First off, I was late, and missed the official sign on, but managed to convince the chap behind the desk to throw out another sign-on sheet. Disaster averted.
Then it was a case of getting myself and the bike prepared for one of the top races in the Irish roadie calendar. I did it last in 2009 and that did not end well. So my only goals for this years event was not crash and stay with the lead group/breakaway. Sounds simple but is it ever.
The night before the race I stuck on the 11-25 and a new chain. A bike mechanic I ain't and despite getting it all attached correctly and tuned in I was not convinced, but I was not organised enough to get it to a shop for a professional to throw their eye over my handy work so I was going to have to make do.
The race following the same loop as last time I entered. Out the Stradbally road, hang a left onto the N78 to Castlecomer before turning left and into the hills - big ones and small ones, and some nervy descents. This brought you up by Rossmore (with great views of Carlow town) and down into Tolerton, where it was another left onto Crettyard and into Castlecomer. The finish this year was on the Killeshin road as opposed to the old main Kilkenny road. The weather was perfect, though the wind was blustery enough.
Once the A1/A2 group had departed, the A3's rolled out about 10 minutes later. Not sure exactly how many signed up, but it looked like roughly 100. And in the same manner as 2009 a group broke off straight away. The bunch did not bother chasing so that was fine with me, doing my usual hanging down the back, and doing my best to hide the hairy mountain biker legs. The pace picked up and dropped off regulary as guys jumped off the front or a team decided to try to bring the breakaway back in, but nothing major. I had my first nervous moment when a bottle fell onto the road on the fast tricky descent from Arles. Naturally enough it bounced all over the shop before the lid came off and hit my rear wheel. No damage done but did nothing for my nerves.
We then hung the left onto the N78 and the pace picked up - until people realised this was a long drag of a climb, then it dropped down to Sunday social spin territory. This was the point when I started to get a little grumpy, as I like fast climbs and many people don't so, in roadie world its the only time I am on par or have a small advantage. Anyway, I knew there was going to be plenty of climbing to come so just held back. But as we came to the steeper section of the drag I could see the breakaway being reeled in. I decided to head up to front for a closer look (this was not a big effort - we were barely moving!). I did think about bridging across, but spent too much time thinking and before I knew it I was swamped with riders coming through at the top of the climb. And that was that until Castlecomer.
The sharp left just before Castlecomer is where the race proper starts. You drop down and then have 100ish metres of a steep climb before it eases off and continues on for about another 3km. Lesson number 1 of roadie land - don't get stuck down the back. Should have known it was going to happen, but a couple of lads tangled on the climb (yes, climb) and the ensuing confusion, blocked the whole road and brought everyone behind them to a standstill. The usual abuse was hurled and everyone got back on and chased to the guys who managed to avoid the stop. We worked our way up the climb and onto a hairy descent (well it was for me). Before a draggy climb up to the Butts. The race continued on like that to the end of the 1st lap in Tolerton - work my way close to the front on the climbs and hills and then lose it all on the descents. You know the term descend like a stone? I descent like a feather. It was the biggest fault of mine yesterday. I just could not let go of the levers, what with the skinny tyres and tiny brake blocks on the rims.
But I got around the first lap. The first section of the 2nd lap was a complete bore-fest. Everyone realised how tough the climbs were now and planned on conserving as much energy as possible. This became frustrating and I did consider just stopping. But I went up the front and had a chat with a few lads, considering a kamikaze break, but decided to do the roadie thing and sit in.
Left turn at Castlecomer and we're climbing again (yeah!). Lads are scattering everywhere now and the main group is down to maybe 40 (the breakaway was caught). I decided to push things along a little on the drag around Coolraheen and I felt good. Things were starting to break up at the front with a couple of guys pushing on and it was making things interesting. But my DIY mechanics came back to haunt me when the chain dropped on the climb. I tried to get it back on with some gear shifting and began to slow right down - and into the main group, who starting giving me grief for not sticking my hand in the air or possibly throwing myself into the ditch in order to save them from my crazy antics. Not wanted to sound like this annoyed me or anything, but had I done either on that narrow road, at the pace we were going, it would have been sure to have caused a crash. Anyway, I got the chain back on but was stuck down at the back of the group. Disaster. Knowing the most important descent was close (the one which brought you to the foot of the Rossmore climb), I was going to waste a lot of energy just to try to catch up. But there was no harm in trying.
I got to the bottom of the climb and could see the group 100 metres ahead. After finding a decent gear (that is, one which did not jump out of the sprocket), I began the long and hard job of working my way back up the field. As the climb progressed we began to be passed by the team cars from the A1/A2 race mopping up the dropped riders. Now I began to feel what it was like to be some poor sucker up on a mountain stage in a major tour - weaving away through the team and support cars, looking for any bit of help.
I made it to the top, but did not manage to get to the group. However a strong bunch who also got dropped began to form and with the help for a vocal Barrow Wheelers rider, we got stuck into the job at hand, descending like loons in order to try to get onto the group ahead. I got a little carried away at the start when I spotted a struggling Robin Kelly (top A1 rider) ahead, and tried to catch his wheel, but I was a tad over optimistic as once the climbing was out of the way he sped into the distance. I thought the chase was a lost cause personally, but everyone else was giving it their all, so I thought if nothing else, it would be a good workout. And everything was going well until the Tolerton junction. A left turn brought you onto the lap and a right to the finish line. Unfortunately one the group (might have been an Orwell Wheelers rider) overshot the corner and ended up on the deck - though he was lucky in that there was no ditch or wall, just plenty of grass. Though I'm not sure how bad it was. That just left a few of us to finish out the chase. We had about 5km to go and with the vocal support of the Barrow Wheelers rider and a couple of dropped A2's we made it back! For me that was the highlight of the day. But we still had a couple of km's to recover and try for a sprint. This is not something I'd be comfortable with and really what I should have done was follow my man through the group out to the front. Instead I hung in and as the pace picked up and riders dropped off (either due to the speed or just not wanting to contest), I found myself close to the front, but there was no way through the mass of riders across the road, so I just hung in there and crossed somewhere in the top 20 maybe.
Immediately after the race I thought I was done with road racing - when you're not racing, its boring - simple as. And during those phases at the Des Hanlon I was just thinking about the XC race in Bunclody I had sacrificed. But after looking at the numbers in Strava and comparing with the other riders who uploaded theirs from the race, it gave me a bit of consolation in that I was pretty strong on the flat and climbs (though sucked big style everywhere else). And the last 15km's was fun and hard work too. But to get results on the road you need to be committed to discipline - letting it all hang out on the descents, and pushing your way into position for the sprints, something I'm not sure I have the time, interest or stomach for. But I'm not totally giving up on the roadie stuff - though this will probably be the last one for a while, as I need to remember how to ride a mountain bike :)