I was trying to decide whether to go to to the Biking Blitz in Ballinastoe or Ned Flannagan Memorial. I went with the former as it was handier to get to, and less chance of having to much bike cleaning.
So I checked in with Gene, and after a bit of encouragement we were on the way down to Monasterevin. The weather was cold but dry, so ideal for a road race. As it was the first road race of the season, it was sure to have a big turn out and it did with 120+ riders across all categories.
The race was to be run as a handicap, A4's got 2 minutes head start on us A3, with I think 1 minute between us and the A1/A2 group. As we rolled out the pace was up straight away. I had no warm up, but it seemed the A3's were keen to get the legs warmed up. As usual I was hanging on down the back. We had a headwind on the way down to Portlaoise, so in some ways it was not bad to be stuck down the back. After just over 10 minutes we caught the A4's. But the pace stayed constant. Also at this point I started to feel like I was able to ride a bike again and worked by way up to the front as we were hitting the rolling hills just before Portlaoise.
I kept the pace up and was starting to run out of steam when a lad jumped off the front and gained a decent gap. A few lads went off after him, but it was never going to last and it all came back. We hung a left towards Stradbally and the pace picked up again. A few more guys went off the front but again they were brought back. As we descended down to Stradbally the A1/A2 group came through, with the top guys slicing through us like butter.
I understand they pushed on as we got out the far side of Stradbally, but the pace stayed high and it started to take its toll on me and soon I was on the back again. I grabbed a wheel and was just focussing on holding that - head down thinking happy thoughts :) . Unfortunately by not looking up I did not realise that the wheel I was on had detached from the main group. And with that I was in no man's land. I was still 4 km's or so from Athy, so I decided now I was on my own I would push as hard as I could and if I did not make it back, I was going to just tap along back to the finish.
I did not connect back up, but as we hung a sharp left, I took a look back to see a large group coming up. I did not realise that the race had split up that much. Another plus was these guys were keen on making it back to the lead group. So I tucked in and did a few turns on the front. And with about 5km to Kildangen, we got back on.
After that there race finally started to slow down due to a few km's of rolling roads and I start to feel a little better. We were unsure of the situation in the race- there could have been 20 guys out front for all I knew, so I was not planning on contesting a sprint finish. Although in hindsight, I probably should have had a pop with a few km's to go and see if anyone wanted to join in. But I didn't, and came in with the main but a couple of minutes behind Robin Kelly and Ryan Sherlock (1st and 2nd respectively).
I enjoyed the day, mainly because I stayed in the main group of a handicapped race (a first)! Plus it was a fast one - for me averaging just under 40kph for 1 hour 45 mins. So I'll be doing 2 or maybe 3 more road races before the mountain biking starts for me this year.
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