With today being the date of the very open Women's Commission AGM, it seems a fitting occasion to publish this one from the drafts folder! For at least the fourth year running, Orwell fielded a strong team in the An Post Rás na mBan. With four club members in Aideen Keenan, Ciara Kinch, Ann Horan and Claire McEntee, and a guest rider Lydia Gurley, the team took home the Top Irish Team prize, 9th overall, 2nd and 3rd county riders and a combativity award!

The team were all Rás débutantes, apart from Ciara Kinch, who rode with Orwell in 2012 when the race was still based in Sneem. Kinch was coming off a successful season where several strong placings netted her 5th overall in the Joe Daly Cycles Women's National League, and she was crowned Leinster Hill Climb Champion in August.

Aideen Keenan was a newcomer to the road racing scene at the beginning of 2014, but she's now a well-established fixture. Starting with a win in Monasterevin, she honed her racecraft in Corkagh Park and the National League, with perhaps her most memorable victory being the Suir Valley Women's Criterium - her near race-long solo break saw her take home the first place prize of a hamper of Merry's Liqeur.

Tester Claire McEntee showed her strength in May, taking the title of Leinster 10TT Champion, and went on to earn 4th in the National Time Trial Champs in late June, agonizingly close to a podium spot. She also made a name for herself with aggressive, prime-winning riding in the National League - her ability to time trial serving her well when leaving the bunch behind.

Straddling the divide between leisure and racing, Ann Horan is a recent convert to the speedier side of cycling. She built her form slowly but surely through the StickyBottle.com Orwell Wheelers Women's Crit League and the Corkagh Park Ladies Racing series, all the while keeping true to her touring roots. She earned 2nd in the Orwell 25TT, as well as an overall 2nd in the club league.

Athenry native Lydia Gurley is currently Birmingham based and riding with Team Jewson M.I.Racing Polypipe. As well as being 2014 Road Race Champ of the British Universities & Colleges Sport (BUCS), Gurley is well-versed in cyclocross and circuit racing, taking two victories in 2013. She was a dark horse for the Irish scene and new to the An Post Rás na mBan, and would be Orwell's star rider for overall GC.

The other prizes to be targetted were Best Irish Rider, which is reserved for IRL-licenced riders who are based in Ireland during the year (which excludes Gurley). The top Irish Team also would also go home with a reward - the time for each team is based on the top three Irish riders home on each stage. That meant that Gurley's time did not count, and it was up to the Orwell riders to do their utmost each day. The teams qualifying for this competition were Orwell, Towers CC, Lakeside Wheelers and the Munster squad.

(Ed's note: with that in mind, Irish in the below article refers to only the 'county' riders, though Gurley is Irish by birth and Irish-licenced.)

Stage 1

The riders were blessed with sunshine and dry roads all week, with the opening 60km stage rolling out from race HQ, the Inn at Dromoland. An ominous tumble for Kinch in the neutralised zone that left her with a bruised hip was not a bother to the strongwoman, with herself, Gurley and Keenan sticking with the main bunch at the front over the single categorised climb.

McEntee suffered a minor mechanical, and was left in the third group on the road after the descent. Digging deep into her physical reserves, and cannily using the cars, the Dubliner jumped away from those riders to tag onto the back of the second group, who worked well together to get back on terms with the main field at the front of the race.

That exceptional effort meant Orwell had three Irish riders losing no time, and putting the team top of Irish Team GC, with three Towers riders coming in together - each 3'11" down. Gurley was also comfortable in the front bunch, Orwell's highest finisher in 33rd. Horan finished 5'39" behind the main field, in a 12-woman chasing group made up mostly of foreign riders.

Stage 2

Stage two began against the gorgeous backdrop of Loop Head Lighthouse, and travelled along the Wild Atlantic Way. This meant a 120km coastal epic traversing the Cliffs of Moher as well as two Cat 3 climbs. McEntee paid for her mostrous efforts of the day before, going out the back early with Horan, before catching a group of county riders to take her home.

The climb at the Cliffs proved the main sorting point for the day, with Gurley holding her spot in the front bunch but Keenan and Kinch caught out on the ascent and finding themselves in a chasing group. Fiona Meade was the only Irish rider to make the cut at the front, so Kinch and Keenan just needed to hold the group to put themselves on the Irish podium.

However, a wrong turn by the rest of the group led to Keenan's front wheel being taken out and her hitting the deck. Though she remounted, her forced solo effort to rejoin resulted in a bonking - even the best of riders can make basic errors when the pressure is on. She pushed on, only losing eight minutes on the group, before being treated by race doctor Conor McGrane. McEntee also required treatment after a run-in with a wall, her shoulder pain being eased loudly and vocally!

Gurley retained her spot at the front, missing one split on the climb out of Doolin after a feed, but the front groups soon reformed into a 30 strong bunch. The stage culminated in a bunch gallop into Ballyvaughan, with Gurley sprinting in for an excellent 8th place, a top ten finish! To emphasise the supreme quality of that placing, she came in just behind defending champion Olivia Dillon (Team Ireland). That put Gurley into 17th overall on countback, and also gave her a start in the National Dairy Council Points competition.

Kinch was next finisher, her group of 15 coming in 08'23" down. Keenan arrived solo after them, a fantastic brave effort at 16'09". McEntee finished 26'48" down on the winner, coming home at the head of a small group - her leading role a reward for her strong efforts working within the group to get around the course. Horan came in only a few minutes later with a trio, at 29'33". Those times not only kept Orwell at the top of Irish Team GC, but extended the lead to second-placed Towers to nearly 30min!

Stage 3

Friday was a split stage for the women, with a individual time trial in the morning, and a 10 lap race of a 4km circuit in the evening. With riders off in reverse GC order, the team were spread out, and each rider warmed up on their turbo before tackling the 8km test.

Horan warming up, getting advice from DS Lynch, while Nicola Doherty (Munster) looks on 

Serious and not-so-serious: McEntee, Keenan and Gurley on the turbos 

Horan and McEntee came back pleased with their times, giving the later starters tips on the turnaround - McEntee enjoying her test immensely, with Kinch also riding strongly. It was Keenan who set the early time to beat with 12'18.77", which lead the field until Eve McCrystal (Team Ireland) crossed the finishing line.

As the heavy hitters took to the start, the times gradually dropped and Keenan slipped down the placings, settling just outside the top 20 in 23rd. That marked the fastest time by an Irish rider except for Meade, who was only 8sec ahead of Keenan. That remarkable performance might be what we would expect from the Orwell 10TT Champ, but magnified and underscored all the more by the fact that Keenan produced it the day after she hit the deck.

Ultimately Gurley was top of the team, blasting home in 12th place on the stage, less than a minute behind stage winner and pink jersey holder Taylor Wiles (DID Cycle 4 Life). Given that Wiles was over 30" ahead of second place, Gurley's time was all the more impressive - less than 15" separated her from a top five spot.

With the time trial placings deciding much of the overall GC, Gurley was boosted to 11th overall, while Kinch and Keenan held onto 2nd and 3rd Irish rider spots, with McEntee's ride putting her into 5th.

Horan, Gurley and Kinch after a tough TT 

McEntee and Keenan remain in good spirits 

Stage 4

As the team faced into the evening circuit race, the DS got a phone call from the race organisers. As Wiles held all three jerseys, the second-placed rider in the Mountains and Points competitions would be minding each jersey for her, while Wiles wore pink. Munster's Meade was therefore wearing the Points jersey, which meant the second-placed rider in the Irish rider competition would be wearing green - Ciara Kinch! It was a great honour to mind the Clare County Council Best Irish Rider Jersey for Meade, and Kinch was placed at the front of the bunch at the beginning of the stage.

Kinch resplendent in green 

The rest of the team 

The stage was uneventful for the most part, though Horan suffered a health scare early on. After being checked over by Dr McGrane, she was given the go ahead to rejoin after dropping a lap, though herself and McEntee were pulled early.

Keenan and Gurley were solid in the bunch, with Keenan fresh and aggressive at the front, with Gurley playing the safer option and making sure not to lose any time. She gained a spot in the GC when the 7th placed rider was caught behind a 9sec split at the finish - with the times so tight, she dropped out of the top ten, and Gurley rose to 10th.

Gurley on the first lap 

Kinch paid for her constant position at the back of the field, though a penalty of 13sec did not affect her position. Times were tight across much of the field, so even small gaps could cause a big shake-up in the GC - only a minute separated 30th from 3rd, while 5th to 11th were only split across 15sec. Orwell retained the lead at the top of the Irish Team GC, but thanks in part to an epic ride by Catherine McAteer (Towers CC), the buffer back to second fell to 12min. With two long stages ahead, it would be a challenge to stay ahead!

Stage 5

The Beast of the Burren awaited the riders on Saturday. The 5th stage saw Kinch still minding green, with Meade now Points leader outright. Despite the sunshine and blue skies, it started disastrously with a crash in the bunch for McEntee, who was then left behind on a climb. Despite a urgent struggle, she could not regain the bunch, instead falling in with a small group of GB women.

Kinch was also found out on the first categorised climb, but crested the hill in a chasing group of high calibre - including two Irish squad riders, both of whom were former Orwells - Michelle Geoghegan and Anne Dalton.

The climb responsible for so much devastation 

Gurley and Keenan asserted their place in the main field after the descent. The pace calmed down as the main fields began calling up their team cars for feeding. Gurley came back once to fetch a bottle for both herself, and then a second time on behalf of the less experienced Keenan, showing her spirit as a fantastic teammate.

The stage was relatively quiet until it split on the final climb 20km from the finish in Ballyvaughn. Gurley stayed with the leaders, while Keenan rode hard to join a chasing group on the descent. A courageous and shrewd ride through the cavalcade saw her reach 15 other riders, and come in just 2"04' down. That saw her overtake Kinch in the GC, and the Irish Rider contest. 9th placed Frida Knuttsson (Team Rytger) was also in the same chasing move, which saw her fall to 30th.

Gurley stayed solidly in the front bunch, and finished 22nd on the stage. A dropped wheel behind the sprint meant a 3sec gap, but thankfully this did not affect Gurley's overall position. She benefited from Knuttsson's misfortune however, moving up to 9th overall.

Kinch and McEntee both finished safely in small groups, with Kinch having suffered the ignominy of having to push her bike up one climb after a rider ahead unshipped her chain and brought the group to a halt on the slope. Horan faced one of the toughest rides of the day, and did a lanterne rouge ride with Postman Pat Halpin, a monumental effort that earned her not only a hug from Johnny Colleran at the finish line, but also the day's combativity award.

A well-earned break after the stage 

Horan is awarded her prize by broomwagon driver Pat Halpin 

When the dust settled, Orwell had eked out another two minutes on Towers in the Team GC, with the lead stretched to 14' with one stage to go. Lakeside were in 3rd, 22' down, with Munster out of the running after the unlucky withdrawals of Nicola Doherty and Martina Cronin.

Stage 5b

Stage 5b took place in the ballroom at the Inn at Dromoland that evening. Quizmasters Eddie Lynch and Declan Quigley kept the support staff entertained through several rounds, including several that Lynch contended were 'un-Googleable'. This was necessary after some disgraceful behaviour at the 2012 quiz, by certain members of a certain south Dublin-based cycling club, who may or may not be us.

The Orwell representatives were joined by a St. Tiernan's contingent, and one guest panellist from overseas. An average start dipped in the middle when two of the team had to abandon due to fatigue, but a strong comeback saw the team finish in joint 2nd. However, it transpired that 2nd was merely the first loser, as there were no prizes for the podium beyond gold.

Stage 6

The final stage took place under overcast skies, as the foreign riders got a hint of what Irish September weather is supposed to be like. It was the turn of Keenan to mind the green on behalf of Meade (who had retained her lead in the Points), and the Orwell squad were very visible at the front as the race rolled out from HQ.

Keenan presented with the Clare Co Co Best Irish Rider jersey by race representative Fiona Cooke 

Horan had been feeling the effects of the week-long racing, and slipped out the back early to face another solitary trek to the chalk. McEntee suffered on the early slopes of the day's Cat 1, but was accompanied by a group of strong riders. A miscalculated turn forced an expert cyclocross display from McEntee, giving her a chance to show how her bike handling skills had improved throughout the stages.

Keenan once again found herself in a strong move after the climb, coming home 5'15" down with 12 others to hold on to her 2nd Irish Rider slot. Kinch pulled out her best performance of the race to stay with the leaders the entire day, the long and draggy climbs perhaps suiting her better than the short, steep shocks of the previous stages.

Gurley was predictably in the mix as well, finishing with the front group behind a two-woman breakaway. That move contained GC leader Wiles as well as 11th overall Anne Ewing (WV Breda Manieu.nl). Ewing gained enough time with her stage win to move into 2nd overall, forcing Gurley into 10th. However, with 6th placed Chloe Fraser losing the bunch early in the stage (due to a mechanical or crash), Gurley actually moved up as well, and therefore stayed put in 9th overall.

Meanwhile McEntee had been dropped after a mechanical, and was suffering so much in the chase that she had an encounter with a ditch 22km from the finish. She emptied herself on the run-in in perhaps the single stand-out individual ride of the team for the Rás, burying herself to ensure the team prize would be Orwell's. After being peeled off her bike, she collapsed on the footpath, and after all the calculations were done, Orwell had not only retained the lead, but nearly doubled it! From 14'26" on Towers, to 27'15" over the new and final runners-up, Lakeside Wheelers.

The squad accept Best Irish Team prize on the podium


After five days, six (and a half) stages, the team individually could claim Lydia Gurley's 9th overall on GC, 2nd and 3rd Irish Rider for Aideen Keenan and Ciara Kinch respectively, a combativity award and the lanterne rouge for Ann Horan.

While the times of Claire McEntee - along with Keenan and Kinch - counted for the team GC, the positive atmosphere generated by the entire squad contributed to the Orwell Wheelers team taking home the prize of Best Irish Team at the 2014 An Post Rás na mBan.

Every rider acquitted themselves well - Horan riding two entire stages on her own, when 90% of riders would have packed; McEntee's solo efforts on the first and last stages were nothing short of extraordinary; Kinch's ride on the last stage was seriously impressive; Keenan bounced back from a horror show on Thursday to take 2nd county rider; and Gurley was simply awesome every single day. The entire club can be justifiably proud of the whole squad!

There were also other Orwell and ex-Orwell contributors, with Anne Dalton and Michelle Geoghegan being selected for the national squad, managed by Mags Donnelly. They went home with a stage win and 6th overall for Olivia Dillon.

Among the race staff, John Dillon was active in neutral service, while Declan Quigley was responsible for much of the press and presentation duties, where he was ably assisted by Caroline Martinez. 2011 Orwell guest rider Fiona Cooke was also instrumental in race organisation - well done to them all on another successful edition!

Thanks are also due to a few key people, first and foremost Eddie Lynch and Brian McArdle for shepherding the team through the week. Both experienced racers, Lynch also has several Rásanna under his belt as Orwell's DS, while McArdle was tasked with managing the Joe Daly Cycles squad last year. By all accounts, it could be argued that the two men had a harder job than the riders, who were left wanting for nothing from the moment they arrived at Dromoland HQ. While the women were under instruction from Lynch to do nothing but eat, sleep and ride for five days, the two men had to do all the heavy lifting...quite literally, which they discovered to their horror when they spied the pile of bags and the lack of a lift!

With his "don't be late except when I am" pre-race strategy meetings, his morale-boosting post-race pep-talks and his vet-racing tuned obsession with wind direction, Lynch masterfully kept the Orwell team on course for the County Team prize from day one, never once letting it out of his grasp. Although he probably won't admit it, his proudest moment, after the birth of his children and winning the County Team Prize, was the cavalcade upgrade to 8th. What a day!

And as for chief mechanic Brian "is there anything this man can't do" McArdle, it became clear how thoroughly committed he was to his upcoming role, when he dedicated the previous weekend to honing his mechanic skills at another stage race in Charleville. At RNM, he was the first one up in the morning, getting the machines ready for their daily beatings, and the last to dinner in the evening, when he would turn up knackered and grease-smeared to grab a bite of food, wonder aghast at why McEntee's chain wouldn't play ball on the road and still be lucid enough to churn out some very fitting Father Ted quotes. And all this while tapping away on his (über slick by the way) laptop, churning out excel equations to work out team prize, as well as keeping Orwell's twitter and FB tifosi updated round the clock.

As a small token of their appreciation, the team presented each of the manager, mechanic and masseur with a customised hoody, featuring the adept doodlings of a graphic designer who shall remain nameless. Well let's call her C. McEntee... no wait, Claire M.

It was an absolute luxury and a clear indication of the management's commitment to ensure all the riders would preform to the best of their ability that Shane O'Connell was bought in as masseur. Pre and post racing Shane was on hand to melt away the pain and toll of racing and ensure our bodies were in tip top shape to tackle another day. As the days progressed it become clear that he wasn't just an awesome masseur but also a thoroughly decent human being, acting as taxi driver, soigneur, feed zone attendant, number 1 fan for each riders and all round calming influence fitting in perfectly with the gaggle of girls and race post-mortem.

(Ed's note: above contributions thanks to Aideen Keenan and Lydia Gurley.)

The exquisite doodles that decorated the hoodies presented to the support staff

McArdle and Lynch look pleased with themselves, and their new fleeces!

Several people contributed to the team in smaller but still valuable ways - Dave Tansey gave a giant box of spares (as well as sponsoring the Joe Daly Cycles team), while Dick O'Brien lent his gazebo and Lucy Soden offered a spare bike. Thanks to them all for offering their possessions! Orla Hendron was instrumental in putting the team together, and got to drop the starter's flag on the final stage thanks to her hard work with the Women's Commission. The team are grateful too to the club for sponsorship and subsidies - the race would be a whole lot harder without the support given by every member, both mentally and physically.

Thanks to all the race organisers and volunteers - most notably race director Val Considine, who ensured a smooth and professional operation from start to finish!

It only remains to say well done to all the finishers, especially the county riders - many of whom returned to work or college on Monday (or Tuesday!) morning. The club are extremely proud of the team and the individual rides and collective performance! Chapeau!


Irish Team GC
1 Orwell Wheelers 02:28:58
2 Lakeside Wheelers @00:27:15
3 Towers CC @00:32:09


Irish County Rider GC
1 Fiona Meade
2 Aideen Keenan
3 Ciara Kinch
4 Niamh Stephens
5 Michelle O'Halloran
6 Karen Robinson
7 Lisa Darley Ronan
8 Sonja O'Mahoney
9 Eimear O'Reilly
10 Catherine McAteer
11 Claire McEntee
12 Máire Claffey
13 Teresa O'Sullivan
14 Helen Kerrane
15 Ann Horan


Full results at http://www.rasnamban.com/