With Classic Season well under way in mainland Europe, Ireland’s ‘classic’ race rolled out on Sunday. The Des Hanlon is a renowned one day race within these shores and yesterdays race was no different. Its certainly one of the toughest races on the calender and the combination of the route and the weather made this years race an epic in all sense.
Peter gratefully offered me a lift and as we headed for sign-on the temperature gauge barely moved north of 2 degrees. The only saving grace was the promise of dry weather which was the only positive about the weather. The weather didn’t seem to dampen the numbers and 133 A3’s signed on. TCTC’s contingent included myself, Peter and Mick. We met Fran Meehan at sign on who was racing for the Aqua Blue team. With the ominously cold temperature I never bothered doing a warm-up and got changed in the relative comfort of Peters car. I layered up in almost full winter attire and waited until just before roll out to enter the frigid air. Mick was sporting a pair of flash wheels to go with the new bike and looked the part. A large group of A1/2’s containing some of Ireland’s best amateur riders rolled out before us as they headed for 100 miles of torture over 3 laps of the circuit.
The A3 race would take in 2 laps of the circuit and we rolled out shortly after 1pm. The first couple of km’s were neutralised until we hit the Portlaoise road. Attacks went in immediately as some tried to get to the hills before the bunch. With the cold my HR was pretty high and I was happy enough to sit in and try to get my body warmed up. The first drag through Ballickmoyler was taken at a steady pace with the bunch content to tap out a nice rhythm. The descent contained a large pothole which myself and Peter spotted on the drive down. Several riders hit this hard and loads of bottles were shed. At least ten riders ended up with punctures because of this obstacle and several were without liquid. The route swung left towards Castlecomer with another drag. The leading riders were out front and the bunch was content to leave them there with some serious climbing to come.
The pace towards Castlecomer was pedestrian at times and the bunch was all over the road. There was a bit of kamikaze stuff at times with guys on the wrong side of the road going around blind corners. Having ridden this race last year I knew you needed to be close to the front at the sharp left turn just before Castlecomer. With a couple of km’s to the turn I made my way to the front and got a good position about 10 back. The run into the left turn is a fast one and some serious braking was needed to take the turn. Once around the corner the real hurt began. Cue several slipped chains as riders downshifted with the steep gradient. The climbs come thick and fast for the next 20km’s. The pace was pretty steady over the initial climbs with no one willing to drive the pace. The Nicholas Roche Junior Team was amassing at the front and pushed the pace on the descents. The roads were very narrow but in mainly good condition. The pace was really pedestrian on the 2nd last climb of the lap and the group almost stalled in one instant.
The descent off this climb is pretty swift and once down the other side you are immediately onto the last drag of the lap. This was where the pace really began to tell. This drag was my downfall last year and the bunch was soon split to pieces such was the pace. Unfortunately I was caught a little ways back in the bunch. My legs were also cramping a little and with another lap to get I didn’t want to go to far into the rad. Approaching the top of the climb I was stuck in the 3rd group of about 20 riders. On the descent a few of the bigger roleurs hit the front in an effort to bring back the group in front. Some big turns by a Navan RC rider really helped reduce the gap to the next group. We soon swung left onto the 2nd lap with the gap still at 10 seconds or so. With the tailwind on this section we were really motoring but still it took another 5 or 6km to finally make contact with the second group on the road.
At this point the lead car was still another 20 seconds up ahead. We were soon swinging left at Castlecomer at hitting the climbs again. My legs were a little suspect but I was able to contribute on the front and tried to push on the group. We could still see the lead group ahead but with everyone on the limit it was looking less and less likely that we could bridge the gap. I probably did too much on the front and as we hit another drag my calve decided to seize up and went into cramp. The pain was pretty unbearable and I soon dropped out of the group. I thought that was that but somehow managed to fight through the pain and get going again. Thankfully I managed to get into the following cars and made contact with the group who weren’t going to fast thank god. Fatigue was starting to kick in and everyone was hitting their limit. We soon hit the final climb and the group went to pieces. MY cramp had subsided a little and I managed to stay close to the front. A Barrow Wheeler really pushed hard and worked like a dog to the top. On the descent the group was now 10 strong and we finally seen the 10km to go sign. The run in was fast and our little group got the up and overs going as we hit the outskirts of Carlow. Some of the riders managed to take a wrong turn at the final roundabout before we finished out the race. I think we finished in the top 30 on what was the hardest race I ever had the pleasure of competing in.
Mick and Peter rolled in soon after and we headed to the cars to thaw out. Peter had lost feeling in his hands and my fingers were frozen. Needless to say we had the heaters on full blast for a while before we felt better.
Stats for the day:- Distance = 114km, Avg = 34.6km/h, Climbing = 1,450m