The 2015 Joe Daly Cycles National League opened in Blarney last Sunday, and Orwell took home a tremendous result - racing sophomore Ann Horan winning the bunch gallop for 2nd behind winner National Champion Fiona Meade. She takes us through the race below!

After an entire year of open racing in 2014 and coming home empty handed and slightly deflated after every race, I was beginning to wonder if it was ever going to happen. The stars lined up for me today at Round 1 of the Joe Daly Cycles National League in Blarney and I finished second to the legendary Fiona Meade!

We had a nice little team make the journey down. Six Orwell ladies including Junior Naoise Sheridan, and local Siobhán O'Connor. My sister Mags agreed to drive the support car and was ably assisted by the more experienced Dave Tansey. Despite Mags' limited knowledge of bike racing, her infinite supply of enthusiasm and positivity overshadowed this.

Three of the Horan sisters - Helen, Mags and Ann

It was a 40km circuit which we would complete twice, finishing in Blarney village decorated in bunting especially for the occasion.

The race was neutralised for the first 10km but as we were climbing it didn't feel terribly slow. A few beeps from the lead car and an injection of pace signalled to us that it was race on! There were a couple of attacks on the remainder of the climb from Fiona and Aideen Keenan but they were both chased down! I was glad I'd forgotten my heart rate monitor as the numbers would have revealed to me what my legs already knew. The descents after the climb were quite technical so I did my best to stay out of trouble. 

Second time round the circuit the formidable pairing of Fiona and Aideen got away together and stayed out front for 5km. More pain and a whittled down bunch. Watching Orla Hendron beside me on the climb was inspiring. I don't know anyone who knows how to suffer as much as she does!

Things relaxed in the last 15km and Orla advised me to attack 3km out. I was feeling really fresh at this point and as I don't rate myself as a sprinter was delighted to feel I could contribute to the team instead of just rolling in with the bunch. We had Monica Marconi and Orla still there so I felt Orwell were in with a chance. Orla attacks with 10km to go, but the bunch reels her back in. I could also see my sister Helen Horan obviously feeling fresh as a daisy. She comes into her own after 70km! She was up near the front plugging away but I was so nicely nestled in the bunch I wasn't about to move to say 'Get off the front you fool!' ...and it is a competition after all!

My Garmin tells me there's 3km left. Time to go! I managed to position myself to the right of the bunch and did my best effort, out of the saddle and sprinting. I got a decent gap and tried to keep going hard but look back to see a vulture-like pack coming towards me. Nobody really wanted to be at the front at this point so once I was caught we were back to funeral procession pace again and I was left up front coming into the finish.

With about 1km to go Theresa from Tralee BC charged out front driving the pace but not attacking. I gratefully clung to her wheel. Coming into Blarney village I knew I was really well positioned. I put my bike in the highest gear I could find. After sprinting up the Kyber in the Phoenix Park,out of the saddle, 6 times on Friday pushing this gear would be a piece of cake! (Thanks Stephen O'Shea!) I felt what I can only describe as a flurry of green and white charge by on my left. The blast of colour was Fiona Meade. Somehow she found a gap, dived through it and got the jump on the bunch. Right - out of the saddle and push hard! Crossing the line my immediate reaction was one of disbelief. Did I actually feature in a bunch sprint? 3rd place too!

The tight finish for 2nd - Keenan in DID colours, Karen Robinson out of shot at left (photo thanks to Joe Murphy)

As we tucked into tea and sambos after the race Aideen informed me that I'd pipped her on the line and had in fact taken second place in a photo finish. She was incredibly gracious and was genuinely really happy for me. Maybe she was just glad she won't have to listen to me moaning about never getting results for a few weeks!

Horan is awarded her prize by league sponsor Dave Tansey

To see just how close it was for the photo finish, check out the video here. Due to Meade's impending trip to the USA after her win on home roads, the leader's jersey for the National League will be worn by Horan at the next fixture. If she is absent, it falls onto the shoulders of Keenan - not the first time she's minded a jersey for Meade, but we don't think it'll be long before she's the rightful wearer!


Joe Daly Cycles Women's National League R1

Kay Stratton Memorial, Blarney (15/3/2015)
1 Fiona Meade (Blarney CC)
2 Ann Horan (Orwell Wheelers)
3 Aideen Keenan (DID Electrical)
4 Karen Robinson (Garda CC)
5 Teresa O'Sullivan (Tralee CC)
6 Grace Young (De Ronde Van Cork)