For a man who made a career of letting his legs rather than his mouth do the talking, An Evening with Sean Kelly at Cadence Performance in Crystal Palace this week could easily have been a painful experience for both speaker and audience. Kelly makes no secret of the fact that he is not a natural raconteur but he was most certainly a natural competitor and, just like in his racing, his force of character and professionalism ultimately outweighed any potential shortcomings in what was a very enjoyable and illuminating evening.
Kelly’s autobiography, “Hunger” (£18.99 Peloton Publishing) – short-listed for a number of sports writing awards – is an equal surprise coming from the quiet man of Carrick-On-Suir. Ghost-written by Lionel Birnie, the story of ‘King’ Kelly’s racing career was wrestled from the five times world No. 1 over a two year period, race by race, piece by piece, word by word. A long, hard road with many difficult, bumpy sections along the route. Fittingly for the two-time winner it was a veritable Paris-Roubaix of a task.
Birnie was alongside Kelly at Crystal Palace, adding context and anecdote to the Irishman’s recollections. Both were ably hosted by Daniel Friebe – author of ‘Merckx’, ‘Mountain High’ and ‘Mountain Higher’ – who played the role of MC and posed the first 40 minutes of questions. Initially Kelly applied himself slowly to the task, as though lowering himself onto the infamous boil which cost him the 1987 Vuelta; testing the novel pain of speaking in front of 150 people instead of from the hidden confines of the Eurosport commentary box. Or maybe he was just subconsciously following the advice of the old patron Hinault, who often decreed that the first third of a stage would be carried out at a pace of his liking. Everyone held their breath and wondered how it would go.
Birnie explains how he wrestled the story from Sean whilst he and Friebe look on.