The National 400

The National 400 took place on the weekend of Sat 11th of May, 400 Km overnight and into Sunday afternoon evening. Participants had 27 hours from 19-00 on Saturday to complete a course circling, Portlaoise, Kilkenny, Waterford, Wexford and back through Blessington, finishing at Joe Daly’s.

Thirty odd Randonneurs signed on at the start and were briefed about controls, potential food stops and hazards around the course. Most were experienced cyclists taking on what is usually seen as the most difficult distance as you do not really have enough time to build some sleep into the cycle. It is not like you do 200 today and rest then do another 200 tomorrow. The 27 hours must include food stops or mechanical problems. Often a successful Audax is as much about how you manage the logistics as the ability to cycle the distance.

Thinking logistics the 11 or so Orwell cyclists who have the PBP 2019 on their mind were not only using this as a qualifier for Paris but also a dry run of what shall be our first night. Our group in France is a mixed ability group, including cyclists who have completed these long distances and cyclists who have yet to reach this mark. It is also fair to say that some could complete it far faster then others. We were all a bit nervous and spent a good part of Saturday WhatsApping last details of kit, tire pressure and random stuff.

At 19-00 planning became a reality as we started off on our journey, suggested breaks and food stops all penciled in along the way. Nice sunny evening, good temperatures and no rain. Riding along in a group making good time and stopping briefly on the Curragh to don Hi Viz and light up. Shortly before Monasterevin I hit a pothole and my back light dropped off scattering the batteries. This is where planning comes in to play. Firstly, I collect the bits of the light to repair later and quickly clipped on my reserve red light. Secondly two of the stronger riders stayed with me and dragged me back to the main group. We had made good time to Potlaoise and once again the needs of a Randonneur to plan for problems was indicated with a broken gear cable. Luckily for the rider concerned some one had a spare, unluckily for Dave he felt obliged to help. Joe Daly’s Cycles legendary customer service extends to Laois and Saturday nights!

Portlaoise was a control which means each participant had to get proof of passage - a receipt usually. Then onto the suggested last food stop of a 24-hour McDonalds in Kilkenny. The looks on the faces of other customers were priceless as twenty odd looking cyclists roll in over an hour period. Unfortunately, Michael had to retire at this point as his knee was not right, he looked utterly dejected.

At this point I was also ready to say good bye to the group as the pace was just a little to quick for me and I had real fears about becoming a bust. You only need to be on the wrong side of a given intensity and you will blow up. Right side and you can continue, thankfully the group modified the pace which was enough for me to recover and on we rolled into the night.

The night was cold, from sunshine at the start to a couple of degrees at night, everyone was feeling it, scrambling for extra clothes. Pitch dark and we carry on to Waterford Station and an information control. Usually a question about some thing screwed to the wall beside a door. Sure enough, the sign beside the door had 1916 on it.

Climbing the hill heading towards New Ross the dawn chorus has started and the sky is getting brighter in the east. We reached the only manned control in Arthurstown and Kashif was handing out food tea and signing Brevet Cards. Chapeau to Kashif for the effort he made to be there that early and to complete the organiser spin on his own the week before too.

It’s light but still very cold and misty. Sunshine comes later but the sleepy water side village looks magical at that time. On the section to Wexford the road surface is poor, it’s still cold and I’m starting to nod off cycling the bike. It is a safety concern, but I manage to push through to the surreal breakfast stop.  For most long cycles a food stop is a petrol station, Centra or “oh luxury a McDonalds “.

Ah, but in Wexford it was The Whitford House Hotel and with Valerie’s impeccable good taste, she leads us into the Hotel and suggests “good place for breakfast, yes!”, no one argued. Crisp white table linen, full cooked breakfast, brewed coffee, knives, forks, tea pot, cup saucer, a choice of cereals, juice, toast - it was heaven! Plus, some conversation about the quality of the sheets that might be on the beds in the rooms, the idea of sleep. As it turned out the owner’s father rode The Rás so cyclists are always welcome.

Well fed and rested and staying a little to long we started off for home, quickly shedding layers of clothes as the temperature rises to shorts and short sleeve jerseys plus sunblock. Seriously we were cold then we are reaching for the sunblock. A few years ago, on this route I was reaching for a snorkel and flippers, that’s Audaxing in Ireland

We hit Bunclody and a quick water stop, then the long climb heading out of town, we splinter a bit but by the time we get to Tullow we are together. For most of the morning there was a lot of motor traffic with many vintage Escorts going by. Tullow is home to a gang of Petrol Heads for the day attending some event featuring cars of all types.

It is often a feature that a few extra breaks fall into the schedule, we stopped at Tullow for a time but nearly cut out the Baltinglass stop, only filled water bottles and electing to push on to Blessington instead. After Tullow we started to put together a pace line which is efficient when riders are tired and emotional. Everyone takes their turn, the transitions at the front are smoother and you only must concentrate on maintaining a reasonable tempo. It allows the riders who are stronger to pull longer and the ones who are tired to protect themselves better.

We hit Blessington and it was home as far as we were concerned from there it was a short spin down the Embankment to Joe Daly’s and a welcome from all the many people who helped through the day. Tea coffee cake, a seat, a big wide seat, a ACP 400, and Audax Ireland 400 medal.

And in case you wondered - yes, most of us cycled home.

The weather was amazing, the people who organised the event did a great job and we were all pretty happy with the way it worked out. For most of us it has given us confidence that we can take on the PBP 2019 and complete it in August. Yes, we have learnt a bit and even now during the following week there is some conversation about improving our plan.

Next try out is the Eoin McLove 600 in about three weeks.