JOHN Walsh of the old Carlow Futuro Cycle Racing Club tells the story of the The Old Bedford Van well. The club bought it for around 300 pounds which would have been a very competitive rate at the time. It wasn’t modern by any standards but it got the riders and their bikes to different racing venues at the time.
“The winter before she took her maiden voyage (circa March 1976) she was parked up in dry dock in the late Brian Kehoe`s yard. Brian kindly allowed the club use his facilities while my brother-in-law John Kavanagh worked meticulously on the engine to have her in top order for the fast approaching racing season,” recalled John.
The van was serviced and the upholstery of the seating changed. Another local man, Peter Wall, put a roof-rack on the club’s mode of transport.
“Peter has had a long association with cycling in Carlow and both he and his father before him loved the cycling game. Peter’s grandson Con Scully is now carrying on the cycling tradition in the family and is competing very well on a weekly basis at different events,” noted Walsh.
Jack Kelly, who has since passed away, did most of the driving as the riders went to faraway places such as Kenmare, Kilmallock and Kanturk in Munster with an assembly point at Vinny Kelly’s house (Jack’s son) on the Lower Pollerton Road.
“Vinny, myself and a few other young cycling fans would meet on Saturday mornings down in Tom Kennedy`s (Beehive Bar). Tom (RIP) would allow us to watch the BBC sports coverage of ‘le tour’ for a half an hour. The large bottle of lemonade and bags of crisps would be produced by Tom at a reduced rate,” recalled John.
It didn’t matter that the reception was not always good but the young wannabe Tour riders were enthralled by the ability of the likes of Lucien Van Impe from Columbia as he attacked up some of the hardest climbs in the Alps or the Pyrenees mountains.
“We also loved the sprinters Van Popple, Freddy Maertens and, of course, Eddy Merckx, the great Belgium rider. Those 30 minutes of Tour de France viewing on the BBC allowed us young lads to dream and wish that one day we might ride some of those races.”
After that it was back on the bikes on both Saturday and Sunday.
“They were a great bunch of fellas, all they wanted was bikes and bike racing. The craic was great and when we travelled in that old wagon there was never a shortage of food. The tin-foil wrapped sandwiches and flasks of tea would be produced before and after we had landed at our destination.”
There was no Sunday lunches or pub grub in those days.
“We had to eat straight away to give us time to digest our food before the racing started. This wasn`t always possible because on some occasions the map reader would get the direction slightly wrong and we would have to eat in transit or go without.”
According to Walsh, they were only minor glitches and more often than not they relied on their homing-pigeon instincts instead of the modern Sat Nav which has become an essential for today’s modern traveller.
“Most of the time the navigator got the timing just right but I remember on a couple of occasions the boot would have to hit the floor in order to get the racers to the start line on time. Some craic.”