Elite Womens TT National Championships, Thurs 28th June: Orla Hendron

Orla Flying! Photo thanks to Sean Rowe

2014 was the last time I raced the TT in the Nationals.  As the years progress recovery between the TT and Road Race gets harder!  In 2016 I managed to get a master’s category established in the road race and since then women have something to race for at Nationals. Now the focus is on the battle to establish the same for the TT.  I really thought I had it over the line for this year’s event but turns out I still have more pushing to do.  

So, no good doing all the talking and no action hence I had to put my money where my mouth was and decided to participate!! So now you know why I was there, amongst a heap of full and semi-full time riders giving me 15 – 20 years!! 

My ever supportive husband kindly rowed in with the hare-brained idea and was my Manager/Mechanic and Coach on the day.  We headed to Sunny Sligo the night before race day - not having the luxury of loads of time off it was the best we could do.  Arriving at our lovely B&B, which had been organized by Breda Horan, we finally got to bed around 12pm. 

Up early the next day we still had to do the race recce before the start! Arriving at HQ, before the race organizers even had the banners out to indicate where sign on was, we headed round the 17K loop for a quick recce in the car then back to HQ. David found us a shaded and quiet spot to base ourselves. 

A quick change into skinsuit and then off again for the proper look at the course on the TT Bike checking out the best lines, how fast you could take the bends and what gear to start in all had to be established in less than an hour. No time for chatting to anyone so David kept me moving and away from everyone, so I wouldn’t get distracted and run out of time for my warm up etc. 

Race time came around all too quickly and before I knew it I was on the start line for my first TT in years - except for one club one and that was 10k not the 35K I was about to head into.  Luckily I liked the course as it was a bit technical on the first leg and a nice main road to really pound it out on the second leg, with a good bit of descending and even the drags up didn’t seem too bad!!

My minute Womens was another Masters rider who had been racing well in 2017 but I hadn’t seen her name much this year so I had no idea of her form. She was dressed in a bright orange skin suit so would be a great carrot !! 

3.. 2.. 1.. Go!

I horsed it up the first drag in a big gear so I wouldn’t have to make a gear change when I got to the end of the short ramp at the start and got into the zone pretty quickly. Pounding away the first part of the course wasn’t too bad and I got into a nice flow.  I went to check my heart rate at one stage but that must have slowed me down because I got the horn honked at me by David who was driving in the car behind.  Coming into the small village just before the turn on to the main road I could see my minute Women and that gave me great motivation to push on.  I caught her on the slight incline up out of the town on to the roundabout then on to the main road, but she came back at me just as we hit the main road which now started to decent.  I was able to get around her again on the descent and power on. 

Some how the road that I thought I was going to fly on wasn’t actually that nice.  I did get a rhythm going and took a what I thought was a good line, a good bit out on the road rather than riding in the hard shoulder. With David behind me in the car I felt safe enough out there but by the time I got to the end of the dual carriage section I was thinking how the hell am I going to do this all again!

Giving it everything! Photo thanks to Sean Rowe

Luckily, I had forgotten the wind and when I hit the first leg for the second time I was relieved to find the wind was behind me so I was actually  getting a bit of a lift.  This motivated me to keep going and though another rider was passing me this gave me another carrot to chase.   Amazingly, having someone in front of you does spur you on if you can see that they are not gaining much more on you and with David keeping me on my toes from the car I rounded the turning mark and the run to home. 

Oh my god this was the hardest and longest run for home. I thought that chequered flag would never come.  At this stage of the game it is not your motivation that keeps you gong it is all the people around you that have supported you.  David with all his great advice, patience and time. VeloRevolution who kitted me out with a super speedy skin suit and all the trimmings to go with it - over shoes and mitts. The guys in Camden PT where I do my Strength and conditioning and my coach Mark Kiely. I could have given up there and then for me, but I had to keep going as these people had put so much into me.  So keep going I did, and nearly fell off the bike when I finally crossed the line and made it back to the car park. 

Happy to say that I manged a fairly respectable 57.17 in savage heat. I was never so happy to have a bottle of water thrown over me!

 

Para-cycling TT National Championships, Thurs 28th June: Ronan Grimes

Ronan in full flight! Photo thanks to Sean Rowe

I came third in the TT last year so a goal at the start of the season was to move up a step or two. The TT itself was like all TTs, you think that you are flying for the first quarter before slowly realising you’re not.

I didn’t manage to ride the TT course beforehand so the opening part of the course, which had a few fast turns and short climbs, was tougher than it looked when I drove it. The return leg was down the N4 dual carriageway with a bit of a tailwind so I just tried to hold a good position as power output was down due to the high temperatures.

We have a national paracycling league which is very competitive. Once factored time is added in to account for the various paracycling classes the top three positions are usually only separated by a minute which proved to be the case for the Nationals too. I was lucky enough to just get first place ahead of a really strong ride from Chris Burns of Banbridge CC.

Photo thanks to Sean Rowe

 

Elite Women’s National Road Race Championships, Sat 30th June: Breda Horan

Breda leading the way at Nationals! Photo thanks to sean Rowe

Packing for racing in this weather is a lot easier. Not having to worry about how many layers, arm warmers on or off, shoe covers, etc. My main concerns were staying out of the sun and staying hydrated. I travelled to Sligo with Aine on the Friday afternoon and drove straight to the accomodation. A quick change into kit and we went in search of the course start at Collooney. We had arranged to meet Orla and Valerie at 7.30 so we opted to drive a lap and then cycle as time was ticking on. We knew the course was going to be 6 laps of 17.5K with the finish located in Coolaney, just off the circuit. The inclusion of a 1.7K climb would no doubt become the deciding factor as the race progressed.

The race start was pushed out to 1.45pm and with sign on closing at 12 it was going to be a long wait at the start in the midday heat. Stephen discussed race tactics with us but I was just hoping to hold on for as long as possible. Our hopes were lying with Aine as she has had a very good season so far in her first year of racing. The standard of the field was so strong this year with so many full time athletes returning to race the Nationals it was going to be a hard one to call.

After a short neutralised start, the first attack was from our own Orla Hendron. There were a few more attacks but nothing stuck. I stayed in the peleton for the first two laps but at the top of the climb on the second lap I couldn’t get my gears to shift into the big ring quick enough and by then the group were descending and I could not get back on.

Four of us worked together for the next lap and were joined by a few more riders that were dropped on the 3rd lap. They told us that there had been an attack on the climb and it had splintered the group. A few more girls were suffering with the heat and ended up pulling out. A crash claimed a few more. Luckily we had Stephen in the feed zone handing out bidons and gels. Una May and Stephens kids were at the top of the climb waiting with more water-either for a handout or to pour over the riders backs.

In the feed zone with Stephen O'Shea, photo thanks to Sean Rowe

With about 10K left our group relaxed the pace a little as the worst was over and they took it handy coming down the final stretch. Once around the final corner with less than 200m to go they all went for the sprint but I was probably a little late off the mark. Having crossed the finish line and met up the the team it was great to hear Aine had finished seventh.

Big thanks to Stephen and co., Monica, James, Una and anyone else that helped us around the course.

 

Elite Women’s National Road Race Championships, Sat 30th June: Áine Donegan

Áine at her first National Championships, photo thanks to Sean Rowe

7th place at my first National Championship Elite Women’s Road Race. I’ll come away from that happy but with many things to work on moving forward. I started road racing this year mainly to try something different but I am absolutely loving it now and can’t wait for the next race!

When I saw the line up of multi talented athletes I thought it would be really cool to be in the mix with this lot and looked forward to the whole experience.

The race was a 105k, 6 lap course with a 2k hill in each lap, known as “the hungry rock” it was on the third hill that a break was made where 5 super strong girls got away, I wasn’t positioned smartly coming into the climb and didn’t make the break unfortunately. Lessons learnt. I realised too late that a significant gap had opened but I was in a chase pack of about 5, then 10, then 5 again!

It was a hot day, temps around 26 degrees so I made sure to pick up plenty fluids on course from the super Orwell support crew. I’ve never experienced this sort of help from a club in any previous sports I’ve done and was so grateful to see a hand out on lap 4 with my bottle, ice cold & a bar taped on! Thank you Stephen, Monica & James!

The chase pack worked well together to the finish but there was no catching the girls up the road, and speaking to them afterwards it sounded like a good hard race (raging I missed it!). The last 200m was around a sharp left bend and up an incline to the finish, Lydia Boylan attacked before the corner and was over the line for 6th place, I sprinted and got nicely round the bend after her for 7th!

I’m excited to take this experience onward to the rest of the season and hopefully become stronger & smarter!

Aine in the mix, photo thanks to Sean Rowe

 

Junior Women’s National Road Championships, Sun 1st July: Lara Gillespie

Lara take the win! Photo thanks to Sean Rowe

Our race started with a small group of just five of us but we weren't holding back. The first time up the hill split the group leaving Maeve, Gaby and I  with a lead from the other two. We worked together for a lap until Maeve and I broke away on the second hill. We started attacking each other on the final climb all the way to the last kilometre where it became cat and mouse and was left for a 200m sprint.

I gave it everything and it was worth it in the end.

Lara - National Champion (Again!), photo thanks to Sean Rowe

 

Elite Men’s National Road Race Championshps, Sunday 1st July: Eoin Ahern

Eoin over "Hungry Hill", photo thanks to Sean Rowe

Last weekend saw the running of the 2018 National Road Race Championships at Collooney, Co. Sligo. The Elite Mens’ event was highly tipped to be an explosive race, with many of the top international stars including Sam Bennett, Nicolas Roche, Conor Dunne, Eddie Dunbar and defending champion Ryan Mullen all signed up for the event. Reading down through the start list, I struggled to find any duds in there (myself excluded). All the top domestic riders were also signed up, so it was shaping up to be a very tough race indeed.

My memories of the national championships prior to this had not been great. My only previous attempt, in 2016, was just my second race as an A2 (my first was the Roche GP). I threw myself in at the deep end, and not surprisingly, found myself sinking very quickly. Getting dropped on the wet, gravelly, technical descent on lap 1, I struggled on in a grupetto until we’d completed 4 laps. The relentless lashing rain had dampened my spirits as well as my bones, so I decided to call it a day. I’d never raced for 125 km before, so even lasting that long was an achievement in itself. Also, the Ireland vs France game in the Euros was about to kick off, so I needed to get to the pub in Kilcullen in time for that!

Seeing as this year’s championships were all the way out Wesht in Sligo, I decided to make a weekend of it. I could do a recce of the course on the Saturday, watch a bit of the other races, and be fresh and well rested arriving to the start line on Sunday. I drove out Friday evening, arriving at my digs in a farmhouse at Collooney just as the sun was setting. Next morning, I awoke to the sound of honking horns as the Junior Men passed right by the farm gate. After breakfast, I gave my bike a final deep clean before heading out and catching a bit of the Junior race. I then spun around to the sign-on area to wish the ladies luck in their race in the afternoon. Once the Ladies’ race started, I set off after them for a couple of recce laps of the circuit.

The 17.5 km lap was relatively straightforward, with a couple of long, flat, straight sections and a steep 1.5 km climb followed by a not too technical descent. There were a couple of tight corners to watch out for, including a very tight right-left chicane towards the start of the lap. There was a 90 degree left hand turn 200 metres from the finish, with a drag then to the line. This knowledge would be key later on when winding up for the sprint against Sam. The heat was seriously intense, probably nudging 30°C. I went through two full water bottles in the two laps I completed at a relatively easy tempo. Notch it up to race pace, and I figured about a dozen bottles would be just enough to see me through 10 laps the following day! The only way to recover after such a scorching afternoon spin was to jump in the sea, so I hopped in the car to Streedagh for a beautiful, and surprisingly warm, dip.

2018 Scott Orwell Wheelers Men's Team - Eoin, Ronan G and Ronan O'F

I got a good lie in on Sunday morning, only rolling out of bed at about 10am. Breakfast consisted of a small casserole dish of porridge (the airbnb didn’t have any proper cereal bowls so I had to improvise), topped with blueberries, honey, cinnamon and some linseed. Then 3 scrambled eggs on brown bread, with a strong cup of tea (two teabags) and a big glass of juice. Thankfully the heat of the previous day had dissipated, replaced with cool, overcast, breezy conditions. I signed on, pinned on my numbers (I got 13, so upside down for good luck) and got a bit of a warm up done on the road. Our team manager Stephen O’Shea gathered myself, Ronan O’Flynn and Ronan Grimes together for a team photo just before the start. We had a great support team with us for the weekend: Stephen had the club van and positioned himself in the feed zone on the course, handing out bottles and gels as we passed. We also had Monica Freiband and James O’Reilly following behind the race in the team car, dishing out water and gels as required.

Monica & James in the team car, photo thanks to Stephen O'Shea

Lining up on the start line was a bit surreal. Eddie Dunbar and Conor Dunne were just beside me, with Nico, Sam and Ryan Mullen further back. A local reporter was running around trying to get photos of all the pros on the start line, but didn’t have a clue who they were. The lads just took the piss, pointing at Dunbar when he asked where Roche was!

The first 2 km were neutralised until we got onto the circuit, but as soon as the flag dropped the attacks started flying. Before we knew it we were on to the climb for the first time. The searing pace, combined with a decent tailwind, meant it was big ring stuff all the way, despite getting up to 12% gradient in places. I was a bit far back to begin with, and despite working my way past a lot of riders, I found myself in a chasing group coming over the top. Luckily there were some very strong riders around me, so after I drilled it on the front down the descent, they were able to take over and bring us back to the lead group. Both Ronans had also been the wrong side of that split on the climb but were now safely back in the main bunch.

I had set myself the goal of staying with the bunch for the day and simply finishing out the race. So the next couple of laps I just dug in and hung on. I positioned myself better coming into the climb and managed to stay the right side of the splits, even though it tended to regroup after the descent. Fourth time around I came over the top with Ryan Mullen. There was a small gap ahead of us but he comfortably bridged us back over. The atmosphere coming over the climb each time was fantastic, there were spectators lining the road the whole way up cheering us on. All it needed was a cyclocross-style beer hand-up and it would have been perfect!

Over the hill again! Photo thanks to sean Rowe

Ronan O’Flynn had pulled out by this stage and I spotted him on the side of the road near the top. He had miraculously stayed upright earlier when his front wheel caught the quick release of another rider’s rear wheel in the bunch. His wheel was knocked out of shape though, and after a quick wheel change he struggled to get back into a group. He rode a lap on his own before calling it quits. Ronan Grimes was still fighting hard, but I think it was this lap that he ended up the wrong side of a split and didn’t manage to chase back on to us.

Just after the descent we turned onto a long exposed section with a strong crosswind. The bunch got lined out here and a 15-man move containing a lot of the danger men went away on that lap. A 5-man break was already up the road ahead of them. Another lap went by, with a couple of small chase groups getting away in ones and twos. I hesitated for a moment too long when Dermot Trulock jumped and missed my chance to get away with them. I was worried that I’d burn too many matches sprinting away just before hitting the climb, but in retrospect I should have just gone for it.

From then on, there was a real lack of co-operation in the bunch. The pace on the climbs had clearly taken its toll and there were only a handful of us actually willing to do a turn on the front. Even some of the big names were goosed and sitting on. I got fed up and pulled away from the bunch on the uphill section coming into the feed zone. I hung 50 m off the front for a few minutes, just waiting for someone else to jump across. Eventually another 3 lads did, and we got into a good rhythm. Another 2 guys jumped across to us on the climb, making it six, and we continued at a steady pace for the next lap or so. When the road picked up again next time round at the feed zone, it split up and it was just myself and two Phoenix lads remaining.

Photo thanks to Sean Rowe

The three of us just kept on riding solidly for another lap, until another young lad from Phoenix came across to us on the bumper of their team car. He’d blown his lights and got dropped on the second lap, rode around for a while on his own and then seemed to have gotten an easy ride back to us on the bumper. He looked surprisingly fresh after 7 laps anyway, so we let him do some longer turns on the front. One of their trio was clearly suffering and stopped doing turns from this point on.

Starting the second last lap, we caught another group of half a dozen clearly knackered riders. I didn’t want to pick up any passengers, so I got on the front and drilled it past them. We were gone before they even realised it. Shortly after, I dropped the wheel of the two stronger lads while getting a bar out of my pocket. A small gap appeared and it became clear they weren’t going to slow down for me and were even willing to sacrifice their teammate behind. I reluctantly closed the gap, but from then on I started to do less work as I could sense they were plotting my downfall. At least they kept it steady on the climb that time around. I had ridden on the front on the descent all the other laps and was really enjoying it. There was one very fast sweeping s-bend in particular, which you could pedal all the way through if you had the balls for it. I decided to let the other boys do the work this time though. A Viner lad from the knackered group managed to chase back onto us on the descent, so at least it was no longer 3 vs 1 for the last lap.

Last time up the hill, the Phoenix boys upped the tempo. We dropped their tired rider and the Viner lad quick enough, so it was just the three of us left then. They took it in turns putting in a few little digs, but I wasn’t taking the bait and just kept it steady. The younger lad was a bit too keen and even closed down a couple of his teammate’s attacks himself! We came over the top together and the two lads led the descent down. I had been tearing down the descent the previous laps, so there was no way they were going to distance me and I just sat comfortably in second wheel. Coming up to the last corner, the young lad got on the front and despite some rubbing of shoulders, his teammate was determined not to give up the wheel. At that point I just said feck it, and opened up my sprint as we came round the corner side by side. It was a longer sprint than I would have liked, but I held on. I was absolutely delighted coming over the line, almost felt as if I’d just won the sprint for 1st rather than 30th!

Eoin & Ronan together, photo thanks to Sean Rowe

Despite what the final results sheet says, Ronan Grimes fought on and came in a couple of minutes behind me. Unfortunately, he was just outside the rather tight 8% time cut-off and was marked down as DNF, along with the remainder of the main bunch. It should be noted that Bennett and Mullen were also DNFs, so technically I can now say that I beat them.

Seriously though, when I put this result in perspective, I’m really proud of it. Sure I could have finished a few places higher up, but when I consider that this time last year my left leg was in a brace with a partially severed patellar tendon, I’ll gladly take 30th place in the National Championships! I’ve worked my ass off over the last 12 months to get to this point, and it finally feels like it’s paying off. I had been threatening to retire after the Rás, then I postponed it until after the Nationals, and now I’m looking for the next excuse to keep going until the CX season starts!

 

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