Slack winds, intermittent sunshine and a slight chill in the air to keep you moving – what more could you ask for? On Sunday in Broadford I made my tentative return to bike racing with the A3 Category consisting of four 17km loops (68km in total) with a testing hill about 4km long at the end of each lap. The lap then concluded with a long winding decent to the finish.
On the start line I experienced a mixture of emotions; on the one hand, an eagerness to test myself once again on the bike, while on the other, a gut fraught with nerves. This was to be the first time since my notorious bone-breaker of a crash to cycle as part of a bunch. In addition I was only back on the bike three weeks which didn’t exactly stroke my confidence.
The hooter sounded and we pushed forward in a cacophony of clipping cleats and whooshing wheels. Starting in the middle of the group, I felt immediately uncomfortable, hemmed in on all four sides by the peleton; it created a similar sensation to that of claustrophobia. Familiar faces including Stuart ‘the beach boy’ MacMahon, the stoical Mike Yelverton, the young pretender Aaron O’Brien and the great Irish cycling prospect Stephen Clancy helped to ease my sense of discomfort but halfway into the first lap I’d had enough and vaulted to the front of the peleton where I could breathe freely once again. Beyond a slight increase in exertion on the first climb and easily reeled in breakaway group, the first lap was largely uneventful.
Come the second lap however I could sense a move coming from behind thanks to the tell-tale sound of rapid gear changes. A speed session devised by ‘boss-man’ T.Lynch during the week helped counter the attack when it came. Despite still leading the peletonat this stage, I just had enough energy in reserve to bridge the gap to the three breakaway riders. Aquick glance over the shoulder confirmed we were away. That sense of exhilaration you get in achieving a breakaway filled my muscles with adrenalin induced power and I led the breakaway further from the front of the peleton. However, despite our progress two of our four man group fell by the wayside and it was now only a duo of which I was doing 80% of the work. “We need more riders to share the work” my fellow escapee said, which I couldn’t comprehend as we were increasing the gap on the peleton all the time. As ii turned out, he also dropped away and it was now a solo run with over 2 and a half laps to go and 3 more accents of the hill yet to negotiate. Managing to get almost a 1 km lead at one stage I had to give up the ghost by the top of the 2nd climb, not strong enough yet to sustain an attack on my own. In catching me though, the peleton had split with only 20 riders now joining me.
Entering the penultimate lapriders began to attack more of often but nothing proved fruitful. Again there was a heave up the hill led by the formidable climber Steven Clancy but the 20-strong group remained tight. The final lap was to be the decider then. Another solo breakawayby Eoin Cummins from Blarneydefined the race and this brave rider went onto win, massive respect deserved for that kind of honest riding. As for the rest of us, it was always going to come down to thefinal hill. Mike Yelverton and Damien Roche (of West Clare cycling club but a regular on the triathlon scene and well known to the Limerick Tri fraternity) looked frisky as did Steven Clancy.
As we began the ascent for the last time I drifted to the back of the group and fell of the tail of the group, nothing behind me now but open country. My earlier breakaway efforts and general front riding had taken its toll and I was suffering badly as I struggled to stay in touch. “That’s it, race over” was the overriding voice in my head. But no, as we hit the steepest part of the climb I found a renewed lease of life, the proverbial second wind, and came back through the riders into about 6th or 7th position. This was a crucial move as the long winding decent to the finish would prove to be scintillatingly fast making passing out other riders next to impossible. Veering around the last bend and kicking into the home straight we all sprinted desperately for the line withStephen Clancy sailing past me on the right to clinch 4thplace, his track cycling credentials shining through. I managed 9th myself while Mike took 11th and Damien Roche finished an excellent 2nd overall besting all of us in the group sprint (the earlier solo breakaway rider – Eoin Cummins – clinched 1st).
The rest of the peleton finished soon after with a rising Limerick star- Aaron O’Brien – finishing comfortably in the group accompanied by Stuart Mac Mahon showing real grit throughout the day. Congratulations are also in order forLouis Kelleher (the love child of Limerick Triathlon Club who ended up hanging around with the wrong crowd – Belpark – but we still see the good in him!) who won the A4 race on the day, a force to be reckoned with this coming season. Next stop on the race calendar for the tri contingent is the challenging Adare 10k. I hope everyone is as content with that event as they were on Sunday.