Our Health and Fitness guinea pig Chris Moores travelled to Ireland this May to ride the FDB Insurance Ras as part of the Surrey League team. This is his story
Stage 1 ? Sunday April 18
After an introduction to the gathered public, and a bearable walking pace parade through the town centre, we rolled to the outskirts of Navan, a little bit outside of Dublin. Pity the poor soul whose tyre blew as the flag dropped. It wasn?t ridiculously frantic, but a favourable wind meant we covered 98k?s in the first two hours. I heard he was unable to regain contact, although credit where it?s due ? he rolled in less than half an hour down, after a day at the coalface.
The bunch was incredibly fluid, and it was hard work to maintain position. I spent most of my time in the back third. A couple of crashes kept me on my toes.
The Pezula boys were flying, and nailed it on the front for the best part of an hour, successfully reeling in the break. It got a bit grippy near the back on a couple of small rises in the last 10k, as the pace wound up at the front. A sizeable crowd was waiting at the finish town, bigger than the average Tuesday night at HIllingdon for sure. They even needed to be kept behind barriers. I snuck into the top 100, with a place to spare.
Team support had a fine spread waiting for us. Top marks there.
Myself and Andy Bye had to bunk down in the back of the team?s stickered up transit van for the short transfer back to the hotel. Pitch black, we were crashing around against all sorts of tools and trickery. I?m sure behind the tinted windows of the Rapha people carrier we?d find Messrs Newton and House in a similar state of distress.
Stage 2 – Monday April 19
Yesterday was the longest race I?ve ridden. Today was longer, just over a ton. I had to force breakfast down. Not likely to be the trickiest part of the day, but unpleasant nonetheless. In the face of common wisdom, I usually don?t eat until mid-morning.
The schools on the race route line up the pupils, hand them flags, and tell them to make as much noise as possible as the riders pass. We passed several schools today. Equally impressive are the crowds as we pass through the town centre?s en route. The towns grind to a halt, the shops and pubs empty, and people stand on the pavements and clap. No throwing of missiles.
Special mention to Dean Downing, who punctured just after a big group of riders had congregated off the front, having shot off in small groups. He flew through the bunch, heading straight on up the road. Super smooth, he made it look easy on his way to winning the stage.
A category three climb over a ridge at half distance cemented the split, and the bulk of the race conceded more than seven minutes to a group which contained all the big hitters. Bye had a solid ride to finish in the lead group of 14. I clipped off the front of the second peloton with a few miles remaining to salvage a couple of minutes. The podium girl was rather attractive. Should have tried harder.
I decided to warm down by riding a hundred or so 50m laps round a small green, getting dizzy in the process. Job done for the day, we were rewarded with a stay at a very tasteful hotel. Little to do except nap, and have a paddle in the pool.
Stage 3 – Tuesday April 20
On paper, a short stage. But we were warned that the wind would play a big part in the race, and the last 40k, on lumpy coastal roads would make for a pretty uncomfortable run-in.
The first two hours were into a fierce headwind, along a main road several lanes wide. The motorcycle marshals do a fine job of stopping oncoming traffic, insisting they park up on the side of the road. The race surged, lining out, and bunching up.
We belted along for spells, 140 riders in file. What motorists who are pulled up on the verge make of a line of cyclists a quarter of a mile long, riding straight at them on the wrong side of the road, and flicking round at the last possible moment ? when there is 20m of empty tarmac on the other side of the road, don?t know.
Gaps would open, as riders popped. Temporary relief came every once in a while as riders spread across the road as the pace slowed.
Rounding a headland, the scenery was ace. A geographer by trade, the raised beaches, and limestone pavement were fine case study material.
A couple of wild horses bolted, and ran into the middle of the peloton. They joined in for a while, keeping a steady but slightly slower speed. Someone at the front had the sportsmanship to ease the pace, panic over.
A category three and a category one climb were the sting in the tail of today?s stage. I was swinging a little, and was at the back. The collective groan at the back of the peloton as we turned a 90 degree corner to be faced with a 1 in 5 nearly brought us to a standstill. Cresting the top, there was a five metre gap to a big group of riders. I didn?t have the legs to slip it into the 11 and jump across, so was consigned to cover the last 5k in a small chase group off the back of the peloton.
Teammates Chris McNamara and Andy Bye made a break of around 20, hot on the heels of stage winner Chris Newton and Irelands David McCann, a fine ride by them.
Stage 4 – Wednesday April 21
The forecast on Tuesday evening showed the whole of Ireland covered under a giant raincloud, with a strong south-easterly wind. Morale was poor as soon as the curtains confirmed steady rain.
The short transfer to the start town was sombre. It called for some Ravey Davey trance music to lift the spirits. Definitely one of those mornings when you wonder what you do it for. Trusty Directeur Sportif Keith Butler, he of several years as a pro, was good for some support. He could see I was as grey as the clouds, and assured me that everyone else would be feeling the same thing. Someone quipped at sign-on that the stage had been cancelled. If only!
While fiddling around before the start, one of the motorcycle commissaries spotted from our sticker that we were team car number four ? the positions in the chain of cars being dictated by the highest rider on GC. ?Oi, Surrey League, have you cut the first digit off?!?
The rain eased soon out of the start. A few guys slid out on an early roundabout, but the roads soon dried out.
We were under instruction to be as close to the front as possible approaching Limerick, as the race was to pass through 8 roundabouts. In the wet, this could have stretched the race to breaking point. I nearly got caught out several miles prior, as we joined a dual carriageway and the race went straight into the gutter. A large gap opened up 10 wheels in front. Just as I got ready to stump up the cash, a giant of a man took the task, and we were soon back on.
The yellow jersey had a nasty crash, which led to a welcome spell of twiddling. He rejoined for a few miles, but soon withdrew.
What followed was an hour and a half of riding on the limit, in the right hand gutter, in driving wind and rain. In point to point racing, if the wind is blowing in the wrong direction, it tends not to relent. The race exploded.
I was fortunate. I made the crucial selection, and a depleted peloton of 50 riders turned off the main road into the final 25k, up a 3rd category climb, then down a twisty descent into the finish town. Once over the hill, I thought it would be straightforward to finish with the bunch. A small group were a minute up the road, and it was eyeballs out. Chris Mac, Wouter, Andy and myself all lost contact on the treacherous descent, and were frustrated to lose precious seconds so carelessly.
Stage 5 – Thursday April 22nd
Legs felt very weary. The short ride into town to the start was almost a chore, despite the following wind.
My bike propped up outside signing on caught the eye of some local kids. They couldn?t believe how light it was. More used to the full-suspension variety I suspect, but they weren?t poking fun. This was something that was beginning to surprise me in the whole circus around the race. The interest that the locals were showing ? in Ireland, this bike racing lark isn?t such an underground sport.
Big day today. Five categorised hills. A break went from the gun. This wasn?t my ?race plan?, so I let it be. In reality, I didn?t see them go. I was so far back. I was told this at the end of the day that this is when the attack went.
It quickly became apparent I had overdressed. Any lingering suspicion of rain soon disappeared and the sun bore down from overhead. No need for that long sleeve base layer. Not possible to call a ?time-out?.
The second climb of the day was a biggie. Up tight twisty roads, the gradient kept changing. Out of the forest, and onto barren slopes, a proper climb! The pace was steady. Uncomfortable, but bearable. Over the top, and relax.
Disaster struck. A design defect with my crank, meant that as I passed over a bumpy surface, I shipped my chain, and it got caught between the crank arm and the chainring, having slipped past an inadequate safety rivet.
Neutral service leapt into action, brandishing a wheel. Insistent that i needed a new rear, it was all i could do to divert attention to the drivetrain! It took minutes to fix. A short chase, and i was onto the laughing group. 30 or so warriors who had found the pace of the first climb too hot.
The pace was easy, and I thought we had haemorrhaged time. Through one town, the road had been reopened to traffic, and we had to overtake a funeral procession. As it was, we lost only 12 and a half minutes. Frustrating, as I slipped to the lowest GC position out of my teammates, and out of the top 60, but by no means a catastrophe.
Stage 6 – Friday April 23rd
The longest stage of the race. No leisurely start. It went from the gun. Tight lanes meant I didn?t see the front of the race for a while. All day as it happens, by the time id worked my way up, a move had gone up the road, and Rapha, who had missed the move, were chasing.
The first hour and twenty was ballistic. The men in black had called Hammer-time.
Then in unison, they cracked. The game was up. If they had been instructed by their earpieces to drift to the back and look shattered, they heeded. Dean Downing was labouring up every rise. A giant. A hero. The penny dropped there and then. These guys can really suffer too.
At 50 miles i was really swinging, and could feel cramp coming on in the legs. Id put my concrete shoes on. Crap. How much time could i lose if i pottered in on my own?
Quick arithmetic; 62 miles, Id have an extra hour to play with..
I think others felt the same. 40 miles to go we were still ambling along. The Irish National Team had been on the front for two fruitless hours, trying to minimise the time lost by their man in yellow.
30 miles out, the time gap at 6 minutes+, the peloton sprung to life. Two of the Irish guys went out the back immediately. Their reward for working like Trojans? Losing 30 minutes.
Coming into town, i gave up trying to hold a position near the front of the marauding bunch. It was getting increasingly cunning, besides, the legs had begun to ignore commands.
Stage 7 – Saturday April 24th
Treetops were horizontal. Worse, they were pointing in the wrong direction. A severe headwind all day. Bloody great. Two category one climbs after 140k were the cherry on top. Today was the King stage.
I lost my reserve as we were re-introduced to the people of Clonmel on the start line, relieving myself while the opportunity presented itself. Note to self; learn how to wee while riding.
There were many tired legs today, gaps were opening, the elastic was on a knife edge. The stage was unbelievably draining. Full-on, then sit up. Over and over again.
Mid-way through, a dozen people flung themselves up the road, in pursuit of the early break, including the yellow jersey. This time, there was no reaction, nothing. I looked around. It was every man for himself today.
I chased the next small move up the valley, 10 miles before the first climb, but couldn?t make the junction. I rode steadily, until I was absorbed into the next small group half-way up. I was quickly hanging on, staring at the hub of the wheel in front. A kysrium ES, in case you wonder.
We swept up a number of big guns who had sacrificed themselves, or forced the pace for a fraction too long. I was in and out of the saddle, even though the pace on the second climb was steady. A huge crowd at the top. More than at the days finish. Much like one of the end of season specialist hill-climb events.
The run-in was along an unfinished road surface. Sapping away, each mile felt like three. Several rises. One after another. I was at the end of my tether. Good job id put as much food into my jersey as the pockets could handle.
Stage 8 – Sunday April 25
Sunny, but a blistering headwind, and cold. On the start line I stood behind Stephen Gallacher, the yellow jersey. He seemed relaxed, as several camera and TV lenses were pointed in our direction. I will concede, this was more for him than me.
The usual start. Uncompromising, until a break went up the road. As usual, I wasn?t involved in the posturing, and the breaks makeup was fine by me. None of the four posed any threat whatsoever to my position on page two of GC.
90 minutes in, several miles of newly built bypass. It was exposed, the wind whipped across from the side. Vegetation had not had time to grow. A drop of about 6 feet was to the immediate left of the tarmac. Following Dave McCanns wheel was no good. He was no more than a couple of centimetres from the drop. Not a spot of shelter. I moved out, into the firing line, to try and force my way in further up. I made three bike lengths, and was on the limit. Had to get back into line. I copped a few swear words. No matter; desperate times, desperate measures.
I could feel the legs going. I admit. I was counting down the miles today, big time. Kept playing games with the odometer. Must wait until it says 50 before i look again, etc.
Onto the finishing circuit, the pace was wound up. Single file line, head on the handlebars.
On the rivet ? I?ve heard that somewhere before?!..
First lap through the finishing straight in the seaside town of Skerries. Great crowd, fantastic support. I heard someone shout ?Chris? over the barriers. I was getting delirious. The category three climb on the finishing circuit was an all out sprint. The gradient eased up, but did not level off for another k. Gaps everywhere. It was all I could to hold the wheel in front. The next two miles were a frantic chase. A line of 40 riders in front of me, I could see teammate Sybrandy; his colossal frame leading the charge.
As luck would have it, the front of the race sat up. All back together, except the four still out front. Those guys must be superheroes to ride into such a wind all day.
I didn?t hear a bell, but I was sure we were to pass through the finish only twice before the real finish. I asked another rider. His assurances weren?t enough; I asked one more. My fuel gauge was on empty. ?C?mon Chris?, I heard the shout again. No chance of picking a face out in the crowd.
I tried to get some shelter as we passed along the seafront again, but it seemed that however closely i rode to the wheel in front, i was pedalling too hard for the legs to recover. A sharp left, under a railway bridge. A frenzied squeal of brakes. Everyone wanted a good position before the selection was made on the hill.
It started well enough, I was making up places, others were grinding to a halt. Trouble was, the rise seemed endless, and I was fast beginning to crack. A voice instructed me to hold a wheel.
The wheel came and went. I was 10 metres off the back of a large group. I charged round a corner, damn, 11 metres. I couldn?t close the gap. I was stuck in no-mans land, adrift.
Riders came past, in threes and fours, I tried to accelerate, to hang onto their coattails, anyone, anything, but it was no good. I threw in the towel. Slumping over the bars, I moved to the side of the road. For a moment I stopped pedalling. I could pedal no more. This was it. The game was up.
The hungry cavalcade needed no invitation. Showing no mercy, cars, some with riders attached to their rear bumpers thundered by. The glamorous Surrey League team car, which had been punching well above the quality of the two spare bikes on the roof all week came past, emitting a small bleat of encouragement.
It was a lonely run-in. The whoosh, and fiz of the peloton replaced by silence, punctuated by bouts of commiserating applause. I lost two-and-aahalf minutes in 5k. Not long enough for the crowd to have gone home. Head bowed, I slunk up the finishing straight alone. I stared at the floor, embarrassed. The place perhaps, but not the time for a Le Tour-esque victory salute.
Over the line, I re-joined my teammates. Can of coke, perfect.
My brother shouted my name again from across the barriers. He?d flown over from London for the day. What a man.
Mind you, what a race!