Strawberry flavoured cement

Well the highlight of  Stage 4 today was without doubt all the school children out waving An Post green flags at us (it was like following The Ras all over again!). We started at Sneem National School this morning and every child was out waving and cheering us. There were big shout outs for Louise (Moriarty), “Number 37!! Number 37!!!” and she high-fived the whole school, to great applause, before we rolled out.

Then all along the road, and all around Valencia, every school we passed, flags and cheers, brilliant. I wish I could have waved back at you all, and I did my best, but I was hanging a bit kids, sorry. You cheered us up and lifted our spirits no end though, Thank You lots! And thank you teachers too!!!

And the stage? Well, I can’t deny that I am happy without how it went for me. It was windy out there, and it was no day to get caught out on your own (my abiding memory of this stage last year was being in a small group stranded out on the long bleak road from Valentia back to Sneem, it was windy, it was wet, we were down, it was a long day….). Most of the bunch stayed together today, over Coomaciste, out to Valentia, and around the island,……. and I stayed with them 🙂

Then on the last climb the pace kicked up and a few of us lost contact. We chased down the descent, I looked around me, there were about 10 of us, including my team mates Charlotte and Caroline. We could still see the back of the bunch, and there were only 5km to go, so we re-grouped and up-and-overed, and we definitely minimised our losses. We could see the lead group crossing the line just ahead of us, and as we sprinted in we can’t have been more than half a minute behind them, success (well in my book anyhow)!

Every time I race I learn something new. But there are lots of things I know about cycling that I don’t implement, and the biggest of these is eating on the bike. I am crap at it. I carried two gels around every stage of Ras na mBan last year, the same two gels, they had a great time. I have retired them now. I have been known to carry a bar on a 160km cycle and never even contemplate eating it. I mostly rock in from the end of  a stage with my two water bottles as full as they were at the start line (I call this weight-training, others call it stupid; and they’re right). I’d totally planned to get on top of this issue long before Ras na mBan rolled around again. But I didn’t.

Anyhow, this week I have been better. Stage 1, ate nothing, drank most of one bidon. Stage 2, TT, nothing needed. Stage 3……. well, once I was out there on my own I practically booked a table. I ate everything I could find in my pockets, anything to make the time and the kms pass. Today, by the time we’d climbed Coomaciste and hit the halfway mark I still hadn’t eaten. Then Charlotte appeared beside me like a nutritional angel. “Fiona, have you eaten? We still have 40km to go. Eat a gel, now!”. So I did. I pulled it out of my pocket during a lull in proceedings, I bit the top off and spit it out like a pro (and a litterbug, sorry) and I squeezed it into my mouth. Strawberry flavoured cement. Yum. I washed it down with a gulp of water and thanked Charlotte. And I did all this while holding my line and not even feeling nervous; it can be done Fi, cop on.

I am lying on the floor in Room 217 now, waiting for my leg rub from Carl. Orla is on the table chewing her wrist so she won’t scream……. it’s possible that this hurts more than the racing……. I’m up next, eeeek!!!!




Fiona against Fiona

After a sleepless night (cursing my failure to check last night’s post was saving as I typed) I really wasn’t feeling it at breakfast this morning. I plugged myself in and ran a few tests. A bit of self analysis produced a result. So, at our pre-departure to Kenmare, Team meeting I decided to come clean. Everyone here is a little afraid of something (aren’t they??), well maybe it’s not always fear, maybe it’s just anxiety. Afraid of being killed (really), afraid of descending, afraid of climbing, afraid falling/being injured, afraid of failing, afraid of not being good enough. Well team, manager, ….my name is Fiona and I’m afraid of being dropped. Death does not scare me at all, no siree.

And you know what? It’s not because I think for a second that if I could stay with the bunch I’d be in contention at the finish (I am not in that league), no, it’s because after you’re dropped on stages like today there are long bleak periods out on that road when it’s just you. I’m afraid of being dropped because than I have to face myself, and race myself. Fi against Fi. Not my favourite thing.

Well, so much for if-you-say-it-out-loud-it-won’t-happen theory.

I got to face my fears a little earlier than I’d hoped for today. I’d had it in my head that I could cope with being spat out the back on the Healy Pass. We rolled out of the Sailing Club (had a brief stop to re-group after a timpiste in “neutralised zone”) I stayed in the top 12 or 15 riders out the road, and most of the way up Knockanoughanish, but I started slipping down the bunch as we came close to the top, I just seemed to be reversing….. I could see the top, if only I could just…… no. But they were right there, I could catch back on!

Aside: I have absolutely no clue why the above script just changed!! And I can’t fix it, sorry!

I killed myself (metaphorical use; things aren’t that bad) to chase back on, the rain was lashing down, the road was river-like, the Commisaire President car passed me, then a team car, I threw myself around the twisty corners of the descent, if I could just make that  narrow left turn before the ascent…… another team car passed, as I came around each corner at crazy-speed I could always see the back of the bunch snaking around the corner ahead…… another team car passed….. things seem to stall a little, I shot out to the right and passed that team car back….. on around the corner, no white line….. oncoming bus pulled in in front of me, ….quick check, yup, I can make that gap (in reality, my glasses were so drenched in rain and mud that I could barely see a thing, sorry road safety people.)…… I slipped through the gap between the team car ahead and the front of the bus, just. I could see the bunch right there, right there, sweeping around that tight lefthand corner, the rain was getting heavier, everything seemed to be closing in around me as we made our way through that heavily tree-lined approach to the start of the climb…… come on Fi!

As I rounded the bend, reluctantly using my brakes to avoid the back of the only team car between me and the commisaire’s car, and the road started to rise,……. I knew I used too much in my chase, my lungs were heaving (Anne, just then I would have sold my soul for your extra 30%!) and I had to just suck it up. Dropped. Team cars pipped their horns and passed, plenty of  “C’mon, dig in!”, and encouraging words as they rolled up along side. But as I came out from the tree-lined part of the climb, and the mountain road opened up in front of me, even though I could see them all, snaking their way up the rising roads ahead, I had to accept that The Race had moved on, alive in it’s bubble, and it had left me behind.

I didn’t give up though. I kept a steady rhythm going and recovered a bit on the climb, the random cheering bystanders all helped. And I channelled part of some well-meaning advice from a “Man of the Ras”, if you get dropped “make sure that you take in the scenery because it is actually stunning down that part of the world!”, I did look around me,…… waterfalls everywhere, misty drizzly green-ness, things tourists can’t believe we don’t appreciate a lot more,…… Kerry is beautiful, thanks Brian! I caught onto a small group, including two of my fellow Cycling Leinster teamies, I lost them again, I caught on again. We kept each others spirits up, and we kept the pace up as best we could. Our group of 5 eventually crossed the line 18mins down on the front group. Ho Hum.

And as it turned out, I didn’t have to spend too long on my lonesome, dealing with my own back catalogue of crap. Fi against Fi will have to wait for another day.

It’s nearly time to bail into the dining room in very disorderly manner, so I’ll wrap this. Overall I’m now just under 20mins down, this time last year I was probably twice that. And I’ve moved up to 41st spot, a small victory in the fight against The GC!

@01min 44 sec

Wow. Clare Dallat who won this evening’s Ras na mBan TT did the 3.4km almost one whole minute…. ONE WHOLE MINUTE….. over 3.4km…… faster than me. I know this is not the end of the world, but really, ONE WHOLE MINUTE (almost)……. I was killing myself Clare, what in God’s name were you doing???? Probably not stuffing your face with banana bread earlier today anyhow.

Since doing team support for the first time at Ras Mumhan at Easter…..

Okay, so it’s nearly midnight, Niamh & Charlotte will tell you that I spent most of my evening writing the post that started with the above paragraph. Little did I notice though that the wifi connection had stopped working, The Cloud wasn’t saving my words….. I just do not have the energy to tap into my brain again now, and Aido sent us to bed over an hour ago. I can tell you that my punchline was a Fr. Ted reference (is there any occasion on this green earth that cannot be described using a reference from good old Fr. T…), you know that one where Dougal is bothering Ted about something, so Ted says, “You know Dougal, you can even praise God by just leaving the room.”

And my parting words were…. I’m off to bed now, and I’m smiling. Healy Pass tomorrow. I will endure, and I will enjoy!

And the rest, well, sometimes it’s best to just imagine…

Still on Page 1

So, Stage 1 is over.

First the formalities….. My aim today was twofold, to stay as close to the front as possible, and to finish in the bunch.

Everyone thinks the front is safer than the middle, or the back…… so everyone wants to be at the front. Trouble is, we can’t all be at the front, there are 70 of us, the road would have to be 30m wide, and the roads around Sneem? Well they’re narrow baby, and on today’s circuit the uphill road can’t be much more than a meter across. It’s a constant battle to stay in those first 10 or 20 spots, you having to keep moving, fighting, taking chances, trying not to get trapped on the inside, chasing all the moves. It’s exhausting.

But I did  manage it, I stayed up there for 60 of today’s 66km. And the first accident of the day? Well it happened right there at the front, just to my left as we rounded the corner onto the main road first time around. I managed to avoid it, just, phew. I don’t think anyone was too hurt, thankfully. And the second crash of the day, well, it also happened just in front of me, and on the narrow uphill road, I had to unclip and steer through the brambley roadside to avoid being involved, as did two of my Cycling Leinster team mates. We were about 6km from home, and turning into a headwind, and I just couldn’t chase back on…… I tried, I really tried, but no.

So, today for me was not a success. I failed on both my aims. I now lie in 42nd place (I call it a small victory that of the 2 pages that make up the GC, I am on the first one, just.), 42 seconds down the GC going into the TT later this afternoon, I start two hours from now in fact, need to recover fast, uphill TT, tough, yeuch. I have done the force-feeding, now time to rest a little, legs up on the wall, water bottle to hand, woolly hat on.

And what else can I say about today….. the rain stayed off, there was lots of helpful cheering from the roadside, especially as we sped through Sneem village, the stage flew by. The pace was high but not ridiculous, there was very little attacking, and nothing that went away got more than 10secs before being reeled back in. It all ended in a bunch sprint, a bunch of more than 35 girls, and it’s a downhill run into the finish too…..that must have been hairy enough, maybe I should be happy I wasn’t around for that!

Banana Bread

Even though I work in a medium-sized hospital, a hospital that employs several hundred other people, the group I spend my weekdays with is relatively small. It was bigger, but “The Embargo”, natural attrition, and a level of coincidental maternity leaves that warrant a post of their own, have taken a serious toll on the numbers of my work colleagues. As it happens (and I played no role in either the retirements or the pregnancies!) I’m quite fond of the few who remain, and so, every now and then I bake stuff for them.

These treats I bring to the staff room almost always mark some little occasion, even if it’s just that we have survived another long weekend on-call without ending up in DOP (the acute psych ward on the grounds). So yesterday I made banana bread, or three very slightly different banana breads to be precise….. I am experimenting with different recipes, and the staff room critics are always quick and merciless with their reviews (The Guardian recipe won, for the record). The occasion this time is that I will be away from the department next week…… small matter of a bike race……. So, as everyone enjoys the home-baking, or does a very good job of pretending, they ask me what I’m doing for my week off. And I just say: “I’m going to Kerry”.

No matter how I feel, or how any of us who have 9th-13th September 2012 embedded in our thinking since nearly this time last year, cycling is still a minority sport here. Every single day I have taken off work this year I have spent doing something cycling related. Cycling holiday in Mallorca in March, Ras Mumhan team support at Easter, Tour of Ulster team support in May, Ras Week on the road with An Post, tweeting The Nationals, and the Suir Valley 3-Day, never mind all the events I did myself.  But I know there is just no point trying to explain Ras na mBan to people who just see bikes as a mode of transport, and there is certainly nothing to be gained in a town where hurling is the only sport and this weekend it reaches it’s climax. Mark Rohan won two paralympic hand-cycling gold medals  this week, one today, but in Kilkenny he’ll just be a guy who used to play minor football for Meath.

This evening I baked 3 more Banana Breads (all The Guardian version!). These will be travelling to Kerry with me, one has been promised to Team Ireland’s apartment, the others will be available for tasting in the Cycling Leinster apartment. And the occasion? Well, I’m off work for a week, …..and ……this weekend women’s cycling starts it’s version of The All Ireland Final, and I can’t wait to be part of it!!!!

I am The Walrus.

Hot off the presses!!! Hold the front page!!! Well….. the back page anyhow…. or just, like any page somewhere near the back there, where there’s a bit of a space….

Ahem….. I have been selected to ride on the Cycling Leinster Team for ‘Ras na mBan’! Quite a nice surprise, and I like blue too. And what team mates….. Caroline, Niamh and Orla Mc were all on the Leinster Squad last year, and Charlotte was on the Orwell Team with me last time around; they are all lovely (really!), they are all upbeat, and they all finished higher than me on the GC in 2011, and I am thrilled to be cycling on the same team as them this year, whoooo hooooo!!!

I must make special mention of Mags, our Reserve team member. Mags and I have ridden a lot of roads together in the 2 years I’ve known her. While this will be her first year to race Ras na mBan, she came down to cheer us on one day last year and I will never forget seeing, and hearing herself and Trish at the side of the road on that grim climb not far from Sneem. God we were suffering, well I was anyhow, and Mags & Trish hollering at us on every lap really kept me going.

And a team is not a team without those quiet shadowy souls in the background, the people who keep the chains oiled, and the bottles filled, and the heads clear…. Tom and Aidan. Aidan and Tom. Guys, you have no idea what you have signed up for….dreams are made of this…… and so are some nightmares. Probably.

Aside: It was not really news for me to hear that I am The Wildcard selection on this team, I am not really sure where this leaves me, or what anyone expects of me. I do know that we all have to race the same roads, no matter who we are or what  team we are on…… and I also know that no one expects more of me than I expect of myself.

And I know that I am a wild card indeed.

T-minus 3 weeks and counting….

This weekend Orla McEvoy (Bray Wheelers) organised a ‘Ras na mBan’  Training Weekend on behalf of CI Women’s Commission. On both Saturday and Sunday over 20 girls/women/ladies climbed and descended their way around North Wicklow under Orla’s (and Larry’s; thanks Larry!) guidance. We had glorious sunshine and a trip to Mount Usher Gardens on Saturday, and we had misty rain and National Champion Mel Spath for company today. Other than the requisite suffering (whoever christened Slaughter Hill wasn’t being ironic!), it was a most enjoyable weekend.

There were a few of us in the group who had tackled Ras na mBan previously, there were several who will be taking part for the first time this year, and I genuinely think the remainder (well, other than Larry) may contemplate making the trip to Sneem next year. Everyone I cycled with both today and yesterday would definitely be capable of doing Ras na mBan, and I hope they all do some day; it really is a privilege to be able to take part. (It is easy to write that as I sit here on the couch……. half way up Lugalla today I would rather have eaten my bike than take it to Kerry).

This weekend was also the first time in a long time (eh, Ras na mBan last year, possibly…) that I have spent two days in a row doing hilly 100km spins (sorry Scott!), and my legs (recently hewn from marble) knew all about it this morning. Nonetheless, a meal, a shower, a pair of recovery tights, and a quick nap later and I’d almost say I could do it all over again tomorrow, ….. and the next day,….. and the next day? Yes, Ras na mBan…… 5 days of suffering, a lifetime of patting myself on the back. Priceless.