(This pic was actually taken yesterday on The Vee Valley Challenge between Burncourt and Clogheen)
Each and every weekend from now until the end of September there will be Sportive and charity cycles taking place in every corner of the land. Some like the Ring of Kerry will have 9000 people on the 180k route. The Sean Kelly Tour will have over 2000 on the 10k family cycle with 5000 taking on the three distances of 50, 100 and 160k the following day. There will also be the other 4 events of the An Post cycle series and many clubs and charities will also be hosting their own events.
Having spent many an hour both riding in and driving behind these events I have seen cyclists of all shapes sizes and abilities make their way around and whilst I commend those who can cover 180k in five hours or less I always find myself being more impressed by those who take twice as long. The type of cyclist I call ‘The Lone Survivors’
Yesterday as I drove along doing back up service on the Vee Valley Challenge Sportive in aid of the Clogheen Hospice fund, I had plenty of time to contemplate The Lone Survivors in between fixing punctures and mending broken chains.
Clogheen to Cahir was covered at an average of 40kph. This suited the fitter cyclists but for those without a 3 hour each Sunday Winter base it was a struggle and very soon the gaps began to appear.
I always prefer to be in a nice group on these types of events, especially with the prospect of long open windy Irish countryside looming out ahead. My first thought when I see a rider slipping back early on during a Sportive is that it is going to be a long and lonely day for them. But they always seem to find their pace and settle in for the long hard slog.
Driving behind a race you see a riders position and style and try to gauge how much or how little they are suffering but you rarely notice any major bike positional anomalies. The same does not hold true on a Sportive.
On a Sportive, especially towards the rear of the field you notice a lot. The ‘sawballers’ with their saddles too high and the ‘harleyriders’ with their saddles too low. You learn to recognise those who look like they are struggling but that’s just their riding style and those who sit well on the bike but are under serious pressure.
The front group are often home drinking soup and eating sandwiches at the same time as the back markers are only approaching the half way point of a course. The front riders are changed and having the craic as they load up the cars whilst a Lone Survivor is weaving up a climb with no other rider in sight, but they keep on going.
You look on from the comfort of a warm van as cold rain falls on a weary body in front and contemplate telling them to hop into the van. I have made the offer more than once and it is rarely taken up. When it is you know it is always at a point of collapse. I often feel that the Lone Survivors pain suffering on a long back road climb in Ireland is the same pain that Tour de France riders feel on the likes of Alpe D’Huez.
I am not alone in admiring the Lone Survivors. Yesterday John O’Mahoney from Ardfinnan having completed his 120k rode back out along the course and turned to accompany a Lone Survivor back in towards the finish helping to give encouragement up Knocklofty hill and shelter from the wind on the flat road towards Clogheen.
Sometimes hours after the barriers are taken away and all the bunting is taken down a Lone Survivor will roll in to the finish. Missing the ceremony and the atmosphere of finishing with the crowds does not matter to them. The satisfaction of completing a challenge that many would have thought was beyond them is all that matters. I have seen the great Sean Kelly shake the hand of a Lone Survivor who finished the 160k into Dungarvan over 10 1/2 hours after starting and 5 hours after the first rider home. They both had a look of mutual respect on their faces.
Always admire the Lone Survivor !