Yesterday Clonmel Cycling Club ran yet another very successful series of races . The circuit chosen was good enough to be a National Championship circuit , and as Ray said all week ‘ The strongest rider on the day would win the race ‘ . The days racing began with the underage riders testing out the new circuit . The Under 12 race was won by Michael O’Loughlin whose father Martin was hoping to make it a double in the combined race . Dylan O’Brien won the under 14 race whilst Luke McGuire took the under 16 event .
Next up came the Combined race , that is a race where C category seniors , Veterans , Juniors and Ladies are all lumped in together . I even decided to enter this melting pot myself , but more on that later .
The main event was the Elite A/B category race where the local hero put in a terrific performance . With the race doing 7 laps of the Marlefield circuit , and the start/finish line being only 100 metres from the house where he grew up , there was an added amount of pressure on Ray yesterday .
The people of Marlefield were out in force to support their finest sportsman . Ray has won just about everything on the domestic scene as well as some very impressive international results and is recognised as one of the best Irish cyclists of the post Kelly/Roche era . ( I know I am a little biased but I don’t think that anyone would disagree ) . There was a fantastic atmosphere on the barrier controlled uphill finish straight which was added to by the people of Marlefield who brought tea and sandwiches from their own homes out to the spectators .
With local children chanting ‘come on Raymend ‘even when no cyclist was in sight it was easy to see who they wanted to see on the podium . Ray did not dissapoint when with 1 1/2 laps remaining he launched a blistering attack . Two riders managed to get across to him, current man on form Brian Kenneally and another strongman Mick Hennessy from Fermoy . The trio rode well together but it was Kenneally who took the spoils on the day . Ray entertained the crowd as he crossed the line in third position whilst doing a wheelie. The local kids roared their delighted encouragement of ‘Good man Raymend’ .
Meanwhile , in the combined race I found myself rediscovering many different forms of pain that I thought I had long since forgotten . There is a big difference between ‘Bike fit ‘ and Race fit’ , which I soon discovered . First time up the dump hill I thought that my legs were going to seize up . By the time we had gone through the start/finish and on up by St. Patricks well I thought that I was going to Vomit . It was time for a quick conference with myself to come up with a plan to get to the finish in one piece .
Plan A was to be first into the bottom of each climb and then to ride up at my own pace . Ideally , by the top of each climb although many riders would have passed I would still be in the bunch . This is called ‘sliding room’ and actually worked pretty well . Like a Green Party advocate ‘energy conservation’ was paramount so to make my way back up to the front of the bunch after each piece of sliding also required a little planning . Up the middle is the most sheltered , but also the most dangerous way . Up the inside is good if there is a stall and a gap . Up the outside is only for use when latching on to another rider who might tow you up to the front . All three were employed .
The racing was hot and heavy with many attacks shooting off the front early on . At one stage as I looked at Martin O’Loughlin having a go I wondered to myself what I was doing here . He recently trained 40 hours in one week ( The tour de france is usually won in 88 to 90 hours over three weeks ) . My average weeks training would be much closer to four than forty .
On the third lap Leslie O’Donnell (Dan Morrissey ), John Murphy (Fermoy) and Martin Phillips (Limerick) attacked heading out the main road . With 3 strong riders from 3 strong teams this looked like a very good move indeed . A number of riders tried to bridge the gap , but to no avail . The gap grew slowly to over a minute which , as we passed the start/finish for the penultimate time looked to be enough .
I was really struggeling at this point and as we passed patricks well for the final time , my sliding room diminished with the ever reducing size of the bunch , my elastic snapped . I was 30 metres off the back as we turned onto the main road for the final time . Then I noticed what was left of the bunch swell out on the road as there was a stall . I dug deep and managed to get back into the safe haven that was the bunch .
There now remained 2 climbs . Dump hill and the climb up to the finish . My goal for the day was to finish in the bunch . If I could make it over Dump hill , the group would be so strung out on the final climb that I would still be in contact .
As we approached the sweeping left hand-er that led into Dump hill for the final time I noticed that a rider on the front had been a bit cagey on the corners earlier in the race . I went around the outside and did not touch my brakes . This got me a few precious lengths that may see me over the hill still in the group . I dug deep once more and just managed to latch on as we went over the top .
Up ahead John Murphy ( who rides the Etape each year ) was taking an impressive victory ahead of the Limerick strongman Martin Phillips and Carricks Mr. Consistency Leslie O’Donnell .
Meanwhile we were approaching the final corner up the hill at speed with 7 prizes still up for grabs . A few riders were dangling off the front but it all came together on the final climb. I was on Martin’s wheel entering the corner . A good wheel to be on if you had good legs, which I did not have . He powered on up to finish fifth just behind David Walshe of Wexford Wheelers . I trundled on up the hill accomplishing my mission of a bunch finish in my first race in over 3 years .
I had forgotten just how hard racing is , but as I sit here today with sore legs full of lactic acid I have that sense of accomplishment that follows on from doing something less ordinary than most Sunday civillians .
Here are the garmin details of the race ( missed a bit at the start ) : http://connect.garmin.com/activity/4350917
Jonathan Ryan has some great pictures and a video of the race here : http://www.flickr.com/photos/vanhelsing65/sets/72157617256734641/
Danny Carroll has a more detailed report here : www.clonmelcc.com