Day 4 was always going to be a tough day in the saddle and so it proved. With 10 categorised climbs to get over and 114 miles of racing into a slight head wind, it was important to stay in the main bunch as long as possible. If you got dumped out early then there was a good chance of missing the time deadline. Fatigue would also play an important factor as most of the team just aren’t used to racing so hard for so long for so many days. Everyone’s legs are getting a little heavier now and people are getting a little bit more cranky but we still have a job to do so there is no point feeling sorry for ourselves.
Seán, our masseur, is certainly earning his money now. The complaints keep increasing with yours truly being the chief culprit. There was no improvement with my injuries. If anything my ribs were worse and making full breaths was impossible. Shallow breathing is alright when the bunch is cruising along like yesterday but when it is lined out I am in trouble. The start of each stage usually involves plenty of line outs as people try to break away. The only way I would survive in the bunch to the end of the race is if a break got away early and the race settled down. That was not to be today!
Today’s stage took us from Charleville to Caherciveen in Co. Kerry. The 5 of us took up our usual place in the bunch and braced ourselves for the expected hard start. We weren’t disappointed. The opening 15 miles were brutal tough and I was clinging on. The other lads were also having to battle hard. After 15 miles we came to the first categorised climb of the day and that’s where the bunch split. Before we got there Alan and Damian had just lost touch with the bunch. The pace up the hill was quick but I felt I had it under control as I made it up close to Gary. However, all it takes is for one lad to lose a wheel and you are in trouble. That duly happened and I couldn’t close the gap that had formed. That was the last I saw of the bunch. Luckily Gary and Simon both managed to stay in the bunch so all was not lost.
There were plenty of lads behind me to form a bunch with and over the next 5 miles we all came together. We had one goal – keep the time gap as low and live to fight another day. Alan and Damian were able to get through the cars and back into our bunch. At this stage we had still 130km of cycling to go so we had our work cut out. The weather was great today again and with so many hills to do, that helped to break up the monotony. The only issue we had was that so few people were willing or able to work. I found myself being the Fred up front doing most of the work. I didn’t mind as it was all at my own pace so my breathing was controlled and not hurting me. I have good endurance so I just settled into a nice pace with 50 miles to go and pushed the bunch a long.
With 20km to go we reached the toughest part of the course with two category 2 climbs and a brutally steep category 1 climb to get over. These came after 100 miles of racing so it was hard to drag our tired bodies over the top. In the main bunch, Gary and Simon both lost contact on this steep final climb. Even with the lads descending at 62 mph they still couldn’t regain contact and finished 5:40 down on the winners. This was still a fantastic performance by the boys and it keep Gary in 3rd in the A2 competition. I found the climb tough myself and the steepness caused plenty of smaller groups to form from our back group. This resulted in me finishing 2:11 up on the bunch I was in but when you are so far back these time differences mean nothing.
The important thing was that we finished well within the time limit. We were 35 mins down on the winner in the end and that left us with about 20 mins to spare. With this being the toughest stage of the Rás I am feeling a lot more confident that I can finish. I might not be enjoying it as much as I should and I certainly am not racing as well as I should but it is great to know that unless some serious misfortune hits me I should be able to finish.
Tomorrow stage takes us to Clonakilty in Co. Cork. There are plenty more climbs to do and I will probably be out the back early again but I don’t mind that anymore. It could be worse. It is up to Simon and Gary now to do something spectacular for the club. Sure you never know!!
That’s it till tomorrow……