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The Sean Kelly Comeragh Challenge

posted 10 Sep 2012, 13:07 by Kevin Monaghan
By (Carmel Dolan)   
A good friend of mine once told me “It’s better to have regrets for the things we DID in life rather than the things we DIDN’T do “so with this in mind, I headed off to Waterford on the weekend of August 25th to complete some unfinished business I had with the Sean Kelly 160k Comeragh Challenge.

For those of you who might not be aware, An Post run a series of extremely well run and organised cycle tours around the country from May until September. They take place in Sligo (May), Clare (June), Meath (July), Waterford (August) and finally in Cork in September. Each tour has distances to suit each and every class of cyclist. Family routes will be approximately 10kms while short, medium and long distance routes will be approximately 60kms, 100kms and 160kms.  
The Sean Kelly 160k Comeragh Challenge is considered one of the toughest tours in the an Post Series as it largely follows the route of the Kelly Legacy but dips into the Comeragh Mountains on more than a couple of occasions to fully test the strength, perseverance and stamina of the riders and on the plus side, the scenery along the route is stunning. 
I arrived in Dungarvan on Saturday evening at 6pm, registered for the event, had a good dinner and headed to my B& B to settle down for a good nights sleep. Sunday morning dawned bright and early and after a good breakfast, I headed into Dungarvan at 7.30am to get ready for the 8.15am start of the 160km route. I had made arrangements to meet my fellow wheelers who were also part taking in the 160 km route, namely Conor Isdell, Andrew Fay, Oliver Fay, Dermot Hogan, Paraic Devine, Mick Devine and Eoin Mooney (the senior men’s development squad!) 
After a quick pep talk by the legend, Sean Kelly himself, the barriers were raised and all 1600 cyclists headed off along the sea front and took the N25 out of Dungarvan and out Kelly country as far as Carrick on Suir. The route continues along after Carrick on Suir and then we turned left to take on a new hill for 2012- Tickincor. This was to replace Seskin hill (a short but very sharp climb) and it was some replacement! Tickincor was 3 km long with an overall average gradient of 9%! It took us all by surprise and I along with many others were glad to see the top of the hill. From there we sailed all the way downhill on a lovely descent and into our first food stop at Clonmel. After re-fuelling we headed along the R671 as far as Ballymacarbry and we veered to the left along the gorgeous Nire Valley and again swinging left over the Nire River and heading into the heart of the Comeraghs. Here the route climbs to over 400 meters altitude at the 5.5 km long “Powers the Pot” climb which has an average gradient of 5%. It’s a good steady climb and afterwards a nice descent through enchanting uplands to the village of Rathgormack. Southwards bound then we went to Mahon Bridge and heading once again into the Comeraghs to tackle the infamous Mahon Falls climb. Mahon Falls again rises to over 400 m altitude and is 5 klm long with an average gradient of 7 % BUT the last 500 m of the climb has a gradient of 15%. Here I would face my nemesis…last year I had to admit defeat and dismount from my bike (along with many others mind you) about 600m from the top as my legs had said “enough”! This year though, I had unfinished business. I was determined to conquer it. Surely all the hilly spins Eamon had put us B’s through would pay off and surely that time spent in the high altitude training camp with my fellow Wheelerettes would pay dividends?
As I approached the last 600m I was feeling good. I had been having a good day so far and the legs were feeling strong and even more so…my head was right! I can do this I kept telling myself,…400 m to go, 300, 200, 100, 50 , and then over the top, …..YES I had made it and my shouts of delight were probably heard across the mountain but I didn’t care. I had conquered Mahon Falls. Mission nearly accomplished but it was not over yet. The descent from Mahon Falls is tricky and requires real care and attention which I gave it and then on through Kilrossanty Village and along another long (4.5 km) but steady (average grade 5%) climb called “Mauma Road “and as far as Kilbrien (with a few small hills throw in for good measure) before we rejoined the main road at Beary’s Cross. 
At that point one can almost breathe a sign of relief because although it is 13 km back to Dungarvan it is almost completely downhill. There was a strong headwind but myself and Conor joined forces with a few other guys and we worked together all the way to the end. Well ok, I admit I didn’t do a huge amount at that stage and the lads kindly let me sit at the back but at that stage I felt I deserved a rest!  Arriving back in Dungarvan, we headed to the sports centre for a well deserved cuppa and some food (yummy chocolate cake) and everyone also had a chance to meet and chat for a few minutes with the legend himself, the great Sean Kelly.
The sense of achievement and elation that you feel when you complete a challenge like this is in some ways difficult to describe. You have to experience it to understand it and I know that some people will disagree with me, especially if you have a bad day on one of these spins. Yes it’s difficult, yes your legs will burn and yes, you will be tested to the limit on your physical and mental endurance and strength but in my opinion it is good to do that kind of thing on occasion while one is able to! 
Well done also to the Wheelers who took part in the 100 k cycle on the day, namely James Ledwith, Seamus Clarke, David Smith and Pearse Murphy and also Catherine Mooney who completed the 50 k route. All of us proud to fly the flag for Lakeside Wheelers around the country.
Next up for me…the Rebel Tour of Cork on September 15th which takes place in and around the beautiful Beara Peninsula and after that……REST!

Carmel Dolan with the legendary Sean Kelly
Carmel Dolan with the legendary Sean Kelly
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