bikebritain rides the etape hibernia
At 07.00 on Sunday 21st August I found myself looking for the starting position for riders in wave 'C'. I was in Ennis, County Clare and I was about to take part in the largest road race Ireland had ever seen. 1341 riders, closed roads, 82 miles - the scene was set. I was present with my brother-in-law, Paul, and we were hoping to complete the course in less than 5 1/2 hours. I was on a borrowed bike (more of this later), had been on the booze a few days before and Paul hadn't done any 'serious' training for a couple of weeks (more of this later too!, but suffice to say thank goodness he hadn't). He turned up wearing his 'I've-ridden-up-Alpe d'Huez jersey. You get the picture. I was wearing my California Republic shirt. Just not quite the same.
"I might be in trouble here"
The starter was basically shouting at everyone to hurry up and that we were all going to begin on time whether we wanted to or not. Apparently Denise Lewis began the ride but I didn't see her. We worked our way to the front - not wave 'C' as it turned out but 'A' - no idea how that happened - and in a moment we were off and riding. I've ridden in a few large groups of cyclists and it's alot of fun. It's basically like wacky races with everyone jostling for position and zooming in and out of each other. It's entertaining but you do need to keep you wits about you. The first 15 miles or so it was fairly straight forward. Country roads, pretty flat, mild undulations. Coming up to the first food stop (where no one was stopping) we encountered the first serious hill. My borrowed bike was fitted with a triple ring at the front and a 9 speed compact at the rear. They were Campag and a set up I had not used before. I made a total foul up of my first 'pressure' gear change. I could tell that by the clatter that came from the rear mech. I lost a load of speed and was reduced to a crawl up the hill. This did not bode well. Paul steadily rode on in the pack slightly ahead of me. I got to the top - legs and lungs burning uncomfortably so. I decided to apply the camel technique of problem management and ignore it - and bury my head in the metaphorical sand. We continued on regardless. The field got alittle more strung out, but with 1300 plus riders there was always someone in your vision. The scenery was spectacular especially as we descended towards the coast - although I noticed that the wind was picking up - quite alot. Paul had warned me that it was likely there would be a strong south westerly in our faces when we cycled along the coast - and he was right. This was his training country so he knew the terrain pretty well.
Those of you who read my 'Tweets' will know I had to borrow a bike as Aer Lingus were unable to accommodate my bike box. Too many (6) already booked. You are also unable to perform this booking process on-line - it must be done over the phone. This relies on Aer Lingus answering the phone - which I found them to be a bit hit and miss on. So needless to say they are not my favourite airline. Fortunately Paul was able to rustle up a bike - so I was still in the game! As grateful as I was to have a bike, I found myself wishing I had been more organised and tried to book my bike space earlier.
Before we made it to the second fuel stop - which I indicated to Paul I would DEFINITELY need to stop at, there was another climb. Didn't mess the gear change this time but the legs were feeling very heavy - and we were only 30 miles in. I would say this is unusual - I'm pretty strong at the start normally - but this was not the case today. On refection I had not hydrated myself properly or probably eaten enough - just two slices of toast and a breakfast bar - so I was in serious need of an energy hit. By now Paul was between 200-300 meters ahead and I wanted to know where this stop was! I eventually caught up with him and suggested he should go ahead. He replied "No way'", and with that the feed station came into view. A welcome sight indeed.
Better progress but against the wind
A brief piece to camera, a few slurps of energy drink and food bars later, we replenished our water bottles and hit the road again. We were bathed in glorious sunshine but there was no hiding from the wind. For the following 30 miles or so I felt pretty good. I was chewing on wine gums (my latest nutrition gambit), drinking plenty of fluids and having a go at the hills ahead of me. We were working through the field ahead nicely and although I was getting overtaken on the hills I was generally doing a good job of catching up when we hit the flat. The undulations were much like the South Downs so I was taking them at speed and sustaining the cadence. Legs were fizzing by the time I reached the top, but I felt I was at least holding my own.
At about 45 miles we caught up with 3 guys who were cycling together - sort of. Paul and I joined them and the pace seemed to get slower and slower. I decided enough was enough - and took up the lead. Very shortly afterwards everyone formed a train and we were off. I was at the front for a while before someone else took over - and when they did I was pleased of the rest. It worked really well actually, everyone taking their turn at the front. This part of the ride went quickly and before we knew it we were at the final rest stop. Legs were holding up. I was in much better spirits. Plus I 'knew' the last part of the ride was relatively flat....
We left the final stop and again the road was reasonably flat. This remained the case for a few more miles and then a hill rose out of no-where. This surprised me as I thought we had completed all the major climbs. We had not. This happened to be a 300 meter slog and I realised I might have used a bit more energy going along the flat than I had planned. Paul had again disappeared up the hill - I could not stay with his hill climbing tempo. A descent followed and true to form I caught up with him again. Legs were not happy though. The miles ticked down - but what's this? Another hill?!? Off Paul went and this time the legs were killing. I changed down and a terrific clunk later, I wobbled and ground to a halt. A serious pinging was coming from the rear wheel. It didn't sound good - and it wasn't. A spoke had broken and somehow my shoe had got caught in the front mech and ripped them. In fact the buckle was almost completely off. Heaven knows how I managed to do that. I got off and pulled the spoke out. I hoped the owner wouldn't be too upset. My shoes were knackered as well. Specialized BG Carbons - so not cheap. Dammit. I got back on the bike and ploughed up the hill. Loads of people had past me. Paul was waiting a couple of miles ahead. He had thought I was in a ditch some place!
We had about 7 miles to go. Being mindful of the rear wheel and my right hand shoe which was now slipping a bit, we coasted home. It was mainly downhill other than for a brief climb into the outskirts of Ennis. We turned right and hacked through the town, bystanders clapping us home. That was great. We both crossed the line together and received our finishers medals. The whole town was out but it was completely overrun with lycra clad cyclists.
All in all it was very well organised. I would certainly take part in another Skyride. The fact the roads were closed was a real bonus, but if you were going to share them with cars and with that many riders it would have been quite dangerous. Great support from the public throughout the route. My only real criticism was with the 'food' provided. It was totally energy bar related. This surprised me. I had brought my own rations and I was glad I did. I don't use those energy gels or bars - and I had heard from people who had tried them during an event with indifferent results. I thought this was an oversight. The Start/Finish was well controlled and Ennis put on a really good show. I would go back and have a proper look round the town, minus the cycles next time! Paul had ridden really well and looked pretty comfortable. His triathlon background had helped, despite him not training specifically for the ride. Put it this way - I won't be challenging him over any mountain climbs, that's for certain! So it's a ride around the Isle of Wight for me next and I need to keep the mileage up now the legs are getting a bit more resistant! And I'll be eating more than toast before next time too!
Paul - Male, 30 to 34 - placed 78/150 in the category, course completed in 5 hrs 26 mins 27 seconds. Overall position; 601
Jonathan - Male, 35 to 39 - placed 115/199 in the category, course completed in 5 hrs 26 mins 28 seconds. Overall position; 602
To see bikebritain's brief video account of the etape hibernia, have a look at the latest sequence on the front page of the website.
For the official details about the ride, also see http://www.etapehibernia.com/
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