Day 1 Saturday 30th March
So its Easter weekend and that means its Stage Race time all around the country. For the hardcore A1’s its the Tour of Munster and its tough stages around Kerry. For the mere mortals its a toss up between the Gorey 3 Day and Ras Chonamara. Having had a pretty mediocre start to the year I left it late to sign up and by this time my only option was Ras Chonamara. Last week at the Des Hanlon my form seemed to be slowly improving so I was happy enough to give it a go.
The day started early at 7:00am for the trip out west. Peter travelled along with me as we headed for race HQ in Oughterard. With the new motorway we flew down to Galway and hit Oughterard shortly after 9:00am. We signed on and received our timing chips for the 4 stages. The first near calamity of the weekend involved my timing chip. While securing it with a zip tie I also zip tied my wheel spoke. That would of being interesting if I hadn’t of spotted it. Cue panic buying of a nail clippers to remove said zip tie. While Peter may have been chuckling away to himself he managed to repeat the act a few minutes later.
With the recent wintry weather showing little sign of abating it was leg warmers and thermals all the way. A beautifully stiff easterly wind was blowing unabated which was sure to be a welcome thing.
The locals seemed to embrace the race and there was an impressive start finish banner set up on the main street. Stage 1 was set for off at 11:00am and with the cold weather I didn’t warm up much. The route for the first headed west to Maam Cross then swung inland towards Cong and the Mayo border. We promptly rolled out at 11:00am and soon were bombing along with a stiff tail wind. The roads were typically rough and you couldn’t take your eyes off the wheels for a second or bad things would happen.
The fast start didn’t go down too well for me as my legs refused to warm up. Eventually the pace settled down and my legs started to work. I was cycling just behind a Black Rose rider and was moving up nicely through the bunch. With less than a km to go before Maam Cross the Black Rose guy clipped the gravel on the edge of the road and started too lose control. My world went into slow motion as I pictured myself careering over the falling rider. Severe evasive action was required as I slammed on the brakes to avoid hitting the stricken rider. I somehow managed to stop and quickly zip around the head of the now prone rider. The crash strung out the bunch and swift action was required to latch onto the back. No sooner had we turned right at Maam we hit the first major climb of the day.
Cyclists were already swinging at the back and gaps were appearing everywhere and I pushed hard to stay in touch. The descent was swift and thankfully the group slowed up a little allowing everyone to catch on that was dropped on the descent. The route headed across some more rough roads and we soon crossed into Mayo. A few steep climbs were negotiated and the bunch was rarely coasting. I had burned a few matches hanging on and soon the whole box was about to get extinguished. The approach to the steepest climb was fast to say the least. I couldn’t hold the wheel and soon the group was disappearing into the distance. Luckily when we hit the climb I was able to catch a few guys and we soon formed a nice group on the descent. We were working well but the bunch was slowly disappearing up the road.
With 30km left to race we climbed back over the Maam climb now cycling into a fierce headwind. Our group soon dwindled to six and we started the up and overs in an effort to limit our time losses. The road back to Oughterard was hard and when we finally crossed the line we had lost around 4 minutes. Not too bad considering we were on our own for about 35km. My position on GC was around top 40 which was okay considering where I was dropped. Peter got caught up in the earlier crash and came in a few groups down after a hard chase.
Stage 1 Stats:- Distance = 92.4km Avg = 36.2km/h
Day 2 Sunday 31st March
Day 2 started with an 8.5km time trail around the Glann circuit which runs through Oughterard. I’ll keep this short. I’m brutal at time trialling and my ineptitude was evident as I set a pretty crap time. Needless to say the winner was over 3 minutes faster than me. Looks like an equipment purchase maybe necessary in this department to hide my ineptitude.
After the time trial hell it was time for a mid afternoon road stage which kicked off at 1pm. The weather turned foul and the rain soon arrived to put a dampener on things. With the rain and cold the stage was looking like a slog fest. Great. Warming up wasn’t an option for me as I sat in the car and starred at the grey skies. We soon lined up with around 100 riders still in the race. The rain was starting to subside but the roads were very greasy. After yesterdays start I knew what to expect and we were soon lined out as we left town. There was a lit of dodgy riding with guys switching across lanes and trying to avoid the cats eyes. Fair play to the motorbike marshals who did a brilliant job holding back the cars during all 3 days.
The dodgy riding finally culminated in another crash in almost the same spot as Saturday. Luckily I was a bit back in the bunch and avoided the carnage. The resultant split more or less decided our faith for the stage. Peter and myself were in a group of around 20 as we tried to latch back onto the front group. We flew up the Maam climb and descended like mad men. Myself and Peter ended up in a group of 4 trying to bridge across. We got ridiculously close at one point and almost made it across. With a little help from the cars we would of bridged but they didn’t prove any much use.
So with the leaders up the road we settled into a nice rhythm and knocked out a steady pace. The scenery was stunning a s we flew into Lennane and out alongside Killery Harbour. We still had a tailwind but this was soon to end when we turned west. Our speed went from 45-50 km/h to 20 – 25km/h. Myself and Peter sat up and waited for a bigger group to come across and began to work with them. The last 45km was pretty horrid affair as we rode into a block headwind with no shelter anywhere. Everyone was suffering and just wanted it to end. I was shivering with the cold and my neck was starting to seize. Thankfully I survived and we made it to the end. I later heard that the main group stopped riding on the headwind section as a break was well ahead and we only finished a couple of minutes down.
Stage 2b Stats:- Distance = 94.8 km Avg. = 33.5 km/h
Day 3 Monday 1st April
I’ll keep the details of the final day pretty brief. The crosswinds and general hardship took its toll on my body. The final stage was 5 laps of a 10km circuit around Oughterard. It was a very bad sign when the start finish ballon blew down in the wind. Onto the circuit. As per the previous stages the pace was un-relenting from the gun. Very soon I was in all sorts of trouble and barely hanging on to the rear of the bunch. The elastic broke after about 6km and that was that. One of my shortest races ever. I completed one circuit and rolled to the side of the street a broken man. It was great the see the young juniors ride their socks off but my god they make the race hard.
So that was my Ras Chonamara 2013 done and dusted. Hats off to all the organisers and marshals who did a great job keeping everyone safe during the 3 days of racing. Hopefully the race continues to grow as it certainly is a great test over some varied terrain. The landscapes are stunning if only I could of stopped and soaked it in.