It's been a couple of months since the apex of the women's road racing, An Post Rás na mBan came and went in a flurry of activity and it's a good time to reflect on a couple of typically dogged and superbly athletic performances from two of the club's most talented vets.

There was no Orwell squad in Ireland's flagship stage race this year (something that looks likely to be remedied for the move to Kilkenny next season) so Monica Marconi and second-claim Orwell member Ciara Kinch put the word out and managed to find berths on Irish club outfits.

Marconi, with four Rásanna under her belt already, was snapped up by hugely enthusiastic neophyte squad Nenagh CC while Kinch, with two finisher's medals already, was taken on by the team representing the great Mullingar club Lakeside Wheelers.

It was far from plain sailing for either rider in what is a very demanding international event. To get a sense of the quality you only had to look at overall winner Stephanie Pohl driving on the front for the German national squad at the elite World Championships in Richmond less than two weeks after taking the honours in County Clare.

And remember that Pohl didn't have it all her own way in Munster, failing to win a single stage as a truly international peloton fought tooth and nail for every finish line.

Kinch, arguably one of the most talented athletes in Irish road racing, struggled with injury throughout the week but battled on to finish 55th overall, ninth best home-based rider and a fine third best veteran rider overall.

Marconi also raced with distinction throughout and showed her experience and national level endurance by recording her best stage finishing position on the final day. She crossed the line 54th in Ennis, less than three minutes behind Wiggle Honda full time pro rider Eileen Roe.

Monica ended the week 72nd overall out of 104 starters, 17th home-based rider and seventh in the veteran's category.

They suffered and succeeded and both are already in training for the 2016 event which marks the 30th anniversary of the first women's international stage race in Ireland.

Here are their thoughts on a great week of racing in Clare when the rain pelted down, the wind blew and everyone went home smiling.


Monica Marconi

"Either Rás na mBan is getting tougher or I'm getting older... but I think both statements are true.

"Having ridden five Rásanna, I've been giving some thought to how much this event has changed, for me at least, over the past eight years or so. I went into my first Rás na mBan having ridden not a single National League race, never mind any A3 races, and having done no specific preparation other than possibly a lot of endurance training.

"And with that I was able to ride each stage in a gruppo without finishing last.

"Perhaps it was more about the heroics of the race. Back in those (very) early days it was the foreign riders that looked the part: they came from overseas with their mechanics and director sportifs that shouted orders from their support cars.

"I certainly always felt like the poor relation and can distinctly recall poring over my tires after each stage looking for any sharp little objects that could give me a flat the following day. And of course i also had to wash and clean the bike, depending on the weather of the day.

"Over time a director sportif, a mechanic and a masseur, as well as the support car, have become de rigeur for us, the local riders, too, and that has certainly lent the event a more professional look.

"But it's down to the organisers that Rás na mBan has really come into its own as a home-grown international stage race; the website is totally functional as it gives detailed information about each stage, there's plenty of PR in the run up to the event and thereafter, and there's reporting after each stage.

"There are also more foreign teams that travel to Ireland than before with junior riders being more prominent than I remember and the level keeps going up, so competition, I find, is much tougher.

"And as such, preparing Rás na mBan has become more critical. Do as I say, not as I do: a good endurance base will still stand you in good stead if you want to finish in a decent position after all is said and done; but, good positioning, intensity work and explosivity are more critical, I think, than has been the case in the past.

"Of course there are some constants, like the poor weather conditions. Yet, as I rate this year's "Beast of the East" stage as my favourite race in a long time, I have come to realise that, perhaps, I'm now totally at home riding in the driving rain.

"I'm just very curious to find out the 2016 location of Rás na mBan [It's Kilkenny, Monica! - Ed] and hope to be around to give it another go."

Marconi in her Nenagh CC team kit


Ciara Kinch

"My third Rás na mBan was very enjoyable this year.

"It was great to see the many volunteers who are familiar faces that you notice from the Cycling Ireland races around the country and the IVCA events. Valerie Considine and Fiona Cooke did a super job this year. We are very fortunate to have an event like this taking place here in Ireland.

”I was with a great bunch of girls from Lakeside Wheelers and we all put in a great effort during the week. The support guys from Lakeside Wheelers, Steve Franzoni and Stuy Cox, were great craic, encouraging each of us every day to keep on going. Honestly, I am not sure I would be able to finish without them pushing us on.

"I was relatively pleased with my performance in view of a back injury (compressed nerve on the lower back and on my left leg) which I was unfortunate enough to have picked up at the start of stage two.

"Although my goal was reach the finish with the first group on each of the stages, I had to forget about that after I picked up the injury. I know it might sound perverse but what I like about these events is what you learn about yourself and that it is as much a test of your ability to suffer as it is of your fitness and endurance.

"For example, on stage three, I was dropped quite early with my lower back in spasm, but somehow I managed to claw back up onto the second group. Special thanks must go to Orwell's Rás Doctor Lucy Soden who ensured I was okay to start on stages three, four, and five (supplying me sufficient pain relief – thanks Lucy) and ensuring that I was okay when I finished.

"To sum up, I was content to have finished on each of the stages either the first group (twice), second group (twice) and third group (once). And yes, the weather played a blinder this year. With monsoon weather on two of the days (stages three and five) and some harsh cross-winds (stage two) also.

"Seriously, when you're doing what you enjoy most, you would tend to put it out of your mind."

Kinch accepting the Al Fresco Shield in 2014