The winning team on the podium in Sword. Keith O’Sullivan, Cian Lynch (Guest rider), Dermot Healy, David Peelo and William Byrne.
By Dermot Healy (The man on form that year)
1997 was an exciting year for us in Sorrento. A lot of us were 2nd cats and wanting to move up to 1st cat. Riding the Rás as a team was a big goal. I had ridden my first Rás the previous year and loved it even though I had a few tough days, it was great.
We started planning our team for the Ras. The team consisted of me, Willie Byrne, Keith O’Sullivan, Dave Peelo but we needed another. Mark McLeavey “Macker” was in Australia that year. We approached Cian Lynch from Swords. Cian, a former triathlete was a new comer to the sport but had risen up the ranks and won the Gorey that year. Cian was a great laugh and a good fit for our team. It was a pity Macker wouldn’t be there but Ciano became a “Sorrenta” man in his place.
We organised Jonny Cruise to be mechanic. Helen Peelo as in subsequent editions became our masseuse, but we still needed a Manager. Willie I think came up with the idea of asking Ritchie Beattie. Beattie a former manager of the famous Dublin club “Les Jeunes” was out of the sport at the time and he acccepted the role as manager.
I then asked my employers, Ken and Karl Monaghan from JF Hillebrand “ any chance of a few quid for the Rás” . The company was JF Hillebrand and we got Keith’s dad to make up stickers for our jerseys and we had the photo opportunity for the newspaper at the office leading up to the race. We were nearly all set.
Over the winter we trained hard including spins twice a week around Howth and weekends spent in Co Wicklow piling on the miles. Some weeks I clocked over 200. The season started and a few placings here and there but nothing special for me. Willie Byrne finished a close second to Keith Bannon in Batterstown after we had been away for most of the race. I was up in the break in Beechmount Cup with all the boys until second last time up Kilmessan when they break blew to pieces, but it was still early in the season. I got 8th in the first stage of the Tour of Ulster. The team was riding very well. I came out of Ulster with good form and all the lads were starting to really improve their form heading into May. Then a week before the Ras, I finished second place to Ciaran Power at the Shay Elliott memorial. I had put in a kamikaze attack alone down the long hill and Ciaran caught me in Kilmacanague. All the lads got through the race ok and the Ras loomed.
The first stage was to Roscommon. It was flatish and nothing really happened but it was the ideal stage to ride into the race. The second stage to Clifden was an epic one. After we got through Tuam the rain came and with it the attacks. I eventually got away in the chasing group with Dave and finished up the road. The roads were treacherous and on the descent into Clifden there were lads going up driveways after overshooting the corners, it was so slippy. Keith, Cian and Willie came in all in good shape.
Next day was to Lisdoonvarna via the Galway bypass and Ballyvaughan. Me and Dave got away but we were caught coming into Kinvara. It was hectic along the coast but after Ballyvaughan there was a stall and I went with Fitzy and a group formed. Julian Winn, Lee Davis, Cian myself, Sully, Micko, Ian Chivers, Jeff Wright, Jason Crowe and Dave Rand were there. We couldn’t catch the group up the road but we took massive time on the bunch. The winner that day was Gregorz Gwiazdowski of ACBB. He rode so hard to win that he was coughing up blood at the finish! The team left him to find his own way home and gave him a few bob to get to Paris. It turned out that he went to Cofidis and 2 years later won the GP of Zurich and got 2nd in Tour du Poitou Charente. That shows the quality we were racing against.
At this point going into stage 4 we were climbing up the county team prize board. Getting bodies up the road was starting to pay off but there was a long way to go. They Kerry team sponsored by Baltic trading and having two professionals onboard were leading the county team prize heading for the kingdom! Sorrento were on their heels. Sullo, Willie and Cian were putting in good efforts and we had a full healthy team which was crucial. Luck had been on our side too which was great.
Behind the scenes Ritchie, Cruisey and Helen kept us on the road. They were great. Team morale was sky high.
The next day was into Tralee and the break went early and we finished in the chasing group. The stage around the ring of Kerry was eventful. The run in to the bottom of Molls Gap was so dangerous. Cars on the right, the speed we were travelling at and the pushing and shoving to add to all this, wow how we came out alive. Everyone wanted to be at the front. I just wanted the climb to start to get rid of all the flat men. The picture of this run in to the climb made the Rás book.
I went up that climb in the big ring and the race was in pieces at the top. We suffered some misfortune on the descent when passing a tour bus. There was a crash and sullo ended up in the nettles. He was getting treatment when Richie came up “What’s wrong with ye, get back on your bike and chase”. Poor Sullo got a fright and set off chasing to get back on. He ended up with Patrick Dobbs from Wexford. The stories that night were deadly. Dave Pitt had an old Hi-ace van and the two boys were in behind it to get to the finish. Cian rode really well that day and nearly got into the break on the way in the road. After stage 5 we were in 6th 8minutes behind the Kerry team. But what lay ahead we could never have dreamed it.
The next day into Bandon 4 of us (me, Willie, Sullo and Dave were up in the break. The Kerry team had some riders there too but as did Antrim (Bo Docherty and Ian Chivers) and Tipperary Premier with Ray Clarke and Michael fitzgerald among their team. The finish into Bandon was kamikaze down into the town. We all gave it a go coming in the road. We were all in one piece and another day under our belt. We were up to 4th in the team standings but still 8 minutes behind Kerry.
That night we started to think that it was an outside chance that we could do it. Richie as ever was brilliant in the team talk. He got every ounce out of us. The digs that night was some craic. The spuds had more muck on them than potato you could eat. The old lady came in during dinner with Willies woollen vest “ce leis e seo” the laughs were something else. That evening it was down to the shop to get scoffs, we were starving. Then the next morning the lady brought a box of eggs for Richie to take with us. “Jaysus, What the F*ck am I going to do with eggs”. Cruisey was all over it.
Stage 7 was from Bandon to Tramore via the coast road. My brother Stephen had told me all about it. The race went from the gun. Through Cork there were attacks going everywhere. Eventually one got away and we didn’t have anyone in it. It wasn’t till after Youghal when I finally got into a group. There was a big stall and I attacked with an English guy. All of a sudden a big group came across and we were gone. The crosswinds were huge and we were all across the road. Behind the bunch was strung out chasing and there were splits everywhere.
We caught the group ahead and when we got down the descent into Dungarvan the bunch caught us. When we hit the coast road there was a massive stall and I went again with Shane Baker and we didn’t look around until the top of a drag. Like before a group caught us and we were gone again. The Road to Tramore was the most brutal road I have ever ridden. There was hill after hill. Steep ones too. There were people shouting my name from cars and motorbikes. I dug so deep in that group counting down the kilometres. I was starting to think of winning the stage. In the space of a few kilometres I witnessed the winning and losing of the Ras.
Andy Roche left the group behind and rode across the gap to us. No one came near us after that. Then Mark McKay missed the turn up to the finish and went the wrong way did a u turn and in the process lost the Rás. I got eight after getting caught behind the crash. Dave and the rest were not that far behind but it was the other teams that suffered. We were 6th on the team stage result again and 2nd to 6th were only separated by seconds showing how well we were going. We were up to 3rd in the team GC but still 8 minutes down on Kerry, but now we would move into the mountains and we were about to ride the stage of our lives.
Richie sat us down that night where he laid out a plan to get us the team overall. Willie was covering the groups at the start and Cian, Dave and Sullo were to help me until we got to the climbs and then we would go for it from there.
A group went early and Willie just missed it. As we got out of Bunclody the group split over the top and Sullo just gave me a tap on the hip. He brought me right across to the group and the bunch was never to see us again.
Willie didn’t make the split but all the rest of us were there. When we hit Corrabut gap the group split. Sullo rode tempo all the way up the climb, keeping me in touch with Andy Roche and the other favourites. Dave took his chance and attacked heading towards the top of Mount Leinster. We were a bit isolated but Sullo again put the hammer down and we worked together to get over the summit. We picked up Ciano who had been up the Road and we descended like stones bunny hopping the cattle grids on the way down.
The boys got on the front and caught all the groups ahead. To see the Sorrento boys on the front drilling was a highlight for me. We rode so well we nearly ate into the break at the finish. We soon realised that there were only two Tipperary riders up there. Only one Kerry rider was in the group (Andy Roche). The other teams only realised after the finish that we were winning the team prize. Coming into the finish I attacked just outside the college in Carlow and I was caught in sight of the line. Dave got an excellent 10th and I got 12th.
Keith and Cian who had done huge work to keep the group up the road both finished in the group. Some of our families had travelled down to see the finish. You couldn’t have written a better script. We had pulled off one of the biggest coup’s in Ras history. We beat the best teams in the country. I couldn’t believe we pulled it off. I knew we had a great team but everything came together. I moved up to 17th overall too. In the team gc we moved into the lead by putting 8 minutes into Tipperary and 12 minutes into Kerry. We were also 5th in the whole race in the teams classification.
Willie got a bucket of water thrown over him by cruisey that evening. Cruisey was cleaning the bike and was wetting the saddle and Willie started giving out to him. He flicked water at Cruisey who in turn got the bucket and threw it over Willie. The craic was ninety all week.
We had a hill climb time trial up the butts in which I moved back to 19th overall. This was a blessing in disguise as when we lined up for the criterium in Swords the top twenty were called to the line first. Race started and groups went from the gun. I never realised the race split on the first few laps. Sullo and Willie did a great ride to get into the move aswell. The rest of the race was pulled and we had the circuit to ourselves. The stage averaged 51km/h for that crit after 9 stages which was amazing.
At the end of 10 stages, 1256km and an average speed of over 42.66km/h we came away with the team prize. It was great achievement for a small club in a big international race. There was great celebration and we knew we had made history.
Something that will never be forgotten. To be on that podium with all the lads and Richie, Helen and Jonathan was deadly.
We even had Herman Nijs there to congratulate us at the finish. He had been in Carrick with Sean and hadn’t had a chance to visit the race till then.
Our thanks to JF Hillebrand for their support. Karl Monaghan has since come back to cycling and is actively involved in the club. I hope this gives our new members an ensight into a great event in the clubs history,
Since then all the super teams have arrived and Sorrento was the last true club to win it. Not a team with all the cream attracted by a top set up and free bikes, team cars etc. Not that it is a bad thing
The road into Carlow laid the foundations for the overall County Team award. It was all smiles for the team that day. Cracking weather too.
The finishing circuit in Swords was a tight twisty and fast affair. Only 25 riders finished the crit that day.
Proud to display the JF Hillebrand branding. We were very grateful for their assistance that year.
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