Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Kellogg’s Tour of Ireland – Final Stage Kilkenny to Dublin

Tour of Ireland Stage 4 map130miles, 10000ft of ascent! 9h14 ride time
Avg speed 14mph; Max speed 44mph
Avg heart rate 133bpm; Max heart rate 167bpm
Calories burned 6600

Monday and the final day started with a short walk back to the college in the morning sun. It was promising to be a lovely day. My legs were slightly sore this morning after yesterday’s epic and my aim was just to get through the day, no matter how long it took. The route would take us up and over the Wicklow Mountains south of Dublin with the hilliest profile so far.
Tour of Ireland Stage 4 profile

The first hill came after just 4 miles and though we had been asked to stay as a group until we left town, there was little point trying to hang on to any big groups as the field would split the minute we started climbing. We started and I was definitely going through a rough patch for the first 20 miles or so as we climbed up onto the moorland. Luckily I was alongside my trusty riding companion Julia again, we’d spent most of the Tour riding together now so it seemed only fitting that we would do the final stage together.

It was a school day again and after the quietness of Sunday’s country lanes and deserted villages the cheers of the school children lined up along the playground fences was a welcome sound. Paul was slightly up ahead with Mark and Dave, two of the Irish guys we’d also spent much of the past few days with and we formed a small group of familiar faces to get to the first feed station at 50 miles. Each dragging climb was followed by a long, fast descent but it still took three and a half hours; this was shaping up to be the longest day of the whole event.

Stocked up again with energy drink, gels and bars we headed out to start the real climbing! Mark and Dave were local and knew the area well, we had four very big climbs ahead including Wicklow Gap and Hollywood. Slow and steady would be the order of the day in the baking sun. The first climb was 1100ft over a few miles with an equally long descent back down in to the valley followed by another similar climb. Our group was spread out, each taking the climb at their own pace, but we’d soon come together on the flat. Thankfully my legs had come back now and I was feeling pretty good.

It didn’t bother me that we still had a long way to go with lots of hills and it was going to take a few more hours, this is what I did each day now. It’s funny how your perception changes so quickly. Only three days ago I was daunted by the idea of riding 115 miles and being out on the bike for six or seven hours; now it was normal – get up, have breakfast, ride bike, eat dinner, go to bed. That was it, that was my life.

One by one we ticked off the big climbs, with the last one marked by a feed station at the top of Wicklow Gap. I put a windproof gillet on for the final descent as it was apparently a bit of a monster. On the way down we gathered more riders to form into a larger group along with the Dulwich Paragon guys to get us the last 40 miles to the finish. The scenery was stunning. We were riding around some lakes and the water glistened in the bright sunshine – what a perfect final day.

We were riding at a fairly steady pace, though this was all relative now. Previously my steady pace was about 12mph, it now seemed to be somewhere around 18mph. There was still lots of chatting and laughing and the two-up through and off had become second nature, considering I’d never done it before last week. Just as the Dulwich guys decided to up the pace slightly I turned around to see Paul, Dave and Mark had dropped off the back of the group of 10 or so. As I’d been riding at the front for a while I wasn’t sure what had happened and somebody mentioned there’d been a mechanical problem of some sort. I assumed this was them and that they would soon join back on.

After a few miles there was still no sign so I pulled over to wait for them, Julia kindly waited with me. It had been such an incredible challenge that I wanted to cross the line with IP, and if there had been a problem it was going to be easier to ride in with five of us rather than leaving just the three of them. If there’s one thing I have learnt during this trip, it’s the difference riding with a group can make to your overall speed. A while later the three of them came around the corner and we started off so they could join onto the back of us. Mark was really suffering and we were handing him all the energy gels and drink that we had left. He was shocked when Paul had waited for him, he was even more surprised that Julia and I had waited for them to help them home. I don’t leave anyone behind when I go mountain biking and I’m not going to do it on the road either.

We still had 20 to 25 miles to go. These are Irish miles remember and it had become clear over the days that distances could vary: 1km could be anything between 500m and 3km; 50miles would be somewhere between 45 and 60! So after 105miles, knowing the stage should be 125 miles, plus the fact we had a detour of 8km (but nobody knew whether this was 8km more or 8km less) we had anywhere between 15 and 30 miles left.

It was a pleasant evening and the four of us took our short turns on the front, all the time keeping an eye on Mark at the back. At 5pm I hoped there wasn’t much further to go, this was the longest day, but also a fantastic day. One last short climb (just what I didn’t need!) and the 20km sign. Finally! A little bit further on was the 10km sign – I told you we were using Irish miles. And then we saw the finish at the Westmanstown Leisure Complex. But today there wasn’t a sprint, it wasn’t every man for himself in a final bid for glory. Instead there was a real sense of achievement, the completion of a tough challenge that each of the five of us had played an essential part in. One last glance made sure Mark was with us. Dave and Julia had gone slightly ahead on the last climb, but as we turned into the car park they were standing by the timing mat, waiting for us so we could all cross the finish line together.

Compulsory hugs and handshakes took place just beyond the finishing arch. There was an overwhelming feeling of relief and satisfaction from everyone milling around packing their bikes away and it wasn’t long before more new found friends who had already finished came over to have a chat. Then it was time to collect our medals and watch the Presentations whilst having a roast dinner – not presentations for first place or fastest riders or any of that rubbish, just thank you’s to everyone involved and a few special momentos given to people for their help. I had a couple of pints of Guinness to celebrate, swapped email addresses with some people, thanked the organisers for putting on a first class event and headed off to my hotel in Dublin to meet up for drinks with an old friend – but that’s another story…


trio said...

Sounds like a fantastic week!

Simon said...

Splendid :)