The Orwell women sent a team of eight women to compete in the inaugural Newcastle West 2 Day stage race two weeks ago - Mary Brady, Orla Hendron, Ann Horan, Breda Horan, Helen Horan, Monica Marconi, Siobhán O'Connor and Naoise Sheridan. Along with them was Stephen Rowan in a supporting role, and together the team got through a weekend of hard racing - check out Ann Horan's account below!

Stage 1: The Flat Stage

  "A team of eight Orwell ladies took to the start line for the first staging of the Newcastle West women's stage race. We all had different goals going into the stage. Some of us looking at claiming a prize in the novice category while others had loftier expectations. For me it was all about my struggle to get around Rás na mBan the previous year. Doing well in the final GC in Broadford would finally get that monkey off my back.

  "The first stage was a flat 14km circuit which we had to complete four times. The attacks started from the gun with the first break of the day being established at the 6km mark. Orla Hendron was in it and they stayed away for more than half a lap. It was around this time that I noticed something missing from my bike. My Garmin had fallen off and was probably somewhere back the road. The bumpy surface had also caused my cadence and speed sensor to rub off each other. Great. I now sound like I've a grasshopper stuck in my bike and have no idea what distance is left to go. My cousin Breda Horan was also unfortunate when her chain jammed causing her bike to stall. Poor Breda ended up in the ditch but luckily received no serious injuries.

  "I got in one successful break in the second lap but we were reeled in and I sat for the remainder of the race in the bunch. Orla rode agressively and was involved in every break. It was on the third lap that the decisive move of the day was made when Sinéad Oakes left a breakaway group to time trial solo to the finish line. As we got closer to the finish I frantically attempted to position myself for the sprint along with Helen Horan, the two of us lurking near the front of the bunch. Despite my best efforts I crossed the line in 7th place so got nothing on the stage.

  "Apart from Orla the standout ride of stage 1 from an Orwell perspective had to go to Mary Brady who rode really well all day to contest her first bunch sprint.

Stage 2: 8km Time Trial

  "I was looking forward to the time trial. There were no fancy tri bikes or clip on TT bars allowed making for a level playing field. All the same I felt I looked the part anyway in my newly acquired speed suit with matching shoe covers complete with a rather cumbersome aero helmet. Stephen Rowan kindly lent me his Garmin for the rest of the stages too. As a rider I really depend on numbers to get me through races so I am incredibly grateful to him. The sun shone for the time trial and all riders gave it their best shot. Not wanting to hassle the time keepers it would be later that evening before our new positions on GC would be revealed. Naoise Sheridan rode a solid time trial placing her top junior on the stage. I was surprised to learn that my TT had moved me right up to 7th place, less than a second off 6th place.

Stage 3: The Hilly Stage

  "After waking up at 3am and lying awake for the rest of the night I wasn't sure how today would go. Getting out of bed the legs felt good and I was feeling pumped with adrenalin. Psychologically I'd prepared myself for pain. Having looked at the profile of the route I promised myself that I would bury myself on the hills to hang on to the lead group. As we looked out at the rain Aideen Keenan's other half Shane informed me that Aideen was warming up 'Mick Galwey style' so I decided to do the same. I blasted the heating on in the car and waited 'til the last minute to get on the bike.

  "The race started conservatively enough with all the top contenders on GC watching each other like hawks. Orla Hendron made a brave attack before the first climb and got a substantial gap on the bunch. As the bunch became strung out Aideen attacked and joined Orla in a two woman breakaway. I stayed to the front of the bunch and glued myself to the wheels of the girls I knew to be good climbers. At the top of the climb I was pleased to note that the bunch had halved in size. As we descended to my dismay I saw Orla on the side of the road holding a wheel in the air. I honestly thought I wouldn't see Orla again for the the rest of the race given the route profile. How wrong I was!! On the second lap Orla was back in the bunch and back in the race. What an incredible feat and if there was a prize for combativity nobody else would get a look in!

  "Aideen was reeled in on the final lap and at this stage there were only 10 riders left in the lead bunch. I was surprised to make the cut and happy to hold my place on GC on a Des Hanlon type course. The bunch stalled after Aideen was caught and riders were reluctant to co-operate to stay away with the result that a bunch of 9 caught back on approaching the finish. Emma Walsh attacked on the climb and powered her way down the hill to the finish. I was badly positioned for the sprint and just glad to be home in one piece having lost no time.

  "The standout ride on the final stage came from my cousin Breda Horan who got dropped earlier in the race on a climb but managed to chase her way back on and was the first Orwell rider across the line. The novice prize could have been hers had she not had a mechanical on stage 1. Siobhán O'Connor has been playing the role of racer more than organiser this year, and has been acquitting herself well. Monica Marconi rode strongly all weekend and after a great TT finished 9th on GC. I was delighted to have come out of the race with all limbs intact for my upcoming bridesmaid duties and moved up to 6th on GC.

  "I want to say a huge thank you to Stephen Rowan who gave his time generously to support the Orwell ladies. Stephen completed his first race in Corkagh park last week in the limit group and is completely new to racing. He did a fantastic job giving Orla her wheel change and helping her back to the bunch. He's even promised to help us ladies out again at future races. I'd also like to thank Liam Collins for putting a much needed , second women's only stage race on the Irish calendar."

As well as Ann's excellent account, Breda Horan also had this to add about her cousin:

  "Ann was great in advising us how to prep for the weekend, especially as many of us had never done anything like this before. She had organised accommodation, arranged for food for after each stage and even had a physio lined up after our TT. Having the support car and Stephen was also invaluable for those of us who had a few incidents on the road. She had plenty of advice and encouragement for all of us even when we were feeling tired in the miserable conditions."

We'll be catching up with the rest of the recent women's racing during the week, in the meantime here's a photo of some of the team from Newcastle West:

Congratulations to former Orwell Aideen Keenan who topped the GC in Limerick, a fantastic TT performance giving her the edge over her rivals.


Newcastle West 2 Day, Broadford (11-12/4/2015)

Stage 1
1 Oakes,Sinead Nenagh 1h38'00”
18 Hendron,Orla @23″
19 Brady,Mary  
20 Horan,Breda  
21 Horan,Helen  
23 Marconi,Monica  
24 Horan,Ann  
26 Keenan,Aideen DID Electrical
34 O'Connor,Siobhan  @06'44”
35 Sheridan,Naoise  @15'38”

Stage 2
1 Keenan,Aideen DID Electrical 12'32.10″
7 Horan,Ann Dublin @44.87″
11 Hendron,Orla Dublin @56.73″
12 Marconi,Monica Dublin @01'06.58
18 Horan,Breda Dublin @01'13.90
19 Horan,Helen Dublin @01'14.11
20 Sheridan,Naoise Dublin @01'18.06
33 O'Connor,Siobhan Dublin @02'11.61
34 Brady,Mary Dublin @02'57.88

Stage 3
1 Walsh,Emma Waterford Racing Club 1h54'42”
11 Horan,Breda Dublin @28″
12 Marconi,Monica Dublin
13 Horan,Ann Dublin
15 Keenan,Aideen DID Electrical
24 Hendron,Orla Dublin @01'18”
29 Brady,Mary Dublin @10'33”
30 Horan,Helen Dublin @10'38”
31 O'Connor,Siobhan Dublin @10'53”
33 Sheridan,Naoise Dublin @16'46”

Final GC
1 Keenan,Aideen DID Electrical 3h46'05”
6 Horan,Ann @44″
9 Marconi,Monica @01'06”
11 Horan,Breda @01'14”
22 Hendron,Orla @01'46”
28 Horan,Helen @11'24”
30 Brady,Mary @13'02”
32 O'Connor,Siobhan @18'57”
33 Sheridan,Naoise @32'51”