22 June 2007

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Bitter- Sweet Coastal Challenge

The North Down Cycling Club’s mammoth 100k Coastal Challenge had a real bitter-sweet feel to it last weekend.  On the one hand there was a record entry: in fact the entry list had to be closed at 700!  However, the management of the numbers involved had been a cause for concern. 

On the positive side, the system set up by Keith Millar for accepting on-line entries worked to perfection and the financial windfall for the designated charities of Diabetes and Stroke and Cardiology units of The Ulster Hospital was commendable.  The managing of the event on the day was efficiency personified and a real credit to Terry Nicoletti and his team.  But therein lies the bitterest aspect of the whole event – the person who had done the lion’s share of the preparation and organisation of the whole occasion, Brian Marshall, wasn’t there.  Terry would be the first to acknowledge the work that Brian put into the Coastal Challenge over the weeks and months and it was in no small measure due to his meticulous organisation that everything went so smoothly.
It must also be acknowledged that at times of adversity true character becomes evident.  This is as much true of a club as an individual.  The manner in which North Down members rose to the challenge last weekend bears testimony to the real character which is evident throughout the club- from the youth members to the oldest octogenarians.  Even though many had given up precious time to officiate at the Schools’ Skills Event and the Northern Ireland Youth Championships, dozens came forward last Saturday to ensure that the 100k Coastal Challenge would be a fitting tribute to Brian.  I have no doubt that he would have been very touched by the efficiency with which the event was run.
Tribute to Brian
Many were very touched by the sincere sentiments expressed by Alistair Irvine at Brian Marshall’s funeral in Conlig Presbyterian Church, last Friday, and I have asked his permission to record them in this column as a final tribute to Brian:

‘There was a time in Bangor when almost every bike or spare bit for a bike came from GP Marshall and Son.  Percy started an institution and I know how proud he was when Brian wanted to continue the business. It was a decision that also had a positive impact on many of us here today.
Cycling has such diversity: road racing, time trial, track, leisure, touring, sportif – and Brian was involved in every aspect of it. In fact, the whole family became involved in the cycling culture: Vera, Philip, Gemma and Percy, who always kept a watchful eye. This is something I know gave great pride to Brian – the togetherness.

And the shop became much more than a bike shop.  A meeting place, a contact point, an information point.
Mechanical problems on the way to a club ride? Stop at Brian’s.
Problems after a ride? Stop at Brian’s on the way home.
Need to borrow a special tool? See Brian.
Need somewhere to store something? See Brian.
Need technical advice? See Brian.
Need a bike rebuilt the night before a race? See Brian – he’ll stay late or open early.
Need something urgent? See Brian.
Need a Barbecue after an event? See Brian.
Need some fancy food? See Brian. (Well, he’d get Vera to do a bit of baking).
When everyone is too busy to organise a trip, even with his 70 and 80 hour week, Brian always found time if he could.  Always a willing volunteer, Brian never acted in selfishness and was an extremely generous person.  Rare commodities today.
Brian would always help.  He knew so many people and he was so respected.

He liked things done right: he shop was done right; his bikes were done right; he rode the bike right; he helped others to get it right and he organised things right. Yes, he could be direct at times, but you know, people with passion can’t help showing frustration. Brian had passion, for his family, his business and his sport.  Passion in sport means competitiveness, not just in competition, also in training and rides, looking for a weakness to exploit. He was good at that.

He loved racing and he was one of those bizarre people who loved riding in hills. Almost everyone who ever rode with us suffered at his hands at some time. Talking this week with cyclists, some even admitted to waiting up to two years to get Brian at a weak point so as to pay him back in kind.

We all did some big bike rides together, great memories. Brian was a big bike ride person. When people were starting to falter, he could be relied upon to help get us home, strong to the end.

If the organisation of a ride was falling apart, Brian would be there to get it together.
Any punctures – he’d fix them. With his steel thumbs, nobody changed a tyre faster than Brian.
A ride needed an injection of pace – he’d be there.
Looking for riders to make a long ride even longer – Brian will be there.
Volunteers for the dreaded extra loop – Brian will be there.

Our club has had so many members that got involved because Brian met them on the road and encouraged them or through the shop where he would nurture them, giving his time to train them and give them confidence.

He was always aware of what was around him. If someone got into difficulty, he’d be there with a helping push or tow.  Even though he loved riding at the front, he’d be first to volunteer to drop back and ride in with those struggling, encouraging and assisting them. Never complaining.  He encouraged every bike rider to be better.  He’d never ride by a cyclist in need of help.  His presence and proximity are an integral part of cycling in North Down.

We have lost a special person.

Lance Armstrong wrote
“A bicycle is the long sought after means of transportation for all of us who have runaway hearts……… it’s the first chance we have to choose our own direction”

A few treasure the runaway heart and love following our choice of direction; it becomes a way of life, defining who we are.

This was Brian, he loved to ride the bike and he loved every bike ride.

Brian loved cycling and today his family can see – Cycling loved Brian.’

Recreational cycles.
Many ‘non-cyclists’ who took part in the Coastal Challenge may be interested in some of the other recreational cycles organised by North Down Cycling Club.  There is a comprehensive list of these on the club’s website at: northdowncc.com on the club information page and you will be made very welcome on any of them.  In addition to those included on the website, a summer recreational cycle for novices leaves the Groomsport Roundabout at 7pm on Tuesday nights.  This cycle lasts for around an hour and takes in the bye roads of North Down.

Off to Belgium
Stuart Henry heads off this weekend to Belgium to represent Ireland in two youth races.  These events are part of the build-up programme, devised by former international Tommy Evans, to prepare the team for the European Youth Olympics in July.

Club Race
Next week’s race is the Scrabo Hillclimb organised by Ards CC.  This is an open event and starts at 7pm.

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