Colorado Holiday Snaps

I have posted a gallery of photos from Colorado at some friends' request.  I only took a pocket camera with me but point-and-shoot still works.  Here are some of my impressions from CO for those that are interested.

Click here to be taken to the gallery.  Once inside you can click on the first photo to enlarge and pan through them.


The Dude Lives

The Dude's set-up this time, a CX bike and a BOB trailer (Beast of Burden).

So, the dude finally felt the urge to unpack his camping gear from the attic, pack it into a bike-bag along with his cyclocross bike and jump on a flight back to North America. I had five weeks to play with in the Americas before flying to the south of France for a surprise family birthday party. It was quite the holiday-bender and a pretty balanced trip as I took in the metropolis of Toronto, the wilderness of the Colorado Rockies and then the beach of Cannes. My original hope to take in 'Burning Man' in the Nevada desert disappointingly failed to materialise and so my trip morphed. I now had the opportunity to reconnect with the great friends and friendly mountains that I met on my big trip round the world. I'm very much obliged to them and the mountain Gods for looking after me and my bike during my stay. We both enjoyed it immensely.

The nub of the trip was really to graze in the company of my good friends and then to plug myself into nature to clear my head. I wanted to reconnect with the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route that runs from Banff in Alberta down to the Mexican border. The trail criss-crosses the Great Divde multiple times making for lots of climbing but the section I did turned out to be pretty straight-forward. It would be a seven day tour from Evergreen near Denver to Durango in the southwest of the state. It would take me three highway days and four dirt days on the Great Divide Route. It is hard to explain the satisfaction I get from riding my bike all day over dirt roads and then pitching my tent at the top of a pass with only the man in the moon (and perhaps some bears) for company. I love it, it's just nice to listen to the clarity of the breeze and be refreshed by amazing views. The Rockies are quite the mountain playground.

A million thanks to Scott who lent me his BOB trailer, without which I would not have been able to cart my camping gear over the mountains and complete a tour. Thanks also to Tom who rescued me from a particularly dangerous stretch of highway on my first day where I could been killed or could have caused a bad crash and killed someone else. It's the first time I have ever had to ask for a lift and thankfully Tom pulled over. I am also grateful to Martin Paulus, another bike-tourer, who passed me while I was fixing my only puncture on the side of the road early one morning. He was completing a TransAm and we stopped to chew the cud over some breakfast. He very kindly offered me the second bed in his motel room at the end of his ride. This was a blessing as we arrived into town sopping wet after a bad weather day over Wolf Creek Pass. The roof over my head and shower after 6 days of riding and 5 nights under the stars were very welcome. Naturally, a big thank you to Melissa and Ben who picked me up off the trail in Durango in their Jeep. This allowed me to head south and not have to ride a loop in the short-time I had since I could throw all my stuff in the back of the jeep and drive back to Evergreen. The trip was about 725k in total, nothing too crazy, it was nice to have the extra day-light this time.  This gave me the time to enjoy the ride as I didn't have the pressure of having to set up camp too early due to fading light.

I will post a gallery of scenic photos shortly, but for now, the below photos are a reminder of what it's like being back on the trail with a bike and a tent.

Vive le velo

Mark Mountain


Camped at the top of Cameron Mountain under the power-lines.This type of view and dirt-road is typical of the trail. My camp at the top of Marshall's PassHanging food from the bears, thankfully somebody made it easy for me by placing the log across. Aspen and spindly fir with their long slender, brachless trunks make for difficult trees to hang food from.Anti-Bear Device. I park my bike at the head of my tent and tie the tent guy-lines to it. If a bear were to have me for dinner he would likely go to the head of the tent and try to break my neck while I'm sleeping. This set-up gives my head a little space and me a little advance warning as he'd disturb me first.Dining al frescoGruel is fuelCyclists tend to look for sugars after a ride. However, the nature of a tour makes it difficult to have something nice on hand; cookies or cake will crumble over the bumpy trail, chocolate or mallows will melt in the 36c of heat ... a jar of nutella solves the problem tastily, quite the treat!Tent Ents ... watching "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" on my iPod. When it's lights out for the sun at 8pm, there's not a whole lot of fun to be had at the top of a mountain on your own. Amazing how an iPod can provide an escape from the escape ... I totally forget I'm in the woods.One of four Continental Divide crossings I had to make. A welcome car ... despite the dust I must eat it's good to see someone else. On the trail I might pass one car an hour, on the highway it would be one every 30secs ... quite the contrast and the reason why off-road touring is the way to go for me.Riding through Badlands GapMountain weather hits as I climb Wolf Creek Pass and Divide crossing number four. One wet/cloudy day in a week is about right for Colorado, the other 6 days are normally very very sunny.Camaraderie of the road. Another bike-tourer from San Diego gives me the spare bed in his hotel room for the night ... a welcome shower and roof after 6 days of riding and 5 nights under the stars. Much obliged Martin.

The camp-fire in Durango.



What a city!

If you would rather not read the below, then just skip straight to the gallery for my impressions.

My first visit to Berlin was for the Love Parade when I was an Erasmus student in Bavaria.  My motley crew rented a wagon, stayed out of the way of the screaming fast lane on the Autobahn and set up camp somewhere on the fringes of East Berlin.  When we arrived on the Strasse des 17. Juni in the middle of the Tiergarten, a six-lane wide version of the main avenue in the Phoenix Park in Dublin, we couldn’t believe our eyes.  It was the most fun party ever; 40 open-top buses with incredible DJs driving 3mph in a lap ploughing their way through 1 million people.  There was no need to move from tent to tent like at other festivals, you simply stayed on your spot and waited for the techno from one passing truck to be overwhelmed by the bass of the next approaching truck.  For those with the energy (or the pills) the party moved from the street to the all-night after-parties in the clubs that Berlin is famous for.

That was my introduction to Berlin, so obviously I was keen to return.  A lot has happened since then including the death of the Love Parade.  The parade was forced to emigrate and become a transient festival playing across different German cities each year.  Unfortunately a crush in Duisburg in 2010 led to the death of 21 people.  You can’t get more of a buzz-kill than that for a party, the end.  Naturally, the German electronic scene survived meaning Berlin remains a must-visit city for those who like industrial-sized clubs. 

There was more than nostalgia at the root of my recent visit.  The city promised to be a cheap hang-out for the winter.  The relative lack of industry and commerce in the city (owing to the legacy of the wall) compared to a Munich, a Frankfurt or a Stuttgart means that there is a high level of unemployment.  As the wall and East Berlin crumbled so too did the state jobs provided to East Berliners.  This means that the project that is capitalism and reunification has to figure out how best to absorb a swell of newly unemployed.  Inevitably these things take time to work out.  The plus side is that if you ever need someone to play a game of ping-pong with on a Tuesday afternoon then you’ll never be stuck as the likelihood is that you’ll have plenty of unemployed friends to choose from.  Indeed, every day feels like a lazy Sunday afternoon, such that when Sunday actually comes around it feels like a day of the week that needs a whole new name.  Weekends in Berlin are off the hook.

Although Berlin is pumped with 20th century history being at the centre of two World Wars and at the front of the Cold War, this wasn’t what was appealing to me.  I was interested in the vibe of the place.  The fall of the wall created a flood of cheap rentals in what was East Berlin.  This allowed lots of creatives, bohemians, anarchists and non-commercial sorts to commune together and pursue their way of life free from the stress of the rat-race.  A lot of cool was created in the eastern districts of Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg making them great cheap places to hang-out and relax.  In contrast, West Berlin is, as you would expect, much more refined, developed and affluent although Kreuzberg does stand apart.  This was one of the poorest parts of West Berlin so it exists in isolation and became a haven for immigrants and creatives much like parts of the East were to become. What is particularly interesting (to me) about Berlin is that the legacy of East and West, communism and capitalism, remains.  While the divide is no longer political and tangible it is still ideological and intangible.  West Berlin has learnt to accept challenges to its economic creed and East Berlin has come to learn that its own people can sell out its more social model.  What is happening on the ground is predictable.  Developers have discovered their holy grail of cheap land in downtown locations.  Properties that were falling into disrepair and no longer inhabitable because their owners couldn’t invest in them have been snapped up and redeveloped.  These new developments have been bought by non-creative types who consume culture but only in boxes of safe straight lines and smooth edges.  The premium a developer requires to put up these installations has put prices beyond the creative types that made these areas cool in the first place.  As more and more developments go up the balance of things changes; people with money overpower those without forcing the creatives to move to different more affordable suburbs off the radar to do whatever it is that they do.  While there is a role for developers in any city to renew the housing stock and shape the city in accordance with the city planners' needs, the result is inevitable.  The inspiration and diversity that is harboured at the pulse of a city becomes distorted as a price is put on it leaving only those with money to shape it and enjoy it how they wish.

When the likes of me turn up in a city to check out the vibe it is because I heard about it first as opposed to stumbled upon it.  While Berlin desperately needs its tourists’ euros the last thing it needs is people like me sniffing around to see if I can leech off the vibe that others have created under the radar.  While it may be a city, the result is the same as an interpretive centre at the heart of a beautiful piece of nature.  People with no appreciation for the thing turn up to see it because they have heard so much about it.  They take the photo having only experienced 2% of the national park or the vibe of a city and then disappear again. Locals and wildlife don't particularly benefit from this, only people who profit from selling said view or vibe.  Unfortunately Berlin needs its tourists as this is the only influx of ready money it can get its hands on.  In this way the city feels kind of third world.

Indeed, once a cool ambience emerges and ripples to a broader consciousness it ultimately gets packaged into a product and sold.  In the case of a city, its culture is at its heart. This culture, in terms of the arts, radiates through its creatives and visionaries and causes like-minded people from diverse backgrounds and artistic disciplines to move to the city.  When the power of so much artistic energy in one place becomes apparent commercial sorts start to sense that something is happening and move in to capitalise.  These filter the art into saleable and non-saleable works. They then sell the package to consumers of culture.  The consequence is that some artists profit and survive.  However, commerce and consumption can be a toxic mix for creative endeavour as some artists are more commercial than others.  As interest in a locale increases so too does a developer’s interest and rents and house-prices rise.  Inevitably the non-saleable art and non-commercial artists are forced out to other locales thereby reducing the diversity and strength of the original creative energy.  This spells the end of the original vibe although the commercial sorts will try to replicate and recreate it to prolong the essence of the attractive atmosphere in the area.  The problem with this is that once art is created as a replica it becomes about the money and it loses its soul.  The soul of art and culture remains with the creatives who established the vibe in the first place.  Although the original vibe is dissolved in this particular area, a new artistic vibe will inevitably pop up in time elsewhere in another city or country when the right mix of people, energy and art combusts.

Thus, introducing money into the equation leads to the death of the original x-factor that until now was never quantified and thus, capitalised.  There is nothing new in this.  City officials and governments around the world are constantly confronted by the need to plan their cities taking into account both economic and social arguments.  How do you include those who contribute so much but who can’t afford the cost of living to stay?  This is what is/was special about Berlin.  For a time at least, the city was an anomaly. Creatives and thinkers could afford to stay and go about their work in the heart of the city without too much economic distraction.  It was essentially an economic model and a social model cohabiting the same space. The fall of the wall challenged the city to extract the best from both worlds to benefit and include all.  As an example, while Prenzlauer Berg is a great part of town in the old East Berlin it is becoming even more refined and affluent.  This means that modern Prenzlauer Berg is in danger of becoming a replica of its past if it hasn’t done so already.  The vibe has in essence dissolved and morphed into something else even if people will still come to check it out.  Eventually its spark will seem dim relative to another city’s renaissance and the crowd will go and check that one out instead.  Perhaps that is the nature of art, to pop-up, startle and inspire us, only to disappear and be reborn elsewhere.  Even a classic piece of art or a beautiful piece of nature has the capacity to disappear from view when it becomes familiar.  Such is the tendency of things to blend into the background and become part of the furniture.

Regardless of the social and economic front that still exists in Berlin, there is the non-art aspect of its culture that marks it out.  Drinking in public is allowed and there is no curfew for bars and clubs.  The bars are so much fun.  There are ping-pong bars, Fussball bars, swing-dancing bars, jive bars, electronic clubs, after-party chill-out clubs, living-room style bars, jazz bars, grunge bars and these are just the ones I went to.  You would think that such good nightlife would spell disaster but it doesn’t.  This is not a city where the majority works 9-5 Monday-Friday.  This exists but it is balanced with those who work irregular hours and days (or not at all).  It is as likely that somebody is working off their laptop in a café as in a shop, bar, factory or office etc. the result is that people are a lot more time-free and with such a great public transport system there is no excuse not to go out and have a cheap night.  Just as people leave a bar at mid-night to get home for work in the morning a whole new wave of people rock in.  This gets repeated at 3am and it might only be a Monday.  The city doesn’t seem to suffer the consequence of such liberal drinking and partying laws.  Any pool of vomit on the U-Bahn is likely the result of a tourist who couldn’t handle having 24hour access to quality cheap beer.  The bars stay open until the party is over and there is always an after party in the clubs, which can play right through from Friday evening to Sunday evening by simply rotating DJs.  When I left Berghain at 8am there were people queuing up to get in, nuts.  Eating out is dirt-cheap and people don’t tolerate prices for meals going up.  You can get breakfast until 4pm, which is great if you only come home at 9am and need all morning to nap.  All in all, the people seem to get along … although I’m not sure what a Turkish person might say.  Certainly, guys in suits can be out clubbing with guys wearing next to nothing.  Old people have no problem engaging young punks in the street and the gay community is welcome to add plenty of colour to nights out. Everybody just seems mature.  This is possibly because the city has been through so much that modern-day problems seem trite in comparison.

Berlin – a phenomenal city, it definitely flies the flag for Euro-cool.

Mind how you go



Post-Ras Blues

the dude collects his finishing medal on the podiumIt's hard to believe it's all over. The Ras is something that I just assumed was above me for a large part of my life and now I've managed to not only complete it but give it a good dig too. For certain I'll miss it as preparing for it has been such a big focus for the last few months. In essence it was my Tour de France and I needed all my years of watching the pro-peloton on Eurosport to know what to do. It's not real experience but it is all I had to go on.

This is my first season as a B rider and my first Ras. Between the preparation races and the Ras itself I have come on loads, not just physically but mentally too in terms of exploring all the nooks and crannies of my racing brain and being able to absorb the huge pressure involved in hanging on. I didn't really have a bad stage or a 'jour sans' where the legs bunk off school for the day. I was part of so much; the pile-up and bunch sprint on stage 1, the chase group that bridged after the cross-winds in Gort on stage 2 (only to bonk as the winds forced us to race for an extra hour), the front split and then the crowds on the side of the Crag Cave climb on stage 3, sitting on McCann's and Irvine's wheels right at the front when they were flat out to reel in a break and then descending the Healy Pass like a mad man on stage 4 when everyone expected me to crash (even though I didn't take any risks), watching a pro dangerously switch into my front wheel and thereby eject me from the front group due to a wheel-change and knock me off the top spot in the B prize on stage 5, missing the amateur move on stage 6 but still managing to sneak away 5k from the finish to move up to 2nd in the B prize, knowing that the race was going to blow apart on the climb after 30k on stage 7 and being the first man not to make it across to the split, feeling the legs explode one last time up the Black Hill in Skerries on stage 8 before standing on the podium to collect my finisher's medal. Of course, how can I not mention all the line-outs that caused me and so many others to have cursed words with our maker during the week. The whole thing really was a roller-coaster and fantastic fun.

The main thing for me was to see the level as it's something that is difficult to observe from the side of the road. When I was on my absolute limit hanging on it was clear that the back of the front group was maybe only 2% better than me. This group was full of pros and a handful of really good amateurs (of which only a few are not full-time riders). Naturally the front of the front group is possibly 10% better than the back of it and then I'm not sure what the gap is between these lads and the properly paid ranks but it's probably another 10%. Thus, the question is whether I would do another Ras. I'd have to think about it. There is more to me than just the bike so I'm just delighted that I've done one so that there won't be any begrudgery if regular life were to get in the way of my bike. However, I'm sure I could make the front group next year knowing now what it takes but it is a huge commitment and knowing that the level up again is sizable you have to ask yourself what is the point? Of course, it would be magic to score something in the Ras as an amateur as it is much coveted but I'm not much into doing things that other people think are cool as it is not enough of a motivating factor for me. Certainly, I'm riding well and I have found my level now with some other guys of similar experience but I need someone to sit me down and say, listen, this is what you could achieve and if that excites me then I'd think hard about it. Naturally, there are other races that racing a Ras might prepare me for. The esoteric crazy races full of gutter-riding could be fun. Otherwise the Ras might just be too tough on the amateurs. It was ok for me this year as I had no sense of perspective being a rookie but if I didn't have that B prize as a focus and 2 ringers in that competition to raise my game, then I would have been just riding around in the Ras to get my head kicked in. It's a pretty cruel race for the amateur as you need to be able to piggy-back the pros to score prizes. This certainly makes you strong but it doesn't necessarily make you the strongest head-to-head against the other amateurs. Thus, it is not just physically bruising but mentally tortuous too as you feel bad about yourself when you miss a split. But that is the nature of the beast. Even when you have a good day in the Ras you can only come in 80th across the line. It is definitely a two-speed race so it will be interesting to see whether the organisers keep pushing the standard up as they have been doing over the last number of years. Not only did I do a lap of half the country and not see anything (my first time to the Burren and I couldn't manage to sneak a look) but it felt like I was in a totally different race when I read the press. The RTE and coverage was all about the pros. Fair enough, but some small paragraph mentioning the lads racing for the County Rider prize or some other notable showings by amateurs would have been nice. It really felt like we were making up the numbers. The race now has a great international reputation as a proving ground for riders looking to score a real pro contract. However, as the level goes up at the front so too must the level of the amateur at the back. At some point people will draw the line and say that they just can't commit the amount of time now needed to train for the Ras as every year even more is being asked of the amateur. This might suit the few Irish riders who want (and really need) to raise their game to make it into a pro team but for most of us that is not our objective. There is a real risk that the number of Irish amateurs in the race will plummet. My guess is that they have been quietly protesting for a while now but that they will still show up at the start-line, such is the nature of cyclists to obey the call of a suffer-fest.

In the end I finished 92nd. Even though I rode well, I was still mediocre as promised. Ironically, the persons ahead and behind me on GC have both won the Ras (Stephen Gallagher and Andrew Roche). Clearly, things didn't go their way, they were thinking of stages (or even other races) or they weren't in top form this time around. I finished 3rd in the B prize even though I hope the 2 lads above me in this category take no pride in the fact that they beat me as they are clearly not Bs. Certainly, the guy who won it was in screaming form for the second half of the week and managed to claim the much coveted daily prize for being the first amateur across the line on the final stage. This is the second year in a row he has managed to do this into Skerries. It was only a matter of time as he had been trying really hard all week. Fair play.

All that remains is to say a big thanks to the organisers and all the race crew without whom I couldn't have experienced such an amazing Ras. A million thanks to Zilcom for supporting the South Dublin Team during the week. Also, I have to shout a huge thank you to Michelle, Mick, JP, Latts, Dave, John and James for being the most unbelievable support team for the race. As an amateur who has to wrench his own bikes and do everything himself normally, it was a real treat to be looked after by guys who were total professionals doing an incredibly thankless job behind the scenes. Cheers to Mick and Art for staying the course with me cracking jokes, talking nonsense, helping me in the race and for just generally keeping morale high. I should also acknowledge the lovely warm Irish (and quasi-Irish) hospitality I received from all the great people in B&Bs I stayed in throughout the week. These people showed me that despite all my travels, Ireland is still one of the most incredible countries to go on holidays in. Naturally I wish a speedy recovery to Anthony, my team-mate, who crashed out on stage one with a fractured elbow and a big good luck to James who left us after 5 solid days in the race due to an interview for his dream job (what James, you mean you are not tempted to become a pro bike-racer?)

Even though us riders swear the bejayusus out of each other on our bikes it's funny that we are all courteous and friendly to each other off them, it was certainly a pleasure to be part of the Ras class of 2011. Well done to all riders who both started and finished, the Irish An Post team for winning the race the hard way and to Martyn Irvine and David McCann for grabbing the two final stages and at last something for the Irish lads to cheer about. I look forward to finding out which lads in this race actually make it into the fully-paid pro ranks, best of luck to all the (semi-)pros in their careers and thanks for giving me hell. We amateurs might moan but it wouldn't have been the same without you.

It's now time for the dude to get on with the rest of his life. See you next time ... maybe.

This concludes my Ras coverage, thanks for reading

his dudeness

the dude at a canter during stage 8 of the Ras. Photo © Peter Purfield -


I'm now a "Man of the Ras"

Stage 8 - Kildare-Skerries 133k

It was all smiles in the riders' paddock this morning for the final stage. The sun was peeping out meaning this would be the first day I didn't have to wear arm-warmers. The final stage was to be the shortest of the race. However, as the yellow jersey battle was still raging we were sure to be in for another tough ride. As far as I was concerned it was absolutely imperative that I make the finishing circuit in Skerries. If there is a split in the bunch then riders can lose too much time and thereby be denied access to the circuit as they will impede proceedings at the head of the race. Knowing how much time one can lose in a split it meant that I still had to stay very focused for the remaining few hours of racing. I didn't want to disappoint friends who had made the trip to Skerries to see me. Of course, I also wanted to make sure that I had raced over every single merciless kilometre of the 2011 Ras.

The legs felt strong on the warm-up but as the week has progressed my lungs have gotten more tired when breathing deeply. I'm not sure what is going on there, I'm guessing it is the intercostal muscles but it is not something I notice when racing. Anyway, the nervous thing about today's stage was that there was a Cat 3 climb after only 7.5kms. The Hill of Allen isn't that big a deal normally but if we screamed over it and there was any hesitation in the bunch, then riders would be out the back and would definitely fail to get onto the circuit in Skerries. Indeed the bunch did accelerate over the climb, I couldn't see but I'm guessing it was the An Post team of the race leader trying to nullify attacks. After the climb the pace remained reasonably high while riders tried to attack off the front. Thankfully, when the right combination of riders went in a break up the road things settled down somewhat. The yellow jersey will always be happy for a break to go once there is no-one in it who is threatening his overall advantage. This puts the onus on teams who have made the trip to Ireland and who have yet to win anything to do all the work in chasing for a stage victory.

The next dangerous moment was when the crosswinds hit on the way to Summerhill. By now my internal wind vane is particularly sensitive so I am properly positioned before the crosswinds sling us single-file into the gutter. As you take your position in the line you are looking up it to see if a rider you don't trust to hold a wheel is in front of you. If there is one there then you have to hurt yourself to move up the line in the breeze and barge your way in ahead of him. If you are looking at a line of pros then you know that people behind you are looking at you but at least you don't have to hurt to get out of the line and move up. However, we all know each other after 7 days of racing, we each find our level and even the pros learn to trust certain amateurs just from watching them ride during the week. Thankfully I made the split. I'm not sure how many riders were shelled but I felt bad that I was party to it when we should really have been in celebratory mood.

As we got back into the welcoming cover of trees things calmed down again and we had a fairly handy time of things. The only cause for concern was that the roads were relatively twisting and narrow, making it difficult to move up the bunch. Normally I ride the gutter up but the motor-bike marshalls were using that channel all day necessitating a lot of patience. The Cat 3 climb to Pluckhumin stretched the bunch again but it was really just a warm-up for what was to come. I had reconnoitered the rest of the route from this point the week before and knew that the bunch would likely blow to pieces on one of the two next climbs. The pace was fast now so it was difficult to move much further up. As we hit Balrothery and negotiated a little road furniture we turned left onto the Cross of the Cage climb. It's a bit of a stomper but you wouldn't expect to die a death on it. Of course, this was the pivotal moment of the race; one of the few remaining chances for someone to attack the yellow jersey. It felt like groundhog day as I was now looking at a gap in front of me. Not again! Mick came up to me and gave me a push to give me some more momentum, I then went through and buried myself to hold the gap. Another guy came through to give it a dig. When he was starting to blow I gave him a push. We were all just helping each other to keep the gap down to 10ms as if it got any bigger then we'd never rejoin. Over the top of the climb we hurt ourselves even more just to get back on but we managed to make it. On the one hand my head was hi-fiving me for making it onto the circuit with the yellow jersey but on the other hand I was annoyed that I couldn't savour the moment. There has been precious little let-up in this race all week for the amateurs, which gets annoying after a while but such is life on the Ras. As we came screaming through the finish-line for the first of two passages it was hard to take in the crowds and all the flags waving. I wanted to savour it but I knew that we still had to hit the Black Hill, a nasty little climb that kicks hard at the bottom but then lets you off the hook towards the top. I had already accepted my fate before I hit the chicane at the bottom. I just put her in gear and gave her as much as I had but I wasn't going to kill myself to hang on this time. Riders started to blow and a gap opened. Art tried to sprint around me to the tail-end of the line but got 50ms in front of me before he too accepted his fate and slipped back. Even though we were going backwards relative to the bunch we were still giving it everything. Over the top I was happy to sit-up but the small group I ended up in wanted to keep on pulling. So, it was another lap of trying to grin but having to bear it. We got over the climb together on the next lap and kept the pressure on all the way to the line losing just a few minutes on the stage.

Crossing the line felt fantastic, I patted my bars much like a winning jockey does his horse. Any amateur who had a hugely stressful week was very over-joyous. Even the pros would have been glad that the pressure was now off. Everybody had eight days to show their worth and by the finish-line in Skerries we all knew exactly where we stood. It had been a brutal test but at least the assessment had been honest. The nicest moment of the day was standing up on the podium with my team-mates, Dave our manager and John our soigneur to collect our finishing medals. Even in mediocrity it was nice to have one final moment to do as the pros do before they leave us for some other top-level race on their schedule; smile and wave to the crowd at our accomplishment. I generally take no satisfaction in being average at anything but here was a medal that just looking at would cause so many emotions and memories to race around in my head for the rest of my life.

Final thoughts on the race tomorrow

the dude


The Crunch

Stage 7 – Tramore-Kildare 162k

Today was to be another day for the the climbers. I'm not a specialist but I know I can climb pretty well. The tactics for the day were simply to make the front split with the pros who would have to attack to take the yellow jersey. If I could make the front group then I'd have a chance of getting time up on Coyle but only if he missed it. On current form that wasn't likely. Thus, the real race I had to focus on was Dempsey who was only a minute behind me on GC. Dempsey has faced such scenarios a million times before. Plus, he lives a mere 10 miles from the course meaning I could be sure he knew these roads well. There was a Cat 2 climb 35k in, which on paper looked menancing in terms of a potential battle-ground for a split. After 90k there was to be a Cat 1 climb before some rolls and a reasonably straight-forward run-in to Kildare.

The key to making the split would be to be positioned up the front as the peloton attacked the climb. This allows some margin in terms of being slower up it as if you lose 200ms you might be able to get on at the end of the line even if 70 riders have come around you. Of course, everyone else has the same idea meaning getting into the front-row ahead of the climb would be a challenge. However, I succeeded in riding in about 20th position on the approach to the climb which boded well. Inevitably Coyle and Dempsey were in close proximity and so it all came down to how fast the pros wanted to race up it. The only extra edge I had given myself was to be as light as possible. I went with minimum food in the back-pocket and only one bottle, whereas normally I'd have two. We were the only team employing this strategy, which showed how desperate we were to make the split and how nervous we were about not making it. In the end the climb proved to be the decisive selection in the race. It wasn't massively steep but it went on for 4k and had some sharp corners. I'm still not 100% sure what happened. On the run-in the group fanned out a bit meaning that I was still close to the front but a lot more riders were alongside me. As we hit the lower slopes you just pray that your legs can take the initial hit as you hang the bike off your hamstrings. Push, push, push, breathe, breathe, breathe and before you know it you are in climbing mode. The corners were out of the saddle but everything else was in the saddle spinning like mad. I was going around people and definitely had momentum. About 1.5k from the top it became clear that people were running out of gas and starting to blow, I was just following the wheels around these guys but I was now under serious pressure myself. Then, someone in front of me in the line left a gap of 20ms open and the riders just in front of me were now sprinting across it. Ah hold on lads, how am I supposed to sprint across like? I could do nothing more but sit in the saddle and continue to spin. Inevitably guys on my wheel decided to come around me and sprint up to the next group. I was only going 0.2kph slower than them but now the breeze was leaning against me and all I could do was hope that I could close what was now a 75m gap. By the top it was 100ms and no-one else on my wheel was in a position to close it for me. Ironically, jumping while on the limit on a mountain is the one thing I knew I hadn't trained my body to do and now I was paying the price. Unbelievable. I needed the mountain to be either a bit steeper or another couple of kilometres longer to make them slow down. My cardio is good enough at the moment that I could have kept going at the rate I was for another 3k but my 1,247k bike-race had just come down to a mere 100ms. I gunned it over the top to close the gap but the pros just kept the hammer down. Even though I was working hard with 6 keen lads it wasn't enough to rejoin. When you see that people are getting onto the back of your group as opposed to your group hoovering up riders in front you know the game is up. The only thing we could hope for now was that there would be a lull in the bunch. With the yellow jersey race so close this was unlikely to happen.

Of course, Coyle was up the road so I had lost that battle. The question now was whether Dempsey was up the road too. I'm pretty sure I was in front of him at the bottom but he's such a small rider that he can squeeze into gaps in the bunch unnoticed. He may have come around me when I was cross-eyed from the effort and couldn't process who was bridging. I wasn't sure, but when I was suddenly in a bunch of riders with almost no pros and with amateurs I hadn't seen all week, then I knew the news was bad. The only good thing was that we didn't have to race over the Cat 1 but judging by the lack of riders being shelled from the front group it seems that the pros didn't race over it either. Thus, the selection was on the Cat 2 as we feared and unfortunately Mick, Art and I had missed it.

In the end we lost 24mins to the front bunch meaning that Coyle would run-away with the B prize and that Dempsey would leap-frog into second. I was gutted but I wasn't good enough to beat these guys when it came to the absolute crunch. Such is stage-racing and in particular, the Ras. While the excitement of having done well over the previous six stages had numbed any pain I was all of a sudden feeling pretty beat-up from the week as a result of a disappointing seventh stage. Of course, only 16 Irish amateurs managed to make the split and of these only a couple are actual amateurs. The rest of them are full-time riders. They are also either pure climbers or exceptionally strong and experienced riders so there is no shame in not making the selection. Still, I'm disappointed even if thankful that I've had such tough competitors to bring me on in leaps and bounds and give me something to focus on for the week. I would have liked to have made that elite amateur rider selection but it wasn't to be this year. I have to be satisfied with being almost good enough.

Right, that's the gist of it. I expect to be having pints after tomorrow's stage so it is unlikely I'll post a stage 8 report until Monday. The yellow jersey race is still on so tomorrow will be murder again. It will be far from the ceremonial procession that the Tour riders have onto the Champs Elysees but I'm assuming the excitement of being back on home roads and the prospect of finishing the race will anaethesise the pain for just one more day.

Congratulations to Martyn Irvine who won the stage today, the only Irish rider to really get anything out of this race. He also held the mountains jersey on one of the stages.

I look forward to seeing some of you in Skerries tomorrow.



How are the Legs?

Stage 6 - Blarney-Tramore 172k

I was pretty nervous this morning before the stage as day 6 is when everybody's legs are black and blue from racing. Some people find their form at this point and others pack their legs into body bags. What way would mine be? The stage opened straight onto a long drag and if you were feeling bad at this point then you could get shelled early and be swinging out the back all day. It all depended on what the pros wanted to do.

On my warm up the legs felt heavy but I knew they would come around. At the start-line I ended up having chats with Coyle, a good thing to do to dissolve any of my angst. While we didn't talk about the B prize at all it became very apparent that Chris just happens to be a B because he doesn't do a whole lot of racing in Ireland, it also became obvious that he was more focused on getting the daily amateur stage winner award, hence all his aggressive racing. Still, I want to be on the podium in Skerries so I still had a GC position to manage.

Thankfully there were road-works on the opening drag, which meant the neutralised section of the race was lengthened to include the drag. The day would be incredibly rolling so it was nice to get the first one out of the way. We were riding a fairly comfortable tempo but it was still work. Mid-way through the race the yellow jersey race took off from the bunch leaving us to our own devices. A few amateurs, including Art, peeled off the front hoping that at last the pros would let us race. The pros reeled the break in but I think they then realised that they were spoiling our day out. This was the first day that the amateurs had missed the pros move and so the daily amateur stage-winner award was still on. Suddenly it was back to the mental racing that we have every weekend in Ireland in the amateur ranks; attack, attack, attack. Coyle was being particularly aggressive with his team-mates and soon I found myself firing a load of bullets to get into a move out of the bunch. I was principally marking Coyle as I wasn't too keen to get into a break with 70k to go. There are still two hard days left and it was looking like what remained of the bunch could have a relaxed ride. But there was a chance for something to get away and so I must have jumped around 10 times to get into the move. Each time we were pulled back. I dropped back to recover and see what was happening in the bunch when my team-mate Mick followed wheels off the front into the move that would stay away. I was delighted for him as he was talking about it this morning. When I looked I saw that Coyle was with him and that they were now 300ms up the road. Rats. Not much I could do now but either to bury myself to bridge or to wait and see if they would come back to us. The pros came to the front to nullify the attacks from the bunch as they hate the pace changing so much when they are trying to have an easy day. Thus, we rolled along fairly comfortably and it was now a matter of how much time I would leak to Coyle on the stage.

As we hit all the rolls on the run-in to Tramore I started thinking about how I would gain time on Dempsey who is currently 2nd in the B prize, just 27 seconds ahead of me. Again, I'm not sure how much Dempsey would race for the B prize but I realised that I was having a fairly easy ride and that the legs were still really strong despite all the jumping earlier. I was thinking about tomorrow's stage but then I realised I could probably surprise him today by stealing a march into a blind corner from 5k out. I was sitting second row with my team-mate Art in the bunch and we hatched a plan to tag-team it after the 5k to go banner. He would drop me off at the stomper of a finish climb with 500ms to go in Tramore where I would just try and hockey the mountain. We had words with the An Post lads and Gallagher of SportActive (former Ras winner in 2008) at the front to ask if they would mind us clipping away. They said it was cool and when we saw a good corner coming they nodded us through. Off we went, just the two of us. A 5k effort is not that much of an effort but it came after 167k of racing. We were flying and working well together. As planned Art dropped me off at the bottom of the climb and I did my best to haul my bike up a really steep hill in the middle of Tramore town. The plan worked and we took 90secs on Dempsey over the final 4.5k for the craic. This puts me back into 2nd and a minute up on 3rd heading into tomorrow's mountainous stage. The bad news is that I leaked 14 minutes to Coyle by missing that break. It is what it is. The race is super stressful when you are fighting for a position, especially when you are up against an amateur as in form as Coyle. So in some ways the stress is off. That is not to say that I won't be looking for another opportunity over the next two days. Who knows, I have come to understand how absolutely nuts this race is, anything can still happen.

It was a good day for the team, we were all feeling good and while Mick didn't manage to score the amateur rider prize it was nice for us all to have a taste of some action off the front of the bunch. Much obliged to the An Post lads and to Gallagher for allowing me to sneak away at the finish. I understand they stopped lads from the bunch attacking me, deadly buzz.

Another day over so ...

Ringo (my new nick-name in the peloton)


Goddam Pros

Stage 5 - Castletownbere-Blarney 156k

While anything can happen in the Ras it is uncommon that so many riders and teams are within touching distance of yellow after four stages. This heaps the pressure on the yellow jersey team as they have to control the attacks of multiple riders from various teams with only four men while keeping their race leader fresh. The consequences are brutal for the rest of us as it was obvious they would line it out from the gun thereby keeping the pace too high for attacks to happen. I was expecting a fast start but the roads were heavy and the course lumpy. Thus, even if you stayed tucked in it wasn't enough to take the pressure off the body as the legs still had to push on the four Cat 3s and over the rough roads. I was doing well enough and of course, I was very aware that Chris Coyle was up in the front row again trying to get in the early move that would decide the stage. It is common for a break to go and then ride a minute ahead of the bunch and wait for all the big-name riders to come across before screaming off into the distance again. I too tried to follow any momentum after any attack from Coyle when he might need to recover. Nothing was getting away and the pace was starting to ramp up properly to line-out mode. The An Post team of the race leader just piled the pressure on us amateurs and while they weren't shedding us they tried at every available opportunity, such as on bumpy roads through towns or jammy corners when riders are distracted and can't just focus on power. 

About 20k out of Bantry they were still lining it out. It was murder and you are just thinking how long is it humanly possible for them to keep this up? The legs were still pumping but you are starting to ask questions of them. Inevitably I was thinking more of Coyle and Dempsey in the line. These guys are seriously good riders but I know I'm in better shape than them head-to-head. The problem with the Ras though is that you can win prizes by piggy-backing the pros in the main race and getting into splits. These two lads know that they can't beat me up or down a mountain so the only way to get time on me is to get in the front split. Fair enough, that's the race I'm in and the result is that I'm riding front-row with all the pros in what is my first Ras and my first season as a B rider. 

I was about 8 riders behind Coyle in the line and Dempsey was somewhere further down. Every rider in that line-out must have been under pressure. I was waiting for it to happen and then it did. Coyle was starting to let wheels go. Deadly! I thought about it for a split second thinking that I can just sit on him and follow him out the back or I could try and win the overall prize today by sticking with the front group despite the pressure. Obviously I decided for the latter, which was prudent because Dempsey was still in the line. However, all the pros were thinking the same thing as me, we must get around this rider or we will be gapped. Just as the bunch was offering a hint of respite I moved up on the left. Next thing I know a Giant Asia pro just switches left right in front of me without giving me any indication. He jams his rear skewer (what locks the wheel to the frame) into my front wheel almost causing me to crash and take down a Rapha Condor rider with me. I managed to stay upright but suddenly my wheel was making noises. Oh no, his skewer has ripped my spokes out of the wheel, Disaster! I had to pull out of the front group as the hammer was down to get a wheel. I came to a stop as the neutral service car beeped me from behind for a quick wheel-change. However, in such scenarios it's an impossible task trying to get back onto the bunch on my own at such speeds in strong winds. I stayed calm and just rode tempo hoping that the bunch might sit up at some point to take a break. My team car came up to me and my calm just vanished. I just had to vent. They told me to sit up and wait for the next bunch which was 500ms behind me. I let them come through and luckily two of my team-mates were there, James and Mick. It was only ten riders but a few more got up to us through the cars. It was hard to know what to do. The race was on up the road but we were still 70k from the finish. Not everybody was willing to work and I couldn't try and go up the road with James and Mick as we would just murder ourselves on our own and eliminate ourselves from the race. Thus, we had to work with this bunch and hope that they would ride reasonably quickly. We got to within 800ms of the bunch just before the feed-zone but the pros didn't sit up to feed like they normally would as the race was still very much on. Thus, our chances of rejoining vanished. 

We still had two cat 2s to go and while it was nice not to have to race over them it was obviously frustrating sitting there knowing I couldn't do anything about the B prize today. Coyle's team-mate was in my group and for some reason decided to pop away with 25k to go at the bottom of the final climb. We were all thinking 'where is your man off to?'. He then comically dropped his chain by down-shifting to the small ring as he hit the first steep ramp. Junior error. We all giggled as we came around him and he clipped out. Dave, his other team-mate dropped back to him to help him get back on but the rider who clipped out dropped charitable dave and spun back to our group leaving Dave to ride his ass off for 2k on his own to rejoin us. When Clarke got back on he went off on his own again. He got a decent gap and over the top we started to pick up our speed for the run-in. We could see him dangling in front of us about 6k from the finish. It was a good ride but we just had to catch him to do his head in. We caught him 300ms from the line much to our giddiness. It's nice to have something else to laugh at when things aren't going your way. Mick and James did a lot of work for me today. Mick is very experienced so he was giving me good advice and pulling hard when he could. James could have blown us all up the mountain with the legs he had so we had to tell him to calm it down a but. He then switched into his strong time-trial mode for the finish to help close the gap. The lads have been unbelievable all week.

Of course, I then had to wait nervously for the results to see how much time I leaked to both Dempsey and Coyle. Coyle didn't manage to blow on the climbs meaning it looked like the pace eased up somewhat as there was a big front bunch galloping for first place. He in fact came second amateur rider on the stage today. Both Coyle and Dempsey gained 17 minutes on me, which effectively puts Coyle in first place in the B prize 8 minutes ahead of Dempsey with me just behind. Very disappointing considering it was bad luck which led to me finishing in the next group on the road. 

It's not over yet though. My head and legs are good. It just means that I have to really raise my game even further to get that time back. Obviously I was bullin that a pro screwed up my race. He's also damaged my wheel. I have to pay for this stuff, he gets it for free ... obviously annoying. The third thought is that I am having to ride like a pro in the front row of the Ras to win the B prize. This is totally crazy. It's my first season as a B. I didn't race last season and it's my first Ras. Coyle has ridden at least two Rasanna and has twice won best amateur prize on a stage. This prize is much coveted by any A rider in the race as it's the only thing they can reasonably be expected to have a chance of winning. Dempsey is an ex international rider and has ridden in the Tout of Qatar, the traditional season opener for a lot of the Tour de France teams. He also came 5th overall in the amateur prize last year. On the one-hand I'm annoyed that they are in my race when they shouldn't be but on the other hand they are raising my game to levels I didn't know I was capable of. However, I'm absolutely fed-up to the teeth with moral victories. I've been in sport for a long-time and I have not won anything that I am actually proud of. I've lost so much that I now know how to win. This is one of the reasons I am riding so well. My head is tough to crack. The result is that I'm desperate to win this prize. The problem is that today didn't decide anything in terms of the overall GC for the race so it'll be more of the same tomorrow.

Again, I can not emphasise enough how murderous this thing is. I can't even reach for my bottle in the first two hours of the race because there is so much happening. For someone who detests stress, it's surprising that I get my kicks from such a stressful sport.

After losing Anthony after the 1st stage to a fractured elbow we said goodbye to James as he has to leave the race early for an unexpected Job interview with the Air Corps. And then there were 3.

Fingers crossed for another strong day tomorrow.



The Queen Stage

Stage 4 - Castleisland-Castletownbere 142k

Today's stage was what would be termed the Queen stage of the race with its three Category 2 climbs and the Category 1 climb of the Healy Pass 25k from the finish. The winds were gale force again today. Not as bad as stage 2 (which I later learnt were storm force winds) but still very treacherous. I have ridden parts of this route before, although at a much more leisurely pace. Despite this I still sought some route-intell from friends who know these roads well.

As I'm racing the race within the race for the B prize I really just had to keep tabs on a few B riders who are close to me on time. I was leading the category by three minutes at the start of the stage. Still, I want to have as good as race as possible and hopefully that will still be good enough for the B prize at the end of the race in Skerries. With the winds so dangerous in terms of presenting lots of opportunity to a group that is prepared to bury themselves for 30 minutes to get an advantage, I had to make sure that no B rider sneaked into the front group and thereby got an easy 20 minutes on me on GC. Chris Coyle was up the front all day and trying to get into an early move. I was struggling to get up to the front-row to mark him but I didn't think a move could stay away in the head-wind. I just stayed close but in the shelter of the main bunch. As we came close to Killarney 50k into the race I could smell line-outs coming. The pace was increasing ever so slightly and the bunch was starting to be in two or three lines. I rode up to the front and with my momentum I jumped onto whatever wheels were moving as fast. Suddenly I was on McCann's wheel as he came screaming down the left to link up with his team-mate Martyn Irvine who had popped down the right. I was now sitting on the wheel of two of Ireland's best cyclists with a whole load of pros lined-out on my wheel. I could have panicked but I have found out in this race that my legs are getting stronger and I was able to sit there. I could see they were trying to snap the elastic and bridge up to a break up the road. We got there and while we had the bunch totally strung out it wasn't enough to snap the elastic. I couldn't believe that I was able to do that but it was good to know. Obviously sticking my nose into the breeze is a different level altogether but it's just a deadly buzz being at the front of the Ras when the action is happening. 

As we came to the bottom of the first climb the weather was shocking and the yellow jersey team just rode tempo up it with everybody happy not to have to race over it. It was a fairly comfortable pace for me as I was tucked into the bunch out of the head-wind. Things started to hot-up as we got closer to Kenmare 50k from the finish. This was the approach to a Cat 2 climb which served as the appetiser for what would be a showdown on the Healy Pass. It was lined out on the Cat 2 and I was making sure to stay close to the guys up for the B prize. They had tried to move all the way up to the front but hadn't quite managed it. One of them let a wheel go, which meant that I had lost the front of the race but that the pace was more manageable and that my competition was still in my favour. They now had to do something on the Healy Pass to try and crack me. The Pass is not steep on the lower grades although the road is heavy. The head-wind made it difficult for any attacks to happen but they couldn't drop me even though they were trying to keep the pace up. I saw that they were flagging so I came around and sat 4th man in line. Close to the front to not lose a wheel and to cover a move but not too close that I had to work. As we came to the steep section over the top I could see that McFadden was still looking reasonably strong. Coyle and Dempsey were just behind in a group of around 15 I'm guessing. We were now staring down a scary descent of the Healy Pass in the wind and rain. Anyone who has seen this descent will know that it is one of the more technical and crazy descents in the country, although because it is exposed it is easy to read the corners. As we crested the summit my head said just to gun it, I obeyed and suddenly I had a gap of fifty yards coming out of the first corner. Sweet! I hit them when they were least expecting it. They had probably signed off on the stage thinking that we would all battle it out on another day but I was now piling the pressure on just when nobody would have wanted it. As I tore down the mountain I made sure not to take any risks on the wet corners. Looking back up the mountain I could see I was gaining huge ground on my rivals, two of them were trying to drop down to me but I was absolutely flying. I could tell one of them was Coyle though so I had to see what would happen on the run-in to Castletownbere. Luckily I was catching good riders who had been dropped by the front group. I bridged up to an An Post lad who was likely beat from working for the yellow jersey and then I picked up Adam Armstrong who is leading the amateur competition. He was on his own. Soon we had a bit of a group going but Finnegan from Stamullen who is up for the amateur prize had a team-mate with him and managed to tag-team with him to bridge across to my group. I'm guessing he towed Chris Coyle up. That was bad news for me but at least the other two guys I had to look out for where behind me. I tried to duck as much work as possible as in that situation you just need to see which riders are hungry for time and thus, have to work. The guys who were up in the amateur prize were prepared to do the work but with 5k to go one of them went on the outside and Finnegan's team-mate sat on him. They had a 100ms on us, Finnegan went after them, I sat on Andy Roche's wheel to see if he would follow. He didn't have to so he didn't. I jumped and got onto Finnegan just as he closed to Armstrong. I looked between my legs and I could see Paidi was there, but Coyle wasn't. Deadly, I had managed to drop him. He can't have been happy.

We ended up coming in just behing the second small group on the road. It was another stressful day but one where I demonstrated what I can do. Not just to my rivals but to myself. I was thrilled to bits as it's scary to see how well I am reading the race and how good my legs are. I just hope I can keep this going. I finished 45th on the stage. I now have an 8 minute cushion to second-placed man on the B prize. This race is not over yet. I am 12th amateur rider and 60th overall with half the race completed.

More gale-force winds for tomorrow's rolling stage to Blarney. It is impossible to convey how stressful this race is. It helps that I'm generally pretty calm but I can't switch off for a minute, which during a four hour plus stage is a huge amount of mental energy to burn up on top of the physical energy required to push the bike home.

The winds are howling outside as I post this ... lovely!



The Longest Stage

Stage 3 - Kilrush-Castleisland 175k 

Obviously I was nervous about today's stage as I had spent 100k in howling winds either chasing up to the front group in an 8 man group or towing her home in another 6 man group having gotten shelled in the line-outs over the top of Corkscrew Hill. In the end I had grabbed some precious minutes for the B prize but I could pay for it today. My abiding memory of yesterday's stage was seeing a rider on the ground after the stage with foil blankets and ambulance crew around him. I could only see his bikes shoes sticking out but I could tell by the bike that it was one of the pros suffering from exhaustion. He was still there 30 minutes later. Yesterday was simply nuts but I felt my sensations were good this morning despite the effort.

We had a tail-wind for the first 80k of what was the longest stage of the race today. You would think that is good news but it is fact horrible news as it just means more line-outs. Indeed, they lined it out from the gun but the main part of the bunch refused to snap. You need to have sixth sense for bike-racing, it helps greatly for positioning yourself when it matters. The line-outs can be over a kilometre long at times. Pure stress. Today, I was much closer to the front now that I have been able to figure the race out over the last couple of days. While I cracked in a line-out yesterday it was because it was absolutely vicious and I had expended a fair amount of energy trying to chase up. I wouldn't have gotten up on my own account, I was largely relying on the stronger guys to tow me up. Today I was sitting on the pros wheels for the line-outs and I seemed to be able to cover them. Just as they were taking me to my absolutely limit in terms of speed, the pace would seem to stay there allowing me to cling on. Another kph faster and I might have had to pull-out of the line and try and jump back on once I had blown to the back of the line. Letting a gap open in a line-out is an understandable yet unforgivable part of bike-racing as gaps can be too much to close and so the group loses time. After a really fast first hour and a half the bunch seemed to settle down allowing a lot of shelled riders from the line-outs to get back on. As we turned out from Limerick we now faced strong head-winds with a potential for dangerous crosswinds on the main road to Kerry. Heading up the first Cat 3 drag I was sitting comfortable in the wind shelter and then suddenly noticed that I was close to the back of the line. The people who I thought were behind me had disappeared altogether on the climb. This was good news for me as far as the B prize was concerned as my competition would be largely in that group. Wow, I was now in a pretty big chase group on a 17 man break. I can't worry about getting into breaks yet as they are a gamble. It's ok if you are not a GC style rider and you are going for a stage result but if you are looking after GC then you have to save your energy for battles later on in the week.

While the winds were blowing us across the road and forcing us to ride in the gutter, they were not as strong as yesterday's. I was feeling surprisingly good all day so I felt confident that if I could just get to the bottom of the Cat 1 Crag Cave climb 10k from the finish with this group that I'd probably have another good showing. On the fast drop into Castleisland where we would then go through the town before hitting the climb I should have pushed right up to the front. That was my mistake of the day as the pros lined it out on the narrow road to the bottom of the climb meaning that there was no way I could move up from my position. If you hit the climb first then you can fall back as stronger riders come around you and still remain in the group, albeit at the back of it by the top of the climb. In this scenario I was in the back third of my group approaching the climb with no chance of moving up. Then suddenly, we came out of the trees and could see the Crag Cave climb looming right in front of us. Sizing it up we could see the crowds lining the route of what was a horrible stomper. We all dropped it into the small ring because we could see what was coming and as we hit the steep lower slopes I got stuck in a rider-jam. Dowling had made the error of dropping it into the small ring on the actual steep slopes and inevitably dropped his chain. The road was blocked as about 8 riders managed to hold onto track-stands before the space opened up again. I was just saying to myself, whatever you do don't clip out of the pedals as you'll never get going again. Thankfully I got through a gap but the front of the group was already 50 yards up the road and leaving us trailing. After 165k in the legs one is never quite sure how the legs are going to react to such steepness but they weren't too bad. I wouldn't have been able to hang onto the front lads but I managed to regroup with some very decent lads on the descent and we got home close enough to the front of the race only a few minutes behind the stage-winner who was in the break of the day up the road anyway.

Thus, another good day at the office. The legs are getting stronger but I am only 3 days in. I can only take it one day at a time but I took the opportunity to take stock of the competition for the B prize today. I am still leading that category but I have to still play the overall GC game and then hope it's good enough to land the prize in Skerries. While it's nice to have the advantage it's not really something I can think about until stage 7.

Tomorrow is a huge stage. Lots of tough climbs on heavy roads with the wind ever-present. Big changes in GC are to be expected. Yet, another stressful stage on the race to look forward to.

Right, time for bed.