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2016 An Post Rás – Stage 8 (Liam Dolan)

My Galway I-Tap team mates for the week David Brody and Daire Feeley

My Galway I-Tap team mates for the week David Brody and Daire Feeley

This day 2 weeks ago I was in a Belfast hospital getting surgery, today I finished the Rás, Mad that. Ironically the injuries i picked up on the stage 1 crash caused significantly more problems than the Pre-Ras crash. I suffered badly after that with my ribs and various muscle injuries.

Stage 8 did have a bit of a last day of school vibe, however once the flag dropped it was game on. After the initial flurry the pace was steady to Skerries. Those laps are fast and we scorched up the Blackhills. The 3rd time up it the remains of the  bunch blew to bits and my little group of 7 or 8 came in just over a min down on the stage winner. All week long i just missed the 2 – 3% to be group 1. Maybe if i hadn’t crashed on Stage1 it would have been different.

Nonetheless i finished, safely, I loved it and enjoyed the whole experience.  Its a long journey from November  1st to Skerries  in May. A lot of cold days on the bike, hours on the turbo and weekends away getting kickings at the races. Also it takes a few years. You need 3 plus years of solid racing, the  Des, the Shay, Ras Mumhan, Ulster. It doesn’t happen in 1 season. Finally you need support, a good club, Cuchulain, a great team iTap (Johnathan, Noel, Christian you are legends) and finally a loving support group (my family, friends and amazing wife Annette). Thanks everyone, couldn’t have done it without.

Pop out to the Bike Station Wednesday evening to say hello.

#Ras2016

2016 An Post Rás – Stage 7 (Liam Dolan)

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Seven stages down and just 1 last bar room brawl to go. My ramblings this evening come from a hotel in Carlow where i enjoyed a lovely cold shower. Bloody hot water, ironically i was dreaming of a cold shower on mount Leinster earlier today, be careful when dreams come through!

Throughout the  Ras i feel i have been climbing well, but am nearly always too far back starting and not quite strong enough to climb with the very front guys. Typically i would loose a bit of time on each climb and then chase back on. Half way up a climb you look to be in the bunch then the top a gap of a few meters quickly becomes 5 seconds.

The climbs before Leinster were the usual and as we approached the beast the speed and tension were sky high on dirty narrow roads. The climb was so tough you just did it at your own pace and hoped others were doing the same speed. I crested in a good group of 7 or 8 with the front of the race probably a min up the road. That’s when the problem start, most of the guys are domestics and feel their work is done and just want to cruise home.

All the guys you busted a gut to gap on the climb quickly come back to us and we rolled home sedately in a group of 60 odd. Had my group ridden i would have moved up GC, but whats the point busting yourself to go from 70th to 62nd? Keep your ego in place as we still have a hard stage to go.

Tonight will be our last night together as a team. Its been great craic and i will miss them. So weird the thoughts of going back to normality tomorrow. Work Monday morning. Wednesday evening i am even working in The Bike Station from 6 to close so by all means drop in for a chat and buy a bike, in fact buy 2!

2016 An Post Rás – Stage 6 (Liam Dolan)

Gorgeous Shot of the Rás passing through Cork today, courtesy of karen m. ‏@eddie_km

Gorgeous Shot of the Rás passing through Cork today, courtesy of karen m. ‏@eddie_km

Today was a relatively “easy” day in The Rás. A few crashes early on saw a bit of chasing back on. The roads were narrow,  badly paved and rolling. The real action happened on the 2nd categorised climb at the 95k mark. It was a cat 3 but the grading system seems to be a bit arbitrary in the Rás with 3, 2 or 1 not making much of a difference.

Anyway the climb was steep long and very narrow. The Team Ireland car knocked a rider off at the bottom which caused greater stress. I thought i was doing well on the climb, moving up. However by the time i crested the summit i was just off the front selection. We chased without massive commitment for a few km. By the time the dust settled i was in a bunch with a fair few pros and all bar the 2 or 3 county riders who made the very front.

That was about the height of it today. I did smack my hand on a car rear view mirror as we sped through some town on our way to Dungarvan. So out from the riding the bike what else goes on in the Ras. When not chewing the handlbars you are generally eating or resting. After the stage we have a hot meal straight away, thanks Christina. She has also already checked us into our rooms. Between then and dinner its shower, get your massage and rest up. You are also nibbling away on something and I’ll do a bit of stretching.

Dinner is about quantity and so far the appetite has been good, as has the food been served. Though hunger is a great sauce. After dinner i try to get as much stuff ready for the next day, make bottles, pin on  my numbers. Noel cleans the bikes while Christina organises the washing. I also read a lot and have a look at Twitter. I try to check the news to ensure the world hasn’t ended while i was absconded in the Ras bubble. Phone call with my good lady wife and possibly 1 or 2 others before lights out about 10.

Next morning up at 7ish and starting getting ready. Breakfast is always 2 bowls of porridge, scrambled eggs and 2 slices of bacon. My treat is a piece of white pudding. It KILLS  me refusing the amazing buffets in the morning. After that back to bed for a while then some more stretching before getting suited and booted. I try and get 20odd mins on the bike before we line up for the madness. Is all rather boring and varys so little, yet everyone on this travelling circus  loves it!

2016 An Post Rás – Stage 5 (Liam Dolan)

It's not all work here, we also have a bit of fun too.

It’s not all work here, we also have a bit of fun too.

Day 5 done and dusted, well the riding part anyway. The Rás is stressful from wake up until 3km to go. 3km to go until bed time is good craic. A game of 2 halves if you will.

Tons of climbs today ironically 2*2 & 3*3 ie 2 cat2s and 3 cat3. Scenery was stunning in Sneem & again for most of the stage. Caha pass was first up & we rode it hard.  I did loose a bit of ground but got back on.

After that the bunch was well down to mostly pros and 20+county riders. Some of the county teams are savage strong, Aquablue, UCD, Kerry, ASEA and Power house all had multiple riders represented. iTap are holding their on with 3 in the bunch.

We hit Clonakilty for a 10k finishing circuit which started with a Cat2 climb. The bunch while chasing the break, split & I was in the second group. Had we been committed I believe we could have gotten back to the front but with a lot of tired bodies no one was willing to ride hard.

I use to think hardest part of Rás was refusing the fry for breakfast.  This is no longer the case, having been replaced with the pain of the massage table. My childish screams would raise eyebrows in a labor ward but Johnathan has been working me hard.  Its starting to pay off as I definitely felt a lot better today. I’m tired but the injuries are not as bad.

Speaking of tiredness I can now see it creeping into the bunch.  Guys not sitting as close to the front and generally not as sprightly.

Tomorrow we head to Dungarvan a town I lived in many moons ago. Waterford is very strong in cycling with 3 teams in this year’s race.

Finally as promised Hello Annette, miss and love you.  Take care of Sooty.

#Ras2016

2016 An Post Rás – Stage 4 (Liam Dolan)

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Well we are half way there, 4 stages done and 4 to go. Today was 163km with a cat 3, 1, 2 and 3 in that order. All in the beautiful county of Kerry, the scenery even when you are chewing the handlbars was amazing. Kerry is easily my favorite part of Ireland.

Despite an excellent hotel in the village of Bally something outside Dingle the day started bad. My right leg was in agony. Hamstring, calf and also my knee. Jonathan, our manager had been doing an excellent job, but despite this i am just too twisted after the crashes. Hips, spines and muscles are all pulling in different directions.

The stage wasn’t too fast early on and the climb after 10k was handy enough. The pull to the cat 1 climb was on lumpy rough roads,we were lined out before the climb. I was way too far down the bunch and by the top of the climb i was in a small group. We chased hard for probably 10k before getting back to the front. The next 60k was steady and the cat 2 wasn’t bad at all.

All day long my leg was in agony and only for the odd adrenaline kick I would have packed it. I am just riding in so much pain and the ribs are still as bad as ever. My facial scars are healing very nicely, however cuts on knees, shoulders, hands and elbows are still bad. Woe is me!

Back to the race we shot up the cat3 climb in the last 10km and our bunch split with me in the second half. Not a bad days riding but it meant nothing when i heard my roommate Colm Cassidy had a bad accident and is in hospital. Colm is a top class guy and the team will miss him. Fair play to Noel, our mechanic heading the 80k to Tralee hospital. He still plans to get up early to clean our bikes. Man is legend. In fact our support team is top class.

Catherine drives ahead and has checked us into our hotel and a meal cooked by the time we finish. Noel cleans and maintains the bikes while Johnathan does the rubs. Johnathan also drives the car and gives us tactics.

I never knew these people a week ago, now they would do anything for me. People in the cycling community are amazing. Hopefully i can remain a part of it until Skerries on Sunday.

2016 An Post Rás – Stage 3 (Liam Dolan)

Photo is my face caked in dirt after today's stage

Photo is my face caked in dirt after today’s stage

What a savage stage, despite it “only” being 133k. I thought a selection would be made on the cat 3 at 50k then it might settle till the Cat 1 in the last 10k. BS it was flat out from the start and a lot out the back by 30k as roads were seriously rolly.

I got caught behind a bad crash after 30k odd and spent a lot of time in the cars getting back on. The cat3 was hard& starting at the back I had to work the whole climb to stay in touch.

I fully expected us to ride steady then but it was nuts! Literally 50kph all the time.  Roads themselves weren’t too hard but the speed was just relentless. I was never comfortable with the Ozzy kids driving like someone had a whip behind them.

25k to go still lined out, few guys let wheels go, I loose concentration for a minute & boom i am off the back. I stay in the cars till the BIG climb starts. I ride it steady hard and make it up to a good group of 10 or so and we come in 7mins down.

I’m a bit disappointed with my ride but I have never had this level of aches and pains. My ribs, hips, hammers & calves are all painful.  I guess the 2 crashes have knocked my body out of shape.

We are staying in a gorgeous little village tonight a few km from Dingle.  Across the bay I can see the set for the new Star Wars movie.  Hollywood & cycling all in the 1 go.

2016 An Post Rás – Stage 2 (Liam Dolan)

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That was a long day, that being stage 2. Almost 5hrs on the bike after I had warmed down. The stage itself was 184km, the longest of this year’s race. Nice to get that mile stone out of the way!

I woke up with the ribs still in agony and a new, never seen before injury, sore hamstrings! I had to change the saddle after last week’s accident and i think the extra 2/3mm of height difference has caused the issue. I dropped the saddle slightly today but alas the damage is done and they were seriously sore after I finished the stage.

Back to the stage itself,  i had envisaged 183km on big open roads with a small cat 3 climbs. Sun shining chat going all the way, bit of a gallop at the end. I was wrong on everything! The roads were bogging for the most part and if that climb is cat 3 I am DREADING the cat 1s!

As always the start was lively and i spent most of the day trying to keep up the massive bunch and eat. The eating part being a lot easier. We did spend about 15km literally crawling along with guys peeing, eating  and generally chatting. At the 100km mark with the climb coming it got serious and for the next 20k  i workec hard to stay at the front.

The climb was a lot longer and harder than I had anticipated. I lost a bit of ground on a group of 30 odd by the top and toke about 3km to get back on. Just as i did another group of about 20 odd got on. Why didn’t i save some energy and just wait for them. The next 60km was fast and i was tired but comfortable in the bunch. 2km a high speed crash in front of me and i was sure i was down again. I came to a stop, unclipped and picked my way through the bodies to come home with the yellow jersey who had also been delayed. Hopefully I’ll get the same time as the bunch.

After the finish Christine had amazing spag bal cooked for us. Top class service from Team iTap. I just got my rub from Jonathan, there was a lot of screaming from me. Hammers are bad. I am rooming with Colm  Cassidy, whom i know years. He is a great guy and easy going. Am absolutely delighted with Mortan winning the stage while my heart goes out to McCrystal. So close. Seriously gutsy riding from 2 proper 100% working men county riders. Chapeau lads!

#Ras2016

2016 An Post Rás – Stage 1 (Liam Dolan)

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This day last week i was lying in a hospital bed in Belfast waiting to go into surgery. Ras was definitely on mind but not looking likely at all. However a doctor said to me “nothing broken bar your teeth, everything else is just cuts. Don’t fall again and you’ll be fine”. I started back on the turbo Tuesday and did the club race Thursday night. I was feeling flat but knew I could start.

So complete with a first class set up with iTap I rocked up to Dublin Castle for the Grand Depart. The team is a serious mix of youth and experience with ages ranging from 19 to 43! The atmosphere at the start was electric and my twisted face was getting me plenty of good will.

Down to the racing, all was going well. I did get caught behind a crash after 25km and had to chase for a good while. The cat 3 climb was longer  than i thought but i got over it no problem in the bunch. Then disaster struck on the descent! I saw a guy hit the deck in front of me at 70kph and i had nowhere to go, except into the ditch. I hit the verge hard and summer salted over the handlebars. I came down hard on my side and breathing since has been very sore. Also hit my hips and shoulder.

Chasing back on wasn’t a  option, with 50km to go i just wanted to find a group and get home before the time cut. I did achieve that though in considerable pain. What now I dont know. I hope i am fit to start tomorrow but moral is low. I feel like in terms of luck I’ve hit the bottom of the barrel. However I am just afraid that there is another 50feet of crap before the bottom

2015 An Post Rás – Stage 8 (Liam Dolan)

2015 Ras

Liam receiving his “Hero” award from Aileen Mooney of An Post.

Last day  “only” 133km to the seaside town of Skerries where we would finish with 3 laps of the traditional  Blackhills circuit, with the steep aforementioned  climb. At the end of the neutralised section it was very sedate and we sipped champagne as we slowly covered the 90km to Skerries.

Eh back it up there, once the flagged dropped we hammered it and the pace didn’t let up all day. On the road to Skerries I was working hard to keep Ian up the bunch and out of trouble. A stressful and sapping role as you are constantly fighting to be close to the front. We had 2 climbs on the way and the legs where tired when we hit the circuit.

The crowd in Skerries was massive and first time up Blackhills the bunch whittled down. The speed was so high especially coming through the village and with the cheering crowd and shining sun it was some rush. Another ascent saw the bunch reduced further and the remains of the break just dangling off the front.

The final time up the climb the bunch did split and I came home in the second group a handful of seconds behind the yellow jersey. I had done it, become a “Man of the Ras”. The last stage was again crazy fast, hard and stressful, pretty much the theme of the week. However there was definitely a euphoric feeling upon crossing the line, especially  knowing that Ian had kept his county jersey.

Overall the week was amazing, absolutely surreal how each day blended into one, while hotels  stage towns, everything just all became a blur . The treatment was second to none by the UCD support crew. While they race like a team it is very much a club at heart and that drives their succeas. So many passionate members length a hand throughout the race and we had a lot of support on the last day. Noel, Brendan, Dee and Darragh treated us like royalty.

Many people ask is the Ras too hard for the county rider? No I think it isn’t, but it takes a few years of hard consistent training and racing to be able to finish it the bunch. A lot of guys jump in too soon and spend the week at the mercy of the chief commissar and the time cut off. Some years they are lenient on the 15% rule other years they are brutally strict. I don’t think a county rider can win it out right but as a few of them proved a stage is possible.

I would also like to thank An Post for awarding me their “Hero” award as the rider making the best use of social media during the race. It’s nice to know that somebody actually reads these blogs.

2015 An Post Rás – Stage 7 (Liam Dolan)

Another day of savage speed, 142km from Ballinamore to Drogheda in my home county of Louth. We started, surprise surprise, fast! Lined out and after about 5km while lined out the yellow jersey crashed. I was expecting us to sit up but the “respect the yellow” curtosity was not extended to him…Unfortunately!

The pace stayed high and a couple of promising looking groups got up the road but to no avail and at 50km we were all still together. The first climb of the day was a steady drag of a Cat 3 and the day’s break got away. Normal service resumed then with the yellow jerseys team on the front banging out a consistent tempo. It is impressive how steady/hard those guys can ride day in day out. The next climb was a steep Cat 2 on very narrow roads, we rode it hard but not aggressive and I was comfortable.

We crossed into Louth, on roads i know inside out. The last climb of the dag, a Cat 3 saw the fireworks start at the top. An exposed road and sidewinds saw the Belgian 3M team hit the front and from there the pace didn’t let up for the next 35km to the finish. It was fast, at one stags I noticed we stalled, looked at the Garmin and we were still doing 44kph! I was relatively confortable and had no major problems sitting close to the front of the bunch. The break’s lead wax down to 2.5mins by the line.

So one more stage to go, but it feels like you can never relax in this race. Once a stage is over you know the next day will be harder and with a lot of families coming to Skerries the pace will be MENTAL as people want to look good.

Its also our last night together as a team, 5 riders and 4 support crew. We genuinely have had a laugh and I will be sorry saying goodbye to everyone after the race tomorrow. It will be a bit of an anticlimax as once we finish everyone will be keen to pack up and get home to their families. Yes it will be strange leaving the Ras bubble. Out of habit I’ll probably pin numbers to my shirt for work on Monday morning