So, having not been north of Dublin in over 20 years I, for the third time in only a small few weeks found myself again, cycling around the opposite end of the country to Cork. This time it was myself together with Sinead Kennedy and Majella who made the trip to the Omagh Wheelers annual 3 day, 4 stage A4 race.
Day 1, stage 1:
The first stage was Friday evening and a bit like our M2M adventure, the first pressing challenge was getting there, on time as sign on closed at 5pm. There was a separate women’s race in so far as we were given a 5 min handicap on the men and we had a separate GC but with only 11 women signing on we were never going to have a totally separate race. This makes for an unusual dynamic in the group as obviously we women were initially attempting as a bunch to stay away as long as we could so rather than race against each other we had to work together, bit like a funny sort of break away. So there was pressure on everyone to do a bit of work to get as far away as possible, but also keep a bit in the bag for when the men did catch on and the pace went up.
We were more than 25km into the first stage before we got caught on the second of the 3 climbs. The men’s bunch were all still together at this point so we jumped in close to the front straight away. The pace went right up and even though we were no longer doing any of the work, the effort got harder as we now had to take the climb at a much higher speed. I know I was repeating all sorts of ‘red moment mantras’ in my head as we clung on for dear life! After the climb there was a speedy descent which definitely put the frighteners up me – I’ve never descended at that speed (max 68.8kmph) in a big bunch before and I can’t say I enjoyed it. From then on in it was pretty plain sailing – big bunch scares but no fear of being dropped. The finish was a bit manic and from 2km in we just coasted as there was just nowhere to get out or around and we were all going to finish on same time…. Save it for the next day! In less than 1 minute Majella rode a super aggressive finish to come 4th woman home for the stage, 4th on GC – well done Majella! A few short minutes later Sinead came in safely, full of frustration having unluckily been caught on the wrong side of decisive splits. Not to worry, she was later to put this anger to great use to go on and ride a savage race!
Day 2, stage 1:
Stage 2 was the TT, 2.5miles, flat with a turn around half way.
So with all my whinging and moaning about ‘feckin’ big scarey bunches’ this weekend, the irony of it is that the only time I nearly crashed was when I was on my own in a TT. Oh, that turnaround point! In my defence it was actually nearly the undoing of many… it’s mad but on a wide open road (think N7) with no junctions, as I approached despite the jeep, hi-viz marshals, barriers and traffic cones in the middle of the road, I wasn’t sure if it was the turn around!! It’s obvious now, not so when my heart rate was north of four hundred and something …. Unfortunately I only realised at the last minute (seriously!) and then had to stop suddenly, skidding on gravel and ending up in the far ditch, just about still on the bike with the marshals all looking at me with a WTF-she-at? look on their faces!
For a finish we all survived the TT without shrouding ourselves in glory but at least we were still on for stage 3.
This was another 75km stage on Saturday afternoon with only 2 climbs this time. Same sort of roll out but this time the women’s bunch split on the first climb at 20km. I ended up with 2 other girls and as there was a considerable split we decided to stay going. We rolled away over the undulating exposed hills ‘til 35km where a breakaway of 4 men caught us and we clung on the back of them. All was going pretty well ‘til we hit a few consecutive corners and me, what with me legendary cornering/ crit skills an’ all, managed to put us 3 women in the red trying to chase back on. After a few cross eyed moments we eventually had to let them go, shortly after which we got caught by the main men’s bunch. The rest of this stage was pretty uneventful, one climb of 1 Km, we (as in, the bunch) caught the 4 man breakaway and then a fast spin into the finish with the finish. This time it was Sinead K who came in shortly after the bunch having had a massive jump in form from the previous evening (amazing what a bit of anger does to these Kennedys!). Unfortunately however Majella had a nasty crash on a fast descent into a wet corner and never got to regain contact with the women and so had to settle for coming in with a bunch of men. After such a super result on the previous evening it was a big disappointment for her, such are the highs and lows of racing I guess.
So the last of the 4 stages was on Sunday morning and having driven the main climbs on Saturday evening, we were pickled with nerves as we assembled at the start line. The roll out was routine to us by now, all the women put in a great effort to keep us up the road as long as we could. There was a climb again at the 20 km point and once again the women split and I ended up with the same 2 as both other days. This time it was a single man breakaway who was first to catch us, a team mate (Phoenix) of one of the girls I was with. We stayed with him for a good bit but eventually we all got caught. The terrain on this stage was quite different to previous days with quite narrow roads and tight bends, even a climbing switch back. I got myself into the frustrating position of being at the back of the main bunch and as guys were getting progressively dropped I was having to work really hard to stay on the back. With about 15km to go the bunch split completely, I was on the wrong side and we had 2 more climbs so I realised was snookered. I knew I wasn’t going to drop my place in the GC as I had a reasonable cushion but I had still really wanted to finish out the last day with the bunch as I had the other days. Not an option so I focused on the rest of the race as being a good training session, I went up the main climb as hard as I was able, came down the descent as shite as I typically do and then drove it as hard as I could manage over the last 8km into the finish. Somewhere along the route today I hit a new high of 75.2kmph so I guess that was pushing personal fear boundaries if nothing else!
I was hardly off the bike when I saw Sinead sprinting in with the women, everyone giving it all, Sinead out of the saddle, absolutely swinging outta the bike…. It was absolutely brilliant to see (bit emotional actually!). This secured her 5th on the stage and 6th on the overall GC. After a few wee minutes despite her road rash and new found fear of slippery roads, Majella too was safely home, again escorted by a bunch of hot Nordie men (this is becoming something of a habit me thinks?).
So 3 tired lassies made the trip back to Tipp. We certainly learned a lot (I, for example, never knew it was possible for moss to grow on a main road or that a ridiculously early alarm clock is reasonable grounds for murder), I know it was tough but I also know that we lassies are tougher and that we will bank the highs and lows of the weekend and it will all stand to us no end next month in RnamB. Well done to the other 2 of the 3 amigos- Nenagh CC ladies- we worked hard and have lots to be happy with.
Also in the unlikely event that anyone from Omagh Wheelers ends up reading this, massive thanks for such a super, seamless, organised and positive race. I don’t think I heard one bad word all weekend. The bike marshals took photos of us and sang happy birthday (?) as they gave us the time splits and said all sort of stuff I couldn’t understand and needed translated into CORK! but they made us laugh and tricked us into thinking we were having great craic, all the A4 men roared and encouraged us women along, the roadside crowd cheered and everyone got behind us… I knew from the excellent experience up at the Nationals in June that Omagh Wheelers know how to do it right, I just never imagined that they would do it so brilliantly again – thanks!