ALTHOUGH he is now 54, Seán Kelly can still cycle distances up to twice his age and not take all day about it. While most of the country will be welded to their mattress at dawn on Sunday, Kelly will be readying himself for the start of the 82 mile Sky Ride Etape Hibernia in Ennis at around 7am.
When the Waterford man is separated from his bike for longer than a few days, he feels the strain when he next hits the road. A 60 mile spin leaves him feeling his age, even if other road users would feel drained if they had to drive the same distance.
“At times I’m pretty regular on the bike but then there’s times with work and that I don’t get out as much. I was working at the Tour de France for about six weeks with no bike recently,” Kelly told The Clare Champion on Wednesday.
“Last week, I took part in the Tour of Munster, which was a four-day charity cycle. We did about 70 or 80 miles every day. I’m in good shape because at the beginning of the year I do a lot. I work with a company down in Majorca where we do biking holidays. I do about five weeks down there at the end of March into April. We cycle every day and that’s nice, with the sunshine especially,” he added.
Kelly feels that people are mistaken if they think that hopping on a bicycle and embarking upon a huge journey is easy, just because he is a former professional.
“People think just because you were a professional and you did the Tour de France, that to do 80 miles is easy. But it’s not that easy if you’re not doing the training. When I’m away from the bike for a number of weeks and I come back and go for 60 miles, I’m pretty shook after it, even at a casual pace. You could compare it to inter-county hurling. If you don’t play for a couple of weeks and then you go on the pitch, you’re caught. Cycling is the same,” he says.
Occasionally, the seven times Paris–Nice winner feels tempted to head for the hills and mountains in France, when the Tour is in full flow.
“When you’re commentating on the race, you do get that bit of a buzz I suppose but really to be out there and competing, I did my term. You have to understand that you do your time and you can’t go on for ever. I had a good career and quite a long career. I got the number of years that I needed out of it,” he reflected.
For most of the last decade, cycling has been tainted by the omnipresence of drug use.
“It went a bit too far. Within the teams a lot of it was organised and we knew that a bit later. Two or three teams were at it and the other ones knew, so they started doing the same thing. If they did nothing, then they were always going to be following the races. Nobody wanted to stop it because if you stopped it, you were at the losing end,” he suggested.
“Cycling went through a bad patch with the doping problem. It was a difficult time but now cycling seems to have got its act together. It’s cleaned up a lot in the last two years and this year’s Tour de France looks like there was no doping problem at all and hopefully nothing will come out in the next couple of weeks.”
Kelly believes that the introduction of a “biological passport,” has made it easier for drug use to be monitored. “Over the last two years they’ve caught a lot of guys,” he noted.
Kelly feels that Sunday’s cycle will appeal to competitive participants and to peddlers who will be doing well to remain upright and between the ditches.
“On Sunday, there will be guys who will be taking this quite seriously because it’s closed roads and it’s timed. Everybody will have a timing chip on their bike. But there’s a lot of people going to take it as a very enjoyable day and a sociable day.”
And a day for anyone who takes part to recall that they cycled with Seán Kelly who can still, seemingly effortlessly, pump out the miles.