed , along with a Tour yellow jersey purchased on Ebay . This determination is something Lance and Jamie share . As sure as you could count on Lance winning each one of his 7 tours , I would have put money on Jamie getting the jersey signed .
Standing at the barrier 30 mins before the race arrived someone recognises Jamie and he is asked to help out on the race for an hour . He is straight over the barrier and amazingly finds himself standing next to the Astana soigneour who is waiting for the riders to arrive . Jamie casually askes what hotel they are staying and is told The Ramada . A plan is immediately put in place for the following morning .
A drive-by on the way home confirms the location and when Jamies’ alarm goes off at 5.00 am the following morning , there is only one destination in mind . By 6.00 am he is parked up next to the Astana team bus . The boot is opened and the yellow jersey and picture of Lance are put on display .
The mechanics are first out and as usual , Jamie is soon chatting away to them and they are enjoying his company . Then Ekimov strolls over to see Jamies display and smiles as they have a few words . Then some of the riders begin to arrive and they all have a look . When Johan Bruyneel strolls over Jamie knows he is getting close . Bruyneel asks where he got the jersey , and when Jamie says ’ebay’ Bruyneel says ‘sorry my friend , but it is a fake ‘ . Jamie bought it as a replica so that’s fine . The mechanics show Jamie the bikes and a frameset with quotations from Lances books .
Suddenly Lance just appears and as heads for the team bus Jamie asks him to sign the photo of them both , which he does whilst asking when it was taken and smiling .Then he is straight onto the team bus , followed by Bruyneel . Just as he steps onto the bus Johan turns to Jamie and asks if he got the Jersey signed . The look of panic on Jamie’s face answers the question but Bruyneel just says ‘ give it to me ‘. Johan and Ekimov hold out the jersey for Lance to sign and Johan hands it back out to Jamie . Then the bus door closes and they are gone .
Jamie heads straight for the start in Clonmel and one of the race sponsors recognises him and hands him a VIP Pass. This will be handy for the following day in Cork .
Sunday morning , the last stage is well underway as Jamie arrives into Cork . The pass gets him up very close to the circuit where he parks up and heads for the VIP tent to watch the race whilst the rain falls outside . There he meets Lance’s Mammy who immediately takes a shine to him and introduces Jamie to her husband and they have a big chat .
Heading on to the final lap the rain eases and Jamie leaves the tent and walks down towards the team buses . At the Astana team bus Jamie is recognised by the mechanics who he met the previous morning and they have a chat . Jamie mentions that one of them is the one asleep in the back of the car on the ‘Road to Paris ‘ dvd which brings a chorus of laughter from the others .
A crowd of about 500 people are now gathered around the bus all hoping to catch a glimpse of Armstrong and Jamie knows that the odds are against him getting a photo with Lance here so he puts plan ‘b’ into action . A quick call to Cork airport to check flight schedules and the pinpointing of a shuttle car give him an idea . Just as Lance is mobbed as he tries to leave the bus Jamie and girlfriend Niamh are running back to the car . However their car is totally blocked in . ‘Plan c’ . A quick run across the bridge to the taxi rank and they jump in . Jamie says to the taxi driver that he has only 10 mins. to catch a flight and that there is an extra 20 in it for the driver if they make it . The taxi speeds away from the rank .
The driver is determined to get the extra 20 and makes excellent time heading out to the airport , but he sinks low in his seat just as they pull up at the departures terminal . He has just noticed 2 police motorbikes in his rear view mirror and is wondering just how many multiples of his 20 euro he will have to pay for the speeding fine .
The bikes however , are not for the taxi . They are the police escort given to the visiting celebrity cyclist . Jamie is out like a shot and straight over to Darragh McQuaid who he asks to take a picture of himself and Lance . Darragh says to ask the man himself , which Jamie does and receives a positive response .
And here is the photo ;
A delighted Jamie and Niamh are soon back in another taxi without having set foot in the airport itself . As they are heading back in towards the city centre Jamie notices the Columbia team bus and car . The taxi driver is told to turn around and back out towards the airport they head .
The Columbia bus pulls up outside the Airport Hotel and is soon followed by an inconspicuous taxi . Jamie strolls into the hotel lobby and happens to notice a book on display about the history of Cork airport written by a Michael Barry ( There is another Michael Barry who rides for Columbia ) . This is his ice breaker and he points it out to team Head- honcho Bob Stapleton . The team get a great laugh out of it an Jamie is soon in the middle of them chatting away . he even managed to get a photo with Cav as he was throwing out the rubbish
Yesterday , when Lance went for a ride in the Phoenix park Jamie was unable to make it up . I said that there were so many there he probably wouldn’t have gotten close anyway . Jamie’s reply was ‘ I’d have been outside the four seasons at 5.00 ‘ .
This is probably where Jamie and Lance are alike , in that they both think outside the box . And who could argue with their results !