Last Summer I did the 180km version of the Giants Causeway Sportive. A good day out, with a great bunch of people, but we missed the cutoff time to finish over Torr Head and had to take the easy route for the final 10km. As a result, Torr Head was a bit of "unfinished business". The Titanic Torr event this April seemed like an ideal solution – a 200km Audax, starting from Belfast, with Torr Head at about 95km.

I set off from the gates of Stormont, in the second of two groups of riders at about 8 AM on a cloudy Saturday morning. We made our way across the city, past the H&W cranes, heading north along roads and through suburbs, names from the news in the 80's (thankfully no longer making headlines).

The forecast was for sunshine, but it got cloudy as we hit the first big hill. Conversation became muted, broken by the odd pithy observation - "jayz there’s a quare honk of shlurry round here". The sun broke through as we enjoyed two quick descents down to the sea at Glenarm and on to the first checkpoint at Carnlough.

 

A stop at Spar.

 

We made great time along the coast to Cushendall (I figured out why on the way home). The road then looped inland for a 4km warmup climb followed by a fast downhill into Cushendun. Time for the main act!

The Torr road first climb didn’t seem too bad, but there are two sections to it and the second part hits 23% on a sharp bend. I used the full width of the road, my front wheel was lifting, I strayed into the gravel edge and spun the back wheel but made it to the top. Chuffed with myself I had just about got my breath back when hill two kicked in. Another grind, a short respite and into hill three, with a 26% spike in the middle. 500m of downhill and then hill four starts. The scenery was stunning, green hills, blue sea, lambs frolicking beside the road. In the middle of this picture of tranquility, my heart was auditioning for a remake of Alien as it tried to burst out between my ribs. I got past the bit of road that Strava claims is 41% gradient but the hill just went on and on and on. There is an S-bend just short of the top. As I went into the curve I had my entire 88kg on the right pedal. Whatever energy I had was pulling on the left pedal and my bike was stationary. Head says "give up, it will hurt if you fall", heart says "you’ve made it this far keep at it". The left hand pedal decided for me and my cleat came out. Foot down and there was no starting again on that slope (it was only 30%). So I walked the last 100m and enjoyed the 7km down to checkpoint two.

 

Torr Head in the distance.

 

Turning left at Ballyvoy I thought it would be a straightforward 100km home. A stiff SE wind meant this was not to be. I struggled to keep my speed in double figures for the next 8km of ascent, past Loughareema (the vanishing lake) but cheered up on the descent back into Cushendall. After a feed of sandwiches washed down with chocolate milk it was back along the coast road into the leg sapping, skin peeling headwind. My Garmin took me on the wrong side of a fork in the road, and it cost me a bit of time and effort to get back on course. One last checkpoint at Ballynure and in no time I was back on the outskirts of Belfast. Its an interesting city to cycle across. Lots of churches and chinese takeaways, signs for Zumba at an Orange hall, Yoga in a Parish house, kickboxing at a reconciliation centre. Early Saturday evening the boy racers came out. Turbocharged hatchbacks with noisy dump valves scraped bodywork over street ramps as they passed me. The sun was just setting as I arrived back at Stormont (quietly happy that I wasn’t the last home). I enjoyed the Titanic Torr 200. It’s not an easy day in the saddle, but I would definitely recommend it. Great scenery, friendly people, different roads. Torr head is tough but the sense of achievement on completion makes up for that. Many thanks to Stuart McClean for organizing this audax.

 

Torr Head Tip

Take a rest at the TOP of each of the Torr Head climbs. My plan was to rest at the bottom of each descent, before the next climb.

What happened was, as I got to the bottom of each descent, I didn't want to waste momentum - so kept going.   Then when I was 1/3 of the way up the next climb, it was too late to stop and take a breather - so I just had to keep going. (and I didn't figure that out till I got home - doh!)

 

Lies, damn lies and statistics

Dist: 208km, Climb 2264 (strava) / 2832 (garmin corrected), Max gradient 41.1%.

Torr Head. Examine more on Velo Viewer.
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