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Wheelers Light up the Hills of Donegal

posted 5 Jun 2011, 12:36 by Kevin Monaghan   [ updated 12 Jun 2011, 06:01 ]
(By Charlie Sheridan)
Rás Dhun nGall 2011 was held over the June bank holiday weekend in Ardara, Co.  Donegal with 140 riders and support crews descending on the quiet village from all corners of Ireland. This is one of the hardest stage races on the Irish calendar for A2-A3 riders and covers 240KM of rolling, energy sapping roads with many climbs, culminating in the famously steep climb to Glengesh pass. Previous winners of this race include current Radioshack professional, rider Philip Deignan from Letterkenny and former professional cyclist with Tour de France experience, Mark Scanlon from Sligo. The latter actually joined Lakeside Wheelers last year for training session after a very interesting talk on life as a professional cyclist. 
Damien Shaw - Winner of Stage 1, 2 and overall winner of the 2011 Rás Dun na nGall
Pictures courtesy Marian & Tommy Lambe of Cycling Ulster

Lakeside wheelers had one of the strongest teams in many years representing the club made up of Robbie Kenny, Damien Shaw, Dave Fagan, John Murray, Peter Rimmer and Stuart Cox, ably by Ken Berry, Charlie & Ryan Sheridan.

Friday:-Stage 1:
The Wheelers laid down the gauntlet with a stinging attack on the first climb out of Ardara by Damien Shaw and John Murray, both riders forged ahead building a commanding lead over the hard chasing peloton.

The two Wheelers worked well together sharing King of Mountain primes on the road. Damien pushed ahead in the last few kilometres taking the stage win, John rode aggressively holding off the bunch and Peter Rimmer took 7th in bunch sprint. Robbie Kenny had bad luck suffering 2 punctures in the final 2 KM’s knocking him out of contention for the overall prize. Stuart Cox and Dave Fagan finished comfortably in the bunch. What a start, going in to stage 2 Wheelers held the Yellow Jersey for overall leader, the King of Mountains Jersey and 1st place in the team event.  The Wheelers were now the “talk of the town” for the night and a marked team for remainder of the race.

Saturday: - Stage 2: 
This year the organisers introduced a new addition to the event, with a 1.8mile Mountain Time trial up the unpaved side of Glengesh Mountain gaining 520meters in elevation with 18% gradients near the top. All the wheelers rode strongly with Damien Shaw continuing his domination taking the stage win and extending his lead on the overall classification by 1min going into stage 3.

Saturday: - Stage 3:
Lots of tired legs from this morning’s mountain time trial. Wheelers started the stage with Damien in the Yellow Jersey (Overall leader), John in the Red Jersey (Mountain leader) and first team overall. The top 20 riders were separated by less than 1 minute so it was all to play for and without doubt several attacks would occur on the yellow jersey before the end of today’s stage so all Wheelers had to remain vigilant throughout the race. As we held the Yellow Jersey, we were fortunate to have lead car position in the cavalcade for a bird’s eye view of the action. The stage started at a relatively sedate pace but soon enough the attacks started coming thick and fast with Wheelers chasing them down, Robbie put in a few strong efforts to close down breaks and as the stage wore on many riders were dropped from the fast moving peloton. The roads were constantly rolling with 3 categorised King of the Mountains (KOM) climbs, however there were many other climbs which deserved categorisation. In the last 20 miles a dangerous break formed with 3 riders in the top 10 gaining 1min 35 over the peloton and race leader, Wheeler, Damien Shaw. A young Cycling Ulster junior rider, Cormac Clarke, was now “Virtual Yellow” on the road.  Damien chased hard and strung the bunch out behind him impressing the commissaries with his turn of power, other riders joined the chase and helped him to close the gap to 45secs, allowing Damien to maintain the Yellow jersey with a 35sec lead over the next rider in General Classification. However, the main story of the day belonged to Dave Fagan; Dave broke his chain about 20KM from the finish, for most riders that would be game over but not Dave who borrowed a bike and shoes from a stranger on the roadside who was at least 1 foot taller than him. As the borrowed bike was too big for Dave he couldn’t sit on the saddle so he pedalled the remaining 20km standing up in the cleats, a truly heroic effort.

Sunday Stage 4:-
Summers Over! After 2 days of glorious sunshine and warm weather, we awoke to a cold, wet and dreary day. It was truly miserable conditions for bike racing and more like February than June! A lot of worried and tired riders were walking ashen faced around the start area, 14 riders decided not to start the race as today’s stage culminated in a hard climb up Glengesh Pass, one of the hardest climbs in Ireland.

The stage finally got underway and after only 3KM’s went straight into a tough climb, immediately riders were dropped with some turning for home, this was one day I was glad to be in the car. 

The war of attrition continued along the road, on the first KOM Damien took the prime and was now also in the running for mountains jersey; he continued on ahead and gained a 30 sec gap over the bunch but eventually was pulled back in. As the stage wore on the conditions really took their toll and the Wheelers were not immune, with John Murray and Dave Fagan having to abandon with mild hypothermia the conditions were truly horrific. A break had formed in the latter section of the stage with Peter Rimmer in a chasing group, the race now had split into many groups on the last KOM with Damien, Peter and Stuart Cox still in contention. The break had gained over 2 mins from the main bunch and Damien’s Yellow jersey was at risk. He attacked hard out of the bunch and bridged to Rimmer’s group where he and Peter rode aggressively to reach the leading riders, forming a group of 8 for the the last 10miles.

The scene was set for a great battle on the slopes of Glengesh Mountain in miserable conditions. Attacks started on the steep sections of Glengesh with 8 riders spread out across the road, Damien chased the leading rider and Peter dug in hard for a gruelling climb. Damien finished the stage second behind a Cycling Ulster rider, Peter put in a superb effort to finish in 5th place while Stuart Cox was next Wheeler home putting in a great ride to stay with the main bunch.

At the finish the aforementioned Radioshack professional rider, Philip Deignan was standing at the top of Glengesh to welcome the riders across the line showing the man’s true class as only last week he was competing in the Giro D’ Italia.

What a great weekend for Lakeside Wheelers with all riders playing their part and taking home many prizes including,  Winner (Damien Shaw), Mountains Jersey (Damien Shaw), 1st Veteran and 5th overall (Peter Rimmer) and 2nd placed team overall. A measure of their efforts is noted in the fact that the winning team was Cycling Ulster who have the whole province of Ulster to select from.

The following is s stark metric that reflects the difficulty of this famous, 3 stage race: 140 riders started, 74 riders finished!! The hills of Donegal took their toll, but not on the lads from Lakeside Wheelers Mullingar, congratulations lads and well done.

Lakeside Wheelers crew who took part in the 2011 Ras Dhun na nGall
l-r Eddie Tyrrell, Grange Motors - Transportation Sponsor, Pete Rimmer, Dave Fagan, Robbie Kenny, Stuart Cox and Damien Shaw

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