Ciara digging in in Corkagh park (photo with thanks to Brendan Culleton)

Tales from the Bunch - Part 1

Sometimes among all the reports of popping champagne corks on the top step of the podium, it’s easy to forget that races contain many other stories – stories of tenacity, teamwork, comradery…. and sometimes just good old fashioned hilarity!
In this upcoming three-part series, a trio of recent converts to the women’s road racing scene reflect on their adventures to date in their first racing season, with all the soaring highs, brutal lows and inevitable learnings that have come with it.
First up, former triathlete Ciara Ni Flathartaigh takes us on a thigh-slapping journey through the first months since she pressed the “go fast” button on her bike:

Ciara Ni Flathartaigh

Coming from a long distance triathlon background and with an engine that has been more inclined towards tortoise rather than hare – my venture into attempting some racing ... and by virtue of that, having to go fast (may the Lord have Mercy..) was taken with a not insignificant amount of wariness.

Trying to cycle fast #1 - event 1: TT: Outcome – middling - not too bad for a first attempt but no call for popping champagne either. Hurt level: about an 8 – clearly not enough for a time trial. Enjoyment factor: High, first competitive gathering of the lovely girls and their lovely bottoms (I have clearance to say that as I am one/have one). Great camaraderie and good post race banter, a fun event. Learning: When you think you are at the limit, there is always more. Put those pins in your eyes and go for gold. If you have any pins left in your pocket (there are always more than you think), take them out and put them in too. Following this, remove your eyeballs altogether and place on your handlebars – then you know you are giving it all you have – or you will regret it at the end. I felt I got as far as the second set of pins. The faster girls needed white sticks to get home. There may also have been Labradors.

Ciara holds Orla Walsh's wheel in Corkagh Park (photo with thanks to Brendan Culleton

Trying to Cycle Fast #2 - First Road Race Broadford: Outcome: I like to call this the ‘Double L’ – Last and Lost. ‘Last’ - I think that’s probably self-explanatory and ‘Lost’ as I never went over a finish line of any description and the race was 63km but I managed to ride a 66Km event. Hmmm. Hurt Level: A 9. Three laps – one big hill each lap. Flattish bits were fine...the hill hurt. Pins ahoy. I had some fickle friends on the first lap that I lost on the initial hill attempt, new comrades on the second lap who cruelly abandoned me on the second round of the hill without so much as a backward glance. On the third lap I only had Ciara - who quite frankly was not very entertaining as I am very familiar with all her stories already. Enjoyment Factor: Superb. Team spin down in the Orwell car with the ever encouraging ladies manager – SOS and the lovely crew of Yvonne/Aideen/Monica – with Orla and Becca following in the car behind. Lots of banter and chats on the way down and helpful tips on how to race for the uninitiated - who knew Monica carried small portions of spud in her pocket for races! Who knew the bikes would slide off the roof when the car hit a certain KM/HR – SOS hit this number on 4 occasions just to make sure they would indeed move each time and begin to slide down the side windows. The race itself was a very productive one for Orwell with 3 out of the four in the car placing and winning prizes. As surprisingly there was no prize for last place, I justifiably rewarded myself for my efforts by purchase of my favourite bun when we stopped in Moneygal on the way home...a giant Cherry Bakewell - a lovely bun to be fair and adequate consolation for any lady. I suspect there may however be a strong correlation between my fondness for the Bakewell and my inability to get up the hills in races. Such was the craic and banter in the back seat on the way home that SOS abruptly pulled in halfway home and requested that someone else drive as he was ‘tired’ and wanted to hop into the back seat with us. A serious dose of FOMO methinks....The day out was nicely rounded off by another display of team spirit when Aideen bequeathed me half of her prize – a voucher for a bike fit. A Bakewell and a Bike Fit...a successful day all round by any standards. Learning: Listen to SOS when he tells you to push up the front coming to a hill. Reduce intake of pies to assist with said hills. Also the team car is a lot of fun.

Ciara and her beloved Bakewell tart

Trying to Cycle Fast #3:R2 Ladies League: Outcome: Reasonable for a first Corcagh Race attempt. This one is short and went like this in my head on repeat: “Jesus there are lots of people in the bunch/Feic I hate this corner, don’t brake, don’t brake – Feic I’ve braked/need to sprint now to close gap/catch up/great I’m on again/Jesus there are lots of people in the bunch/Feic I hate this corner, don’t brake, don’t brake – Feic I’ve braked/sprint to close gap”…….you get the general gist! On the last sprint to the line you can add in “brake, brake before you roll over Brianne’s head and decapitate her”! Other key thoughts that evening were ‘mmm doesn’t Gen make lovely sangwiges’ and musing over Mike H’s advice re the wearing of headbands (a complete fail on my part apparently as I am a big fan of the Pat Cash look and warm ears) and also the length of my socks – the tan line versus acceptable cyclist style rules debate rages on. Fun evening, the sun was out – and brilliant to add to my ever expanding circle of female cycle friends. They are like Ronseal and do what is says on the tin - the lovely girls are indeed lovely!

Trying to Cycle Fast #4 – 2nd Road Race - The Nenagh Classic (80km): Outcome: I named this one ‘Trip to Tipp Take 2’ as it was reminiscent of a younger Ciara’s trip to Féile in ‘93 – where I also left the county before the event was over. In ‘93 it was alcohol related…this time hills were a factor yet again. I had been forewarned about the toughness of the course but rationalised that as I brought up the rear on my previous race, I couldn’t possibly do any worse this time – and I would learn more at the back of the bunch than I would sitting on the couch reading about it afterwards. One can’t be more last than last, as it is mathematically impossible – hence the outcome would be either the same as the last time or better. Win-win in my book. We had a pre-race prep chat from SOS and were then handed over to team lead Keenan who gave a rousing Braveheart type speech to jolly us along “they may take our lives but they will never take our bicycles” effort - whereupon we all sprinted to the start line waving our bicycles over our heads, ready for battle. The first 25k was Sunday Spin-ish and not excessively fast – partly due to Yvonne having bravely shot off the front and the remaining Orwellians happy to leave her go – creating a bit of a steady pace in the group. There were Orwell jerseys everywhere which was brilliant to see – by far the most prominent group in the bunch. We had been warned about the hill at 28k – I worked my way up the group, but not far enough. I could do the detail of the next phase of the race, but sure that’s a mundane read and you can guess how it panned out.

I then came to a crossroads where I had an option to cycle 8km back to Nenagh or the remaining 40km on my tod……Nenagh won without a hint of guilt. I now was the proud owner of exactly 1.5 open road races in the bank….not to be sneezed at!! Hurt Level: 8 - I need to work on the pins more. On the way home I considered changing my name so I could introduce myself after races with a James Bond type intro… “The name’s Last…..Paddy Last”… but I am rather attached to Ni Fhlaksjdhskjdhsjkdhjdh. The remaining ladies of Aideen, Yvonne, the Orla’s x 2, Ciara K, Monica and Breda put on a stellar show and did Orwell proud on a very tough circuit. Again team spirit prevailed as I was touched by the mildly concerned texts from Breda and Yvonne post race checking where I was - based on the previous weeks display wondering was I en route to Kerry having taken a wrong turn and did they need to go and retrieve me from a random country road somewhere. Learning: Hills are still not my friend. I need to be more brazen to get up the front at the right time. Zero warm up is not a good plan. If you are lost the Orwellian Ladies will notice and come find you. All things considered –plenty of positives - lots of new friends, I’m getting better at putting pins in my eyes, I have been in 1.5 road races, a TT and 2 Corcagh park events in 3 weeks, it didn’t rain for any of these, Moneygal petrol station does a lovely Bakewell, the team car is fun, I can now go around the Corcagh circuit without braking, my cycle short tan line is coming along nicely – sure Jaysus, whats not to like!!

Ciara (in black) in the middle of the large Orwell field at the inaugural TT of the Women's Crit League (photo with thanks to Brendan Culleton

Tune in for part two and three in the coming week from two more gritty racing debutants Yvonne Doran and Orla Walsh.