A weekend of great weather for cycling meant plenty of miles in the legs for leisure riders. Below we bring you two accounts, first Kevin Connaire takes us through the Sligo Champions Sportive, and then Eamonn Eaton describes the Tour de Foothills, where Orwell riders made up about 10% of the total turnout!

Also with JT's account of the Tour of Wicklow!


Škoda Cycle Series – Sligo Champions Sportive

Kevin Connaire

The first of the Škoda Cycle Series for 2014 took place in Sligo on Saturday, April 5th, 2014. Total distance of 102.8km; total ascent 708 metres and a maximum elevation of 92.2 metres at 63km.

Evelyn Cusack promised that the day would start off with light showers, but it would brighten from the west from late morning. I have never known Evelyn to break her promise – and she lived up to my expectations. Kitted out to greet a vast array of enthusiastic cyclists, the grounds of the Sligo Park Hotel looked spectacular. Banners, buntings and flags displaying the Škoda label danced in the gentle breeze, keeping time to the sound of the latest releases of pop / rock music.

Registrations took place inside in the Sligo Park Hotel, where friendly staff recoded our details and bestowed a “Skoda Bag of Goodies” on us, to help us on our way. They even guaranteed us that we would not be disappointed with the country side in which we were about to embark, bathed in sunshine and perhaps the odd sprinkle of “soft rain”.

Cyclists came from far and near, with very good representation from the West of Ireland and Midland Cycling clubs in particular. I kept my eyes out for the “Orwell Wheeler” familiar kit – but alas, I could see none! The countdown began and after the customary photo and cheer from eager cyclists and onlookers, we were on our way. The rain, as Evelyn promised stopped as we left the car park and headed towards Enniscrone. The pace was brisk initially, as we were conscious that there was a large contingent of 50 K cyclists not far behind. The 105km group were given a head start of five minutes over the 50km group. As we headed out towards Ballisodare, the sun dried up the dampness that remained on the road from the earlier showers, making for very pleasant road conditions.

The countryside was relatively flat, with the odd “gentle” incline. Fresh and health country smells made their way through a gentle breeze, remaining us that we were in the heart of good farmland country. It was not long before the enthusiastic 50 K group caught up with us, encouraging and praising us in our endeavours to cycle through the rolling Sligo countryside. It was not long before they turned off (at 26K) for their food stop and return trip to the Sligo Park Hotel.

As we passed between Screen and Templeboy, we could catch a glimpse of the famous Aughris Head to the North – but alas, time did not permit to stop to admire the views. Onwards and westwards, Iniscrone beckoned in the distance, where we were promised at the start that refreshments would be available there in abundance. We were not disappointed, as the locals provided us with a "Céad Mile Fáilte", a range of freshly made sandwiches, bananas, Jaffa cakes, tea, coffee, and water – no mean feat for the locals to feed such a hungry mob descending on the quiet community.

After a 25 minute break, it was time to “shorten the road”. We headed South East along the N59 on the return journey to Sligo. At 57km, we headed North East, signalling the onwards and upwards road to Sligo. It was not long before we were travelling parallel to our outward journey route, and regular marshals were located along the route, encouraging us and bestowing us with good cheer and laughter. Small towns were scattered along the route, with well wishers waving us on, and some thanking us for supporting the worthy cause, which, in this case was the Abbeyquarter Community Centre Afterschool Service. (The service provides homework support and includes a wide range of activities). It was not too long before Sligo town beckoned on the signposts. Arriving in Ballysodare, it didn’t seem like 4 hours since we had been through the town in our outward journey. Arriving back to the Sligo Park Hotel, we were greeted with refreshments, photographers, well wishers, and even a complementary massage should you so wish. Showers were also made available to us in the hotel.

Overall, it was a very enjoyable day out- with great company, lovely scenery, good weather, lovely food and all for a very worthwhile cause. I look forward to returning again next year.


Tour de Foothills

Eamonn Eaton

Orwell Wheelers had a great day out yesterday at the Kare Tour de Foothills in Kildare. We had over 45 participants out of a total of 450 who took part in the event. Our new kit attracted a lot of attention and we were so busy posing for group photos that we ended up close to the back of the field at the mass start to the event. This turned out to be a good move as we safely navigated the crowded early stages of the event.

Just after Craddockstown Golf Course the Orwell Train really started to move. John Twomey and Diarmuid Donnelly lifted the pace and led the charge up the outside towards the front. We settled into a very brisk pace and made good progress towards the 45k mark where John revealed he was taking the short route as his mother had a fry waiting for him at home – thanks for pushing us along! The next time we saw Diarmuid he was freshly showered and rested as we rolled in at the end.

It looked like everything was going perfectly at that point but then Helen Horan had a technical. Her gear cable snapped and she had to complete a number of big climbs to the food station at Donard in top gear. She cycled like superwoman and passed a few of us as she powered up hill.

The food stop at 60k gave us the opportunity to have a bite to eat – lovely fruit cake – and regroup the team and then the train was back on the road again. We continued to make good progress into the strong wind that seemed to change direction to be head on with every turn in the road. Once we hit 100k we found new life and passed many struggling cyclists on the road. We even picked up a few and managed to drag them home.

Total cycling time was 4 hours and 20 minutes with an very respectable average speed just over 27km ph. We received many compliments on smart appearance, cycling ability and willingness to help others along. We must bring applications for club membership the next time.


Well done to all, especially one of the team who managed to complete the event with no shoes
(no names but if you look closely at third from right in photo you might see Plan B)


Škoda Cycle Series – Tour of Wicklow

John Twomey

With cycling becoming the new golf in Ireland, the amount of corporate sponsorship entering the sport is becoming more and more apparent. In the last few years, the sportive aspect has dominated by the An Post series which regularly have thousands of entries throughout the country. This year has seen Škoda enter this market with their own series of events and following a great opener in Sligo, it seemed the organisers for their second one : The Tour of Wicklow, had a lot to live up to. Having registration open the night before was great as it allowed any local cyclists (myself included) who had planned to cycle to the start to drop in, register and collect the usual goodie bag without having to worry about where to store this on the day.

As the alarm went off at 7:30am, I climbed out of bed and peered out the window praying for no wind/rain/sleet/snow/Noah's ark to be passing and thankfully was greeted with blue skies with the apparent promise of heat. Following a quick breakfast, decisions were made on how many clothing layers would be needed. This however was quickly revised outside the front door once the slight spring chill began to seep in as I performed the Macarena while searching for my front door keys in my jersey pockets. One extra layer later and now nicely toasty, I freewheeled down to the meeting point where my partner in crime for the day Stephen Hayden was patiently waiting for me. Between chatting about the potential winner for Paris-Roubaix and trying to figure out the exact route we were to take that day, we arrived at the starting point Bray Emmet's GAA club before we even realized it. Orwell members seemed to be thin on the ground and we suspected with the Tour of the Foothills due to take place the following day, a lot of people were keeping their powder dry. However, we did spot a certain Mr Gleeson in the distance and another group who had decided to do the shorter version of the event.

Following the usual speeches and final notes, the customary flag was dropped and we slowly made our way of the GAA club and towards Enniskerry. Making our way quickly through the village and onto Calary hill we could already we could hear some creaking of knees and frames as both body and machine were put under pressure. Even that early, we could see that for some people it was going to be a long day. Once we crested the hill, a group of about 20 riders formed and despite a strong headwind, we worked well together and swiftly made our way through Roundwood, Annamoe, Laragh and on into Rathdrum.

Having local knowledge of the terrain was a great thing and as we climbed out of Rathdrum we began to drift towards the back of the group. The pace had increased and we knew that with Shay Elliot coming up, there was no point in burning too many matches too soon. A few other riders had the same idea and this diminished group started Shay Elliot together which we paced ourselves up there very well. There was as per usual a little competitive spirit and a sprint ensued in the last 100 meters. Rather than calling out who was first over, can I just say that cycling was the winner… A bumpy descent followed and upon reaching the bottom, we came across some of the Orwell Etape crew of Colm and Sinead who had headed off a little earlier to avoid the crowds. We regrouped and headed to Laragh for a well-deserved food stop where tea and sandwiches were consumed quickly.

Leaving the food stop, we were directed back towards Roundwood but just 100m outside Laragh, a marshal directed us up a saucy climb that woke the heart and legs up very quickly. Colm was showing that all the work he did over the winter for the upcoming assault on the Etape was paying dividends and quickly disappeared up the road while the rest of us sat back and enjoyed the views of a lesser travelled road. With the many accents and descents, our little group split up and by the time we got to the Lugala crossroads, there was only myself and Stephen together. With dark clouds beginning to gather over the mountains, we knew that we should push on and try to limit our time on high ground so headed off along the Djouse road.

We enjoyed the few descents that came our way and consumed the last of our gels before reaching the turnoff for the Powerscourt waterfall and our final climb up to Glencree. The number of riders on the road had severely diminished at this stage as we thought the route and promise of rain had scared off a lot of people so we began this final climb alone. This last climb was a leg breaker and as had been threatening, the rain began to hit us in sheets as we struggled towards the top. We were joined by one of the brave riders who made the turn and so the three of us struggled those last few kms. Kudos to the poor marshal who was standing in the middle of the road getting buffeted by the wind and rain as she offered encouragement while we the crested the climb.

A very quick descent into Enniskerry followed and we were thankfully guided back to the start via an easy route. Upon arrival from the amount of cars in the car park, it seemed there was a lot left out on the road and we were pleased to get a steaming cup of tea and some sandwiches into the stomachs. Overall a very well-run event. Great route and lots of marshals. I heard afterwards that some people thought the food stop was poor as some food was sparse and that the marshalling around Enniskerry near the end was absent. A few riders missed the turn and ended up nearly in Stepaside but thankfully we didn't have such problems. Congrats to the organisers on their first running of this event and I look forward to next year's.


Some of the other Orwell riders in Wicklow: Colm Egan and Dave Donohue with Sinead Kennedy