Deep in the bowels of winter 2013, a seed of an idea floated around the Orwell ether on the chilly wind, (a three day sportive in Kerry they're talking about), landed on some fertile ground, (that'd be nice we thought), took hold and rooted, (sure what else would I be doing on a bank holiday weekend in June), sprouted, (it was far away enough away that clearances sought were granted lightly) and blossomed. Thirty-seven people braved the Adare tailbacks, hit the better roads of Healy-Rae country, took over the Tralee town centre apartments and embarked on what in the cold light of day was utter madness. Three days of back to back sportives in the mountains of Kerry. Most of us had never done something like this before. Here are some of the survivors' stories...

Day 1

Dave Carroll and Aishling O'Connor

Day 1 of the 2014 edition of TKAS started nice and early as mountains of food were prepared and devoured, bikes prepared for action and a discussion between the group in Dave's apartment on the expected weather and what amount of additional layers to bring. Over in Aishling's the oats were soaked, Bernie's delicious lasagne was loaded the night before and there was still wine left reluctantly in the fridge so we were all set for our first stage of TKAS. We rolled out of the apartments to absolute glorious sunshine at 9am and made the 4 km trip to the starting point which was the ITT North Campus. Colm Egan was very sceptical of my route and was constantly asking me was I sure we were going the right way. The reason for this is that I made Colm and Paul Perry walk the 30 minutes to what I thought was the venue for pre-registration on Friday evening and which turned out to be the ITT South Campus. DOH! We arrived at the start to a sea of Orwell Wheelers and every photographer there wanted to get pictures of the group due to the sheer volume that arrived down.

There was a great buzz of excitement in the group of what lay ahead for us over the three days as this was unchartered territory for most of us. The general consensus was that as it was the first of three days we would take it nice and steady so that we were fresh for the remaining two days. The first day consisted of an 85 mile route (136km) and approximately 1,200m of climbing which we confidently agreed was nothing due to our regular routes through the Wicklow Mountains. The route went from Tralee, through Farranfore, Killarney, Fossa, over the Gap of Dunloe, Moll's Gap, Ballaghbeama, Glencar, Killorglin, Castlemaine, over Sliabh Mish and finally back to Tralee. The event was also chip timed for the competitive people in the group.

The organisers made their safety briefing and requested that the racing group make their way to the start line. To my surprise a sea of Orwell Wheelers made their way up to this. So much for taking it easy on the first day!

Ann, Helen, Sinead and Gertrude fired off at a great pace and weren't to be seen again until the finish. Mother Hen Eileen rounded the troops and a peloton with Cathy, Breda, Nicole, Sarah and Aishling was made. Judith, Bernie and Sandra were hot on our heels.

The leisure group rolled out directly after the racing group and straight away the pace was flat out trying to catch the groups in front. Dave cycled in a large bunch of about 40 people for the first 20km and could not spot any of the Orwell crew and started to worry that it would be a long day out on his own. Once we got some proper up and overs going and some people started to drop off I saw the friendly faces of Colin Caesar, Johnny O'Reilly, Sinead Kennedy and Stephen Ryan. The first food stop came early at 40km in Fossa, where those doing the 50 mile (80km) route split off.

The real climbing started here to the top of the Gap of Dunloe where I was in a small group with Colin, Johnny and Stephen.

Stephen, Jonny, Colin and Dave – Gap of Dunloe

The scenery was quite breathtaking but the descent off this was quite unnerving as the road was narrow with gravel on every turn. Aishling tells us that while the ponies and traps were dodged, one unfortunate tourist was bitten by an amorous pony while cycling past - that created a bit of a stir but we made sure we were at least a metre wide when passing. The views were stunning and after food stop number two, where Cathy was delayed getting chatted up by the barman, we were looking forward to the finish line. Before then was Moll's Gap which was a long old drag to the top. We then quickly came up to another climb called Ballaghbeama.

It was here that I started to question the climbing figures per the official route of 1200m but I thought maybe the heat was getting to me. The descent off Ballaghbeama was very quick and unfortunately we came across a cyclist who misjudged an off camber corner and came off his bike. Luckily for him there was a fence which stopped him falling off the side and a more serious injury.

The next food stop was at 90km where we met the faster groups just leaving. The sandwiches here tasted like the best sandwiches I ever had! Dave Hendron and Richard McSherry joined us for the last push to the finish which per the official route was 46km.

I was at the front of the group as we passed through a small village called Milltown when we came to a series of tight corners. Being really responsible I was on the lookout for any obstacles that needed to be called when I noticed a lady run from a picnic table of drinkers outside of a pub towards us. I thought to myself that she was displaying the nice Kerry hospitality by cheering us on but what I missed was that the lady actually lifted up her top and flashed us her boobs to rapturous cheers! Both Johnny and I missed this and we were told we were lucky! This gave the other guys some needed motivation to push on!

At approx. 120km we noted that the remaining 16km is roughly the distance from Enniskerry to Dundrum. The troops rallied and we put the foot down. About 6km further down the road we saw a sign for Tralee at 24km which made the route 150km. To say there were a few profanities thrown about would be an understatement! It is true that a Kerry mile is longer than a mile from... well, anywhere else!

The climb up Sliabh Mish split our small group into Colin, Stephen and Johnny and offered us a very fast and winding descent. Coming up to Tralee we went onto the bypass with the wind strongly in our faces and we needed to dig deep to keep moving. The sense of relief when we could see ITT would be an understatement to say the least. I took this opportunity to shout sprint and gun it for the finishing mat. This did not go down too well with the other lads! Everyone was in jovial spirits at the end with everyone showing off their bronzed cycle tans and comparing Garmin data on distances, climbing and average pace. The last I looked the distance was 150km and 1800m of climbing.

For many in Aishling's group it was the longest sportive done yet so they were buzzing from the achievement. A few post cycle pints were had in Tralee later that evening with people comparing tales of their day in the saddle and Garret Connolly busy hitting refresh on his phone to see whether the times were uploaded yet to the TKAS website!

Meanwhile at the business end of the event, Dave Maher and Brian McArdle were giving a local hero a 160k lead out train. The two chaps roared around the course at a fair oul clip and were both in the top ten finishers on the day.


And a guest writer and friend of the club, Dave Elton from Chain Gang CC tells us the story of Day 1 from his point of view...

An Orwellian weekend in Kerry

Dave Elton, Chain Gang CC, Tralee

Now into its second year, The Kingdom Alliance Sportive (TKAS) kicked-off on the June Bank holiday weekend from The ITT in blazing sunshine. The forty or so riders from Orwell Wheelers weren't hard to spot all decked out in their club colours and making up a sizeable chunk of the starting line-up. Last year I had the privilege to ride the final day with the smaller group of sixteen around the Dingle Peninsula and found their fun, general road discipline and endurance a great thing to be part of.

So off we went out of Tralee onto the new by-pass and heading full on to Killarney. I mixed it about a bit riding in a few small groups with a Wheeler never far away and made great time to the first food stop near Beaufort. In a new initiative we received our "fuel" in a plastic bag that had a sandwich, banana and one or two other odds and ends thrown in.

Once the bag was properly disposed of and the food eaten or stashed, the real deal for Day 1 began. First a lively ride on the flat through Beaufort before quickly reaching the Gap of Dunloe.

Here we started to encounter the famous Jarveys who today all seemed in a good mood and were more than happy to stop and let us past. We must have really added an extra spectacle to the fare paying passengers on the traps as we crawled past. I'd actually forgotten how much of a pull it is up the Gap and boy was this leg burning stuff. We were then treated to a technical decent into the Black Valley and our group of four or five made short work of one of Irelands remotest spots as we were soon climbing up again to Moll's Gap sweating buckets and taking a scorching from the afternoon sun.

Photos taken, a quick squirt of water and we were off in the direction of Sneem. In no time we were back off the main road and inching towards Ballaghbeama Pass. This place felt even more remote than the Black Valley and was another lung buster of a climb with a pretty dodgy road surface thrown in. Once at the top and all the touristy video and snaps done we enjoyed a nice fast decent over a good few kilometres in the foothills of the Reeks and on to our next food stop in sleepy Glencar. A quick sandwich and a bottle fill from the local pub tap and we hit the road again without much delay. When you feel strong and the weather's nice it can be a good idea to keep going and skip the cream tea which is what we did.

After Glencar the terrain became more rolling and just a scenic, with Lough's and mountains rolling by as we made steady progress to Killorglin. Arriving in Killorglin we hit the middle of the K-Fest party and the town was a bit busy, but we were soon heading to Milltown and Castlemaine road and a much deserved ice-cream stop before the final climb of the day. Progress was steady up Curraghmore and from memory I was starting to feel the "burn" but in 17min 39sec we were there and descending fast towards Tralee.

Just the new by-pass to negotiate which given the mileage is an unwelcome extra compared to last year's gentle meander towards the Wetlands, but these things are sent to test us. Anyway we gritted our teeth and landed back at the ITT in time for a bit of pasta, garlic bread and coffee. A stunning day and great company from the Orwell Wheelers over the whole weekend.


Day 2

After the sun soaked Saturday and the cyclist tourists had gone home, Sunday brought rain and hard core. This one was for Rule 9 Enthusiasts although as you'll see below, the Spirit of Leisure shone through. Ian Cullen and Sarah Buckley take us through Day 2. First up is Sarah...

Sarah Buckley

The sunny skies of TKAS Day 1 gave way to damper conditions as the Orwell contingent set off on Day 2. Eileen Byrne led a ladies peleton on the 50-mile route which took in Camp, Anascaul, Inch, Castlemaine and Sliabh Mish.

There was no slacking and Eileen soon had us in a smooth rhythm of up and overs at a respectable 24km/hour to combat the windy, misty conditions. We thought of the brave souls on the 100 mile route as the black clouds descended over Conor Pass...

Luckily we escaped the worst and pedalled through to Inch in no time, ready for a civilised break in the coffee shop down at the beach. After fuelling up on rocky road and scones, we took off again to hit the final climb at Sliabh Mish. It definitely felt easier on the legs the second time around...

Then it was back to the finish line for coffee and sambos and we got into position to cheer in the 100 group. The resident DJ was rocking out the tunes as the rest of the group came over the finish line. A great Day 2 was had by all.

In cycling weight means everything but when Ian Cullen realised he had a knife in his back, it was all too late.

Ian Cullen

I started Day 2 of TKAS four minutes down on my main competition, a certain Mr. Garret Connolly. A man I have grown to admire, not only for his cycling abilities but his sheer belief in himself. Never have I met a more humble man. My legs didn't want to race today, but my head told me otherwise. The peloton started the day at a very fast pace and things didn't really calm down until Conor Pass. The wind was howling, the rain pelting down and I was loving every second of it. As soon as I reached the top of the climb I decided to stop and put my jacket on, which for a while resembled more like flying a kite as the squally conditions continued. I just about recognised the very familiar silhouette of Barry O'Donnell and we decided to descend, very carefully, together.

As the walls of Conor Pass rushed by, too low for my liking, the stinging rain and the wind were doing their best to keep my eyes shut. The blind decent and the cold were taking their toll on me and I was glad to see the food stop in Dingle. I think the biggest challenge of the whole weekend was trying to get some food into my mouth as my hands, along with the rest of me, shook profusely. We were joined by Stephen, Johnny, Paul and Gar and we knew that if we worked together we could get through this very tough day. The Orwell train left the food stop and we worked well together to keep warm and keep moving. Paul Perry's hands were frozen and as he shook them to keep warm, a flash of silver flew passed me as I heard the pinging sound of his wedding ring bounce on the ground below. We quickly stopped and by sheer luck I managed to see the glint of a ring on the wet tarmac. Crisis averted and to everyone's delight the train pushed on once again, together, as a team.

As my legs found their rhythm once again my thoughts strayed to Slieve Mish, the last climb of the day and the challenge of trying to beat Gar up the hill. I always look forward to our friendly competition and today was no exception but due to a 'communication error' the group split and Paul, Johnny, Stephen and myself were on our own. We worked well together but knew we wouldn't catch the group ahead. When we were running low on water we decided to stop in Foley's Pub in Inch for a refill. The Guinness looked far too inviting and as we sat down together, pints in hand, we were truly brothers in arms.

Paul and Johnny about to enjoy a lovely pint of Guinness

After we had quenched our thirst we saddled up and rode on. Along the way we picked up Gary, who knew the Orwells from last year, and his mate. Fuelled on Guinness we made good time and didn't notice that we were neither passing nor being passed by anyone. It was only when we rolled into the empty grounds of the IT and saw the tumbleweed blowing through the concourse did we realise that most everyone else fortified on free tea and coffee in a restaurant in Dingle, turned around and went home. We were as last as it is possible to be.

I've met some great people over the weekend and great friendships were forged. And as for myself and Gar, the competition is palpable and we will continue to challenge each other.


Day 3

After the exertions of the day in which very few felt like doing the full route, an end of term atmosphere took hold in the group, aided by some great food in the restaurants of Tralee and some pints in the Baily, party night arrived and you could have sworn there was to be no cycling tomorrow. But there was as first Cathy Dunne and then Jonny O'Reilly relate...

Cathy Dunne

On the morning of Day 3, I think it is fair to say that most if not all of my fellow cyclists were feeling both the physical and mental effects of the previous two challenging days cycling through Kerry's very beautiful countryside and at times on very heavy roads.

Admirably Helen, Nicole and Breda took on the re-visited 160km route. After some mileage re-calculation, myself, Eileen, Aisling, Catherine, Anne, Sandra, Bernie and Judith optimistically set out on the 90k challenge with gusto in the knowledge this was the final cycling day and a great evening of fun lay ahead. A mixed peloton of Orwell Wheelers and local cyclists quickly formed with Stephen and Colin leading us out, a very nice steady pace which took us very comfortably on the first 45k of our journey. Bernie, Judith and Sandra left us in Ballyheigue to enjoy an award winning coffee with a beautiful view... inspired by their innovation on reaching the top of Kerry head. Stephen and Colin bade us farewell through no fault of their own – we just could not get up the hills as fast as these young men – and we could see them in the distance steadily winding their way to Ballybunion.

Myself, Aisling, Kathryn and Eileen continued on with a stop at Tides coffee shop.


As the girls continued their journey to see the beautiful coastline around Kerry head, our group of four continued our trip to Tralee. We decided (without much encouragement) to award ourselves a pint of the "black stuff" in the sun before heading to finish line to cheer our fellow cyclists in.

A great end to a great weekend of cycling.

What? We have to cycle again today? Perhaps we aren't ready for a 3 week Grand Tour just yet.

Jonny O'Reilly

For a while there on Sunday night, I had my doubts as to just how many Orwellians would make it to ITT for Monday morning. Myself included. We were out in Baily's pub en masse and that music was good. The beers that the charming owner, Garry, had offered General Parker and Eileen earlier in the day were being repaid with interest. I wonder if they have shares in the place.

Whilst the pros tend to cut their deals on the road, in Orwell, the pub is the chosen locus and Baily's saw some lively "negotiation". With a potential podium place on the cards, poker faces were on. "Ian, just tell him that you are definitely doing the whole thing even if you are going on the lash; Gar will have to start" was suggested. To complicate matters, a rumour was circulating that stage 3 was being curtailed but no one quite knew where reality met blind optimism. Regardless, the sobering possibility of 115 miles (what's that in European money?) loomed so one by one, people snuck away to meet their curfews (about 4am for the battleships named Robert, Martin and George).

So day 3 dawned and whilst the clouds were threatening, the rain held off for the most part. Finally we had confirmation that there was indeed a route change due to us having to be in Listowel for the first race at 3pm. What the change actually meant in how many less pedal revolutions we would have to make was entirely unclear and the stated "7 or 8 miles shorter" seemed disappointingly understated. Is that map to scale? Are you sure ya don't mean 20 miles I muttered to myself. Helen wanted 20 miles added to the route and fresh from her escapades at the Mount Leinster challenge, there was a collective "oh no, here we go again!"

Admiral Ryan stepped up again to marshal the troops making sure the group made it round at a reasonable pace. As on the other days, there were a few cases of "start line fever" and some early splits on the road to Fenit. Breda reliably informed me that it is not pronounced ‘Feenit', and was probably thinking the "eejit". Anyhow, with the notable exception of speedsters Brian Mc and Dave Maher, who were again "up the road" (hang on, didn't I see them smiling lovingly at their pints of Guinness 8 hours ago?), virtually everyone doing the long route had regrouped by the food stop at Ballybunion. The fact that this wasn't our designated stop didn't deter us from devouring the 50 milers' rations. Any chance of a second sandwich?

The rest of the day (more about the night in a bit) was spent in great company, the group working very well together clocking down those km's, at least until I saw a Ferrari tractor (well he wasn't half moving and anyway, they do it in style in Kerry) and thought I was 16 again. Honest, had he not turned off, I could have kept his wheel all the way to Tralee. The last hill (Breda how do you pronounce Muingnaminnane?!) saw a split as the competitive spirits returned and that final drag up the Tralee bypass saw Ian and Gar marking each other one last time, all that was missing was a track stand. Chapeau to all for backing up 3 days at 160km a pop (or was it more?), I thoroughly enjoyed spending the weekend in your company, enjoying the cycling and enjoying making it fun. Speaking of which...

Well the Last Supper, washed down with ample wine, set us up nicely for a full Orwell assault on Tralee's nightlife, the Barge pub/club to be precise. Now what goes on tour stays on tour, but some things will just have to be left out there until the next trip away:

  • Are Dave and Colin, worthy recipients of the Tommy Hilfilger twins fashion award, really the next jedward?
  • How many gels did "Bopping Billy" have before he hit the dance floor?
  • Dave, you should have known better when challenging a green-haired Katie Taylor fan to a dance-off. Kerpow!
  • Following Dave Maher's intense negotiations over the caravan purchase, can we all stay in it on the next weekend away?
  • And Richard, good idea to clean the floor before taking your shoes off (sorry, just been told it was a low profile dance move!), anyway, hope you got your shoe back from Katie Taylor.


TKAS 2014

Eileen Byrne