Reports from Connemara and the Mick Byrne this week, courtesy of Michael Staunton and Colm Featherstone, with a few colourful pictures too!

Updated: now with Ann Horan's speed-dating adventures around Lough Derg!

Tour de Connemara

Michael Staunton

The Tour de Conamara is a sportive based in Clifden, Co Galway and is held on some of the most scenic roads in the country. It has 80k and 140k routes with a relatively small amount of climbing and has something for everyone.

If the event last year was dominated by lots of rain, then this year was all about the Wind! We had sunshine, warm weather and a brisk northerly breeze. Last year we got lashed on for the full day so it was a very different experience this year.

As I am well used to making the journey West (Mayo man), I am usually greeted with rain and unpleasant weather upon arriving on the west coast a lot of the time… To my surprise the opposite happened this Friday. As I drove into Clifden on Friday evening I was greeted with glorious sunshine but a brisk northerly wind was blowing.

After a quick bite to eat in Clifden I headed for bed early. We booked an apartment at the Station House in Clifden and would thoroughly recommend it as a base, as the start was literally outside my door.

Michael and John at the finish

At registration early the next morning there was a real buzz around the place. The sun was shining and everyone was in great spirits. I must say I was impressed with the rain jacket received as part of the event.

As we waited for the mass start I could see that Orwell was well represented with Jerseys scattered around the start area. I’m not a huge fan of mass starts like this and it was a bit chaotic getting out on the road due to the narrow starting area.

Once out on the open road we started to make great progress and had a stiff tailwind at our backs for the first 30/40k. The group of friends from Mayo that I was doing the event with decided to skip the first food stop after 50k and plough on to the Maam food stop at 90k. Last year the first stop was a disaster with long queues for tea/sandwiches and was badly organised. They learnt their lesson though and this year I heard reports from other riders that it ran smoothly and was well stocked with cake and sandwiches and well organised. No sign of carrot cake or red wine though!

The next 40k was very tough as we battled a head wind of about 25kph. To say it was slow progress was an understatement! A serious dose of HTFU was needed for this bit. The scenery in this part of the world in breath-taking and I have to say it is probably the most scenic route I have done. By the time we got to food stop in Maam I was getting rather fed up with the head wind but I knew that we were turning around shortly in Leenane and we would have it at our backs for the run home. At this food stop I bumped into Louise Keane and Gráinne Coghlan. They seemed to be flying it and looked as fresh as daisies.

Louise and Gráinne

With 50k to go we took off for home. Sure enough after the left turn in Leenane we were greeted with a glorious tailwind and it blew us back to Clifden.

At the finish line we were given a medal as a memento of the day and of course a couple of photos on the Skoda podium. I think the medal was a nice touch and the warm welcome at the end by the organisers and the skoda crew was great.

Overall it was a great day and a very well-run event. The atmosphere around the whole place for the weekend is brilliant and it is definitely a permanent fixture on my sportive calendar now. Needless to say a few pints of Guinness were sank in Clifden that night and the place really was buzzing.

David Donohoe and Pat


Mick Byrne

Colm Featherstone

I think like most people I googled Met Eireann many times in advance of the first outing for the 100k training group, I don't know if we know the difference between an audax, randonnée or sportive, we were told by our leader, the infamous Denis Gleeson (who jetted off to Turkey), that it was a long spin with undulating hills, and named yours truly as his second captain.

The line out for the 10am start was as follows: Colm Featherstone, Colm Agnew, Emma Perry, Bernadette Tansey Daly, Judith Byrne, Jackie Smith, Simon Kelehan, Stephen Downey and Bryan Johnston.

Full of enthusiasm we set out at 9.45, to find out that the first climb was only 100 yards up the road, OMG, too late to ditch the Orwell winter jersey. We soldiered on up the Vico and heard some great stories of old, from the group about late night visits to this iconic beauty spot.

Hills Hills Hills, the temperature was rising and went into overdrive when Bernie stopped in Enniskerry for a wardrobe malfunction. "...She wore an itssy bittsy teeny weeny..."- sorry what goes on tour, stays on tour. Onwards and upwards upwards upwards.

On the Coach Road, we had our first faller, when the second captain stopped suddenly from exhaustion, only to forget to signal his intention to Bryan Johnston behind who hilariously fell into the ditch, great excuse to stop for a few minutes.

The sight of the black slope ahead (Old Long Hill) silenced the bravest among the group, but our spirits were raised considerably on reaching the top by the " the man from Delmonte " who treated us to juicy melon slices and a friendly Sorrento smile.

At this stage we all took off like the hammers for Roundwood, " white group me arse" the weather was looking up and the legs were glad to be spinning again. We had the pleasure of turning off after Roundwood for "Moneystown", yes "Moneystown". Well they did not spend any of it on the roads, shocking surface from there all the way to Laragh.

Great scenery in this neck of the woods, and the 10k for Laragh sign gave us all a boost, the thought of Sunday lunch put a bit of a spurt into the legs " beef or salmon sir " Judith had a little mishap but was assisted ably by the group. The sun came out as we arrived in Laragh and a much awaited break was enjoyed by all.

We were in awe at lunch when the Orwell 160k group arrived, not a bead of sweat in sight on their sculptured bodies, one of them is rumoured to have eaten a ginger nut, oh mon duit. We sat meekly in the corner eating our hang sandwiches but happy in the knowledge that we were half way there. First puncture outside Brockagh Centre, a sign of things to come.

Part deux, a trip to see the Waterfall, but in fairness we all kept pedalling on and rode comfortably to the top helped by Eileen Byrne From the 160k group. A short stop on reaching the summit was welcome, and Judith had another mishap and fell for Emma and both ended on the deck. A long stretch to Sally lay ahead, and we all dug in as the rocky road to Dublin beckoned.

Yes the 100k group made it to the holy grail of the Orwell Wheelers, "the Sally gap" and then motored on down the road towards the city. We parted company at Glencree with Stephen Downey and a lovely girl from Kerry, Mairead who entertained us all day long. The second captain had his first puncture on the descent of Camolin, but true to the Orwell "Esprit de Corp" his faithful bunch of fellow cyclists waited patiently in Enniskerry. Their patience was truly tested when the boss had another puncture in Shankill. Anyway a good excuse for a bag of sweets from the garage.

The last prime up by Bono's gaff, capped a "beautiful day" had by all, a great bunch, a great club, and great hosts. Roll on Wicklow challenge.

Paraic, Jonny, Arnold (guest), Gertrude, Lynda, Dave, Sinead, Pat, Dave, Marie, Eugene (160s all) waiting for Colm and his gang to come in


Tour of Lough Derg

Ann Horan

I decided to venture down to Killarney for the weekend after a phone call from my mother wondering if she'd ever see me again. Sometimes cycling takes over and you find yourself putting the bike before many things that should be significantly more important. Generally, wherever I go these days my bike comes with me... weddings, hen parties, you name it! After a quick search on, I noted with satisfaction that North Tipp Wheelers were hosting a sportif around Lough Derg on Sunday. There were to be two groups doing speeds of 22kph and 29kph controlled by a lead car. The slower group would start at 9.30 and the speedier group at 10.30. Perfect! Nothing like a 120km cycle to break up a long car journey!

I found myself pulling into the carpark of the Lakeside Hotel in Ballina at 9, having completely miscalculated my arrival time. I could have done with that extra hour in bed. The 9.30 group were gearing up for the off. Many of the 60 could be heard questioning their sanity as the sky was dispensing a consistent drizzle. Luckily there was a table laden with tea, coffee and a selection of biscuits to keep me and those left, occupied for another hour. When it became clear to all that I would be joining the faster group I was given a bit of a quizzing from the male cyclists gathered around... what kind of cycling did I do? And did I travel all the way down from Dublin especially for the event? I explained the reason for my presence and became resigned to the fact that I would be the only woman cycling with 50 men. Shortly before departure two of the Nenagh CC girls (one of whom I knew from racing) appeared in the leisure centre, sodden-looking from the cycle over.

Ann rolling out (in light blue jacket) from the car park

We all shuffled outside and located our bikes. Rain jackets were zipped up, clear lenses selected and Garmins switched on. The event organiser reminded everyone that it was a leisure cycle, not a race and that everyone should stay behind the lead car 'til Portroe at which point he would blow a whistle. Everyone would then be free to complete the last 20k as fast or as slowly as they wished. The group quickly settled into an orderly two by two formation. Stronger riders braved the front while weaker riders positioned themselves on the left hoping that the foodstop might come before they'd have to take their turn in the wind.

As we cycled, one rider inquired as to why there were so few women cycling in clubs. As I pedalled, I pondered his question and came up with a few possible answers... Undoubtedly lycra is one... its unflattering nature and the way cycling shorts slice into the fleshiest part of one's thighs. Bike mechanics and shamefully ending up on first name terms with your local bike mechanic because you can't change your own brake pads or figure out what's causing that annoying clicking sound... The speed and the danger it brings. Seeing and hearing tell of crashes and knowing that you could end up with facial scars that no make up will cover. What can I say? Women are vain creatures!

The rain had subsided by the time we reached the foodstop in Portumna Forest Park. The long queue was worth the wait as we piled our plates with sandwiches, flapjacks and jellies. I glanced around me, suddenly becoming aware that my female companions hadn't surfaced in the up and overs since we left Ballina. A reliable source informed me that they had been dropped on the hill and would follow on at their own pace. With a fruitless racing career thus far, I grasped the accolade of 'last woman standing' with both hands.

We got moving again and I was forewarned by fellow cyclists that the lumpy bit was in the second half. As we rotated I discovered that the group comprised mostly of North Tipp Wheelers club members. One rider flying by me remarked "'tis like speed dating". Before I had an opportunity to question the comparision, he was gone again. I spoke to a disgruntled A2 rider bemoaning the fact that he couldn't get a team for the Rás this year. He'd been provisionally offered a place as a sub on a team only to have the offer retracted at the last minute when the original rider was given the all clear by his doctor.

As we counted down the kms and the finish came closer, the pace began to pick up somewhat. I found myself sprinting out of corners and up hills in an effort to hold wheels. The whistle blew at the bottom of Portroe hill. The group split in two and I chased hard at the front as I berated myself for not being in the lead group. Then I remembered that it was a sportif and not a race (hmmm...). We formed a smaller group and settled into a more comfortable rhythm.

Back in Ballina, my average speed clocked in at 32.7kph - we'll make that 33 kph. You always round up... right? Significantly faster than the advertised 29kph! I gladly accepted the offer of the use of the leisure facilities and showers. To my surprise the young fella at the desk even asked me if I'd need a second towel for my hair! Showers were had and more sandwiches and sausages were laid out on tables as conversation flowed freely in a room buzzing with endorphins. I found myself being the beneficiary of an abundance of advice on how I might further enhance my cycling abilities. We complimented the organisation of the event and what superb value it had been for €15. Everyone was in agreement that the day had been a resounding success and with regard to the weather "sure 'twasn't a bad 'aul day in the end".