On the 18th of December 1994, an Irish bike race was made up of a field with a combined palmares of amongst other things: 8 x Tour de France, 7 x Giro d’Italia, 2 x Vuelta a Espana, 5 x World Championships, 9 x Paris-Roubaix, 8 x Liege-Bastogne-Liege, 14 x Milan-San Remo, 11 x Paris-Nice and 1 x Rás Tailteann.

The race was the Carrick Hamper Race, and it was Sean Kelly’s last race as a professional. Amongst those who had traveled to take part and honour the Irishman were Eddy Merckx, Roger de Vlaeminck, Laurent Fignon, Claude Criquielion, Stephen Roche, Martin Earley, Paul Kimmage and Laurence Roche.

Bernard Hinault had also made his way to Carrick, but had declined to race. This was at a time when Le Blaireau avoided the bike. The great Belgian cyclist Briek Schotte was also in attendance.

Martin Earley, Claude Criquielion, Joe Barr and Laurent Fignon
Martin Earley, Claude Criquielion, Joe Barr and Laurent Fignon

Kelly spent his last season with the Catavana team, but by that stage of his career, he was losing motivation and had decided to call it a day. His last race would be the annual Christmas Hamper Race in his home town.

The event consisted of an initial controlled 60 kilometres in the countryside outside the town, followed by a few laps of the town. The flag was dropped for the real race to start on the way back into town, and by all accounts, the massive bunch split to bits.

The organisers only allowed a limited few onto the finishing circuit so it was a mad dash to get to the circuit before the barrier was closed. Eddy Merckx missed the cut giving numerous Irish cyclists the opportunity to talk of “the day I beat Eddy Merckx.” On the last lap, Stephen Roche tried to spoil the party by taking the win, but was chased down. It came down to a sprint finish.

Kelly summed up the race in his typical straightforward fashion in his book Hunger as he said, “At the end of the last lap, I won the sprint. Well, you have to give the public what they came out to see”