A Cyclist’s Perspective in the Era of Kelly and Roche
When the snow started falling on the climb out of the Glenmalure valley to the Shay Elliott Memorial in Wicklow, Michael Cusack had no idea that it would be his last amateur cycling road race in Ireland. A member of the proposed Irish Olympic Squad for the games in Moscow, he had fought back from a career threatening injury to stand on the podium on the final stage of the 1978 Tour of Ireland.
Seven years later, Stephen Roche limped out of the Hotel de Ville in Paris and handed Cusack his 1986 Tour de France finisher’s medal.
“One for the road, Mick,” was all he said, perhaps casting his mind back to a controversial finish at the Irish National Road Racing Championships.
That was when Cusack got the notion of writing from a racing cyclist’s point of view about the days when men like Stephen Roche and Sean Kelly would join a pack of around one hundred hard core riders who showed up week after week to ride on the rough roads of the Republic. The result is an autobiography that documents the true-to-life saga of a rider who went from being a novice to a fully-fledged Irish international in the space of six seasons.
From growing up on the streets of Kimmage in the suburbs of Dublin to a riders banquet at the United Nations in Strasbourg, Cusack takes the reader through the trials and tribulations of making his way onto the Irish national team in an era when two of the greatest cyclists the world has ever seen were emerging from very different backgrounds.
The book takes the reader through the harsh training conditions, illness and crashes that were a part of every Irish racing cyclist’s life. From a discussion at a cottage in Greystones one winter’s day, the story unfolds as years of extraordinary experiences culminate in that one season where everything seems to come together.
From being warned not to participate in a race called ‘The Tour of Europe’ by his team manager because ‘You’ll get hammered’, Cusack relives the day in the Vosges Mountains of France when his whole perspective changed, and he returned to Ireland with a new found confidence to challenge the very best riders in the country.
The culmination of all this is the 1978 Tour of Ireland, when he was chosen for the Irish team led by Stephen Roche. He and Roche were roommates for the duration of that eight day race, and it was here that Cusack got a firsthand perspective on the reasons why Roche would become the best rider in the world.
Filled with anecdotes and long lost records of races from another era, ‘Behind the Yellow Jersey – Racing in the Shadows of Kelly and Roche’ is a testament to the working class Irish cyclists and dedicated organisers who kept what was then considered a Cinderella sport going when it barely made two column inches in the newspapers each week.