2015 An Post Rás – Stage 5 (Liam Dolan)

Another day from hell, Newport to Ballina. Apparently only about 50km as the crow flies, but we managed to make it 142km and found a few climbs on the way. Just before the off at 11 the slight rain got heavier and it was another gillet and overshoes day. I knew also that it would be another day of a battering with the crosswinds.

The first 16km was fast and I was working hard to stay close to the front. The rain was steadily coming down and the spray from the wheels coupled with traffic and road furniture made it all stressful and hectic. When we did finally hit the crosswinds I was once again found wanting. I don’t seem to have the same power with those crosswinds as the gaps start to open everywhere.

The killer thing is it is an insane 20 to 30mins then unless you are in the front or chase group it becomes a relatively easy day. I wasn’t strong enough to be in either group and with 50 or so up the road the main bunch just rolled along pretty much disinterested for the rest of the day, coming in some 21mins down.

I am finding it a bit frustrating as I believe I am a better rider than the last 2 days would suggest but you loose out in those crucial sections and your day is done. Tomorrow is the longest stage and we head back inland. Hopefully the crosswinds are behind us and I’ll start to fair out better.

Tonight we are in the same hotel for thd 2nd night which makes life a bit easier. The day goes by so quickly. After the stage food then drive to digs. Between eating, massage, showering, sorting gear, dinner and relaxing the evening goes by quickly. The support crew work their hands to the bone, honestly we, the riders, are unbelievably demanding. Dinner is good craic and spirits are still high. Appetites are not as impressive as earlier in the week. Porridge, muesli and rice are still consumed in copious quantities. We have 2 rice cookers with us and at least twice a day you’ll have a snack of rice with pesto and cheese with tuna or parma ham. Undoubtedly the highlight of the day comes at breakast, 2 bowls of porridge, scrambled egg with a slice of bacon and then the mandatory, blissfull bowl of coco pops. To quote Colin Farrell from Intermission, in his best Dublin drawl “man, thats fu*!in delicis”

2015 An Post Rás – Stage 4 (Liam Dolan)

It's not all hard work. The UCD Team enjoy a well earned break in Salthill after Stage 3.

It’s not all hard work. The UCD Team enjoy a well earned break in Salthill after Stage 3.

155km Bearna to Newport. A disappointing day, though to keep things in perspective  stage 4 last year I had to pull out due to illness. So while I didn’t perform as I wanted I am still racing.

I can sum up today’s problems by saying “crosswinds”! I knew they were coming, I was warned but I didn’t appreciate what crosswinds meant with a bunch where the talent is higher and deeper than what I’m use to. I was initially well up and even had a futile attack but had started to drift down the bunch. We turned a corner and it was a 150man line out in the gutter. I was way too far back, I did move up but wasn’t strong to accelerate across all the small gaps that kept opening. 20km of carnage later I was in the rather large grupetto of 40/50 riders.

What happened next I’ll never really be proud of, I, well an American & a Candian, attacked the grupetto. Braking the unwritten rule and being frankly a dick. Anyway  a few km later a group of 8 of us were working steadily for  the last 60km home. To be honest I was glad of it, the large grupetto was grim with very few guys wanting to actually ride.

I haven’t seen any results yet but straight up I’m disappointed. I know it’s really just a bit of fun but I put a lot of effort, dedication and time away from my wife to not be at the pointy end of the county riders. I have to learn from the experience and keep battling. We are only half way to Skerries!

The UCD team will have lost ground today in the county stakes, though Ian still has a good lead in the county jersey. Joe had a tumble but I haven’t actually seen or spoken to him yet. Eoin busted his bike with 10km to go in no man’s land and confirmed what we all know, Shimano cleats don’t work on Look pedals. Wasn’t  like he had a choice of spare bikes at that moment. Oh and the sun shined all day. No knee warmers and fingerless mitts. Happy days!!!

2015 An Post Rás – Stage 3 (Liam Dolan)

Another day another dollar! 157km from Tipperary to Bearna. Relatively flat with 2 cat 3 climbs around the mid way stage, which we rode fairly handy. Weather spat a few showers on us but overall it wasn’t  too bad or even too warm. This morning I naively thought i would get to race in mitts, actually ended up with knee warmers, overshoes, gillet & full fingered gloves. I wasn’t overdressed.

Today was a big day on the stress scales. At 50km yellow jersey called an unofficial break & we stopped to answer natures call. Then while chomping down some energy food and relaxing some bas^&=d unexpectedly attacked and all hell broke loose for 10km. It was serious panic stations.

A bad crash split the field and luckily I avoided it, most managed to get back on though  I would  say the chase was manic. After the crash the front group kept riding tempo after the break so while they didn’t hammer it on those behind, they didn’t make life any easier.

The last 50km was along the coast & the side winds battered us. I hate side winds, being in the “gutter” is very stressful. I had a hairy moment when caught in traffic I lost the wheel and really struggled to close the gap. The last 5km through Galway was hectic, a lot of obstacles and I just missed another 2 crashes. The break was caught and an Italian guy took the gallop.

Again today’s stage wasn’t crazy hard, but its constant dead roads, up & down. Coupled with rain fall and side winds, the CONSTANT fight for position it grinds you down. Mentally & physically you are wrecked afterwards. Your mind is going all the time, am I eating & drinking enough?, how far to go?, watch that  wheel, move up, do I have enough food left?, whats that idiot at?, watch the traffic on the right, dam a motorbike marshal moving through the bunch, pot hole, eat, drink, woooo that guy nearly took me out, brake lever jammed up your back side.  Then the constant noise the hum of bikes, gears changing, car horns going off, whistles warning us of danger. Ahhh BIKE RACING

2015 An Post Rás – Stage 2 (Liam Dolan)

The UCD Team enjoying dinner and celebrating Ian's second day as first county rider home.

The UCD Team enjoying dinner and celebrating Ian’s second day as first county rider home.

Carlow to Tipperary 137km. I would describe today’s  stage  as 20km fast, 100km very easy, 10km fast & very stressful on bad narrow roads, 10km hard!

Flag dropped and boom off we went, but with a stiff wind the pace soon dropped to a steady 40kph. All day we seemed to be hit with head or side winds and every so often a cold shower. Even stinging hail stones at one stage. Bryan McCrystal and 2 others went on an epic break early on and battled those head winds all day with  unfortunately nothing to show for it in the end.

With those 3 up the road we rode very handy with time to eat & even answer  nature’s call…twice. Even when the bunch is rolling along “peacefully” there is always something happening. A French rider got his rear derailleur in my front wheel and I have a bad feeling thaf wheel may be retiring tonight. Then you are constantly having to be vigilant to keep safe and in a good position in the bunch. Mentally its draining and while the racing isn’t  aggresive its tiring.

20km to go we went from main roads onto a narrow country road and with the bunch still at about 150 it was bloody nervy! Motorbike marshals moving through the bunch added to the nerves and the crashes started. I knew the climb started with 10km to go and i wanted  to be at the front but that was proving extremely difficult.

We turned a corner & earlier than expected we were on the climb.  I climbed really well but didn’t have the horsepower to make it all the way to the front having started so far back. The climb was a cat 3 but was longer and steeper than any cat 3 I have ever done before. I crested in a group of 7 or 8 with another group 10 15 secs in front. Had we organised ourselves we could have caught them but most just seemed happy to roll the 5km home.

Overall was a funny day, draining, very draining and quite stressful. With 6 days still to go it feels like we are not even sparring yet. The UCD team is flat out looking after us, massages, washing gear, cleaning kit, preparing food. The day never ends for them!

2015 An Post Rás – Stage 1 (Liam Dolan)

Liam Dolan riding for UCD Dublin pictured at the start of the 2015 Rás in Dunboyne

Liam Dolan riding for UCD Dublin pictured at the start of the 2015 Rás in Dunboyne

Stage 1 done and dusted 155km from Dunboyne to Carlow, the madness started early with a crash in the never ending neutral zone! The flag dropped and it was fast. I felt comfortable and had absolutely no idea that a break had nipped off around Sallins apparently. My team mate Ian Richardison was the only county rider in the 15man group that wasn’t seen again for the day.

Rest of day was on lumpy roads with 5 Cat 3 climbs. The pressure was definitely on for the 3rd climb around 50km and I was well up the front and climbing well. Around the 100km mark I tried getting away a few times and did get into a strong group but after 10km we got pulled back. From there on I feel the race passed me by. At the 120km mark the remains of the bunch just seemed to sit up and roll in at 30km an hour. The pace was just a joke! Turns out between the break and chase group there was over 40 guys up the road! I honestly never noticed half these guys disappearing from the bunch. I should have been more alert and in the mix, so am a bit disappointed. Though I have to keep remembering its a loonnnnngggggg week!

My team, my old university UCD had a great day. Ian has the county jersey by almost 5 mins and with Eoin & Joe getting 90sec on the bunch we are 2nd team overall.
Just lying on my bed now after my rub, with a belly full of food.

The bloody vote yes posters are printed in the same shade of green as the An Post signs so I never knew if I was sprinting for a prime or a vote yes poster! Tomorrow is a shorter stage 140km odd. We did get rained on a bit today so fingers crossed that will stay away for tomorrow.

National Road Race Championships

I noticed in the calendar that Lakeside Wheelers were hosting a “Dan Martin & Friends Cyclosportive” in the village of Multyfarnam. Nine laps of a 19km undulating circuit for a total of 171km, a reasonable entry fee and despite there only being finishers medals for the first 3 I decided to sign up. The circuit definitely was undulating with 2 hills in particular standing out, the real killers where you have a few hundred meters steep, then the drag for another few hundred meters before you finally get a bit of respite. The race day atmosphere definitely topped any bike race I have done this year, with the sunshine bringing out the crowds for a superbly organised event.

We lined up in the middle of the village and after a few interviews with the stars, the flag dropped. The race started less than 500m from the first hill and the 100+ bunch tore up it. I was dying! The first 3 laps were unreal, just fast, fast, fast. I was swinging down the back of the bunch praying for a puncture, the fact that I corner like someone who wears GAA sorts over the cycling shorts was not helping. The organisers had marked out a special “go ballistic zone” cleverly disguised with signs that said “Feed Zone”. It was on a hill & every time we hit it the pace just shot up. It was like a cruel joke for idiots like me who actually naively believed that we might slow down and get a drink or a bite to eat.

A break went away on the 2nd or 3rd lap, but most of the big guns were still in the bunch, Martin, Bennett, Brammeier, Irvine, Shaw, Hawkins, which meant we kept racing hard. Speaking of big, at a shade under 6ft 2, I am definitely amongst the tallest guys in the bunch. However yesterday at one stage I suddenly felt this shadow descend on me, An Post’s Conor Dunne is a massive guy!

 

At this stage I hadn’t a clue what was really going on, I was just trying to stay as close to the front of the bunch as the racing was still on. I jumped after a small group and was stuck in no man’s land until Matt Brammeier came trucking by me & I jumped onto his wheel. He pulled me up and then another group came across led by Dan Martin. I actually thought I was still in the bunch, until the chalk board informed me we were the chase group less than 2 minutes down on the break. We kept riding hard and one highlight was coming through the village 5th in line behind Conor McConvey (2nd Ras 2013), Matt Brammeier (4 time National Champion), Martyn Irvine (World track Champion), Dan Martin (Tour de France stage winner) and me (donkey farmer).

Around laps 5/6 the feed zone did actually become used for it’s intended purpose, but it was a bit of a war zone with people running over each other to get bottles up.  In an impressive show of fatherly love I watched my dad body check a small girl in order to give me some water. I felt sorry for the girl, I actually didn’t really need the bottle!

I don’t remember seeing Shaw and Martin get away from our group or else decided to ignore them in case in an act of madness I attempted to follow them. I got away in a few small groups but nothing stuck. A group of 5 did get away on the second last lap, not surprisingly with Fraser Duncan riding like he had a train to catch, and we rolled in 6minutes down on solo winner Ryan Mullen, our group sprinting for 17th.

All in a savage hard day’s racing, but I have to say enjoyable. A great atmosphere around the course and while not been in the hunt for a medal, being in good company and still within 2-3minutes of the break right up until the 2nd last lap kept the racing on. There seemed to be a few people around the course who knew me and the odd shout of “go on Liam” was always a boost. The relatively small bunch of only 100 and the laps meant for a considerably less stressful day than normal without cars and motorbikes moving through the bunch. Though a motorbike did me a massive favour by accidently slowing down a group I was trying to bridge across to!

Where did I go?

Like Dan Martin’s Liege accident, great stories always emerge when things go arse over dick, my favourite was that he hit a pen on the corner causing him to fall. To pick up my story, all was good Tuesday evening after stage 3. On to Mallow to digs, rubbed, showered, rested & dinner. Except dinner didn’t go down to well, dodgy stomach. It didn’t let up all evening, which I spent lying in bed. 4 or 5 trips to the toilet during a night of poor sleep, with diarrhoea. I woke up & thought I felt better, however walking down the corridor I became dizzy & fell. Team manager found me & brought me to his room, onto toilet with cold sweats & more diarrhoea. Turns out 2 other guys on the team were in a similar condition.

I had some breakfast & gingerly went to stage start & at sign on it seemed something was going around the bunch. Many guys warming up with their bibs not on to allow for an emergency break. One more toilet trip before the flag dropped.

From the gun I was swinging & even when the pace settled I was still struggling. Made it over the first climb & almost over the second climb, but after a half hearted chase I was in the grupetto of 25 odd guys. The pace in the grupetto to me seemed the same as the bunch. We were doing 30kph into a head wind & I couldn’t even sit in, I was hanging onto cars with 120km to go and even getting dropped going downhill. As much as it killed me I knew I was cooked. Coming into Milltown on a small rise they bunch pulled away from me once again & I climbed off. Absolutely dejected & gutted.

http://www.stickybottle.com/latest-news/aiken-out-as-vomiting-bug-hits-ras-field-leading-medic-on-race-issues-strong-warning/

Eventually got back to B&B that evening & I got worse, while the other on my team got better. I couldn’t eat & was spending all my time on the toilet. Feeling physically so bad kind of eased the emotional pain. The next morning myself & Roger got a train from Killarney & headed home. I genuinely feel sorry for anyone who was in the same carriage as me, my body was creating odours of that actually scorched my own nostrils.

So I am not a man of The Rás. The rest of the week was hell as it seemed like the race was getting 24hr coverage. No matter what time I turned on the TV I got the Rás stage highlights. The rest of my Louth team (well those remaining) were flying the flag with great aplomb, but I found it so hard to follow the race. I was relieved when today came around as the race is finally over.

I suppose stage 4 is the best time to have to abandon, days 1-3, you are completely cheated, then days 5-7 you are so close to finishing that it is extra cruel to take it away. But day 4, you got some money’s worth but weren’t within touching distance of the finish. The worst part is the fact that I still don’t know if I am good enough to do The Rás. Since I started thinking about it last November that was the number 1 question. The pre-race signs pointed that yes I was and the first 3 days also suggested I was well on target. But you are never a Man of The Rás until you cross that line in Skerries!

Rás Diary Day 3

Gary Morton works his Magic whilst Roger waits patiently.

Gary Morton works his Magic whilst Roger waits patiently.

Lisdoonvarna to Charlaville. Today was as close as you’ll ever get to an “easy” stage in The Rás. Like a rugby match the All Blacks dominated all day. The New Zealand team of the yellow jersey let a break go in the first 20km & then kept it steady all day finally pulling the break back to 30secs ish by the line.

Of course it wasn’t all plane sailing, bike racing is a bit like lion taming, you never relax even when everything seems to be under control. You have to be switched on all the time cause there is always something about to happen. After yesterday’s carnage I only saw 1 accident but I actually felt sick after seeing it. We came fast into a village, sharp left & I saw 2 motorbikes had hit the stone bridge. Then I saw a rider lying motionless against the stone wall & actually heard them groan. I also realised it was Bryan McCrystal,  I actually felt sick in my stomach & could hardly concentrate the final 5 or 6km. Its horrible to see any rider crash hard but when you see a guy not moving & you know his wife & kids its a lot worse.

I finished the stage & all Louth team were trying to find out about Bryan. Nothing & we were all very worried.  Then undoubtedly the highlight of The Rás we saw him cycling across the line. The sense of relief. I hope he is fit to start tomorrow.  The race would be worse off without him. In all the drama Rogers 7th place in the stage was slightly overlooked.  The guy is a serious talent & ridiculously laid back. He only shaved his legs yesterday!

The riders have 3 – 4 hours of madness a day. Our support crew have 18 hours in The Rás circus. Driving in the nuts cavalcade,  our 150+ of Swiss Franc fines, fixing. bikes, washing gear, rubbing legs, mixing bottles.  The list is endless, the riders do nothing. Kevin (my dad), Dominic,  Tomas, Brendan, Gary, Bridget, Letta, all work like trojans.

Finally I was gutted to discover Charlaville is not made of cheese. I had run lower tyre pressue in expectation of roads made from cheddar. I suppose like my dream of winning The Ras I had hoped but kind of knew it wasn’t true. However Clonakility on Thursday, I love black pudding. 100psi maybe?

 

Tomas takes care of the horses

Tomas takes care of the horses

Rás Diary Day 2

Ras Day 2

Picture is our room, Chris and Michael. This is my 3rd trip away with Michael this year. I have yet to go away with Annette this year! Also another interesting fact, I am the only non fanta head on the Louth North team. Not often you get slagged for NOT being a red head!!

The full scariness of The Ras revealed itself this morning when I found out 2 guys I had been talking too yesterday morning had crashed out. Dunboyne was only yesterday? Unfortunately that’s bike racing & I wish them a speedy recovery.

We arrived at sign on this morning and it was raining, then it became biblical build an ark stuff. But it soon eased off and we got underway. I have never raced before when rest of the world is at work, it really pumps the pro feeling to 11. The real pros also mean you spend your day in the 11,  praying that Shimano would send you & only you a prototype 10 cog. Again we went out the road to Lisdoonvarna like there was only hot water for half the bunch (reality was there was hot water for less than that second cold in a row).

The roads were carnage, wet crap surface and crashes every where. I didn’t come down but spent my day chasing back on. Crashes were happening at the front, middle & back. Then we just went balistic for 20 or 30km. I have no idea if people were attacking or what but we were just lined out for an age. Then b y some major miscalculation on my behalf I found myself on front of the bunch helping to close a gap. Feck that Liam get outta there. We caught the group with 30km to go & immediately another group got away & bunch put up the white flag & we tipped home steady.

I was well happy to be in the bunch with the yellow jersey & plenty of pros. Then the yellow jersey tells me “we are the grupetto”. Screw you Ozzy, this is me in yellow jersey group,  grupetto my hole!!!

The Louth team is doing alright. Micheal had great stage, crashing betting back in & getting up the road. Cormac crashed, Ray & Roger recovered from sickness yesterday & those 3 finished in yellow jersey bunch along with myself & Roger.  Niall came off & lost a bit of time.  Alan & Sean also lost a bif as well. Des had a bad smack but will fight on.

Castelli Gabba jackets are the must have fashion item this season. The 1000s they spend on advertising didn’t work as well as the last stage of The Tour of Ulster (cold, wet, miserable). Every conversation you hear goes “new gabba?”, “yeah after last stage of Tour of Ulster, had to get one”. The other must have item is home made nutrition wrapped in thin foil, good auld store bought energy bars are so last year!

Ras Diary Day 1

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Yeee its finally started!!! Stage 1 done & dusted, 150km from Dunboyne to Roscommon. What can I say? The Ras takes it to 11, is a step up in atmosphere from anything else. Dunboyne put on a good show & then kicked us out to knock the crap out of each other.
The flag dropped & bang the pace went through the roof. Apparently we covered 47km in the first houe, while it bucket down rain. The bunch wasnt the same madness of the Ras Mumhan, which was a serious relief. After a while things seemed to ease off & everyone was eating & peeing! Must have been the rain but everyone was at it, the pros stop the county riders do it on the fly. Despite dying for 1, I wasnt chancing either method. All the time is guys going back to the car, for what I have no idea.  Love nor money would not get me to leave the soft embrace of the bunch.  I sat about 2 thirds of way up the bunch all day or at least think I did, but you need to have your wits about you all the time. Coming into summerhill I suddenly found myself in a group about 20 lenghts off the back. How the f!*k did that happen? Got back on but you just cannot afford to loose concentration for a second.
Plenty of accidents today, An Posf car nearly ran over a guy who fell in front of them as they moved through the bunch. Got slightly caught behind 1 accident with about 30km to go, but got the Damien Shaw express back to the bunch. We caught the break with 5km to go & hammered home for a buncb sprint. I had absolutely no intentions of going up for the sprint.
Now in the digs which has no hot water & they have also assured us that the heating is on to dry our gear. I am not a heating technician but  my radiator is cold. The glamorous life.
My fears in life are clowns, snakes,  people riding in a bunch of 200 with hands off the bars to take off their rain cape & the grand daddy, cars moving through the bunch.  These things put the fear of god into me. I live in Ireland so never see snakes,  I dont go to the circus however I faced the other 2 in abundance today.
Everyone else on Louth team home safely, Chris & Ray sick as dogs but 1 day down & the party has started!