Friday, 9 May 2008

Kellogg's Tour of Ireland - Stage 1 Lisburn to Cavan

116miles, 8544ft ascent - 7h16mins
Avg speed 16.3mph; Max speed 65mph!!
Avg heart rate 146bpm; Max heart rate 184bpm
Calories burned 6500

So after last nights food, registration, bike setup, introductions, riders briefing and general praise of sponsors at the Lisburn Leisureplex by the organisers Joe and Marc Barr plus various representatives, it was off to the Premier Inn in Belfast for a well deserved nights sleep before the first stage.

A buffet breakfast at the hotel and then everyone was bussed back to the Leisureplex to leave bike bags and drop off kit bags before trundling down to the official start line. It started to rain. As I approached the large red inflatable Kelloggs arch there were plenty of supporters lining the streets and there was a real sense of occasion. The organiser's speech had said that we would be treated like professional riders - with all the logistics, food, accomodation and mechanics taken care of. All we had to do was turn up and ride and as the 230 something riders lined up it felt like a proper peloton; A peloton which is actually bigger than that of the Tour de France.

We would be accompanied along the way by numerous motorbike marshalls and some of the route would be accompanied by the police. Riding through the middle of Lisburn all the traffic was stopped, red lights ignored and the peloton filled the road. Now this is bike riding.

The flattish start meant large groups stayed together and moved along quite quickly. The adrenaline was pumping and it was a whole new experience for me. We started to climb up into the mountains and there was a long line of riders stretching into the distance. It had stopped raining but was still misty and grey - perfect conditions as far as I was concerned.

At the top of the reservoir just 5 of us were together with me and Ickle Paul Davis doing most of the work on the front, maintaining a respectable 18mph in fairly windy conditions. The first feed station couldn't come soon enough as this was the longest I had ever spent continuously in the saddle. Having marshalls stop traffic at all the junctions meant we didn't have to worry about stopping, something very rare in everyday cycling. After 3 hours and 50 miles we finally pulled into the feed station to stock up on Kellogg's nutri grain, rice krispie bars and Hi-5 energy drink. No sooner had we arrived than group 2 were leaving. We decided to try and sit on the back of group 2 to make things easier. I never really realised how much easier it was to ride in a group, but as I cruised along in the middle of the 50 strong group, doing a steady 22mph with my heart rate barely reaching 140bpm, the benefits became apparent.

Again, the climbing quickly split the huge group and I found myself stuck at the back, climbing in single file through heavy traffic. As soon as the road opened up I tried to get our straggling group of 20 or so back together and then chase down the quicker group of 20 in front. Riding from the back the others soon jumped on and realised what I was trying to do. The going was tough sitting at the front and we still weren't closing the gap. Suddenly my bottle cage came loose and fell left, jamming itself between the frame and the crank arm! I came to an abrupt halt but fortunatley didn't cause an accident. The group powered on and I was left by myself with 50 miles to go. This was going to be a long, long day.

A few more flattish miles and then a very steep climb. Thankfully I.P was waiting at the top for me and we rode the rest of the day together. We had no chance of catching the group in front and I took it fairly easy for a while. My legs were heavy from chasing down the group and I needed some time to recover. The miles passed slowly now on undulating roads. We picked up another guy who kept getting cramp and towed him to the hot feed station at 90 miles. By now it was raining again.

Just as we arrived, group 2 was leaving. We let them go and waited for group 3. This would be much easier than riding the final miles by ourselves as we'd all been working hard on the front of various groups all day. Hot soup and rolls were a welcome snack and then we were on our way in a group of 20 or so, rolling at a steady pace. Again the roads were straightish and undulating and hiding in the pack was a welcome relief.

I was glad to see the road sign for Cavan. Except for 24 hour solo races, this was the longest ride I have done in about 10 years - and doing over 100 miles in 24 hours is a lot different to doing it in 24 hours!

Each member of this group took turns on the front and we reached Cavan about 5pm. I had a narrow escape at 30mph avoiding a water bottle that fell from a bike just in front, the back wheel fish tailed and I came to an almost complete stop, but soon caught the group on the final run in.

Ah finally, the finish line. At last! Then it was a short ride to the leisure centre to pick up our gear, shower and head off on the coaches for food. If only it was that simple.

My kit bag was one of the last to be loaded on the van in the morning and they'd decided there was no room so put it in another van. Sadly, this van hadn't arrived at the finish and nobody could contact the driver who was somewhere out on the route. I was soaked to the bone and freezing with nothing to change into. They didn't even know when my bag would arrive. I.P was in the same position. I wasn't happy.

Now having worked on many events for organisers throughout the years I understand more than most that problems and mistakes happen, it's life. The mark of an organiser is how they deal with those things and I have to say that these guys are first rate! Three of us were soon in one of the swanky BMW event vehicles being chauffeured straight to the luxury Cavan Crystal hotel for a hot shower; they even bought us dinner at the hotel restaurant rather than having to make another trip to the offical food venue. As they said, it's all about the rider.

My bag turned up and I went for dinner. Then an early night, ready for the 3, longer stages still left. I have a feeling this is going to be a long weekend...

You can read all about the event and see the route on the official Kellogg's Tour of Ireland Cycle Challenge web page.


G as in Chris said...

You hit 65mpg!? Crikey!

chrisD said...

65 is very fast, are you sure?

Steve J Makin said...

sounds bloody great

I'm so looking forward to watching you disappear over the hills :-)

Me said...

I questioned it at first, but IP was doing 50 at the same time and I sailed by him so it can't have been far off! Bloody scary as well...

simondbarnes said...

You're gonna kick Steve's arse in Verbier :)