By Graham Healy
During his career, Sean Kelly established a reputation as somebody not to be messed with during a sprint, and a brilliantly timed photograph from the 1987 Tour of Catalonia demonstrates how he was well able to handle himself at the finish.
Kelly had started the race that year hoping for a hat trick of wins having taken overall victory in ’84 and ’86, and his defence got off to a great start when he won the prologue in Sant Sadurní d’Anoia by eight seconds from his KAS team mate Iñaki Gastón.
The following day took the riders 196 kilometres to Tortosa, south of Barcelona, and the stage finished with a climb to Ermita de Mig Cami.
The lead group split on the run in to the finish, with Kelly, Juan Fernandez (Zahor) and the neo professional Maurizio Fondriest (Ecoflam) contesting the finish. Fernandez was in good form, as just a few weeks earlier, he had been beaten into third place by another Irishman, when he won the bronze medal behind Stephen Roche at the World Championships in Villach.
In the charge to the line, Kelly and Fernandez clashed, with the Spaniard forcing Kelly against the barriers. Kelly kept his cool, and didn’t resort to taking his hands off the bars to push him away. Instead, he used his head, literally, as he pushed the Spaniard away with his head. He crossed the line just behind the Spaniard.
The great photograph below captured the incident.
Afterwards however, the race jury relegated Fernandez to third place, behind the new stage winner Kelly with Fondriest in second place.
Juan Fernandez recounts the sprint with no hard feelings, saying, “Kelly closed me in, but I then took him against the barrier. In the end, we hugged. I even think they gave an award to Francisco Alguersuari for that photograph.”
The stage win extended Kelly’s lead to sixteen seconds, with Fondriest now in second place. However, the Irishman would lose the overall lead to Alvaro Pino on the fifth stage to Vaquèira-Beret, and ended up finishing the race in 5th place overall. He wouldn’t get the chance again to make it three wins in the Catalonian race.
Coincidentally, both Fondriest and Fernandez would both finish on the podium of another race the following year, after another well known incident involving two cyclists and a barrier. After Steve Bauer and Claude Criquielion clashed at the ’88 Worlds, Fondriest took advantage to win the race, whilst Fernandez took another bronze medal.