Orwell Wheelers Women's Weekend Training Camp took place on Saturday January 23rd. The group of twenty Orwell Wheelers alongside organisers Stephen O’Shea and Ann Horan with coaches Fiona Meade (Ras stage winner and 2014 Irish National Champion) and Orla Hendron (multiple Masters World Track Champion) took off from Dundrum at 9am cycling to Bunclody via Blessington and Baltinglass. After arriving at the Millrace Hotel, the group were treated to a talk with Fiona Meade, a technical discussion with Stephen O’Shea following by a dinner and an early night. It was an early start on Sunday morning at 7:50 for a 10km time trial on a flat circuit, followed by breakfast. The gang checked out and cycled home to conclude the weekend away. We got some reports from several relative new club members from the weekend. Charlotte Stevens is a new Orwell Wheeler and graduate of Ann Horan’s Great Bike Ride Women’s Beginner Spins from the summer. Coming from a strong running background, Charlotte is a very welcome addition to the club. Kaska Ludwa joined the club and immediately signed up for the epic Etape sportive in France. Having caught the Orwell banter bug, she too joined the Orwell Womens Contingent in Bunclody.

Charlotte Stevens

When I ended up watching the Eddie Tobin race (persuaded to give the Son a lift there ) in Bunclody last July I never imagined that seven months later I would be cycling to the same place with Orwell Wheelers for a women’s training weekend and even more incredibly cycling home again the next day.

Charlotte Stevens, Kaska Ludwa, Emily Brick, Grainne Coghlan and Louise Keane at the start of the weekend outisde Joe Daly's in Dundrum (photograph with thanks to Ann Horan)

We all met at Joe Daly’s at 9.00am and Stephen loaded our bags and extra food and drinks into the Scott/Orwell support van which was to become a feature and often welcome sight of the weekend. When I signed up for the weekend I very much underestimated the word “training” in the title until I saw the detailed notes and itinerary which clearly stated that there would be no coffee stop so it was with an element of trepidation that some of the newer ladies in the club set off. A brisk pace up the Embankment and we quickly settled into a headwind and we were on our way. Orla kept the group neat and tidy with a tinkle of her bell indicating that it was time for an up and over and as the miles ticked by the bell was often a relief from a turn on the front and back into the shelter of the group. Apologies to Fiona Meade for asking you if you had done much racing by way of making conversation - I should have looked at your Blarney Castle Kit first, but in keeping with the unassuming person that we would get to know over the weekend your reply was along the lines of “ just a bit”! Much of the route is a blur but I remember how good it was to see the van parked at the side of the road as we cycled up a hill, Stephen and Ann waiting for us. Finally a chance to stop for a minute, stretch and grab some food. No coffee though! We were late arriving at Millrace Hotel where our afternoon timetable was revised leaving me in no doubt that this was a training session and not a holiday. The highlight of the afternoon was listening to Fiona talk about her ten years of cycling, racing and training. An inspirational talk from a very talented cyclist with a wonderful outlook on life. Stephen then dealt with some of the more practical aspects of racing such as cornering, food/hydration, and tactics.

Fiona Meade at the start(photograph with thanks to Ann Horan)

An early start on Sunday morning with a time trial scheduled at 8.00am. The morning was dark so while we waited for brighter conditions Fiona showed us a stretching routine which helped ease some of the stiffness before we set off on our bikes to the start 9K out of Bunclody. I have watched lots of time trials on TV - and the professionals always make it look so easy. The reality is very different and the wind made the 8K feel very tough. At least it was over pretty quickly and we headed back to the hotel for a welcome breakfast. Bags packed back into the van, a quick photo and we were back on the road home. Not very far into the spin I punctured having hit a pothole disguised as a puddle. Stephen and Ann were to my rescue within seconds and as Stephen quickly changed my back wheel with a spare one I finally felt like one of the pros on TV!

The route home was on lovely country roads having turned off the main road at Tinahely and then re-joining the N81 at Donard and back home through Blessington. I think everyone was glad to get back to Joe Daly’s - tired but happy after a fantastic weekend.

I have learnt so much in my seven months with Orwell and within the club there are lots of people to thank for this. When I was watching the race last July in Bunclody I was parked beside Pat O’Brien who chatted about the race and cycling making me feel very welcome as a new member of the club. Pat was a leader on three of my sessions with the Women’s Beginners group and it was Pat who encouraged me to think about racing and challenging myself as a cyclist despite being an “old wan”. So returning to Bunclody for a training weekend it was Pat that I remembered and thanked. I am learning so much from training and cycling with such a talented group of ladies - thank you Stephen for organising and mentoring us. Thank you Ann and Orwell for starting it all last July.

Katarzyna Ludwa

Coffee in Bunclody

The planning started back in December. I remember it well. It was during a coffee stop in Roundwood when Yvonne Doran asked if I was going to race in 2016. I wasn’t very keen on the idea at first, but the mention of a “girly” weekend away got me hooked immediately. Imagining a spa hotel and a massage on arrival in a surprise location seemed like a fun filled adventure that I couldn't resist. How could I say no?!

Before I knew it, I was hurtling around Corkagh Park as part of our preparation for the weekend away. It was my first time riding on this circuit and it was fun up until the point our excellent coach Stephen O’Shea started timing us. It was then that I should have realised that this was serious stuff.

Two days before the trip the instructions arrived with a map. A Ryanair size bag was only permitted. We were to bring runners, spare tubes, plenty of socks and a multi-tool. No disco attire allowed! What happened to the “girly” weekend away? Had I signed myself up for a serious training camp after all?! Wait! The instructions continued - destination Bunclody and no coffee stop… NO COFFEE STOP! Damn it! Ah well, Google said it was only 100km, sure we could have coffee in Bunclody.

The morning of departure arrived. Meeting point was Joe Daly’s. The smart new Orwell Scott Club Van awaited us. Stephen was walking towards us with a box of tyres and tubes. Ann Horan was beaming. The temperature was unusually high for January but someone said there would be strong headwind all the way to Bunclody. The Saturday Leisure groups were gathering across the road. They were definitely going to stop for coffee. Last chance to escape. Leisure or racing … No, I was committed.

A tight group of 14, we started at a steady pace concentrating on our “Up and Overs”. It was no fun up front. The wind against us all day. The only talk was about nutrition and racing. It was all about precision and efficiency in the group. Fiona Meade and Orla Hendron were leading and mentoring us as we went along - what a privilege it was to cycle with them.

The group along the road(photograph with thanks to Ann Horan)

At 90 km, just outside of Shillelagh, we were almost there, but Stephen had an idea. He split the group and sent half of us on a little detour taking in a local hill. "Extra training”, he said, "a little hill". Ah well, I have a 32 on the back and I could do any hill, or so I thought. Oh jeez, what a hill it was – 20-30% gradient, the wheels were slipping, a real test. I’m not sure I passed it though as I think it gave me altitude sickness! But Strava gave me a QOM for this segment (come on girls upload your Garmins now or forget about it forever!).

An Action shot of the gang(photograph with thanks to Stephen O'Shea)

After the hill there was a sprint to the hotel. Ann was there waiting for us with allocated rooms in her usual super-organised way. After checking in, a quick unscheduled jacuzzi with Brianne and Ciara Ni was a must which we managed to fit in before the talk with Fiona about her cycling career. She gave us great training tips and explained how you need to sometimes do other things in life like dancing instead of cycling. Following that, Stephen gave us lots of essential racing tips. That night I was exhausted. I excused myself from the evening meal and headed to bed for early night.

After a good hearty breakfast I was refreshed and ready to go again. That morning we had a tail-wind, thank God! We set off again with tired muscles, but somehow we were more relaxed. We talked about fashion, bike fashion of course and how to make your own tinted moisturiser! Now it was all about looking and feeling good on the bike! A bit of rain came down but the lovely scenery in the distance made up for it. The Wicklow mountains were a real treat to see. We could smell home. Then all of sudden, Emily Brick started shouting “Go Kaska, Go!” I hadn't realised that a sprint had started and that I was blocking Emily, so off I went. I hugged onto Fiona’s wheel, hanging on, hanging on. Emily swept around me suddenly and won! What a sprint it was!!!

I had a brilliant time with all the girls and got a great insight into the world of bike racing that weekend away to Bunclody. Thanks a million to Stephen and Ann for making it all happen and to Fiona and Orla for sharing their knowledge with us. So, am I a leisure cyclist or a racer now? Hmm, I don’t like coffee that much so maybe I can have the best of both worlds with Orwell...

Fiona Meade

"Well done to Stephen and Ann for organising a fantastic weekend of training.It reminded me of the type of fun but tough training weekend I used to do when I got in to cycling first. There's great talent evident in the group. Equally as important to the talent is motivation and drive to improve and get fitter and to top it all off I think I could say that everyone appeared to enjoy the weekend...all of those factors together in my eyes are a recipe for successful cycling. Looking forward to meeting the girls again on the racing scene this summer! Well done to everyone and thank you all for having me this weekend."

Orla Hendron

"Many thanks to Stephen O'Shea and Ann Horan for putting the camp together. It was a great initiative for the development of our new group of Women aspiring to race the Women's National League and Ras na Mban this year. Training over two days with a TT trown in for good measure has given them a great insight into what to expect later on in the year as they look towards preparing for Ras na Mban. Having former National Champion Fiona Meade on hand to tell her amazing story and share her knowledge for the whole weekend was very inspiring for everyone.

The Club would like to thank Stephen O’Shea, Ann Horan, Orla Hendron, Fiona Meade and participants for making it a great weekend.