Tinman, Woof and The Bionic Man made the awkward trip to Ballinrobe for this ‘becoming notorious’ 2-day race. Communication wasn’t the best among us so Tin didn’t know about Woof and Billy going and Billy also thought he was on his own for the weekend.
Why so, you might ask. Well, woof decided to enter just 6 hours before the start. Tin and Billy were pre-entered but Tin had earlier said he was doubtful about doing it because he was recovering from Spanish shoulder. As a result, Billy made some new arrangements, got in with the Black rose squad and wore their colours for the weekend.
Stage 1 was an 83 circuit of Lough Mask. It featured 5 categorised climbs; Maire lakes (Cat 3), Capnacreha (3), Maam Trasna (Cat 2), Ail Duil (2) and Mamean (3). We, the A3′s, and ladies started off a few minutes ahead of A1 and 2. The pace was 43kph northwards to Partry and Toumakeady. I don’t think I’ve banked over as far on corners in any other race this year. We hit the climbs in rapid succession with primes and KOH’s thrown in and it was all mental.
Wild countryside, probably beautiful with Lough Mask to the right and mountains all around but you dare not look away from the wheel in front. At one stage there was glass right across the road and we all rode through a bed of shattered pieces. we expected a murmuration of punctures but only one hand went up, Nigel Forde of Galway Bay. Would he get back on? We needed have worried, he was to be the fastest A3 for the stage and 11th overall. Next year, I want to puncture :0
Anyway, we were soon caught by the A1/2 and the pace increased. We rode a valley (Maamtrasna area I presume) at blistering speed and hit Maamtrasna with (in my case) no reserve for upping it more. Still, all 3 of us got over that in contact with the bunch. It was then I recognised where I was. I had ridden this route in reverse on the Tour of Mayo earlier this year and it suddenly dawned on me that the climb I had just survived was not the big one.
We tore on towards Ail Duil, a pass that hurt me bigtime in the ‘tour’ of Mayo. What would it be like in a race? Then it was there, the wee switchback over a little bridge at the bottom before a hairpin and about 1k of a stiff climb to the top. Soon Woof was in the bottom gear and just holding on. Tinman was making similar efforts and Billy was easing ahead; he’s climbing well this year. At the top, I was dropped but the gap was ‘do-able’ and a mental descent got me and three others back on to the peloton. Tin was not so lucky and rode hard alone for a while before being picked up by a big group who had been distanced earlier on.
The peloton ploughed on, eastwards now and into wind. sometimes we eased up, saying let the breakaway go (it was well gone anyway) but most times we raced hard. Mamean was a final kick in the ass, a short steep climb that we survived ok. We arrived into the finish, just 3:45 down on the stage winner, Colm Cassidy of UCD club and working with Morgan in Planet X. Colm won this 2-day last year and was defending his title this year. It was a great ride to win Stage 1 but he now had to defend the jersey over two more stages. A local youngster called Liam Corcoran looked like being his main opposition, coming second on the stage and well tipped as the up and coming thing in Castlebar.
As soon as we crossed the finish line, after miles of narrow roads and mad 70kph descents, Woof crahed and left flesh for the magpies in Ballinrobe. Tinman’s group came in about 7 minutes later so, being out of contention for yellow, we vowed for beer that night. Stage 1 data: 83k at 38.2 for us, 70k max, 700m of climbing.
Stage 2 was a 7.1 k TT. Billy was decked out in full aero kit and clocked 10:10. Woof and Tin were about 30 secs slower, averaging just a shade off 40kph with a light tailwind. The winner broke 8 minutes I think and Cass was 2nd so still in yellow.
Stage 3 was 4 laps of 21k. It was described as flat. In a way it was but one 8k side of the lap was constant up and down and we had 607m of climbing at the end. That 8k stretch was as narrow as piss-off hill, sometimes with grass up the middle and it seemed a crazy route for a big race like this. we never met a vehicle but there were oncomers well pulled in waiting for us to pass so the garda lead car was obviously effective. Still, with a road that narrow, it was two lines and little chance of moving up. Tinman and Woof made sure to be near the front of this each lap in case there was a split. We never saw Billy for the two hours after the start but he must have been back there as he finished with the same time as us.
We had 3 minutes on the A1/2′s and they didn’t catch us till ythe 65th kilometer. At that stage we had an avs of 40.6 and in the remaining 19k the top guys dragged our overall race average back up to 41 kph. A break of 3 went as soon as we were caught and cass wasnt in it. he had 23 secs of a lead going into the stage and the break never got beyond that. Anyway, he mustered his UCD teammates on the last 8k run-in and with plenty of willing helpers from other teams, the trio were hauled in. It was a sprint finish with all of us getting the same time. Cassidy was in the top 15 and won overall.
It was a good race. Stage 1 was a great buzz but you’d need to be in great shape to enjoy it fully. Stage 3 was wierd because of thet 8k ‘lane’ which had to be done 4 times. if that side of the lap were a good road, the race would have had an average of 42kph at least. There was huge regimentation around race instructions and people were made reposition their numbers and publically pointed out if not in perfect conformity with the rules. Pre-race inspection felt a bit like getting through check-in with Ryanair and a lot of people grumbled about it but it was a good race and I’d hope to try it again before I take out the pension.
Data: Lap 1 was 42kph; lap 2 was 40.7; Lap 3 – 39.4 and Lap 4 with the A1′s was 41.9.