Two of our newer members took on the challenge of the Wicklow 200 (along with many others) last Sunday, and Joe Fitzpatrick has written a great account of his day with Andrew Potts below.


Zero to 200 in 8 months

Joe Fitzpatrick & Andrew Potts

Slow for a Porsche but not bad for a couple of rookies.

I had started doing a bit of cycling on my own, but I wasn't sure if group cycling was for me. Orwell made it easy. Three introductory spins in October and I signed up. I got out most Sundays through the winter, became more confident on flat roads, struggled on the hills, and saw some steady improvement. Come January, one of the targets for 2015 was to complete the W200.

I couldn't join the W200 Saturday group but someone posted a simple W200 training plan on the Leisure Forum so I used that as a guide.

I met Andrew on some of the Winter spins, and when these finished we got out for some of the 'slow / soft yellow' informal Sunday rides. We both have a similar level of (in)ability and an equivalent (deceptive lack of) pace. Our rigorous preparation regime was solidified by finishing some of the early sportives:

  • Tour de Foothills (total immersion cycling)
  • Lap de Gaps (any way the wind blows)
  • Mick Byrne 100 (the road less travelled)

All of this led to the Shoreline Centre in Greystones. My psychological strategy was "tell as many people as possible that I'm doing the W200". That way I would have little choice but do the full route on the day. Andrew remained non-committal as he claims he never even thought about the 200 until the week before. However, a little subtle peer pressure goes a long way. Discretion is supposed to be the better part of valour. In our case it was more like valour is the mother of all indiscretion. There was only ever one option.

Greystones - 7:15am. A large Orwell group had gathered and were discussing how to split up for the event. Having read Garret's team talk about "pace, pace, pace" we were concerned about starting with too quick a bunch. So Andrew and I decided to get going ahead of the posse - as the founding (and only) members of the Elite White crew. The first few kilometres are always a shock to the system but by the time we got to the N11 we had a reasonable rhythm going. Turn left at Kilmac and up the Sugar Loaf. The cyclists in front of us had "STEADY" printed across their shorts. We took this as an omen and a point of focus till we got to the top of the hill. However, as the motivational effect started to wear off (and we were passed by most of the other Orwell riders), we hooked onto a quicker group and made good time through Roundwood, Annamoe and into Laragh.

No debate, hang right, and on towards the Wicklow Gap. Having completed this climb into a Force 8 gale on the Cycle4DSI, it was a push, but not intimidating. The W200 training team were regrouping at the top but we decided to keep going at our Duracell bunny pace, layered up, and headed for West Wickla. We did get an idea what it was like to cycle in one of the quick Orwell groups. As we descended from the Wicklow Gap, we sneaked into the quick 200 group and were dragged along for a few kilometres, it was a new sensation to move so quickly as the group literally devoured any cyclists in front. The idea of keeping that pace up for 200 is just unbelievable. Eventually gravity took over but it was great to have lived the dream, even if it was only for a short while.

For some strange reason, the slight rise before Hollywood was more of a challenge than the Gap itself. We maintained a civilised 26kph pace for the run to Baltinglass for sandwiches, cake, caramel slices and tea. Water bottles refilled we set off for Hackettstown. There is a bit of climb here after which conversation became a bit subdued as we tried not to worry about what lay ahead. As Bob Seger might say "you don't feel much like ridin', You just wish the trip was through".

Bring it on. How hard can it be?

We soon found out. First we ground our way up what I believe is called Fake Slieve Maan. And before we knew it - it's up the real thing. I don't remember the scenery. I don't remember much other than push, push, push. But I felt great sense of achievement at the top. Refilled the water bottles. More fruitcake. No hanging about. Layer up, head down the hill to Glenmalure. Layer down. Don't think about it. Go! Another tough push and another great buzz on reaching the Shay Elliot Memorial at the summit. More water more fruitcake, layer up again, down towards Laragh and turn right for Rathdrum. Feeling quite smug about what I had just done I was thinking "grand - just 60km to go". It is funny to think that 60km was a bit of a daunting challenge on that first Sunday back in October.

After another feed of cake and tea we set out on the final leg. A pleasant enough run down to Avoca was followed by a head-wrecking, leg-draining grind of a hill out the far side. But you can see the sea. There is one more serious challenge - a short sharp hill out of Barndarrig, The knees ache each time the road rises but we could maintain a good pace on the flat. Glenealy flashed by. Stopped at Ashford to eat some more. Then set a Strava PR between Newcastle and Kilcoole. (the previous time was set on a Sunday spin back in December).

We stunned ourselves on the final stretch into Greystones. After 200km we were clipping along at a respectable 29kph with a good half dozen behind taking a tow. Coming up the last 100m to the Shoreline centre we got some applause from eight spectators. (In my head is was more like a cheering crowd mixed with the theme to Chariots of Fire, Rocky and the 1812 Overture).

Job done!


PS Toughest climb of the day? Up the stairs to get out of Ashtons!

One reflection from this Wicklow 200 newbie is how big the club Orwell club is. Yet it is very accessible and welcoming to inexperienced cyclists. So a big thank you to everybody in Orwell, especially the leaders and minders on the Winter spins. Without their support and encouragement we would never have completed this event.