Saturday 19 September 2009

The race around Ireland - Part 2

I can now confirm that Ultra-marathon bike races are NOT a spectator sport!

I spent a very frustrating evening driving the route in Wicklow trying to find some riders to cheer on. Unfortunately I got there too late to see the first two teams (Team No Prior Experience and An Post Connaught) pass through on their epic battle for the team prize.

They finished a mere 40 minutes apart after 1324.5 miles of non-stop relay racing. Incredible.

I started in Enniskerry and wound my way south along the route, stopping for a while in Glenmacnasse and Drumgoff hoping to see some lights down the respective valleys. No joy there! Everyone else was hours behind the two leading teams.

Eventually, as it started to get a bit darker, I headed to Slieve Maan telling myself (and my wife at home!) that if I didn't see anyone coming there I'd call it a night.

Happily I had just got to the summit when Team Tailteann appeared around the last bend of the climb. I jumped out, shouted some encouragement and at least got a pic of him. He was, understandably, struggling to get over the top but moving pretty well.

Even better, after he went by there was another flashing light down in the valley below. About five minutes behind was the Swords CC rider similarly struggling up. His car pulled over to ask me the time gap and then on they went.

I waited for a short while but no more lights appeared so I hopped into the car and followed down the descent. I was able to overtake the Swords rider on Drumgoff and got this shot of him passing the Shay Elliot Memorial.

Now, apart from the spectator issue, the main thing that struck me about watching these guys was the loneliness of their effort. Despite having shared the riding most of the way around the country these guys were now tackling most of the hardest climbs in Wicklow, on their own, as the light faded. Apart from me there was no-one cheering them on. In fact I think I was such a rare sight both even managed a breathless "Thanks" as I cheered them past.

I followed the Swords guy down the descent into Laragh. As he took it very carefully indeed in the fading light it made me really appreciate the sheer scale of what they were doing. And they, or their team mates, still had Sally Gap, Luggala, The Old Long Hill, Kilgarron in Enniskerry, the Devils Elbow in Glencullen and the Feather Beds to climb/descend through the night hours before the relatively flat final stretch around the edge of the city to Navan.

Unfortunately I couldn't wait for Joe Barr to come up the climb. Word from the Swords car was that he was taking a rest in Aughrim so it would probably have been an hour or two before he'd have come up, in complete darkness. If that was tough for the teams I can't begin to imagine what it was going to be like for him and his fellow solo riders. Is it an advantage to not be able to see the road rise in the darkness, when you've ridden 1200 odd miles on a few hours sleep?

I'm truly in awe!

See for the race website and to donate to Joe Barrs charity appeal.

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