Earlier this week the Rás Tailteann started in Dunboyne County Meath. The start marked the 60th Anniversary of the event. Over the years the race has seen many great champions including many Kerry and Killorglin riders. The 2012 event is significant from a Kerry perspective as it also marks the 40th Anniversary of John Mangans great win in 1972. The following is an excerpt from the An Post Rás Website which pays homage to John’s career & his 1972 Rás win.
John Mangan may have turned his back on a professional career but the teak tough Killorglin man earned himself a very special place amongst the legends of Irish cycling and, while he won the title just once, spending much of his career in pursuit of fame and fortune on the French amateur circuit, whenever Ras history is recounted, his feats will be recalled. He was just 16 years of age when he watched his distant cousin, Gene Mangan, win back to back stages in 1966, winning the stage from Limerick to Killarney and then the criterium around the town that night. That had a profound affect on him and two years later he would find himself chasing the Czechoslovakians around Ireland in the 1968 edition of the race. Like most Kerry schoolboys his early sporting career was fashioned around Gaelic football. But he would race his schoolmates to and from school on the bike. “In the evening we would race each other to the football pitch to train. I used to find that even when I would be carrying someone on the crossbar or the carrier I could still beat them,” he recalls. “But I don’t think I ever thought about racing until I watched Gene in Killarney that evening.” He took to it like a fish takes to water but he is the first to admit that his Ras debut in 1968 was a chastening experience not alone for himself but everyone else in the peloton who chased six Czechoslovakian riders around the country with only Shay O’Hanlon managing to wrest a stage win from them on the road from Spiddal to Abbeyfeale. But the following year he created something of a sensation when he won the fourth stage from Ballina to Gort and, in the process, decided the race for Brian Conaughton.
The Meath Garda, then stationed in Kinnegad, jumped in when Mangan launched his attack in sleet, hail and a bitterly cold sidewind. They stayed together until five miles from the finish when Manganrode clear to win on his own by a minute and a half with the main bunch over half an hour behind. Johnny Lonergan, Shay O’Hanlon, Mike O’Donoghue, Benny Donnelly, Mike O’Donoghue again and Vincent Sheridan all shared in stage glory after that but Brian Connaughton wore the yellow jersey all the way to Dublin for a memorable victory exactly ten years after fellow Meathman, the late Ben McKenna, had won the title. The Eastern Bloc took over again the following year, winning every stage and Gysiatnikov led all the way but the following year order was restored and the Ras rivalry resumed with some memorable battles fought throughout the length and breadth of the country. Ben McKenna won the opening stage into Dunleer, John Mangan won the following day into Clones and wore the yellow jersey into Sligo where Colm Nulty took over and led all the way to Dublin, winning the stage into Castletownbere en route. The young Mangan was already considering peddling his trade in France. Gene had taken him to Dublin a couple of years earlier and now he had qualified as an electrician and felt his future would be fairly secure either way. He travelled to the South of France and based himself in Nice and went on to win seven big races including the Grand Pr ix of Cannes, the Grand Prix of Nice and the Mandeliu. He returned to Ireland ready for the 1972 Ras and took the yellow jersey from Seamus Kennedy in Donegal on the third day and wore it all the way to Dublin, taking in Dungloe, Sligo, Tuam, Ennistymon, Kilrush, Killorglin, Kinsale and Carrick-on-Suir en route. His brother, Denis would win the opening stage from Dublin to Carlow the following year and he won the last two stages from Clones to Navan and Navan to Dublin when he lapped the field in the Phoenix Park but victory would go to Mike O’Donoghue. But Mangan’s thoughts would be elsewhere. He was already blazing a trail of glory across France and his bank account was growing as a result. He remembers that race well, though. He crashed between Carlow and Waterford and ended up in hospital that night. “They told me not to ride the next day,” he said. “But I did not heed them.” After that he returned to Rennes where he was now riding with VCR and would later move to VIT France, a powerful team. But alliances would extend beyond team allegiance and he recalls the cycling “Mafia” with some affection.
“Anyone who knows how it works would realise just how difficult it is for a cyclist, say from Ireland, to break into it. You have to win respect and to do that you have to win races.” Win he did in fact he won 156 races in all and he ended up as one of the two riders who controlled this group. “At the end of the day my job would be to tot up the individual placings and then divide the prize money,” he recalls. “There would be between 2,000 and 5,000 French francs for the winner and I would ride between four and six races a week.” He was the envy of his peers when he brought his Mercedes home in the mid ’70s’s. He was enjoying a high standard of living. “We were probably making as much as money as some top pros. A good amateur could do that and some of the professionals returned to their amateur status.” They included Yves Maveleu who was a key figure in the group. There were also JeanRene Berneaudeau, who would go on to distinguish himself as a professional, winning the Midi-Libre four times. Mangan, himself, would ride against and best some of the world’s best professionals in the criterium races after the Tour de France. He rode alongside Bernard Hinault and became friendly with him. “But I don’t think anyone back here could fully appreciate the impact Sean Kelly and Stephen Roche made on the professional scene in France. Their achievements, the bare statistics, certainly don’t reflect it, impressive as they might be. They were truly superstars and I don’t think we will ever see the likes of them again. Professional cycling is something different. I could roll along with them on the flat but when it came to the mountains the professionals really showed their class.” Today John Mangan has his own chateaux in Killorglin where he entertains his friends, amongst them Sean Kelly. He conducts hunting and fishing trips and farms as well. He is the first to admit he is quite comfortable. He has enjoyed his years on the bike. His last appearances in the Ras were in the early 1980’s. In 1984 he decided to hang up the wheels. He had a bad crash in 1983. They were cruising along, six or seven miles into a race, when a group came down. He suffered a fractured skull and ended up with 48 stitches in his head. The following year he would pack it in and return to Killorglin.