The first of two Sallygap finishes ran over a tougher than usual circuit, and produced one worthy winner in the shape of Diarmuid Collins.

A fine evening provided racers with the opportunity to enjoy one of the more challenging races of the league. Two laps of the lake provided a nice softening up for the pain of the climb up Sallygap.

By 18:50 the air around Brittas was filled only with softly spoken excuses ‘My knees hurt’, ‘I’m recovering from the flu’, ‘baby won’t sleep’, 'I’ve homework to do after this'. As the nervous chat died down, Herr Direktor doled out the handicaps and the fear was instilled. The riders were split into three groups, with a Rás-related diminished scratch group combined with semi-scratch. Limit were off first with 15 riders, 22 Semi-limit followed 4 minutes later.

A further four minutes and the 17 chasers were let off - the SS/S crew worked hard on lap one, shelling a couple of riders in the first 10k. SS were particularly strong with many scratch riders in awe of our obvious strength and souplesse. Out of respect for the missing scratch men at the Rás, SS agreed not to attack scratch.

Unfortunately the race unexpectedly coincided with a funeral in Manor Kilbride and the sensible decision was taken to stop the race out of respect, and to plan an alternative route. The climbers will no doubt have relished the new route, which took the riders up Ballysmutten before descending to the original planned road to Sally Gap. SS/S kicked off again with non-stop up and overs, but still there wasn’t a sight of SL despite the chase holding an average of over 40kph for the lakes sections of the race. L and SL must have been powering around the lakes.

Not surprisingly, the groups start to fracture up Ballysmutten. Up front a group of SL/L riders, including the fancied Seán Murnane and Stephen Rowan, forged on ahead, while behind Stephen Barry and Conor Murnane attacked the SS/S bunch. Diarmuid Collins got across to the two riders before the top of the climb and the trio got down to the work of chasing the leaders ahead.

Stephen Barry described the race at this point...

  "Within the next few hundred meters our trio began to see pockets of riders from L and SL ahead. Targets acquired, the hunt was on. Honest work by all aided the chase for the next 10k. My legs were hurting, lungs burning, eyes watering, snot flowing. Why do we do this to ourselves I thought to myself – the Rás lads are doing this over and over again day in day out - enough said! Thankfully more and more riders appeared up ahead, they seemed to be working well with many lined out in groups of 4/5. Diarmo suggested we ‘take a breather’ when we got to the next group. 'Is this a sign of weakness?', I thought. 'Yes, let's "rest"', I replied. When we got to the next group, there was no rest, the pace upped. Game on."

The long run to the bottom of the climb allowed the scratch trio to jump from bunch to bunch on the road, just reaching the leaders on the road before the bridge. Finally, the front of the race was in sight for the pursuers. The scratch riders attacked the leaders on making the junction but the wily Seán Murnane was wise to the move and followed the trio. Rowan was tantalising close to the leaders but struggled to close the gap.

Stephen Barry takes it up again...

  "Our trio kept motoring, safely passing the lead group without picking up any passengers. This was good as the threat of me barfing was high at this time. At this stage I knew the winner would be whoever had the legs for the last beastly 1.5km section up the gap. There were anxious glances exchanged and some slow pedalling ensued. Nobody wanted to attack first. Soon enough I could see some lad bridging across to us at pace – uh oh – who is it, it was Murnane #2. He arrived in silence, focused and steely eyed. This does not bode well, I thought. My legs felt like blocks of lead. What to do… I know, mind games! I turned to Diarmo, and barley able to speak I managed ‘hey Diarmo, you look wrecked man!’ – a futile attempt to generate doubt in his mind. I knew by his grin that he was about to dish out the hurt. He delivered, over a kilometre to go and BOOM, Diarmo was out of the saddle and off – the two Murnanes impressively catching his wheel. BOOM again, he finally dropped us."

Collins was the first to attack getting a useful gap. However the Murnanes worked well to make their way back to his wheel as the road viciously ramped up. Not wanting to get near a finish line with such impressive finishers as the Murnane brothers, Collins attacked again. This time there was no closing the gap, as Collins suffered on, crossing the line alone, followed by Conor and Seán. Barry crossed the line in 4th, with a very impressive Rowan just behind. A newly promoted Mark Holland rounded out the top 6.

A clearly empty Collins crosses the line (photo thanks to Damien Long)

Riders continued to pass the finish line for the next number of minutes in ones and twos, testament to the difficulty of the race. Another well run event by the club league committee with well judged handicaps as witnessed by the three groups represented in the placings.

Thanks to Diarmuid Collins for the race report, and to Stephen Barry for additional reporting, providing some of the colour in addition to the quotations!


Orwell League R8: Sallygap RR (21/5/2015)

1 Diarmuid Collins (S)
2 Conor Murnane (S)
3 Seán Murnane (SL)
4 Stephen Barry (SS)
5 Stephen Rowan (SL)
6 Mark Holland (S)