How does one start to organise the logistics behind competing in the Race Around Ireland? Ask a great mate to do it, that's how. Actually, I never even asked Jeff to be a part of the team. He just told me that he is taking charge. When I saw the amount of things which needed to be coordinated, printed, checked, double-checked, collected, organised... I was more than happy to have him in charge. It really is great to be able to bang an email out to the void of the internet asking some god-forsaken question about how are we going to deal with making sure that rider X will have A, B and C for his shift after mile 945 on local road 1234. Well that's what Jeff was good at, taking questions from all angles, at all times and answering each one with the consideration that a great team leader can. On the road, it was the same. Questions would come in from all crew and riders. Each with their own angle and dynamic. How Jeff managed not to snap at people is beyond me. With people constantly looking for something, he kept a super level head and dealt with everyone in a good manner.
I did my unintentional best to annoy him though. At Sneem, I was waiting on the roadside for him and the riders on the road to arrive. I was very anxious to get riding, more so than at any other point in the race. I'm not sure why I was so anxious. But when he arrived, he pulled off the side of the road, as the rules required, but I roared "WHERE ARE YOU GOING?". Our orange safety light had to be swapped over. I, of course, had no appreciation of this and reminded them to "HURRY THE HELL UP!" Then, when I heard him talking about something else with the new crew, I screamed "STOP CHATTING AND GET A MOVE ON!" He would have been well within his rights to thump me one, and I'm sure he wanted to, but no, I was simply told "we have to do this, because they are the rules." For some reason, that appeased me enough to get me to shut up. I could not have asked for a better team leader. Jeff felt that he owed me that favour because I crewed twice for him at the West Highland Way ultra-marathon, I think I am now the one who owes a massive favour to Jeff.
Acting as mummy for 4 cranky, tired and hungry riders cannot be an easy task, yet Caroline did it with a grace and good nature that impressed me immensely. Prior to the event, Caroline had managed to secure a fantastic amount of sponsorship and coverage. It was incredibly impressive to see how much drive and effort she put in before the event. That same level of commitment was evident throughout the actual race itself. She drove long miles in the camper van, putting up with riders complaining about the bumpy Irish roads. She navigated in the follow car, offering cheery advice over the radio, which was very much appreciated. Caroline also kept the riders topped up with sandwiches and recovery foods post shift and kept the follow car stocked with a selection of tasty rolls. It's just great to be able to get off the bike, give it to one person and not have to worry about it. Then get in the camper van and be handed a sandwich and a drink without having to ask for it. Even if we did ask for something, we got it in due course. Quality.
Even with all the race tasks, Caroline managed to juggle her PR tasks at the same time. Our bikes and vehicles all got the sticker treatment, which I think looked brilliant! Our Facebook and Twitter were kept updated, and I have just finished browsing all the fantastic photos which she put on our site. It should be pointed out, that Caroline masterminded the Twitter, Facebook, Youtube vids, our own webpage, the stickers, the car magnets, the PR, the sponsorship, the food supplies. How much can one person actually do? A hell of a lot it would seem. I'm sure I left out something, but that's only because she did so bloody much.
After the race finish, my dad was talking about the crew members. He couldn't remember Mike's name, so he called him the good looking fella. Well, apart from a dashing smile and great hair, Mike came to the team armed with the mechanical skills to look after our bikes. I really want to thank Mike for looking after my bike and keeping it functioning perfectly. I'd also like to apologise for swearing at him when we took a couple of wrong turns. However, Mike upped his game with the nav and had it nailed from then on. I was in the car a lot with Mike and he always had it spot on. He had a brief low point in Sligo where he got sick, but massive credit to him, he didn't complain or make a noise about it. He kept it quiet and dealt with it, not wanting to load undue stress on the rest of the team. It also meant that he missed out on the pizza and curry chips. Your loss was my gain!
I don't think I heard Mike complain once about anything, even with riders dishing out orders and making pointed demands for this, that and the other, Mike was always happy to oblige and do whatever needed to be done. I think Mike mostly enjoyed driving Jeff's Alfa, because he spent a serious amount of time behind the wheel of that car! Jeff, if you are reading, change your car keys.
Mike, I owe you big time.
Janos the driver. Janos the descender. Janos, what are you doing on top of the Swords car?! I had met Janos a few times before on cycles. I knew he was a demon on descents on the bike, so he was well suited to drive down narrow country roads at night time following a rider who was taking risks on the corners (Aidan Doyle, I'm talking about you mostly). I really admired his calm, cool style. Never getting bothered or stressed, he oozed a massive amount of confidence which I found both inspiring and very settling. Janos joined us in Navan on the Tuesday, having just flown back from the USA the day before. With this jet lag, he then put in long hours in the follow car with minimal sleep and then on the Sunday after we finished he was off mountain bike racing. I don't know how he did it.
Janos, like Eamonn didn't really know many of the other team members, so to fit in as perfectly and as easily as he did is a real testament to how great a team member he was. I'd like to really thank Janos for his driving on a certain section somewhere after The Giant's Causeway. We were going through a forest and there was debris everywhere, covering the entire road. It was about 4am, it was bucketing down and it was a fast enough, twisty downhill. I'm not the best descender out there, so Janos managed to keep the car close to me so that I could always see where I was going and not run a-foul of any of the hundreds of branches which littered the road. I'm not sure I want to know exactly how close the car was.
Mr. Fix-it, Mr. Plan-it, Mr. Schedule-it, Mr. Make-Me-Laugh. Call him what you like, like all of the crew he performed a lot of different roles in the team. I think we would have been lost without John. He solved our light+equipment charging problems and our start line issue with the orange safety light. When we had a problem, and I heard John boiling it down to the root cause and describing the logical steps to take to solve it, I knew we wouldn't have the problem for long. I found that I could trust whatever he came up with because it was always well thought out. John is also a dab hand at sleeping. At one point, I dropped a hairbrush on his face, but he never even stirred. I'm still not sure what I was doing with the hairbrush, because I haven't got a whole lot of it. He worked out schedules for crew members for which car they should drive, who should navigate and when they should rest. He also helped come up with tactics for getting the most out of riders and their respective talents and dealing with their requests and concerns. I have since learned that one of Johns tactics was to tell one sub-team that the other sub-team was completely f*cked, all in attempt to galvanise us and make us step up and take a hit for the team. I think it worked.
When John told us that he couldn't ride the race, due to injury, I was deeply disappointed. Partly because I wondered where the hell we would get another rider from, but also because I knew that he really wanted to do the event and had put in great efforts with his training. We will never know for certain how John would have performed on the road, but if his commitment was anything like what he showed as a crew member, I am confident that he would have ridden himself into the ground for the team.
I met Eamonn for the first time about 5 minutes before we registered on the morning of the event. When he arrived, he was happy and cheery and generally very pleased to be a part of the team. I thought to myself, "that cheeriness won't last long." I was wrong, very wrong. Eamonn proved to be a vital cog in the team, and kept a good humour to the very end. He was always ready to deal with any request from the riders. He won't like me saying this, but I convinced him to give me a leg rub just outside Letterkenny. I know he didn't want to do it, but I had been cramping really badly and was in dire need of some help. Apart from saving my legs, he also saved our bikes from a potential car-park barrier moment. We wanted to do a change over somewhere in the Bluestack Mountains and were looking for a place to pull in. We spotted a lay-by and aimed for it, but Eamonn was alert and prevented a very expensive mistake.
Throughout the whole event he made good tactical choices and was always spot on with decisions over what to do. I know at plenty of points I offered my two cents. Whether I was right or wrong, Eamonn always listened and took on board what I had to say. Usually when I disagreed with what he was doing, his choice actually proved to be better than what I was asking for. That's what you need in a good crew member. Listen to the rider, tell him he is right, then do whatever you had already planned to do!
Towards the very end of the event, on my last shift, I was nearing the end of my turn, which I had expected to be 20km long. I had told Jeff that I wanted to do 15 to 20km. Hoping for 15 but knowing he would choose 20. As soon as we hit the 20km mark, I turned to the follow car and roared, "Where the hell are they? I told them 15k!" Eamonn said the only thing he could say, "They are just around the corner, another 1k or so." I started to moan and then caught myself in the middle of it. These guys had volunteered to follow me around the country, and they had asked for nothing in return. I simply cannot return this great favour by giving out to them. And so, I carried on cycling and rounded the next corner, where I immediately saw the other guys waiting for a changeover. Eamonn had been right, I should have known