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Race The Rás Reports

Stage 1 – Dunboyne to Kilkenny – May 20th – 147K

posted 22 May 2012, 12:59 by Kevin Monaghan   [ updated 22 May 2012, 13:45 ]

(By Shay O'Toole)   
Club Chairman Dermot Hogan
Today was nice and sunny as we left Dunboyne in a group of 60 riders, with the pace well controlled by the lead car driver. All went well  as we rode out through Kilcock and  on towards KIldare town. About 30 miles in we were heading for the Hill of Allen when the pace car moved out and caused a natural split in the group. The Wheelers were left looking at each other wondering would we go with the "A"  group or sit in for a handy spin. Our minds were soon made up for us when Jack came along side me and said Robbie was shouting in his earpiece telling us to go with the break so what were we tob do but follow the orders of our Directeur  Sportif. Off we went in chase and stayed at full tilt as we rode across the Curragh Plains and on to Athy for the food stop.

After we were fed and watered it was back to the road and with the two main climbs of the day to come the chatting soon stopped. First up was Farnon's Hill which caused a slight gap but it wasn't until we hit the Category 2 climb of Glenmaloo that the elastic snapped. All Wheelers stayed well in contention and the descent was welcome after the 5km climb through Castlecomer. With speeds of 40mph it was fast and furious but kept us all the way to Kilkenny city where we crossed the official Ras finish line with good crowds lining the streets.  

Day one over and all safely back in our hotel after 140kms of good cycling. Day 2 is looking very lumpy  with 157kms to be negotiated across Tipperary, Clare and up to Gort.

Stage 2 - Kilkenny to Gort - May 21st - 158K

posted 22 May 2012, 12:58 by Kevin Monaghan   [ updated 24 May 2012, 01:01 by Mark Monaghan ]

Day 2 saw the peloton depart at 8am from Kilkenny bound for Gort in South Galway. This was a handy 154km spin which took in some fabulous scenery and 5 Category 3 climbs. The only drawback here was that the last 4 climbs came in the last 40 miles which left us feeling like yo-yos. Once again there was a decision to be made when the hammer went down after 20km and would you believe it our Direccteur Sportif was AWOL so we had to revert to the pre earpiece system and use our own brains. Can you credit it that our manager would abandon us on our first venture into the Grand Tours but I am sure he was at the "coalface". Well decide we did, and with 2 going with the break and 2 staying we made sure we had all angles covered. The speed was intense across some very lumpy roads for the first 65 miles to Killaloe where we stopped for fuel. From here we started to climb the succession of hills which were manageable but their proximity to each other was leg sapping.  The  main news of the day was that Jack had a very significant birthday to celebrate which was recognised several times and he still wasn't happy  but boy did his lips stretch  when, as we watched the finish of  THE  Ràs  we happened to turn and catch a guy taking a photo of his precious S Works!!!! I advised him to keep a good eye on it over the next few days as he was liable to see it for sale on Done Deal or at Clara Market!! Happy Birthday Hef.

Stage 3 – Gort to Westport - May 22nd - 145K

posted 22 May 2012, 12:57 by Kevin Monaghan   [ updated 26 May 2012, 04:52 ]

Gort to Westport left us staring 145km in the face and a journey through Galway city which proved to be troublesome due to road works and traffic. Once past this bottleneck we had some very heavy and draggy roads to contend with but the scenery was a beautiful distraction, we turned off the Clifden road at Mam Cross to hit our first climb, a Cat 3 that warmed us up nicely. It was soon followed by a nasty Cat 2 which gave us our first slippery descent but was nothing like the hazard that came after we crested the steep Cat 1. 
Thankfully all got down safely and the run into Westport was fast along the shores of the impressive Lough Mask. Another day over and  the Wheelers team are still intact so bring on the " REST"  day tomorrow....it's  dead flat and only 80 miles long to Bundoran. Hopefully I will have more time and less WIFI issues and promise to make the Blog more interesting, probably stick in a few photos of the massage sessions! 
Bed time now so hope all is well in Mullingar and chat soon.
Jack prepares for another hard day in the saddle.
Jack prepares for another hard day in the saddle.

Stage 4 – Westport to Bundoran - May 23rd - 135K

posted 22 May 2012, 12:56 by Kevin Monaghan   [ updated 26 May 2012, 04:48 ]

The Lads at the end of Stage Four
Today was meant to be a "Rest" day with only 80 miles between us and Bundoran but with ex Ràs riders in the bunch we covered the first 20 miles with an average of 24mph so it was time to call a halt. We split the peloton but with a strong head wind to contend with it was still a tough spin. Once turned in Charlestown we were aided by a tailwind and made good time to the food stop in Coolooney. With no climbs to get over we had a serious group going and hit Bundoran well ahead of our predicted time. The sunshine came back today and made the ride all the more bearable.
 
Support has been fantastic so far with visits from Libby and Lisa Nugent, Cathy and Eileen (Shay's Mam) O’Toole, Karl Moran and Enda Moran and Carmel Dolan, all over the last four days.  Our other invaluable member of the support team is Doreen our Masseuse who is working absolutely wonders on our legs.

With 50% of the event in the bag, Team Wheelers are in good shape and looking forward to the Mountains tomorrow where we have another 90 plus miles to do with 5 Cat 3 , a Cat 2 and a Cat 1 to climb with the latter being the dreaded Mamore Gap. Google It!!!!! I also must mention the great Joe Duffy who is taking care of us like babies. If I survive the mountains tomorrow I will be back to bore you with more Ràs notes. Jack is now screaming at me to go to bed!!

Stage 5 – Bundoran to Buncrana - May 24th - 149K

posted 22 May 2012, 12:55 by Kevin Monaghan   [ updated 24 May 2012, 15:42 by Mark Monaghan ]

A view of Mamore Gap
Ah here lads this Pro Cycling is an unbelievable life, sure where would you get a job giving you a 2 bedroom bungalow for six lads with two sinks and everybody trying to wash two day's gear!! Well no matter, because personally it was the first decent night of sleep I got since we started and that was in the top bunk as "Hef" decided he should have the bottom one because he is the team "sprinter". Our roommate was "Dungarvan John" who, when I commented at 5.45am on my slumber "sure tis the bunk bed by you may tell herself to get one". Anyway what a day we had today in as Charlie Sheridan describes as "God's Country". Well I can tell you that aside from the tropical weather it was more like "Satan's" country. We left Bundoran at 7.30am to tackle 150kms via Donegal, Letterkenny, Ballybofey and on through Burnfoot with our destination being Buncrana. The toughest day or in cycling speak the "Queens" stage of the 60th Ràs, Four Cat 3 climbs before we were faced at the 75 mile mark by a viscous Cat 2. However, this was only the warm up, yes a warm up in 24 degrees for the jewel in the crown of North Donegal.....an absolute beast of a climb called Mamore Gap. This is by far the hardest climb we have ever took on and one of those that you can see the hardship of long before you get to its base, But it wasn’t the base we were interested in but the summit which we all managed to get to and all still mounted which was some thrill.
We have had to completely reorganise our team set up as our Directeur has by now absconded, Doreen is now installed as team manager but Joe Duffy is in charge of Team tactics. Hands down we have won the Team prize as we were bolstered today by Darragh Caffrey and Andy Brady. We are now all sporting the Ràs Stare which is not a pretty sight!!!!!!! Regardless, we are all still standing and looking forward to another 86 miles tomorrow from Buncrana to KiIlybegs via 3 Cat 2 climbs and the infamous Cat 1 Glengesh Pass. Bed time now!!!!!

Stage 6 – Buncrana to KiIlybegs - May 25th - 134K

posted 22 May 2012, 12:54 by Kevin Monaghan   [ updated 26 May 2012, 04:43 ]

(By Shay O'Toole)   
Race The Rás Stage 6
Today was another very early start as we had to transfer back from our overnight hotel to Buncrana for a start time of 7.30am to commence today's stage of 85 miles to Killybegs.  With the factor 30 suncream being lashed on at the ungodly hour of 6.45am it was clear that we were in for another scorcher.  

With Team Wheelers all feeling the effects of the last few days and the thoughts of today's climbs turning our heads inside out, it was one of those days to just get the legs rolling for the first few miles and who better than Duffy to recognise that as he once again  gave a master class in pacing.  

Onwards through Letterkenny with the sun showing off Lough Swilly and God's Country at her best we sooon got the blood flowing and the pace gathered nicely. As we turned for Glenties we hit the start of the heavy draggy roads that this area is famous for and would be very familiar to our racing crew who have competed regularly in the Donegal 3Day (Damien, don't foret to give the cup back). 

35 miles in we started the first Cat 2 of the day  which in fairness was not too bad and it left us with an amazing descent which blew the s***e out of the group and started a war of attrition with lads trying to bridge gaps everywhere. However, speeds were nothing compared to the daredevil continental rider who reached 117km/h coming off Mamore yesterday. Yes you read that right,  just below the legal motorway spped limit! 

Anyway we eventually/thankfully reached Glenties tea stop to an almighty reception from the local community.  At this point I have to compliment the people of Donegal who without doubt have  opened their arms and facilities to Race the Rás and The Rás like no other county. They have been fantastic supporters and have given huge encouragement, especially on their brutal  mountains. After tea we were bound for Glengesh and immediately the  atmosphere in the bunch changed. The lower slopes were unreal as the heat started rising from the tar but as we turned at the hairpin it became intense. With nobody giving in, we all  somehow or other struggled over the top where  the motorbike outridres were almost devoured in our attempts to get liquids. From here we only had 30 odd miles to home but we also had to get over  three Category 2 climbs. 

The descent was once again extremely fast and it was great to see the Wheelers leading the charge at this stage of such a tough week. The final climbs were leg sapping especially the long steep pull all the way out of Kilcar. On reaching the 5km marker we all regrouped for yet another spin en masse into Killybegs and another huge rception from the Rás fans. Needless to say our averge speeds over the last 2 days have dropped dramatically due to the big climbs but we are still hitting between 17 and 18.5 mph which in the heat is  not too bad. 

WE are now only two sleeps from home so our plan is to hammer it but stay safe across Leitrim and Cavan,  which at 110 miles is the longest stage of the Rás.

Glengesh Climb

Stage 7 – Donegal Town to Cootehill - May 26th - 161K

posted 22 May 2012, 12:53 by Kevin Monaghan   [ updated 28 May 2012, 08:52 ]

More stunning scenery on Stage 7 (Photo: Stephen McCarthy – Sportsfile)

What a day from hell we had today on the longest stage of this year's Race the Rás. As everybody gathered for breakfast it was clear to see from facial expressions that the event was taking its toll and lads were just interested in churning out the miles to get home. However, with 110 miles to do today, it was always going to be a mental as well as a physical test due to the full on headwind we had for 109.5 miles of this spin. The departure from Donegal was comfortable as we had fabulous road surfaces to whisk us to Bundoran at speed which at one stage hit 22.5mph uphill before we veered left for Kinlough and the start of what turned out to be one of the most difficult stretches of the entire event. The wind hit us flat in the face and between that and the never ending rollercoaster-like roads it was absolute torture. Lads were cursing Leitrim and Cavan, two counties which we seemed to be entering and exiting all day and not a half mile of flat tarmac to be found. I am not talking Bun hill here, each hill was either Piggery of Skeagh and if not as long or longer they were steeper and what we couldn't understand was that they were not even categorised. Our only saving grace was the fantastic views as we rode alongside Lough Melvin which straddles the border and looked as big as the ocean.

After 50 odd miles we hit the Cat 2 climb which, with the head wind, was easily a Cat 1 and seemed to go on for ever as it wound its way upwards to the KOM banners where we eventually saw Joe Duffy and his trusty camera ready to capture our tortured faces. From here we got some respite on the descent before we hit the town land of Redhills whose name only meant one thing and by God does it have hills. One after the other they came like a factory production line with each one depleting our energy and filling the legs with the dreaded lactate causing an almighty stinging sensation, especially in the quads.

The last Categorised climb was a Cat 3 which we crested out of pure thickness. There were some huge positives though as we approached Cootehill around a very dangerous and gravely corner we spotted the Horohoe family decked in their Lakeside Wheelers colours clapping us on and then in the town itself we were met by one of the biggest crowds so far, which also included more of the Lakeside Wheelers family, Mick and Jason Reynolds, Cathy O'Toole and by this time the Horohoes who were back to catch the Rás finish.

The sight of familiar faces at the stage ends was fantastic and proves once again the quality and depth which we have in our club. Another positive was the standard of accommodation which we had in Cootehill as we retired to some luxury and rest with the ever present Doreen weaving some magic on our tired limbs as she massaged away the day's pain. With only one more day to we decided to treat ourselves to a pint and toast a job almost well done and before you think it was an event that would drive you to drink, Pairic did not partake!!! Sleep was no problem and made all the easier knowing that tomorrow was the last day.

Stage 8 – Cootehill to Skerries - May 27th - 139K

posted 22 May 2012, 12:52 by Kevin Monaghan   [ updated 28 May 2012, 08:49 ]

Skerries Windmill
Although we all arrived down to breakfast once again weary and tired, we knew it was as good as over with the organisers having decided on a leisurely/ceremonial ride to the finish in Skerries. All we were short of was the champagne en route but leisurely or not we still had some more hills to climb as we travelled cross the Cavan drumlins which made for some beautiful scenery. I know we have probably had one of the best week's weather in the history of the Ràs but the scenery and landscape we witnessed in the last 8 days has been nothing short of breathtaking.
 
Unfortunately the calmness was soon came to a sudden halt as with less than 20 miles cycled the sound of carbon scraping concrete ran through the peloton and with 5 or 6 bodies lying in the middle of the road things did not look good. Thankfully it was not as bad as it initially appeared but we did lose two riders with nasty road rash and suspect neck injuries. Our own Dermot Hogan was lucky to escape with just a puncture as he collided with the falling bodies and to be honest I personally don't know how I stayed upright as my front wheel clipped a bike frame and then the shoulder of one faller. This accident naturally led to a short delay but once back rolling we settled again and very soon the Polar showed the miles slipping away and the signposts became more familiar.

For a Westmeath man I was never as glad to see one that read "Welcome to Co. Meath" as we had our fill of Cavan and it's hills. However the work was not yet over as we had four Categorised climbs to contend with but at this stage they were ONLY Cat 3's and with the finish line in sight they were less painful. Another gloriously sunny day was on the cards and as we approached our 5KM rendezvous point the spirits were high. Our run into Skerries was fantastic with huge crowds out enjoying the end of Ràs festival and once again the Wheelers were out in force. Libby, Jonathan and Rachel Nugent, Cathy, Dan and Martina O'Toole and Carmel Dolan all turned up to welcome us home and how satisfying it was to cross that line.

Would you believe our team manager resumed contact again during the week and apologised for abandoning us mid tour and asked if we would take him back so after a brief discussion we agreed to revert to our 1-1-1 formation with him looking after our racing tactics, Doreen concentrating on massage and Joe Joe managing logistics. Someone said he was only back as there would be no need for him at the "coalface" due to the soaring temperatures but we decided in the interests of club harmony to resume his contract. Alls well that ends well and there is no doubt that the four of us had a fantastic week and an experience we will never forget. I was told by one of the main organisers when I signed up that I would make friends for life and without doubt the camaraderie on tour was excellent, from the "Donegal Boys" who were great fun to "Dungarvan John" whose name is actually Mark but much to Jack Nugent's amusement I just kept calling him John. I know we will definitely cycle with these lads again and hopefully our clubs will benefit too.

On behalf of Dermot, Pairc, Jack and I, I would like to say a huge thank you to all our fellow Wheelers for your messages of support and for coming along to the stage ends, it was a great boost to us knowing we were in your thoughts. To Joe Duffy, who gave us extra special attention each day just because we were Wheelers we also say thanks and last but not least to our families who have put up with us thinking we were pro riders over the last few months when training.

Finally, I would like to include a include a piece form our manager who thought it would be a good idea from a sports psychology perspective to pick four riders from the professional ranks both past and present and twin them with us for inspiration purposes. I have to stress these are his words and his selections. Thanks for reading each day and hopefully you enjoyed the view of Race the Rás from inside the peloton!

Jack Nugent....Pippo Pozzato- darling of the Tifosi and also King of Bling.

Pairic Devine.....George Hincapie- steady as a rock, oldest pro in the peloton and sticks rigidly to a no drugs, energy drinks or gels policy.

Dermot Hogan....Jens Voigt- organised and wily East German pro who loves to give it a gingin.

Shay O'Toole.....Mario Cippolini- tall, elegant, handsome, undisputed team leader and sprinting supremo but full of drugs.

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