Let’s face it, A4 racing in Ireland has a bad rap. Every year we in A4 get a kicking from everybody else in cycling. There’s a full catalogue of complaints out there about what is essentially a beginner’s category; ‘there’s too many riders in the bunch’, ‘it’s a crash-fest’ or ‘everybody is just waiting for the sprint’. My favourite criticism is the condescending classic, ‘them boys can’t even handle their bikes’ (apparently modern bikes are like wild horses and need to be handled with care). Online articles cry out ‘We need to talk about A4!’ as if we are some form of problem child needing special attention. It would also seem that everybody has an opinion and solution for it too; ‘they should lengthen the races’, ‘shorten the sign-on sheets’, ‘teach them how to ride a bike’ or ‘make them hold hands with A1 riders’. To be honest it’s comforting to know that so many are concerned for our welfare.
The consensus is that this category is unsafe and every-time you pin on your A4 numbers you are signing up for full on warfare. If you were to listen to half the stuff thrown out there, you would think that lads are kissing their family goodbye on a Sunday morning not knowing if they’ll return home. Spare a thought for those that escape to the ranks of A3. Surely they have some form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from it all.
In my first race I crashed 15 minutes down the road and since then I’ve been caught behind a few more pile ups. I still don’t think A4 is overly dangerous, a ‘problem child’ or the warfare it’s being made out to be. Far from it, for me it’s the best 2 hours craic you could have at the weekend. Fair enough, you might get the occasional incident and there’s often a few choice words regarding personal space but that all adds a bit of colour to the event. I doubt we would still have up to 100 guys signing on to race most weekends if was as bad as it’s made out to be.
However, there are times when A4 is hard to defend. Sunday in Bohermeen was just one of those days. Through no fault of the organisers, who in fairness put on a great race, what occurred on the road couldn’t exactly be classed as a great advertisement for A4 racing. Perhaps the weekends mini-heatwave got to a few guys heads but there was definitely something in the air.
Midway through the second lap we received a stark reminder that this is a beginner category. The race was abruptly stopped by the Commissaire who told us we weren’t racing fast enough and had to make way for the quickly approaching under 16’s. The embarrassment of it all, here we are grown men striving to get upgraded and these little whippets, before they even start racing A3, are already kicking our asses.
It wasn’t all slow and negative though, there were numerous attempts to break-away throughout the race. In true A4 style most attempts didn’t get too far but there was one that looked to be creating a sizeable gap. The two guys up the road appeared to be working quite well together, taking decent turns and sharing the load evenly. With the break beginning to pull away the unthinkable happened. One of the riders clips the others back wheel and ends up on the deck. You could only feel sorry for them, all that effort for nothing.
You would think that would be enough to make a race eventful, but the final lap had even more in store. After earlier being pulled aside for being too slow we somehow managed to catch up with a local farmer and his tractor. Normally meeting traffic is no issue but generally it’s oncoming and not going slower than us. There were a few shouts for us to stop the race again which looked like a potential pile-up waiting to happen. Fortunately, a few riders ignored the call, we squeezed by the confused farmer and carried on with the race. From here on in there was the usual aggro that comes with lads fighting to stay up front, but I managed to hold a decent place coming into the sprint. The sound of another A4 crash behind me helped to ensure nobody would pass me but with little left in the tank I passed nobody either. I finished a respectable 10th place.
Afterwards in the car, I rang the wife and kids to let them know I was still alive and Daddy was coming home in one piece.
“What was the race like?” – “Some craic, wait till I tell ye…”