Gary’s Rás Diary: Part 1

Gary has been convinced to write-up his recollections of the Rás. Here is his first installment – grab a cup of tea cos its a long one, but well worth the read!!!

Gary’s Rás Diary: A Fred in the Rás.

No, my name is not Fred….. A Fred is a term of ‘endearment’ granted to the novice cyclist who is unaccustomed to the strict code of cycling ethics dished out by the more experienced cyclists that make up the weird world called the bunch in cycle racing. To qualify as a Fred one must adhere to a few simple rules

  • Possess an inability to “hold the wheel” of the cyclist in front of you, especially when “lined out”.

(As most of my friends are of the non-sporting variety I will endeavour to explain all the cycling terms I use)

Holding the wheel: In cycling, your life depends on your ability to remain firmly behind the wheel of the cyclist in front of you. In doing this you receive a drafting or slipstream benefit. Letting the wheel drift away from you or “losing the wheel” brings about a colourful response from the rider behind you (he will have to cycle around you, expelling precious energy, and “bridge” the gap that your Freddly stupidity has created). “Hold the f#’;!!! wheel, you stupid Fred!!” , “Ah for Christ sake, Nenagh, hold the effing wheel, bloody Fred!!”…. etc. etc. These comments are generally combined with a stare designed to eat your soul.

Lined out: Periodically the riders at the front of the bunch(peloton) crank up the pace . This causes the bunch to thin out behind them until all the riders are in single file and straining to hold the wheel in front of them. Losing the wheel during a line out is the ultimate no-no. It would cause the peleton to split and your life would be forfeit.

  •  Be clueless about the latest cycling fashions, a good Fred is still wearing Kas and Carrera jerseys.
  • Adopt the slipstream, tucked- in riding position at every given opportunity, the neutral zone is a good place to show this skill off.
  • Ride in the wind as if you have a special wind deflecting super power that enables you not to require the drafting effect of the bunch.
  • Sport hairy legs ( I will comment on this peculiar fashion quirk later)
  • Do all the donkey work in the peloton at the behest of the more experienced riders.
  • Throw in sporadic and insane speed surges at inappropriate times. Flicking your elbow will let the rider behind you know that you’re finished!
  • Always drag the peloton up to the break away escapees, never jump across.

There are many more qualities in a good Fred but these are the main characteristics needed!

Hi, my name is Gary, and as you have probably guessed I am a Fred, here is my Rás story…..

I would love to say that I was as cool as a breeze and that I was taking all this Rás business in my stride but I would be lying. I was absolutely bricking it. The opening ceremonial sign-on did nothing for my confidence. All the teams are individually presented to the crowd. Imagine how I felt and our Nenagh CC team sandwiched between the professional Dutch squad in front of us and the Sky sponsored Great Britain squad behind us. If you can imagine your local soccer team, mine was Nenagh Celtic B team, lining up for the world cup in between Brazil and Argentina and you will get the picture!!

“Another fine mess you have gotten yourself into, Scully”, I silently chastised myself as our team was presented and I struggled to get my legs to work, I nearly had to be helped off the stage! God bless nerves. Not that I was the only one ready to fill my pants up with brown gold, at least I had my brother, Shane, equally “excited and enthusiastic” beside me. Alan Loftus and Simon Ryan are the experienced campaigners of our team, they remained unphased by all the fun fair having rode the ras a few times. Damien ‘Debutante’ Roach rounded off our merry little band, an experienced rider doing his first rás, he seemed to be taking the event in his stride. Alas….. “ Could the riders please assemble for the roll out….” No turning back now!

Stage 1 Dunboyne- Roscommon 149.8km

The distance is not a mistake by the way. If you are not a cyclist you would be forgiven for thinking this is a motor bike race. This race is the real McCoy. Each day is on average 100 miles. Some stages are flat, some are ridiculously hilly. This stage was flat with just one category 3 hill to tackle. Mountains are divided into three categories depending on gradient and length. Category 3 being the “easiest”, category 1 being heart attack inducing.

Nothing can prepare you for your first ras stage. It’s like a bungee jump. People will tell you about the speed and the emotions involved but in the end you just need to experience it for yourself. Also, people will tell you to relax, they will tell you that you will be alright, you will be grand, all will be fine… brutal advice…. be afraid, be very afraid, it’s gonna hurt like hell, the speed is going to frighten you, you’re going to visit a world of pain you didn’t know existed, a can of whoop ass will be opened on you. Some good advice I will dispense for free… if you are not fit then stay well clear of this monster!

The leisurely starting pace, we did 29 miles in the first hour!, was not to my liking. The line outs were gut wrenching. Crashes were frequent. Each crash leads to a chase back to the front of the bunch. We all managed to survive these lined out chase backs. They hurt like hell and sent us into the red each time. The pace did settle a little once a break away group of 10 established itself after 50k. Our team is pretty predictable in the bunch. Alan and Simon will be up the front, fearless. Shane will be at the very back probably a little to the left so the wind is hitting him(Fred), I will be on the left of the bunch with the ditch on my left, my evacuation lane, and Damian generally takes up a central location.

The bunch is a frightening beast. It grows, shrinks, stretches, accelerates and decelerates. It carries you, re energises you and replenishes you when you’re on a good day, spits you mercilessly out the back on a bad day. I am not a good bunch rider, neither is Shane. We are too inexperienced. Our team mates are much better. Good bunch riders are certifiably nuts. Courage in abundance with a healthy disregard for their own safety. Ask Alan (Lofty) next time you meet him for his injury list from crashes, in fact maybe it would be quicker to ask him which bones he hasn’t broken!

You have got to have great bike handling skills. The pros in the bunch make it look effortless. They squeeze into the smallest of places. They never panic. It is a great skill to have. It takes years of cycling to master and I would argue that late comers like me will never fully conquer the skill. That being said there was a lot of crashes on day one, the weather wreaking havoc. All of our team were caught up and delayed by some crash during the day. Shane, being at the back of the peloton, gets delayed by every crash, very draining. My right gear shifter was ripped off. Simon lost his Garmin in a crash. Luckily we all made it to the end of the stage safely in the bunch, none of us contended the sprint. An unexpected great start for our fledgling team. Huge sigh of relief from the Nenagh CC camp.

Kevin Sherlock, our soigneur, ooh very professional aren’t we?! Met each rider as they finished with cans of coke, water, chocolate and guided us to the team camper van for a well deserved sit down. The race makes you feel like a pro and the atmosphere around the finish is electric. There is a great buzz around the warm down area. After sambos(thanks Kev) and a few Yorkee bars we travel to our BnB. Each rider gets their legs rubbed, may I introduce the legend that is Sean McCormack, who was our team physio/ masseur/ joker/ beer connoisseur/it’s only puppy fat cuddly bear….. The bikes are cleaned and serviced…. Enter team manager Peter Ryan and local hero Kenneth “I’m doing the Ras next year” Kennedy…. We have a team meal at seven and then individuals, who shall remain nameless, go sampling the local beverages.

Day 1 in the bag, only 7 to go. Morale high.

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