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My Tour de France


27-06-2013 11:15

Jimmy Magee is an institution in Irish broadcasting life. With the 2013 Tour de France kicking off this Saturday, The Memory Man recalls his first Tour ever and his cycling heroes, including Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and Eddy Merckx.

 

I decided that if you’re going to call yourself a real sports broadcaster you have to see the major world events in order to know what you’re talking about. So I decided to go on my own world tour in 1977 to see up close many of the iconic stadiums around the globe.

 

Looking back, I don’t know how Marie put up with me, because I didn’t really ask her if she minded me being away for so long. I probably didn’t ask just in case she did mind and objected to this dream trip of mine.

 

I kicked off my sojourn by going over to watch the Tour de France. A friend of mine who worked for a Belgian television station, BRT, happened to be a good mate of the former cyclist Fred de Bruyne, got me accredited and agreed to take me in his car around the tour. Fred was a classic rider and a winner himself. We met through the Olympics, where at night some of the press corps would go singing and dancing. The tour was going a few days when I joined up. It was fascinating to be there watching some of the greatest cyclists; and they didn’t get any better than Eddy Merckx, who happened to be the first cyclist I met on the Tour de France.

 

The cyclists register every morning. On my first morning there Merckx came up to sign in and casually handed his bike to his compatriot Freddy and asked him to hold it. So the first bike I got to hold in the Tour de France was Eddy Merckx’s, without planning it. He was then, and still is in my opinion, the greatest cyclist of all time. It was a great thrill to meet him, because I love cycling and have always loved Merckx, who in his career won the Tour de France five times, the Giro d’Italia five times and the world championship three times.

 

(…)

 

At the 1987 Tour de France I had a pain in my leg, and someone said to me, half joking, ‘There’s a new laser wagon on the Tour.’ This was a laser treatment that was still new at the time. I marched over to the wagon and asked them to look at my leg, and they looked it over. When I came out there were four cyclists waiting impatiently outside, and one of them was Seán Kelly. ‘So you’re the man who’s holding us up! That’s gas; we’re riding in the Tour de France and Magee is in the tent!’

 

Kelly had a groin problem and had gone on a 25-mile spin that morning to try to loosen himself up, but he couldn’t do it, and he rode the rest of the Tour de France with that injury. The man is made of iron.

 

Now at after-dinner speeches he tells the story of how I held up the injured cyclists.

 

I would guess that I have been to the Tour de France about eight times. My biggest memories are of Irish riders, such as Kelly and Roche, when they were at their peak. Both were great riders; it’s very difficult to say which one of them was better. Roche was a classic rider: he won the world championship, the Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia. Kelly won a lot of one-day classics: he won Milan–San Remo, Tour of Flanders—all the big ones. But I think the climbing held him back in the Tour de France; he was too big to be a climber.

 

Taken from Memory Man by Jimmy Magee (Gill Books), now available in hardback and paperback. Also available as an ebook.

 

Jimmy Magee is an institution in Irish broadcasting life. He was born in New York in 1935. Three years later the family returned to Ireland and settled in the Cooley Peninsula in Co. Louth. Jimmy s early working experiences were in a pharmacy in Carlingford and as a railway clerk in Greenore. But his dream was always to work in radio, and by 1957 he managed to fulfil that dream. His varied and much-travelled life, as it evolved, is told in this memoir, including his 11 Olympic Games, 12 FIFA World Cups, 29 European Cup finals, 11 athletics world championships, 30 world title fights and 10 Tours de France.



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