Eddie Dunbar rides Ras na mBan.

I cycled smoothly into a downhill right-hander, and as the curve of the bend straightened, and the sun caught the white heads of the rolling blue Atlantic as it broke the scenery to my left, my companion for the day commented “This is where Eddie Dunbar made his break in the Junior Tour”.

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The roads of Clare are storied now, they are not just roads anymore, not to me. For nearly a year these roads have been considered carefully, examined intimately, and some have been described in minute detail. Maps have been scribbled on and handed around, gps routes have been drawn up online and shared with pride. These roads have been driven, and cycled, and cycled by others with a clear head, and driven again. They have been included and they have been ruled out. And now we have routes, and we have stages…. and soon we will have new stories.

“This is where….. ”

The surface on The New Line will rattle your bones so thoroughly, that if you cycle that road with someone else you will hate them by the time you both reach the T-junction at the end, and not because they’ve done anything, but just because they are there, and they are breathing, and this horror has to be somebody’s fault. (“Why are we going this way??? whatthefuck? We can’t use this road! I hate this road, my legs are dead!).

The Ballyallaban road out of Ballyvaughan, all the way to Poulnabrone (direct translation: “sad hole”; Valerie prefers the slightly more literary ‘Well of Sorrows’) and beyond, never stops going up, never. This might at first appear improbable, but do come back to me once you’ve been up it,….. on your bike.

There are streets and roads in Ennis that the good and patient people of Clare Co. Co. will sign off on as a Crit circuit, and there are roads which will cause them to gather their paperwork into a neat pile, as they look across at you, and over their glasses, and wonder how far you think you can push them…. No fire stations, no hospitals, no churches (you just never know when there’ll be a funeral, said in a non-threatening tone…), no airports, no Garda stations, no major junctions, no mosques (“The crit is on a Friday evening, right?”), no mart, no RNLI life-boat houses, and definitely nothing at all until after the shops close!

The road between Fountain Cross and Leamaneh Castle isn’t the Corofin to Ballyvaughan road anymore, it’s the first third of Stage 2, and it is not one bit flat, despite the profile. There are no flat roads in Clare.

(Well, … there’s a not-quite-2k stretch close to the sea front, between the two halves of the links course in Lahinch (Stage 5),… it is flat. So rare is this though that it actually brought comment to my lips last Saturday).

There’s an awkward junction on the descent off Gallow’s Hill that is now referred to as “the elbow on Stage 6”, and later in that stage, the lumpy 10k between Broadford and Bodyke is where the final categorised climb of the race is….. if we can only decide exactly where….. (hmmmmm, when does The Race Book go to press??).

And it isn’t a Main Street in Tulla (Stage 1) anymore, it’s …. “Really? Really?? We’re bringing them up there???”…. and it will curl your hair.

(Just be glad Castle Hill doesn’t feature this year…. it very nearly did, it was a close close call!!)

The entrance to the car park at the Cliffs of Moher isn’t just where tour buses access the ‘Interpretative Centre’, it also marks the gap in the headlands where the unexpected wind that blows through on a blustery day will change the race (Stage 5).

And did somebody move Cassidy’s?? Because the last time (of the most recent 10) that I dragged myself and my trusty Canyon up here from Bell Harbour (Stage 2) all I could think was that I DON’T REMEMBER IT BEING THIS BLOODY FAR!!

This blog started because Valerie (Race Director) and Aileen (An Post) asked me to help them introduce a social media element to ‘Ras na mBan’ last year. As the race week went on riders and crew embraced the idea, there was tweeting and blogging, and ultimately even a YouTube contribution by Orwell that featured the good and the brave, … and, well, … then we all went home.

And my blog grew legs of it’s own,…. and then it took a break, …. while I pursued other interests, …..ahem.

And later Valerie asked another favour of me. She was moving Ras na mBan to County Clare for 2013, a whole new race, bigger and better, and a lot of work to be done, and would I help her. And here I am, … 4 weeks from right now Stage 1 of ‘Ras na mBan 2013’ will be over, Valerie and me, and Declan, and Ger and Scott and Dave and Vincent will have a fair idea if the long long hours we have poured into this are going to pay off.

To be continued…

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