The Giro. Eyes on the Prize.

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The cycling aristocracy came through Skerries on Sunday last. I saw Oleg Tinkoff on his bike, my first ever Russian oligarch. I’m not sure what exactly an oligarch is. It appears to be any Russian who makes a few bob, whether by hard work and business acumen or by plundering the assets of a country left in chaos by Boris Yeltsin. ‘On your bike,’ was the advice given to the unemployed, by Margaret Thatcher’s minister, Norman Tebbit. Oleg seems to have taken his advice. He has done well. I expect oligarchs to arrive surrounded by black leather-jacketed  minders, but Oleg wore his team’s yellow lycra, as did his companion. Yes, he owns team Tinkoff Saxo Bank, with all its bikes and cars and lycra suits and socks and helmets etc. etc. He took a wrong turn at the railway bridge and went off along The Cabra, but oligarchs don’t go too far astray. He was back again in minutes and away under the bridge. Now, if Abramovich had arrived in his ‘yacht’, with all his minders….His ‘yacht’ is as big as an aircraft carrier. That would have caused a bit of a stir around the harbour on a Sunday afternoon. But…who owns all the pink balloons?

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Emily was three on Sunday. She wore her princess dress. She had her minder, Luke, with her. She likes pink, the colour of the day. People began to gather, like a benign version of Hitchcock’s birds, one or two at first and then a few more. Policemen put out barriers. They were cheerful and solicitous for the safety of the spectators. Something was afoot. Motor bikes, sirens, cars and lots of pink balloons. Everyone got a cheer or a wave. Passing trains sounded their horns. There was a helicopter puttering away in the distance. It rained but nobody cared.

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Blink, or fumble with a camera setting and you could miss it. There they are!  There they go!  A river of colours. Swisshhhh!  You are supposed to shout when you go under the bridge. There is a satisfying echo. There are stalactites from a century and a half of seepage, that you can knock down with a long elder stick and pretend that they are cigarettes. The elder sticks have a pungent smell that clings to your hands. There is a good elder tree about two hundred yards beyond the bridge, on your left…very convenient for knocking down stalactites.  I could have mentioned it to Oleg. He was in no great hurry. His team and all the others however, had the heads down. Their thoughts were on the prize. They had no time to notice that the furze was in blossom or that the white-thorn was beginning to burst out overhead, promising a good crop of haws for the winter. They say that’s a sign of a hard winter ahead. If I had the business nous of an oligarch, I would corner the market for haws and dominate the pea-shooter business.

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The cars appreciated the bridge. They blew their horns and hooters, as a king’s ransom in bikes went under the bridge.  A good bike used to cost £15  in Oisín Thornton’s shop. I should have bought them all when the price was right.  Oisín also sold spades, seeds, fescue, (fescue?) radios and television sets (black and white only). Team Sky. I kept an eye out for Rupert Murdoch, trying to picture him in lycra. Maybe the elder statesmen of the cycling world travel in the cars. Maybe I should have chosen a better vantage point, like the professional photographer on the traffic island. I have forty pictures of him. They could be worth something in fifty years time.

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An elder statesman of cycling, a Rás man himself, admitted to me that the best way to watch cycling is on television. The helicopter man had a spectacular view. Skerries looked so beautiful, even in the rain, that if I didn’t live there already, I would go and live there. He cruised around the harbour and the islands. No sign of Abramovich’s little dinghy. The town was decked in pink. There was a triumphal arch of pink balloons. Emily invited us to tea, the real business of the day. She had acquired some pink balloons. Now, I wonder where they came from. Showing some early entrepreneurial skills there, Emily. Balloons make a great noise. They used to make the dinosaur noise with them in the early films.

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In the days of black and white, we watched the motor bike races from the bridge. There were no gorse or white-thorn bushes. It was a brilliant vantage point, but we got no pink balloons. We certainly got no pink birthday cake or fizzy drinks to make us hyper. I did however taste my first post-war orange at the races. It was a blood orange, with streaks of red and pink. I can still taste it. I can recall the taste of stalactite cigarettes too, although I gave them up years ago. I say nothing about the elders.