Billy Parker has returned from his foray into audaxing to more leisurely activities, but he might regret it after Sunday's ride in the wind and rain. Have a read below!

Tour de Foothills 

Billy Parker 

Trying to control the car with gusts of wind buffeting it across the M50 and wipers working overtime meant that my golf clubs and shiny golf shoes would stay snug and warm in the boot of my car. No self-respecting golfer would venture out in such vile conditions. And so I intermittently peered through the rear view mirror to check on the pummelled bikes strapped to the same car boot wherein my clubs sniggered away in their cosy comfort, as we headed in the direction of Naas.

I had agreed to assist Eileen Byrne and Colm Featherstone with their Wicklow 100 training group. We had a very enjoyable spin the previous Saturday with an outdoor coffee stop in Mount Usher Gardens during which a decision was made by the group to forego the following Saturday training spin in favour of the Sunday sportive season opener, the ever popular Tour of the Foothills organised by Naas Cycling Club which presented a short course of 65km and a longer one of 110km. Only the very brave or the very foolish would have attempted the event on such a foul day as this. There was one foolish person in attendance, moi, and the rest were a bunch of brave and indeed hardy souls.

Over 40 Orwell cyclists huddled and murmured in shelter from the howling wind and driving rain awaiting the start in Naas. I silently prayed for the abandonment of the event due to adverse weather conditions. Prayers unanswered I rolled out on the 65k course in the fine company of Eileen, Colm, our President Denis Gleeson (for a few k), Stephen Kerr, Eamon McCormack, Deirdre O'Connor, Deirdre Currid, Lorcan Lynch, Grainne McGoran, Sue McDonagh, Emer Doyle, Fiona Corcoran and Mary Corcoran.

Within 20km the wind thankfully eased but the temperature unkindly dropped significantly resulting in our wet feet and hands getting progressively colder as we rounded the lakes. The occasional blast up one of the rolling hills kept us from freezing over. The group performed wonderfully in these tough and demanding conditions and were brilliantly marshalled and guided by Eileen and Colm. For many this was their first sportive yet they participated like old hands and not a moment of complaint, indecision or hesitation to be seen. We arrived at the 65km food stop in Valleymount a quivering mass in search of heat and sustenance.

Regrettably the weather conditions resulted in most of the 110k participants understandably switching to the shorter route and thus leaving us slower groups with slim pickings in terms of hot drinks. My fingers at this point had ceased to function and had become very painful. If not for the prudent spare dry gloves peeled onto my hands by Eileen I doubt I could have carried on. Others were shivering and shaking and before they and I contemplated alternative methods of transport back to Naas we re-entered the freezing arena to do further battle over the final kilometres. A battle that suddenly and unexpectedly became much more serious.

From the back of the group I observed perhaps a moment of tiredness, a minute lapse of concentration, a touch of a wheel and five of the group like skittles come crashing down in front of me. Bodies and bikes strewn across the road. Those still standing performed heroically and like a rapid response team organised traffic, called the ambulance and tended to the fallen, all in an admirably calm and controlled fashion. No serious injuries thankfully. Eileen with some nasty cuts to her face and Lorcan and Colm some painful bruising. A few damaged bikes. Naas Cycling Club marshals were on the scene in minutes and took great care of the injured getting them and their bikes back to base.

The rest of us cycled the less than 9k home without our leaders but with that quiet and careful frame of mind that descends in the aftermath of such an incident. A plentiful mountain of hot drinks and mighty tasty food awaited our welcome return and we soon warmed up and got the colour back in our cheeks. Eileen, Colm and Lorcan were all attended to and in good spirits. We greeted the brave Orwell members who rode the 110k and who despite their superior speed and admirable fortitude were also wet and cold as they arrived in and very happy to get back safely.

Peter Grealis, Shane Phelan and Ian Cullen after their 110k in very tough conditions

A memorable first sportive for many and it was my privilege to ride with such a gallant, determined and good humoured bunch. The Wicklow 100 will be a walk in the park for these fine people who represented themselves and the Club in outstanding fashion. And big thank you to Naas Cycling Club for such a well-run event in very challenging conditions.