Saturday 23 March 2019

Paul Kimmage remembers his brother: 'Dear Raphael, there is no one in this world that I admire as much as you'

Raphael Kimmage with his brother Paul: ‘It wasn’t his first time to be mistaken for me and it always made us laugh because we both knew, deep down, that he was the better bike rider. And I’d never heard anyone say a bad word about him’
Raphael Kimmage with his brother Paul: ‘It wasn’t his first time to be mistaken for me and it always made us laugh because we both knew, deep down, that he was the better bike rider. And I’d never heard anyone say a bad word about him’
Paul Kimmage

Paul Kimmage

Dublin brothers Paul and Raphael Kimmage run the risk of expulsion from the Dairy Rás Tailteann if they raise a hand to help each other on the way to Sunday's race conclusion in Dublin. Both of these first-rate riders were warned yesterday by the judges for giving assistance to each other contrary to race and international rules.

Ireland's Tour of Britain competitor, Paul, and his younger brother, who are riding here for different teams, have now to choose between loyalty to their teams and to each other. Raleigh Ireland manager, Pat McQuaid, last night failed to get an assurance from 21-year-old Paul that he would forsake his brother and concentrate solely on preserving Philip Cassidy's overall race lead.

"It's out of my hands now, Paul knows the position," said the exasperated national coach after a lengthy meeting in stage-end town, Nenagh, last night.

Karl MacGinty, Evening Herald, June 28, 1983

It was August 1968 when Yellow Submarine - a 90-minute animated film about an undersea world called 'Pepperland' - was released in Ireland, so I was six years old that afternoon. I didn't know much about the The Beatles and wasn't particularly enamoured by the script but it was the first time that the power and wonder of music truly registered with me.

The mistake was trying to convert it into words.

My (fairy) godmother, Pauline, lived in Vancouver at the time and I remember sitting down that night with a pen and some paper, bubbling with excitement and intent on sharing what I'd heard. Ringo's voice was clear as crystal in my head; I could hear every note and chord of 'Yellow Submarine':

In the town where I was born
Lived a man who sailed to sea     
And he told us of his life      
In the land of sub-mar-ines.

But I couldn't do crotchets or quavers and it translated like this:

Raphael Kimmage, who passed away last weekend, winning a stage of the Rás into Carrick-on-Suir in 1983
Raphael Kimmage, who passed away last weekend, winning a stage of the Rás into Carrick-on-Suir in 1983

La La Laaa La La La La
La La La-aa-aa La La La La
La La Laaa La La La La
La La La-aa-aa La La La La

It was hopeless. I could not convey the magic. And as I sit here reflecting on the life of my brother, Raphael, and the joy he brought to our lives, it's that same sense of hopelessness that strikes.

I'll start with his name because even that was different.

Not Raymond.

Not Ray.

Raphael.

My father named him after a famous French cyclist called Raphael Geminiani, which might have been fine if we'd grown up in Paris or Marseilles but wasn't a great fit in Coolock.

"Jaysus! What sort of a name is that?"

He hated the name as a kid and bore it like a cross and then dad put him on a bike one day and it all made sense.

Dad was a cyclist, a really great cyclist, and we grew up watching him race and listening to people talking about him. I had three younger brothers - Raphael, Kevin, and Christopher - and always believed that we followed in his footsteps because we loved the sport and wanted to be winners like him. But the truth - at least for me - was very different.

I liked cycling and loved winning but my obsession with the sport was driven by affection. My father's affection. I craved my father's affection more than anything in the world and wanted him to be as proud of me as I was of him.

The key to it all was Raphael.

He was the apple of my father's eye and one of the most gifted young talents the country had ever seen. I would go to bed at night, listening to my parents talking downstairs about the race that day and glowing about how good he had been. Thinking. Festering. 'Was I not good? What about me?'

I was two years older than Raphael, and had been playing second-fiddle to him from the moment we started racing until July 1981 when, at age 19, I finally wrestled the spotlight from him and became the youngest ever rider to win the National Road Race Championships.

But he was only getting started.

Nine months later on April 4, 1982, we travelled to Carlow for the first classic of the season, the Des Hanlon Memorial. Soon after the start a group of ten drew clear on the rolling roads of Baltinglass and Tullow and by Bunclody the leaders had been reduced to three - Raphael, Alan McCormack and Martin Earley.

McCormack had raced as a professional in Belgium and completed a Tour of Spain; Earley was another uber talent and a multiple national champion. With eight miles to go, as they raced through Leighlinbridge, Raphael got a puncture. This is how The Irish Times (Jim McArdle) reported what happened next:

"Kimmage got a puncture but with his father, Christy, driving along behind a quick wheel change was made and with a great effort he got back to the others in three miles. In the tactical battle over the last few miles the leaders' advantage was greatly reduced by a chasing group but in the sprint to the line Kimmage surged ahead and McCormack could not get to him, so the trophy and first prize of £100 went to young Kimmage."

He was 17 years old.

Five days later, he travelled north and beat a crack field in the first big stage race of the season - the Tour of Ulster. In June, he inflicted a three-minute hammering on Britain's most promising talent at the Viking Trophy in the Isle of Man. It was his 11th win of the season - his brother, the National Champion, had won just four - and a week later a reporter from The Irish Press called David Walsh arrived at our home to interview him.

"It was interesting that Kimmage was only the third Irish winner of the Viking race," Walsh observed, "and significantly he now forms a threesome that also includes Stephen Roche. For in the Kimmage household, the name and deeds of Roche are held in the highest esteem.

"Roche's career is one which Raphael Kimmage would be quite content to copy. You don't become a professional bike rider until you have qualified at something else; Stephen Roche didn't and neither will either of the Kimmages. Raphael outlines the plan: 'Both Paul and I come out of our apprenticeships at the end of next season, and if all is still going well then we will go to France and ride as amateurs there for a season. Provided that things go well, there could then be a decision to go professional.'"

But the clincher was the final paragraph:

"Christy Kimmage doesn't like looking too far into his son's future. Like any self-respecting manager he tends to look no further than the next battle. Still, you ask him about Raphael's chances of making it. His reply cannot be dismissed easily: 'If this kid doesn't make it then I don't know who will'."

This was the ultimate endorsement and I remember reading the words and feeling bruised that I had been shuffled into the background again by my brother. But I couldn't argue. The kid was a superstar. And I did not feel the slightest bit resentful. We had slept in the same or adjoining beds from the moment he was born and I'd have cut off my right arm for him.

But this, too, would cause problems.

In May 1983, a day after Raphael won the Shay Elliott Memorial in Wicklow, I became the first Irishman ever to lead the Tour of Britain. A month later, someone had the bright idea to put us on separate teams - me for Ireland, him for Dublin - for the Rás Tailteann.

On the third stage to Nenagh, Raphael had a spate of mechanical problems when a break containing Philip Cassidy - the race leader and my team-mate - went clear. I liked and respected Philip, and was prepared to ride my balls off for him, but not at my brother's expense.

This is from David Walsh's report in The Irish Press:

"Word filtered through to Paul that his younger brother was in trouble so he dropped back to the end of the bunch and waited. Soon the brothers got together and went in serious pursuit of the break. Irish team manager, Pat McQuaid, was thought to be very upset at Paul's brotherly concern as it hardly advanced the Raleigh Ireland cause.

"But Paul was unrepentant afterwards. Asked if he agreed that blood was thicker than water he said: 'Yes, and it will be even more so as the week wears on.'"

A year later, in February 1984, we left for France to pursue our dream of a professional career. One of our opening races was on the Cote d'Azur, where he was beaten by the width of a tyre by a wily ex-pro, Daniel Leveau. Then we travelled to Paris for the first classic of the season and he finished a brilliant fifth.

It was a performance that should have set Raphael up for the season but we were racing for a team of assholes, and managed by this absolute pig. Instead of praising the kid and nurturing his confidence, he made him the scapegoat for the defeat - an injustice that was grist to the mill for a belligerent fucker like me, but my good-natured brother never really recovered.

Some kids are crushed when their sporting dreams turn sour but a prize much greater than any Tour de France was waiting for him at home and Raphael never looked back. He had met Deborah O'Donnell while serving his apprenticeship. They married in 1987, had four smashing kids and for the next 32 years just being together was enough.

His son, Ciaran, gave the eulogy on Wednesday: "Dad had many great qualities," he said, "but the thing that made him special was his attitude to family and life. In his last job, he had to get up at half one in the morning to start a driving shift at three and you would hear him singing in the kitchen.

"Myself, Tara, Sean and Dermot absolutely adored him. He was the best role model imaginable and left us with so many great memories - mountain hikes, family barbeques, and dinners around the table followed by board games and stories."

He was in the Algarve last month, on a short break with Deborah, and was out on his bike one morning when he was caught and embraced by the young Portuguese professional, Dominic Mestre: "Hey Paul, how's it going?"

It wasn't his first time to be mistaken for me and it always made us laugh because we both knew, deep down, that he was the better bike rider. And I'd never heard anyone say a bad word about him.

I've been his big brother since 1964, but in the three decades since he returned from France, Raphael has been the life and soul of our family. The best parties were always in his house and there was just so much about him to admire: his application to work; his devotion to Deborah; his love for his kids; his care for our mother; his complete selflessness and constant good humour.

And that's the lesson.

It's not what you do on the bike, it's what happens when you get off.

In 2005, I travelled to London to interview the former English rugby captain, Andy Ripley. He was one of the most interesting people I've ever met and after a long lunch at a fashionable restaurant near Picadilly, we repaired to a small café and he started to interview me.

"Who do you admire most?" he asked.

"In sport?"

"No, big picture," he replied. "Who do you admire most in this world."

It took me half a second.

"Does he know?" he asked.

"What do you mean?"

"Have you told him?"

"No."

"Why not?"

"I don't . . ."

"Tell him," he said. "Go home and write him a letter."

Andy died of prostate cancer in June 2010 but I've thought of him a lot these last few days. To be honest, it's been the only consolation. I took his advice, you see. I went home that night and wrote the letter and delivered it by hand four days later:

Dear Raphael,
There is no one is this world that I admire as much as you.

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