2015- Part 2
The bulk of my summer basically went the same way before Ireland, a few dnf’s, dns’ and 1 last place. Largely due to me not being confident enough but also feeling very tired most of the time.
Spokes Junior RR- DNF
Border Trophy TT rounds 2 & 3- 36th & 46th
Garleton Trophy- 38th
Scottish Track Champs points race- DNS
Scottish Track Champs Kilo- 11th
Scottish Track Champs pursuit- 13th
Junior Tour of Ireland 2015
This is it. The big one. The longest junior stage race in the world. It’s only been 6 months since I joined ERC and we would be covering 310 miles in the next 5 days, nearly 10X what I would normally have been covering in a week this time last year. The team this year consisted of myself, Calum Kennedy, Stephen Walker, and a guest in Alistair Merry from Dundee Discovery. Our coaches would be Alex Coutts, former yellow jersey wearer and 4th place overall finisher in this race in days gone by, along with Alastair Webb, who after this race will likely never enter a car with Alex Coutts in a convoy again…
After taking a “shortcut” with my parents to get to the hotel and arriving 2 hours after everybody else, we all settled in and relaxed ahead of the prologue in the morning.
Short, sharp, tail wind, managed to avoid being caught by my minute man from the American Specialized Racing Team, not too bad.
Quite possibly the best day in terms of scenery, around 115km (about 10km longer than the route map suggested) of stunning landscape and glorious sunshine, backed up with lots of roadside spectators cheering us on. I had spent the first 20km or so sitting in the bunch with Calum, however when a “chopper” cut across me I had 2 get off the road to avoid crashing into a nearby wall, which meant a hard chase onto the bunch for the next couple of minutes, resulting in getting dropped by the first climb. On the way back into Ennis, I had a bad energy dip and dropped from the grupetto*, however, conveniently, a commissaire* car came past looking for stragglers and there was a bit of a sticky bottle* incident for the next couple of km’s, however being close to last on GC nobody was too concerned.
Today could not have been more of a contrast to yesterday; the rain started pouring literally as we left the starting village, and would just get heavier and heavier as we continued. This was too much for me, I wasn’t at all comfortable in the bunch, and as soon as I got to the back I breathed a bit and started to relax. Now for any young cyclist reading this- do not ever try this, you will be dropped. Which is exactly what happened. After forming a group with other dropped riders, another guy (who shall remain nameless) decided it would be a good idea to attack the grupetto, leaving it split up and riders all over the road. I was with an Irish guy and Stephen- a big thank you needs to go to Stephen, who, like me, had been dropped, but didn’t let this get him down, an ever happy guy both on and off the bike he kept us all going with his motivational chat and “top lad banter”. We eventually finished the stage arm in arm as a trio, drenched from head to foot, completely shattered, but smiling.
Wild Atlantic Way, a fitting name for one “wild” day out on the bike. At the start id been set a challenge by Alex, which was to just get over the first category 1 climb in the bunch, and that was it. I half lived up to this, after being initially dropped, the bunch sat up dramatically for some unknown reason to me (apparently they were climbing) and I got back into the peloton* and over the climb, before, again, being dropped. This suggested 2 things: 1. My bunch skills need improving dramatically and 2. I could climb just as well as these guys, so why am I being dropped constantly? After being caught up by the chasing group, we were eventually split up due to an abandon, a puncture and fatigue from the winds. I was with an American rider guesting for the Sean Kelly development squad and we eventually rolled in together, making a lasting friendship on the road on the way there.
For me, this is the stage I was the least/most proud of at the same time. Myself and Stephen had been dropped at the start and after a 4km chase at an average speed of 33mph, just metres before making contact with the group again, there was a crash which forced me into a bush and Stephen just behind it. So we were dropped completely, and I think it’s fair to say we were both suffering at this point in the race, Stephen suffering from sickness. I was willing to do anything that day to just help him to the finish, I pulled us back to a group and sat on the front for a while.
When 2 boys attacked (including the one we paced to the finish the whole day on stage 2) I chased after them and gave them a fair ear bashing, reminding the other boy of the help we had given him the other day, which prompted them to come back to the group and ride tempo. This was when I felt a puncture in my rear wheel, “ahh no worries, the broom wagon won’t be far behind I’ll grab a spare” was my logic. As it turned out, the broom wagon had no spares and I was forced inside. I was gutted. What made it worse was Stephen had waited for me so he could help me get back on, and the whole group had upped the pace and left him for dead, he had to ride 45 miles on his own.
This performance, for me was the one of the Tour. This race was beyond Stephen as much as me, and for him to ride that far, on his own, with the van behind him offering a lift and nothing to do but stare at his front wheel was truly epic. When I (eventually) got a wheel on the final climb and rode to the top, I was greeted by cheers and applause by the organisers for a “gutsy” performance, which really embarrassed me. I felt like I was taking the credit away from my teammate as none of them knew what had happened on the road, I tried explaining but was just talked down, which left me very determined to do something the next day with all the energy I’d saved…
There are some things in life you can only do once and I think that after the day before, I was determined to do this, not only for my friends and family who had supported me all week, but this time, for myself, because ultimately, we were all there to get noticed as cyclists and that was exactly my plan, nothing else, just be seen.
After getting onto the race circuit and sitting in my usual spot of last man in the bunch, waiting for the com car to pass me, the little voice inside my head just said, “screw this, I’m off”, so I came from last in the bunch, hoovering past the bunch and off the front, in a desperate bid to reach the breakaway*. I eventually got across and helped contribute slightly, until we were brought back. The best part for me was that (not known to me at the time) this had been caught by the motorbike cameras and I managed to achieve the 5 seconds of fame I had sought, as well as sitting up for a camera to give the sponsors a little camera time.
Coming into the final is something I’ll never forget. After racing over 300 miles, hills, crashes, winds and high speeds, it all came back to where the prologue started, which I saw as a fitting end to the journey. With hundreds of spectators along the roads, I finished the Tour of Ireland with so many stories and memories, a truly spectacular race and something I hope continues for many years.
I’m aware I’ve waffled on a fair bit and if you’ve managed to stick with me for the whole time I’m nearly done, but not before a mentioning few people I’d like to thank.
I’d like to firstly thank Jarlath Flynn at ERC for taking me on this year and providing an exceptional team of me to work with this year and into the 2016 season. As well as ERC, all the sponsors behind us, Pearl Red, Bolland & Burke, The Bicycle Works, Alpine Bikes & Martin Currie.
Secondly, I’d like to give a massive thanks to Alex Coutts, who gives up spending time with his family every Tuesday to come out and train us, no matter the weather. Without his guidance I wouldn’t be nearly where I am today.
Thirdly, my team mates, for welcoming me into the club with open arms, Emma, Rachel, Euan, Calum and Stephen. Extra thanks to Calum for putting up with me sharing a room in Ireland, with my dodgy singing, corny jokes and general moaning.
Finally, and biggest of all, I’d like to thank my parents, for always being there for me, providing me with transport to training, financial assistance, and always helping me to achieve my dreams. As well as them, my friends both in cycling and out, mostly for putting up with me!
Thanks for reading my blog, I hope to return next year with better results and something to aim for in the future.
*grupetto- A bunch of dropped riders
*commissaire- The man in charge of the cycling event/race
*sticky bottle- A sometimes devious tactic, when one holds on to a water bottle being received from a car for an extended period of time in order to save energy chasing back on.
*breakaway- Riders off the front of the main group
*peloton- The main group of cyclists