I joined Western Lakes Cycling Club in 2009 as a relatively late comer to the sport in my late thirties, taking up spinning initially after knee surgery on the advice that cycling would be good for my injury. I spend my first two very enjoyable seasons clocking up steady miles with the leisure riders in the club and then ventured onto the local racing scene in 2011 to see if I could stretch my ability. I got some wins in league races and time trials, and felt I was getting stronger throughout the year. Driven by curiosity I asked Padraig Marrey for a fitness assessment at the end of the season, wondering how my numbers might stack up against seasoned racers. My test numbers were good, but I was really taken aback when Padraig told me that with the right training programme, I had Ras potential! This was big news to me, and not something I was going to let sit.
I went off with my homework for the winter, which I duly completed. Highly occupied working in a new company and with two young children at home, I needed to be super-organised and worked through most of the winter programme on my own. I showed up in the new year in the shape of my life, further boosted by joining the Ras team on a week-long training camp in Murcia. My first open race was in Navan, a real eye-opener navigating a big field of riders. No result, but I was near the front all day and finished top ten. I don’t remember how many races I completed that year, but have some specific memories such as going to Letterkenny on St. Patricks day racing at my absolute limit, again finishing top ten, and then to Westport the next day completely blowing up in Ras Maigh Eo. I never got on the podium that year mostly from a mixture of racing nativity and missing the final kick to take a sprint, but I was rarely far off it either and I was starting to believe the Ras was a realistic goal for me. I was determined that I was going to make the cut in 2013.
The previous year taught me the scale of this commitment, not just to training but to a full-on racing program especially focusing on stage races. Ras Mumhan 2013 was my first big stage race – a cold Easter weekend with plenty of climbing, then Corkman 3-day on the May bank holiday weekend, with long solo rides on consecutive days afterwards and one or two races on the weekends in between.
For me these races weren’t about getting results, but getting up the road into breakaways, being combative, and training my body to recover day after day. And then there were those long rides tucked in behind a car working on sustaining speed. Having stuck rigidly to the training plan, the race program, and the diet to keep my weight to that of my 18-year old self, I was ready for the Ras.
While my successes in cycling are extremely modest with very few results to boast of, taking part in the 2013 Ras is my proudest sporting achievement. That year’s Ras is well documented and debated for the 23 amateur riders eliminated having missed the time limit on Stage 4, of which I was one. There is an unlucky story behind every one of those eliminations, and I won’t go into mine, because my abiding memories are positive. What I remember is being treated like a professional athlete with full support team – manager, soigneur, mechanic, drivers, and sponsors. Signing autographs for kids before stages. The experience of moving along with the peloton often hitting speeds of 60km/hr on the flat, driven along at the front by professional riders like Sam Bennett and company. I was told the Ras is fast but covering nearly 160km in less than 3.5hrs at an average speed of over 45km/hr is amazing.
These are my abiding memories of cycle racing, and I am truly grateful to the people in Western Lakes Cycling Club for handing me that opportunity.
Mayo League – winning on a Giant Defy – I upgraded the bike after Mike Flanagan told me “you must piss off a lot of people when you beat them on that bike”!
Murcia training camp
Corkman 2-Day – can’t find the results online but finished in a breakaway of around ten on Stage 3, held off the yellow jersey and young Eddie Dunbar in the chasing group.
Bogman 2 day 2013