Today I suffered like a mangey dog and loved every minute of it. The Bobby Power Challenge is known as Ireland’s toughest sportif, and for good reason. And to add a little bit of icing to the cake of difficulty it lashed rain pretty much all day and a nice strong wind made its impact also. Seventy two riders lined up at 9 am to hear Irish Olympic manager Martin O’Loughlin give the briefing and to find Bobby’s wife Mags on the start line ready to set them on their way. The Power family have a big part in the event with Bobbys’ son Cian the Event Co-ordinator and all of the family helping out on the day. The Carrick on Suir cycling family all pull together with the Power family to honour a man who gave so much to the sport of cycling in Ireland.
The rain lashed down as we rode out over the railway tracks but the atmosphere was good. First up came the climb of Tullaghought. Steep is a good word to describe it. On the first bend there were Joe Hahessy and his son Sean. Today is Seans birthday so I asked him for some cake. Fresh legs made the climb feel OK and we were soon over the top and passing through the Sunday Morning Mass crowd who cheered us on. You can’t beat a good country Mass crowd. The town Mass crowd would just walk out in front of you.
Next up came The Gap of Rathclarish, another leg breaker but it was still early so no major worries. There was Joe Cashin at the top with his camera so time to straighten up and look like a pro. A job that I’m sure did not go to plan. I’ll find out later on flickr and facebook.
Out onto the main road past a junction manned by Cyclng Ireland President Rory Wyley and Iverk Carrick Wheelers Ras Masseur Theo English. Any chance of a rub Theo ?
Passing John Dempsey as we hit the main road I glanced around to find the group now whittled down to about 25 riders. The climbs were taking their toll.
Next up came Slievenamon. Half way up two guys behind me were wondering if this was one of the climbs. Then they began talking about their race last Sunday and I began to wonder what I was doing up here. Passing through Kilcash village I found out as they went North and I went south. On the descent we regrouped and a group of about 20 once again headed for Kilsheelan where just before the railway gates a flood of water was deep enough to engulf all bottom brackets and hubs which will need a bit of maintenance shortly.
Up the back road towards Clonmel before swinging left for the 3k wall that is Tickincor. On the way up there was talk of ski lifts and gondolas which would have all been greatly appreciated. Near the top Dick informed me that he was headed home which was not far away and had I not been so forthright with my views in a recent Sticky Bottle article I too could go home and save a lot of suffering. Me and my big internet mouth . There was Sean Hahessy again at the top and still no birthday cake .
The Nire Valley loop went up and down before ramping savagely up again into a headwind. I found myself riding with the long flowing haired Eamon from Waterford who was so strong that with the wind coming from the left he was happy to sit to my left when it was my turn at the front. On the descent the Garmin hit over 77 kph which was great craic. I sometimes find that the more wrecked I am the faster I descend.
The food stop in Rathgormack was a welcome sight. Rathgormack is a great place where the locals in the Community Centre make you feel like they are inviting you into their own homes with hospitality to match. It has to be one of the best food stops for cyclists in the country and is also used for The Sean Kelly Tour each August. As I sat in a chair I noticed Leslie O’Donnell making his way over with a mop. He then proceeded to mop up the pool of water that had gathered under my chair as all the rain water flowed from my cycling gear .
As I was having my coffee and cake I was calculating. Most of the lead group had come in just before me. Mark Power was pulling out just as I was pulling in having just filled his bottles. The Belgians who were very strong along with a few others were changing from wet to dry clothing. A few more were still drinking tea. 3 riders were heading out so I decided to head off with them. Hopefully I could get over Seskin before the remnants of the main group caught me and would have some shelter on the road to Mahon Falls.
I stayed with the trio until Seskin where I was summarily despatched. Heading out onto the main road a few of the lads marshalling were there ‘ Stop, stop , stop, well Barry , Go on, Go on, Go on.
I spent the next part of the ride all the way out to Mahon Bridge with only my thoughts for company. Every mile or so I would look back expecting to see a group coming up but I guess the tailwind was helping my case as I rolled along at 40 kph. I thought about the man who designed the route and the event. Bobby was the Captain on the road. What he did not know about cycling was not worth knowing. He was a hard, tough rider who knew how to suffer and designed a route which could test any rider, both mentally and physically. Bobby was too young to be taken from this earth and this thought made me think that it is important to do as much as you can while you can. Just taking part in a sporting challenge makes you feel alive. Watching tv on the couch does not .
The road meandered on passed a fine house built without planning permission. I know that because my Father told me during a Sunday family drive along that road. His 4 year anniversary is coming up soon and wouldn’t he love to be able to go for a drive on these roads once more, and I would love to be able to go with him.
Down into Mahon bridge and still no sign of anyone in front or behind. A right turn past Rory and then another past Pat Kennealy and there I was on the run up to Mahon Falls. The road meandered along with me plugging away until a car came around a corner and skidded to a halt. Out of the drivers window came what looked like a telegraph pole but was actually a ginormous camera lens held by the famous Johnny Troy.
‘Howaya kid ? ‘ flash
‘I’m fooked Johnny’
‘Good man, you’ve a long way to go yet’
‘Thanks Johnny’ , and on I went.
Then I found myself in a wooded part of the road which was sheltered from the rain and was engulfed by silence. I was listening to my laboured breathing when I heard a crack that sounded like someone stepping on a twig. I looked behind to find one of the Belgians dropping from a 23 to a 21 as he closed the gap between us.
He passed me just as we turned onto the magic road and I remembered the two phenomenons associated with Mahon Falls. At one point if you stop the car and release your hand brake the car will feel like it is rolling uphill. The other is that no matter if the wind is coming from the north, south, east or west it will be against you on Mahon Falls.
The Belgian pulled away gradually and was well out of sight by the time I eventually crested the summit. The descent was fast and dangerous but a few ‘leave her off and hope for the best’ sections brought me back in sight of the Belgian at the bottom. He was now about 50 bike lengths ahead and that was how it stayed until the turn off for Kilmac where he went straight on. I left a roar after him but he did not hear and ploughed on. For a second I considered chasing after him but my legs informed me that would not be the wise option seeing that I couldn’t catch him for the past 10k .
A few K later and I hear voices behind. There’s a Belgian and another guy from SWW (Southside wheely wheelers) . I immediately ask the Belgian if he has a number for his buddy who has gone off course. He replies in a refined Dublin accent ‘Oh that was me’ . He had taken the next left turn which quickly brought him back on course. It also turned out that the Belgians weren’t actually Belgian but just had Belgian National team colour gear and matching bikes.
The next drag came and the Belgian from Dublin and the SWW guy with a stiff link in his chain which jumped on every revolution were just going that bit too hard for my comfort zone so I dropped my pace. I was probably spending too much time fantasizing about taking the chain breaker from my bag and fixing the chain anyway.
Carrols cross came quickly and there was Nicky Butler. Wey hey Nicky and on I went. My bottles were now empty but luckily along came Paul Flynn in the medium sized white van who managed to locate some water for me which really hit the spot.
Portlaw was a blur as the gates into Curraghmore loomed large on my horizon. Riding Paris Roubaix last year was an education I was looking forward to putting into use again on this section of farm track ‘road’ .
Throw it up into a big gear, sit well back over the saddle, go as hard as I can and trust the Hutchinson tubeless tyres to do their job as the bike finds its own line without puncturing. Whatever was left in the tank was going to be used up and I was going to enjoy it. I was flying along catching some air over the speed ramps and catching the riders ahead.
Out of Curraghmore and back on to the road in to Carrick. It was mostly all downhill from here.
The finish arrived and the suffering was over but as I enjoyed another cup of Tara O’Donnells coffee which was nicer than anything from Starbucks I noticed a great sense of satisfaction and accomplishment amongst all who had taken part in Ireland’s toughest sportif on a day when the weather had joined in to play its part too.
A huge big thanks to all who played their part in orgainsing such a great event and looking forward to next year already.