From Mending punctures in jig time to now sourcing accommodation for an entourage of over 500 right around the country, it's little wonder that the name of Ballon man Edward Dawson has become synonymous with Ireland's unique cycling event, The Ras.
Edward from Maple Lawn, Ballon has been involved in the International Cycle Race for the past 36 years, beginning first as a participant to now becoming one of the event's main organisers.
The FBD Insurance Ras, which this week is passing through towns and villages throughout the country, is now regarded as the biggest international amateur event in Europe attracting teams from all over the world.
The event has therefore developed into a mammoth task of organisation with accommodation to be sourced in all the race stops, route maps to be finalised and the teams to be adequately catered for throughout the event.
It's Edward's who takes on the enormous task of accommodation and the logistical nightmare of making sure an entourage of over 500, including over 200 riders, have a place to rest their weary bones after a day's cycling.
This week, therefore, Edwards is up to his eyes in the event which began last Sunday and continues until Sunday 29, taking in hundreds of kilometers and eight sages ziz-zagging across the country.
In this area, the race will be passing through Carlow, Ballon and Bunclody on Friday while on Saturday, Baltinglass will be among the local towns visited. The nearest stage end is Abbeyleix on Thursday evening.
" It starts in October/November when I go around visiting various locations. But after all these years, you kind of know all the places" admits Edward, with the calmness of a man with tons of experience.
"We'd have about 500 they arrive gradually from Wednesday to Sunday before the race so I organise accommodation for them then as well," he adds.
Edward began his involvement with The Ras in 1969 when he participated in the race and the following year was a manager for famed Carlow cyclist and former winner of The Ras Mike O'Donoghue.
After that, for three years he worked with the French team and then moved into the area of helping in the organisation of the event.
Now it's Edward and Race Director Dermot Dignam who are the driving forces behind the event.
Edward's involvement in the Ras in on a purely voluntary basis. In fact, such is his enthusiasm and loyalty to the race that each year, two weeks of his holidays are given up to the event.
"I enjoy it. sure it's part of my life now...I'm hardly going to give it up after 36 years," laughs Edward.
This year, six professional teams will take part in the race, which will take in eight locations for overnight stops.
The route itself takes the cyclist through a host of towns and villages all over Ireland where once again the support from the public is sure to be a huge encouragement.
"It's brilliant in the towns and when we pass the schools and the children come out to wave and cheer-there isn't one school that won't be out...it's great," enthused Edward.
However, despite the meticulous planning that goes in every year, over its history The Ras hasn't gone without its near disasters, one of which is still very clearly in Edwards memory.
On one occasion, just 10 minutes before passing through the town of Navan, word came through to the race director that the road was completely blocked up due to a funeral in the town. Panic quite obviously ensued as a serous accident could have happened were it not for Edward's quick action.
"I just happened to know the area and brought the race down another route and managed to get around the town. Thankfully everything worked out well and the break away group stayed away," he explained
Edward is adamant that the Ras simply won't survive without the generous support of its sponsors including Flynn's Garage, Tullow and FBD Insurance, the events key sponsor.
"The support of the gardai is also vital adds Edward."
"There's about 16 off duty gardai who give up their holiday time to help out as well as the gardai in every part of the country who man every single junction we pass through" Edward explains.
Of course, as a proud Ballon man, one of Edward's dreams was to see the Ras stop in his home village. Sadly this didn't work out when the chance arouse a couple of years ago.
"Unfortunately the County Council erected bollards and roundabouts in Ballon so we weren't able to bring the race through the village. We had to move into Tullow instead which, of course, was a disappointment to me" Edward adds.
Quiet clearly Edward has no plans to put his Ras days behind him despite 36 years of involvement which he jokes would get you a sizeable pension anywhere else." No I've no plans to stop...as long as it keeps going...I'll keep going," he smiles.
|Lead Car 1 FBD Insurance Ras 2005|