Before the heavyweights of the Marmotte share their war stories, here's a warm-up piece from Brian McArdle on his first taste of the Ring of Kerry experience.

Ring of Kerry

Brian McArdle

As a first time RoKer, I had been warned about what to expect - a grand day out amongst beautiful Kerry scenery, plenty of food, and cyclists of all shapes and sizes, stretching as far as the eye could see.

Denis Gleeson had arranged a meeting point in town at Four Star Pizza at 7am (plenty of food before we’d even started!), and a crowd of about 15 gathered there and we set off to great cheers. As we motored along toward Killorglin, we passed through a tag check, and one rogue unregistered cyclist was hauled out by the scruff of their neck.

All of the Orwells had (of course) their blue tags nice and visible, and as we pressed on, the group split into a slower and faster pace. Breda Horan had an existing injury flare up, and had to pull out at a nice café before the first food stop. As a veteran of several RoKs, hopefully she wasn’t too disappointed with missing out.

After Killorglin I realised I had left the group behind, and pulled into a side road to wait. I jumped on the back of the train, but getting listless, decided I’d push on solo. I occasionally fell in with people going at my pace, but mostly spent the next while on the far right of the road moving up the never-ending stream of cyclists.

It seemed everyone was enjoying themselves, from the slower people out for the day chatting away on the left-hand side of the road, to the club riders pushing hard along the right. Every café and petrol station along the route had a throng outside with either ice cream or tea and coffee, depending on the weather at that exact moment.

I found a few Cork companions to pedal with as far as the Caherciveen - Damien Brosnan of WCCC and his brother Diarmuid -  but the food stop looked a little chaotic, and I wasn’t hungry anyway, so I pushed on solo again. Needing a bit more of a challenge, and not bothered by a brief shower, I turned right off the course toward Portmagee for a detour around the Skellig Ring. I’d been over some of the hills in Rás Mumhan, and on a trip around the Ring in 2011, and wanted to revisit Coomanaspic. With only a 23 on the back, it was horrendous, but worth the diversion for some peace and quiet, and the stunning scenery along the coast there.

The coast between Portmagee and Ballinskelligs

I rejoined the peloton just outside Waterville, where I caught up with Bruce Campbell and Jean Wilson and their friend Shóna Keane. They told me my original chain-gang were now ahead of me, so I started the chase, briefly chatting with Romano Morelli, Niall O’Shea and Michael Hanley at various points before going on in search of the elusive Orwell fast group. I had the car keys after all, and I feared the wrath of a thousand Horans should Ann Horan make it back to the car before me.

At each food stop, I did a brief check, which turned out negative every time, and then raced on. It was only when I got to Kenmare that I found Mary Brady and my earlier Cork friends, they confirmed what I had begun to fear - the Orwell group were somewhere behind me on the road.

Another brief shower at the bottom of Moll’s Gap saw me on my own again, and once over that last hurdle I spent the last few kilometres in cool down mode. As we neared Killarney, there was plenty of music to drive us on, Gardaí and marshals on the road, and big crowds beyond the 1km to go banner.

An acre of sandwiches and biscuits and cake awaited after the mayor welcomed us home, along with tea and - uniquely in my experience - beer! I popped back to the car for a quick change, then returned to the finish area to welcome home the others. Everyone came home in good spirits, happy with having completed a challenging ride. I heard of no mechanicals or punctures for any of the club, though there were reportedly decades of the rosary being said by some while climbing Moll's Gap!

Mary Brady being interviewed

L-R: Brian McArdle, Shóna Keane, Jean Wilson, Ann Horan, Bruce Campbell, Niall O'Shea, Paul Walsh, Aishling O'Connor

A three course dinner that night was well deserved, and all organised by Helen Horan and John Twomey. There was sparkling conversation at the table, and more to follow afterwards in the various drinking emporia. A hat tip also to the Horan household for putting me up (and putting up with me), and shipping my various bikes to and from Dublin, and to JT for transporting me home.

A well organised day out, the Ring roads are crowded but friendly. I didn't even get to see, much less chat to, many of the Orwells out there. Well done to all who took part, and especially to those who finished despite a demanding day! Well worth ticking off the list, whether it's on your flashiest road bike donned in lycra, or a high nelly you found in the shed, and wearing jeans and a wooly jumper!