Tuesday 27 July 2010

An Post Heritage Tour Of Meath

Today I'm weary. My legs are a bit sore and, when I cycled to the bank this afternoon, some of the areas in contact with the saddle were a bit tender! The reason for this wreckage is that yesterday I completed the 160km (or 100 mile) An Post Heritage Tour of Meath. Actually it was closer to 166km, making it the longest day in the saddle for me since I got back on the bike two years ago.

I had intended riding this event last year but back spasms intervened. Knowing what I know now it was probably just as well I didn't. I'm a lot fitter, and a bit lighter, this year but still found it tough going.

Not that the route had any big climbs or other major obstacles. It just rolled incessantly. Up and down the hillocks and drumlins of North County Meath it went, requiring constant gear changes and giving you no chance to find a rhythm. By the finish the terrain and the relatively fast pace (for me!) had me worn out.

The day started early, myself, Stephen and Kevin arriving in Trim by 7:30am. After some cross-country, Wacky Races style confusion we got our spot in the fast-filling parking field behind Trim Castle. From there it was a short walk to the Trim Castle hotel and sign on. Back in the field we met up with Kevins mate, Alan and, after the usual "what should I wear" and "will it or won't it rain" discussions we were on our way to the start line.

And what a sight it was. Hundreds of riders of all shapes and sizes, young and old, lined up under a grey sky, ready to start their 160km or 100km days. Music played (at 8am!), announcers announced and, finally, the flag dropped and we were off under the yellow An Post arch.
The four amigos ready for the off.

A sea of helmets snaking back from the yellow start/finish arch

We were starting pretty far back and, as any rider knows, it's always better to be near the front, especially when there's hills coming. So ex-sprinter Stephen used his best gap-squeezing experience and, with me on his wheel, quickly got us to closer to the front in plenty of time for the first rise at Tara. The pace was pretty high and I was on the big ring, although I couldn't help thinking I might pay for that later in the day.

The road past Bective was relatively flat. Then, a sharp left had us on the approach to Tara which, as expected, posed little problem to most of those gathered near the front. It looked like a big climb on the profile but, in reality, it's a short ramp followed by a recently resurfaced drag to the tourist site at the top. In fact, when Alan came up to me, about ten kilometres later, he didn't realise we'd already been over it.
The final drag to Tara.

After the descent off Tara we followed a mix of relatively big roads and some very minor lanes towards Slane. In fact one stretch of roughly surfaced, rolling lane, complete with grass down the middle, would have looked from the air like a stretch of Paris-Roubaix cobbles. There were two long lines of riders snaking down each side, almost in the gutter, with no-one able to ride in the middle. Short, steep ramps and descents, the fast pace and lot's of gravel-strewn corners meant there was little time to relax and chat with the others, but it was exciting riding nonetheless. The only complaint I had was that I didn't get to a toilet before the start. The bumpy roads were playing havoc with my bladder but there was no time to stop while the bunch was moving at that speed.

There were lot's of these short rises to be gotten over.

Finally, we emerged from the lanes and out on the main road before Slane. We took the long, sweeping descent to the beautiful, old Boyne bridge at speed and then it was on to the steep climb to Slane village. It's not long but it was still a relief to take the left turn at the top. Five kilometres or so of gradual drag further on an it was time for the first water stop of the day at Gormalough Cross. Although water stop was an understatement. There was no shortage of water, cereal bars and bananas being handed out by a great team of smiling volunteers and, thankfully for me, a pub whose toilets were available for our use.

After a brief stop the four of us had regrouped and were off again. Gradually we picked up more riders, making the rolling stretch to Kells a very pleasant ride at a much more sustainable pace than earlier in the day.

The first feed stop proper in Kells was upon us in no time. Entering the GAA hall, we were greeted by a mountain of sandwiches, chocolate cakes and water bottles. There was a small queue forming at the tea and coffee table, but we were near the front. The woman there was apologising profusely that the kettles weren't boiled yet as they hadn't expected so many to arrive so soon. Showing the great resourcefulness you always find when a community comes together to support an event, she even seriously suggested to a colleague that they could always knock on the doors of surrounding houses and get the kettle on in each. By the time the hot water arrived the queue was getting seriously long but she kept smiling and everyone got a friendly word.
Glad we got in ahead of that queue.

Back on the road, we rode through the centre of Kells, even getting some applause from a family looking on. We were nearly half way round now, but the climb out of the town was tougher than expected, especially as our legs were only getting warmed up again. The headwind we were now riding into didn't help.

A little down the road another small group formed, including a guy in An Post gear. Stephen came up beside me and pointed to his shoes. Or lack of them! He was riding in what looked like slippers. Stephen got in beside him to find out what was going on. Turned out he'd had a few too many the night before and, in his foggy state that morning, had left without his shoes. What a man! Not only was he riding the 100km route in his casual shoes, but he was doing it with a hangover.
Spot the SPD slippers.

After passing through several more well marshalled junctions, remembering to shout thanks to the folks standing at each one, we arrived at the point where the 160 and 100 routes split. Unfortunately for us most of the group took a left turn back to Trim, while only the four of us took the right turn towards Oldcastle. We climbed a long drag on a good road to Crossakiel, but then it was back on to the lanes. We were getting in to the more remote corners of County Meath, even nudging in to County Cavan for a short time, and the road surface was noticeably deteriorating. Gravel filled potholes were becoming the norm and the rolling hills just kept coming at us. I've read some comments on message boards today criticizing the use of such rough back roads but, for me, that's what riding in Ireland is all about. Who wants to spend the day dodging speeding traffic on long, straight, windswept main roads, smooth as they might be?

Just before Oldcastle the inevitable happened. I could hear the unmistakeable phht-phht-phht hissing from Alan in front of me. Puncture! We'd come this far together so, without having to think about it, we all pulled in to a driveway and Alan got to work while we took in the view of Loughcrew, the next hill we'd be climbing, and got a few pics of passing riders. Thankfully that turned out to the only mechanical of the day between the four of us so that was a result.
Where's the neutral service car when you need it.

Loughcrew with the ancient burial mound visible on top.

Lone riders, enjoying their day.

Clubmates from Dundalk's Oriel Wheelers keep each other company

Just after we got moving again, a chap wearing SportActive kit came up from behind with a camera in his hand. He fired off a few shots of us and called out that we'd be able to see them on his website. Job done he upped his pace and headed off to catch the next group in front. Alan very astutely wondered why he started at the back and worked his way forward taking pics. Surely starting at the front and working back would be a lot easier! You can see those pics by clicking here.
Who's shooting who?

Next stop was Oldcastle for the second, and final, feed stop of the day. This one was a lot more sparsely populated than the Kells one, with a smaller mountain of sandwiches but plenty of hot water for coffee. We had a very pleasant chat with the father of an old racing friend, talking about our times racing against (or, more accurately, behind) his son and also how his grandson is now making a name for himself in the junior ranks. Brian Arrigan is the mans name and, at the age of 70, he was happily working his way around the course at his own pace. Cycling really is a sport for life.

Coming back out we were greeted by a fine drizzle. Just what we needed! It didn't take long to get to the sharp left hand turn for the climb up to Loughcrew. This was billed as the big climb of the day and it was a deceptive one. It started up a relatively wide minor road but quickly narrowed to a "dual cabbageway" with a good growth of grass down the centre.
The first slope of the Loughcrew climb.

A bit further up the dual cabbageway.

As it got more and more overgrown the hardest thing about it was trying to avoid slipping on the grass in the centre, while keeping far enough out from the hedge to clear the massive nettles poking out from the undergrowth. It didn't look, or feel, particularly steep but I still found myself dropping down through the gears as I went up and couldn't get up out of the saddle without my rear wheel slipping on the greasy surface. Finally we emerged into a car park beside the ancient burial mounds and a short flat section led to the equally greasy, and much steeper, descent down the other side.
Riding past the burial mounds on Loughcrew.

I think Trim is this way.

Heart stopping moments on the way down

I've never been a small rider but one of the interesting things about being a bit(!) heavier now is the effect gravity has on descents. So a slippery, narrow, steep, twisty drop can be a heart stopping experience. Let's just say I took it a bit handier than normal on the way down.

We had a few more miles to do into the wind, with the by now obligatory, short, steep ramps coming thick and fast, before we finally turned towards home and got that wind behind us for the final quarter of the ride. There were the four of us and two other guys sitting on the back. Stephen decided we should be properly sharing the pace so we four started going up and over. Eventually the other two joined in, making six of us, working together to keep a fast, wind assisted pace. Every time I came through my speedo was showing 20mph plus which, after 80 odd miles, is fast enough for weekend warriors. The route profile showed that we were pretty much descending all the way to Trim but, take it from me, it was the most uphill descent I've ever ridden. To be fair the road did drop gradually most of the way but there were enough short rises to hurt our tired legs.

Coming towards Kildalkey I was showing the 160km just about done but the road signs weren't so co-operative. They were saying we had 7km to go. My legs were seriously hurting at this point so the extra kilos were not welcome to me. Coming through Kildalkey, with Trim castle in sight in the distance, a sharp left turn forced the group to slow in front of me. The resulting acceleration out of the bend by the guys did it for me. My legs had had enough. I let the wheel go and resigned myself to cruising the last few minutes to the finish. Alan was suffering too so he eased up with me and we followed a short distance behind the others.

Finally we were on the streets of Trim and through the barriers onto the closed Castle Street to take the finish. What a relief it was to pass under the yellow arch and claim the finishers medal, t-shirt and goody-bag. Kevin decided to take advantage of the free massage on offer but I was too tired and hungry to wait. I got back to the car and simply lay down on the grass until I could muster some strength to get myself changed and struggle getting my bike on the roofrack!

Overall I can't praise the organisation of the event enough. It seemed to me that a small army of volunteers were working to facilitate our adventure through Meath. Every junction was marshalled, major ones by Gardai, so we never had to stop for traffic. All of the feed stops were very well supplied so we didn't go hungry or thirsty. Sign-on and the finish area were well staffed so we didn't have any waiting around. And best of all there were some shorter "family" rides organised while we were out on the road. Those rides, and a collection of market stalls set up around the finish area, meant this was a real community event and not just a day out for a bunch of lycra clad sadists. Well done to all.


  1. Great reading, feel like i did it myself!
    Well done, great pics too!!

  2. Thanks Ruth. It was a good day out, even if I couldn't stand up at the finish!

  3. You are going some lick down Loughcrew!! Must be touching 45mph!! AlanG

  4. Meters per hour you mean?