Reports from the sun-scorched Mount Leinster Challenge and Lap the Gaps below, as well as a slightly more Irish affair at the Etape Mourne! Thanks to Eamonn Eaton, Eileen Byrne, Sinead Kennedy and Dave Carroll for the always welcome contributions!

Updated: now with a Mount Leinster report from Billy Parker


Mount Leinster Challenge

Eamonn Eaton

A large bunch of us had a fantastic day on the Mount Leinster Challenge on Saturday the 17th. As we all headed for the 9.30 start in Enniscorthy - well, most of us. Following their misadventures getting to Carlingford our less than intrepid navigators Lynda Haran and Garret Connolly were reportedly seen in Enniskerry, not Enniscorthy, looking for the start. Happily, they made it with less than 5 minutes to go. But I digress... as we headed for the start, the sun was up and we all knew it would be a perfect day. It was great to see all the white legs released from under the winter layers. Peter Carty however took a slightly different view and like the Master, Sean Kelly, he won’t be baring the legs until it is 20 degrees in the shade. All in all Orwell had a great representation and 46 of us crossed the start line.

A band of Orwells - note the kit segregation.

The first section of the course took us out through Kiltealy, Borris and Bagenalstown and various Orwell trains made good pace and progress. In fact at the front there was a pretty fast pace being set which seasoned sportive cyclists knew not to get caught up in, as it is a long day out and burning up in the first 50k is a recipe for disaster when you have another 90k to go.

John Lanigan and John Twomey’s 200 training group showed the very clear benefits from those long training sessions over the last two months with most of them clocking an eye watering 28+ average kph over the 137k 1,700vm course. The Marmotte Group were also well up in the mix with Adrian Farrell averaging 29.1kph, while his travelling companion for the homeward sprint John Blennerhassett showed us that the old fashioned way of getting out and riding your bike works too. Now if we could just get him and Robbie Sexton an Orwell top!

Out on the road Nicholas Roche clubman Niall O’Shea was seen leading a peloton as was Aishling O’Connor. Breda Horan tucked in nicely and at the end back in Enniscorthy Jackie Smith, Michelle Clifford and Elizabeth Catterall were impressively casually deliberate.

Meanwhile the group I was in had the odd glimpse of Mount Leinster but the route managed to skirt around major hills. Then…we turned for our first approach to the mountain and right on cue the wind started to increase and was coming against us. Corrabut Gap kicked in and the grinding of ill prepared gears signalled the first significant climb of the day . At the time of writing Pat O’Brien pictured below coming to the top of top of the gap holds the KOM for the day (and 2nd overall). Further back, Jonny O’Reilly edges out Garret Connolly and a very fast finishing Bruce Campbell for bragging rights.

Pat O'Brien taking the KOM prize

Campbell, Connolly and O'Reilly on Corrabut

We regrouped at the top of the gap before heading up en masse the remaining 4 or 5k to the summit of Mount Leinster itself – offering spectacular views as far as the eye could see. The 3 burnt out cars in the valley sadly being a testament to less Arcadian activities. Before long the hair raising descent came and went with everyone safely over the infamous cattle grids. On to Kiltealy for the food stop. I hope they were prepared for the hungry Orwell vultures who proceeded to consume everything in sight. In fairness the catering was excellent so that wasn't hard to do.

The vultures!

Fully refreshed we set out once again and a few km out the road waved goodbye to those sensible individuals doing the 100k route. Juliet Byrne, Jean Wilson and Eileen Byrne among those who chose to enjoy the wonderful Wexford sunshine in an agrarian setting. The rest of us headed on to Bunclody before looping back for a second go at traversing Mount Leinster. Despite not having to do Corrabut again it felt tougher the second time around with the wind now quite strong and against us, not to mention carrying extra ballast weighed down as we were with fruit cake , scones and sandwiches aplenty. Coming off the descent we rolled into Kiltealy for a second time before the invisible start flag was the signal for the hammer to go down, and every man , woman and child was left to fend for themselves. A group of about ten including (I think, as I wasn’t there) the Horan sisters Ann & Helen held together while Barry O’Donnell with his witty shirt rode effortlessly. Behind them Pat O’Brien set a nice tempo for a bunch of riders from a number of different clubs. Billy Parker and Stephen Ryan (who wants to thank Billy and Pat for giving him their water when in a dehydrated state) nursed themselves home, Gerry O’Connor came in beaming from ear to ear at the lovely day out and before too long the rest of us made our way back at our own sportive pace to Enniscorthy where a medal and a cup of tea or coffee awaited and a chance to lay out and chill basking both in the sun and the warm afterglow of a good days effort in the saddle.

It was a really well run event on a fabulous early summers day in great company making a cycle to remember. As the race organisers said ' we achieved something today that ordinary members of the public could only dream about'.

We had a great day!


Eileen Byrne also put together this movie slideshow of the day!


Strava and the Mount Leinster Challenge 2014

Billy Parker

There were Garmins galore in Enniscorthy on a bright sunny Saturday morning for the start of the Mount Leinster Challenge and many of them on bikes belonging to the fine men and women of Orwell Wheelers who assembled in magnificent numbers for this challenging sportive.

Strava would be in overdrive later as the data was analysed, scrutinised compared and then regarded or discarded.

Srava is a great social media invention for cyclists however Strava has no texture, no colour, no aroma, no personality and no homespun humour. It provides averages and maximums and personal records but some critical data and information that Strava will not provide for the Mount Leinster Challenge:

Average mood: Spirits were high as the unfamiliar sun warmed our backs while we queued for cappuccinos and lattes at the welcome mobile coffee shop. A complimentary caffeine from the friendly, generous and very well organised Slaney Cycling Club who run the event. Every second cyclist seemed to be wearing the Orwell kit (and a few retro old jerseys were also in evidence on the day). Strava will not record the proud smile on Stephen’s face as he surveyed the Orwell members as they gathered and greeted and contributed in many ways throughout a memorable day.

Average age: the range was staggering from a 12 year old that I met at the start to the 75 year old who I met at the end. I spoke with him last year at the end of the Mick Byrne in Dalkey and he amazingly looked even fitter and younger one year later. He told me he has a 32 on the back and a 30 on the front. Somewhat sadly he confided that because of his age he cycles mostly on his own and it can get lonely at times. I think we would all settle for a spot of lonely cycling at his age rather than no cycling at all. He embodies what the sport has to offer.

Average skin colour: Mostly white with some tan lines and brown legs but not that deep brown which is reserved for the professional ranks. The lack of sunshine in recent times was evident as cyclists changed into their kit at the back of cars and glistened following the unforeseen application of sun cream. Rere seats revealed many jettisoned arm warmers, rain jackets and gillets as the crucial decision was made to trust the weather and the day. It proved to be a very fine day indeed.

Average ability: Orwell were represented across the full spectrum of leisure colour groups, from white to red. It included many of the mammoth Marmotte contingent whose event is looming large on their horizon, some Etape hopefuls and a justifiably smug Liege-Bastogne-Liege duo for whom there is little left to prove in leisure cycling. However for some this was their first really challenging sportive and they were the real heroes and heroines of the day. They performed magnificently over a tough course and the feared Corbutt Gap. It was also a wonderful and unexpected honour and pleasure to have the company of many of Orwell’s finest male and female racers ranging from A4 to A1. They were a hugely welcome addition to the Orwell leisure outing and we are sure they enjoyed the rare opportunity to sit up, chat, and God forbid, stop for coffee. They are all most welcome again to any of the leisure events.

Kings and Queens: The kings and queens of mountains are not always the well trained and honed cyclists who harbour no doubt about their ability to get to the top and who know that they can out run and out last the suffering in their legs and in their lungs as they have been there so often. The real kings and queens are those who have not tackled such a climb before, are plagued with self-doubt and for whom a certain level of trepidation constricts their chest. All in Orwell who conquered such fears on Mount Leinster wear your crown with pride.

Personal Record: I obtained a few PRs from Strava for the Mount Leinster but it did not record my most valuable PR of the day – the length of time cycling with elite racers. My previous PR in this important category was about one nano second with Brian McA during the Suir Valley 3 day last year as the peloton thundered through a few of us leisure cyclists on the Tour of Kilkenny. However following the sumptuous food stop in Kiltealy I innocently rolled out with the main group and wondered how long before they moved into second or third gear and left me gasping out the back. The pace, to my delight, remained friendly as they chatted and settled back into rhythm and it was then I spotted my opportunity for a PR.

Brian was at the front and the formation was a bit unsettled. I somewhat cheekily manoeuvred my way through the group and my aim was to quietly position myself beside Brian. My cunning plan worked as I pulled in beside him and at the same time cleverly ensured that I slowed down the entire group. We chatted away as my PR grew exponentially and I proudly cycled with the big boys for a few kilometres.

The pace in the final 25k was too much for me so I quietly and gladly slipped off the back. John T kindly kept me company until we encountered Brian and Pat, both having eased back to accompany Stephen who was bravely battling severe cramping. It was a lesson and demonstration in support and selflessness to witness these elite cyclists lending a helping hand. I happily peddled with Stephen as the lads headed on and I was very glad to see the outskirts of Ennisorthy come into view as I was well and truly cooked.

Nonetheless a proud PR but not showing on my Strava!


Lap the Gaps

Sinead Kennedy

Last year’s Lap the Gaps had to be abandoned in Laragh due to snow, sleet and high winds! Some difference this year! Sunshine and warmth, wind was a little high but after last year’s apocalypse it was heaven.

Over 600 cyclists arrived in Blessington for a choice of two routes, 50km and 100km.

Orwell was well represented I spotted at least 5 of us, including Ken O’Neill, Mervyn Bent, Shane Phelan and Nicole Bork out there.

The great thing on this sportive is the banter, most people know each other from the Galway Cycle which is held in March. Lap the Gaps is run by some of those marshals. It like an annual reunion party!

The route starts with a lap of the Blessington lakes, turning right at Manor Kilbride for Sally Gap. A familiar descent down past Glenmacnass in a head wind and into the Brockagh centre for a feast!

Up and over the Wicklow Gap, in a head wind, didn't we just have one the other direction? Stunning scenery as always, looking even better with clear blue skies and sunshine! No short cuts to Blessington, Hollywood was our last little climb then a long, fast flat back to the GAA club HQ.

The event is fantastically run, the on road support is amazing, photographers, marshals, crew and friendly cyclists makes this sportive one of my favourites by far. Over €12,000 was raised for Down's Syndrome Ireland, every penny from registration went to the charity & at €20pp it's well worth the donation! Pencil it in the diary for next year!!

Sinead lapping the Gaps

[ Ed note – Sinead is too modest to tell us herself but on Friday she completed another sportive the 100k BT cycle in aid of motor neurone disease where she was first woman home and 5th overall – we know It’s Not A Race but still…)

The BT Cycle crew - see if you can spot Sinead!


Meanwhile Dave Carroll did the unthinkable and headed up to do the Etape Mourne the day after doing the Mount Leinster challenge. Here is his report.


Etape Mourne

Dave Carroll

The 2014 Etape Mourne took place on 18th May. The 2013 event which took place on the October bank holiday weekend was a wash out from what I heard and looking at the skies on the morning of the event it looked like history might repeat itself. The event has two routes – a 70km route with a vertical ascent of 1420m and a 110km route with a vertical ascent of 2001m. I signed up for the latter but having done Mount Leinster the previous day I was wondering what I had let myself in for. Before we started we all gathered around for the safety briefing. The only part of this which I heard was the organisers telling all cyclists that it was not a race, then to be informed that the routes would be chip timed with two King of the Mountain prizes!

The 110km route rolled out through the timing mats at 9am with the skies looking very overcast. The first 5 km was lovely and pleasant but then the hills started! We then had a 15 km drag to the top of the mountain, a quick descent over the other side and then back up the way we came down. This was the flavour of the day with us getting to the top of the same peak and then taking various loops around minor roads and going back to the same peak from a different part of the mountain. The mountain is very open therefore the scenery along the route was great and the condition of the roads was also very good, with any pot holes or bad surfaces clearly marked. The organisation was first class along the entire route with two marshals at what seemed like every junction and motorbike riders doing loops to make sure everyone was okay. The route was also heavily sign posted and there were 2 food stations which we passed 4 times and which I cleared of Jaffa Cakes.

The weather held pretty well until I was around 75 km through, then the skies opened for the next 20 km. The only positive was that it helped keep me cool going up the hills. I was on my own for pretty much all of the route as there was no other Orwell contingent. I started with a friend but we got separated at the start and only met up again at the end. I forgot how tough it can be cycling out of a group however I will put today down as a character building day.

I would highly recommend this event to people who like climbing hills. We were very well looked after by the organisers plus the event is sponsored by Chainreaction Cycles so you get a nice goodie bag to take home with you. All in all a great day out.

Dave with proof that he at least registered!