Neal Hudson had one of the hardest rides of the 2015 An Post Rás - an early crash on the opening stage nearly costing him his place. He then had to carry the injuries from that through the entire week, but true grit and determination saw him through. He takes us through his torment below...


Before I start into what is going to be probably a long and pretty introspective read, I'd like to echo what Brian and Tom have already said about the support. It wouldn't have been possible for any of us to start the week without the generous support beforehand from the club, family and friends, or to complete the week without the amazing support during it from Pat, Fionn, Mary and Aishling - it has already been said but I have to reiterate it because the help was probably needed a little bit more in my case to get through what was the toughest week mentally and physically I think I've experienced. I wrote a little bit after each stage on what happened that day, I've tried to add a little bit more as context but it's pretty much just some thoughts on the actual stage as it happened from my own perspective leaving it as raw as possible, penned that evening.


Day one – Dunboyne to Carlow 

There are hard days on the bike, then there's the Rás...

Today began well, super crowd out in Dunboyne for the send-off - it felt great to make it to the start line, for all the waiting to be over and to roll out as part of the 2015 Rás!

The good feeling didn't last too long unfortunately…

The start was hectic enough, as to be expected, and after a couple of near misses early on, things compressed at about the 10km mark, the guy next to me lost his back wheel and slid out, taking me down. I didn't hit the deck too hard, was able to get back up quickly but it took a minute to get going again - rear brake was rubbing and the chain had come off. I found out later from Fionn that both brakes were still rubbing after the stage. That made a very hard day harder – inexperience and nerves on my part playing a factor in getting going too quickly and not making sure the bike was 100%.

Got going again but the peloton were up the road and the cars in the cavalcade were going past me pretty quickly. No bumper offered, fair enough seeing they'd their own riders to look after. Car 10, 11, 12... whizzing past... don't panic, settle into it. 17, 18, ok I know Orwell is car 20, just relax and get on Pat's bumper. They arrive, Fionn makes sure I'm alright from the fall and tells me not to panic, I get behind the car and try stick to their pace. It felt like almost instantly the motorbike commissaire was beside us directing Pat to drive on, probably not knowing I'd crashed, but harsh given how early it was into the race. Sinking feeling as they both drive on and the cars start to zip past me again. Big gaps start appearing between all the cars at that stage, as the accordion effect of the peloton and cavalcade sees me getting slung backwards and not forwards.

Lost contact with the cavalcade, less than 20kms into 154km of stage 1. Panic stations, big time.

Between 20kms and 40kms were probably the toughest kilometres mentally on a bike I've experienced. All the training, the sacrifice, the support from the club and family and friends. Potentially not finishing, or if I did - missing the time cut. On day one... What would I say to people? Had to ride on and finish the stage, packing just wasn't an option. But into a headwind and only putting out 30kms/hr was tough going, knowing that the front of the bunch – on the first day of a big race like this would be doing 40kms/hr at the least.

Something clicked mentally after the 40kms mark though, was able to settle into a steady tempo and just put everything else out of my head accept finishing the stage. Everything else was outside my control.

At around the 110kms mark there were a trio of riders in sight – Dick, a Novo Nordisk guy and Mark Nicholls from Lucan. I made it up to them, the four of us rode for a while until Mark punctured and the group became three.

Needless to say, I was spent at the finish. I thought we were going to be ok but it turned out we were a few minutes outside the time limit, but luckily the cut wasn't applied today "due to the conditions of the race and the crashes". Tomorrow's another day...


Day two – Carlow to Tipperary 

Amazing feeling to roll out of Carlow town today, all the better knowing the climbs of the Des Hanlon were not on the route! Got a good long warm-up in after advice from Pat, and the legs were definitely thankful - they felt loose when the pace went on.

The nerves weren't as loose as the legs for the initial few kilometres though, I really didn't want to come down again. So I decided that the best place to be to stay out of trouble was up the front – and to try channel Brian Ahern to get there! I was about two thirds the way down the bunch when a big Canadian lad was out of the saddle and moving up on the outside. I was able to move across, sit in behind him and got a lovely tow all the way to the front. It was very far back to attack from, but that was the Canadian lad's plan was and when he hit the front he just kept going - so I thought why not, may as well wake the legs up properly early doors. We got a little gap, were joined by a Meath rider, and I had my 20 seconds of a Rás breakaway attempt before the bunch were on top of us. It was ideal for me though to settle the nerves, I could slot in nicely up near the front of the race, and stayed there and out of trouble for the first hour or so.

At 50kms when the feeding started the pace eased quite a bit. Think the break went a short while after, the 3 escapees were let go and in the bunch it felt like a Sunday spin for an hour. Just what I needed after yesterday. Got to have a little chat with each of the lads on the team.

The pace really went up with 30kms to go as the break needed to be brought back. The pros have it down to an exact science and caught McCrystal with less than 4kms to go by all accounts. I was behind a split heading onto the last climb - down as a Cat3 but was warned by our guest rider Michael Butler that it was more like a Cat2. I rode it hard but not eyeballs out, still a few days to go and after yesterday while every day is a bonus I've nothing to ride for – any A2 GC ambition is gone, it's just about survival. Looking forward to the rest of the week!

Hudson on the massage table


Day three – Tipperary to Bearna 

Didn't warm up properly and wasn't switched on mentally or physically at the start today. Lesson learned that every day it's vital to get the preparation right before the start. The pace went on early into the crosswinds, or at least it felt that way to me, and I was near the back more often than I should have been.

Tried moving up when possible, but never get very far and the first hour felt like one big line out. Popped shortly after, was in the cars for a while with a couple of other riders, but never regained contact with the bunch. Day one was starting to have an impact.

Another long hard day. Ten or so of us chased to make the time cut, had Michael Butler with me for company, and a very vocal Dungarvan rider kept the group honest. Legs are sore now after a lot of riding today and Sunday.


Day four – Bearna to Newport 

Nice sunny morning in Bearna, got a good warm up in and the bunch was counted down at the start by local school kids - a real buzz with cheering and shouting as we rolled out of the town.

The wind was going to be the selecting factor, and I had the change in its direction noted on the top tube. Into a headwind for the first 23kms, then a ninety degree right turn and crosswind. The bunch absolutely exploded after that turn, have never experienced anything like it in a race.

I was well positioned coming into the turn and got in front of a crash shortly after it - on the right side of a split in the bunch. A great position to be in, but it didn't matter in the end, echelon didn't form where I was - lack of confidence / experience from us County riders maybe - and I blew my lights in the savage line out.

Luckily for me so did a lot of others and I got into a large grupetto, along with Brian, Tom and Michael. Dick had another long hard day staying in front of the broom.

I was swinging out the back of the grupetto at one stage - it lined out, there was a crash which I was behind and I just struggled to hold the wheel in front chasing back into the line. The Orwell and Lucan cars were behind the group, they made sure I didn't lose contact and got me back onto the group. Very thankful for that help today, not a whole lot of laughing in that group for most of the day.

Finished in Newport with my parents waiting, delighted to see them - a late surprise - they'd only told me a few days ago they'd be there, and I'm sure they were delighted to see me in one piece after Sunday.

Proud parents in Drogheda


Day five – Newport to Ballina 

Toughest day yet. The longest stage race I'd done before this was four days, so I was now into unknown territory.

Today was a fast start into both wind and rain. It was slippy, lined out and I had an early fright when the brakes were needed but didn't do a whole lot. The nerves weren't up to it after that – I had to back off too much from the wheel in front of me and was quickly dropped when the pace went up in the crosswinds.

Was in the cars for what seemed like a long time, Pat and Fionn and Aido trying to save me, trying to bring me up to groups. Was with Michael for a while at one stage, but just couldn't hang on as long as him.

Started to really struggle with breathing for the second half of the stage – it felt like I couldn't take a full deep breath, a sharp pain in the back of my ribs like there was something trapped. Had trouble at various points even staying with the broom group. After effects of the crash on Sunday the physio said this evening, swelling around some vertebrae.

Really had to go deep again to make it to the finish. I knew my parents would be there again, if they weren't going to be there the chances were a lot higher that I'd have climbed off the bike today. Thinking of them, and all the support we'd gotten all week from everyone, not wanting to let people down, being more than halfway to Skerries, forced me to dig in again.

Made it home with the the broom, with the support of various Mayo people and even Padraig Marrey on his bike at one stage!

Got help from Mary and Aishling after the stage trying to loosen up the back, and then Lucan's soigneur Frances applied some kinesio tape. Hoping that it's better tomorrow and I'm able to start. Finishing is another matter…

Orwell Wheelers - Stage 5 - An Post Rás 2015 from Aidan Collins on Vimeo.


Day six – Ballina to Ballinamore 

There was a Cat 3 climb 10 kilometres into today's stage. It wasn't steep but it seemed to go on forever to me, and after yesterday the legs just didn't have it. Normally I'd opt for climbs over crosswinds any day, but today my climbing legs well and truly deserted me.

Dropped with 3 others, in the cars for a while again then dropped completely. Pedalling on my own for a while, then the motorcycle marshal told me broom wasn't far back - waited for that and slotted in with Mark Nicholls from Lucan. The two of us, and two each from Velo Cafe Magasin and Mego were the last riders most of the day. The broom got us home safe and sound, Mark was a great man to have in that group, kept talking all day and kept spirits up.

At around 30kms in today I didn't think I had 130kms in me. But I'm still here, hanging on by my fingernails at this stage. Two more days to go....


Day seven – Ballinamore to Drogheda 

Rolled out of Ballinamore towards Drogheda this morning, having stayed in the same B&B as both Bikeworx and my friends from the broom groups Velo Cafe Magasin. Busy breakfast... but good to be surrounded by people in the same physical and mental state. Some nasty looking road rash on a Bikeworx lad. All our bodies are nearly broken, but one more day to go before the last stage.

Got to the start nice and early, better weather and got a decent warm-up in on the first 6kms of the race route. Was only soft pedalling but still doing over 30kms/hr - knew it was going to be a fast start. And indeed it was - we passed 48kms in the first hour of racing!

There was an early crash, later found out the yellow jersey was in it. I just about managed to avoid it, had gotten around it when one of his team mates nearly took me down stopping hard and sideways for his leader. My right brake lever into his left arse cheek pushing him back into the road and allowing me round him to continue. Close call.

After that it was full gas over drumlin country - enough shelter from the wind though with high ditches ,which meant the full width of the road could be used and we weren't all just in the gutter.

Got over the first KOH ok, break got away at some stage and it settled down a bit, time to eat and drink. The second KOH was a bit more testing and got gapped at the top steep bit. But chasing back on the descent Eoin Morton and Robin Kelly drilled it – being with those lads and still in front of most of the cavalcade meant no need to panic.

The group I was in finally lost contact with the front about 25kms out on the last (uncategorised) climb. The group ahead was within spitting distance from our group for what felt like an eternity, but the pace wasn't high enough and the work consistent enough to close the gap. Happy enough to roll home to the finish with Tom in that group, feeling like I'd been a part of the race today, not just dropped and chasing to make the time cut. A well needed day after the last couple, it really lifted my spirits.

One more day to go, one more day to get up the road and get a shout out on Twitter!


Day eight – Drogheda to Skerries 

The last stage. Unbelievable feeling to have made it this far after the events of the week, but still a job to do to go and ride the final race of the 2015 Rás.

Good warm-up, did 20 minutes easy followed by 1 minute each stepping up through the power zones. Felt good after it and ready.

Fast start after a long neutralised roll-out through Drogheda and Donore, lost both bottles on a bouncy descent - lucky not to puncture. Got a spare bottle from Michael Butler – his own honey + salt + water solution, did the job nicely!

Settled into it and didn't feel under too much pressure in the initial line-outs. But got stuck behind a crash and had to really start chasing - gaps in front of me as wheels were let go. Bigger gaps then, chasing hard, then in with the cars. Was behind the first couple of cars for a while and thought that I'd get back on but never did, just kept going backwards.

The cavalcade probably just ran out of patience with me after seeing me all week. Got in with the Velo Cafe Magasin lads again (Joe and Gary), and a Mayo fella (Keith). We were just tipping along as Joe was really struggling. Got sent the wrong way at one stage, by the time we got back onto the race route I knew we were never getting back on.

The four of us rode steady until we hit the circuit. It was closed - a commissaire took our numbers and told us we'd be given a finishing time, and to wait with the other riders who were there until the final lap and we'd all be allowed to slot in behind the bunch and ride to the finish. A bit disappointing not to make it to Skerries for the laps, but at the same time the realisation setting in that the hard riding was over.

Rás 2015 complete as we were allowed back onto the circuit to ride the final kilometres into the village, and hug friends and family – it was an amazing feeling to have been a part of it all.

Proud wife and son at the finish in Skerries

For all the messages of support I received before, during and after – there's too many to mention individually – I just want to say a massive thank you; they played a huge part in getting me through the week!