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Ras Mumhan - 4 Day Stage-Race in Kerry

the dude shares the tempo up the Connor Pass. Photo © Kieran Clancy www.kieranclancy.ieStage one: Killorglin – 105k

I punctured my rear go-fast wheel (404 carbon tub) after 20k of the start. The first hour of the first stage of a stage-race is nuts as everyone is fresh and doesn't want to miss an early move that may decide the overall race. I punctured on the run-in to the first KOH (climb). We had already dropped a load of riders ... including 3 in the neutralised section so the pace was very fast. It was the worst possible place for me to puncture and although I was horsing it back to the group I wasn't quite getting there. The problem with being an unattached rider is that I have no car in the cavalcade to look after me. The wheel-change from neutral service wasn't slow but the narrow and bumpy roads made it impossible to ride the cavalcade up as there were 800m gaps between cars ... and the cars coming around me wouldn't tow me.  Normal practice is to tow a punctured rider but not somebody who got shelled.  Frustrating, but all I could do was to maintain my composure. It was too much of an ask to get back when the race was on but I collected some shelled riders and we worked it home. I was pulling for 85k of the 1st stage ... this was effectively a breakaway at the wrong end of the race. We caught a group 4k from home and left it at that. Rolling in only 13mins down wasn't a disaster but it was effectively the end of any GC (General Classification) aspirations.

Stage two: Dingle - 126k

This stage suited me. The Connor Pass is a continental-style climb with a very steady gradient. It's not that long but it's not something you can steam-roll over either. Whereas my bunch positioning was spot-on on stage one before the puncture this time I couldn't move up. I was first behind the neutralised car when we left the school but by the time I was at the ceremonial start I was second row from the back. Godammit, they all jumped me on the pavement.  The start felt faster than the first stage. We then hit a water-crossing on the road around by Slea Head. This was over cobble-stones and on a sharp turn causing everyone to brake hard. Being down the back I had to really accelerate to catch the line-out. I was struggling to make contact but I eventually got back on. Then, there was a crash. Riders all over the road. A guy had reached for a gel on a bumpy descent and took people down. We had to carry our bikes through the mayhem and then straight into another murderous line-out to catch the riders ahead of the crash. We got back on just before the KOH but I was hurting and struggling to stay with the bunch. I couldn't understand what was going on. Guys who don't trouble me in Leinster races were moving around me and the bunch was always going 2kph faster than I could handle. I couldn't move up ahead of the dangerous sections as just hanging on was as good as I could give. After getting shelled by the bunch over a couple of KOH's I was managing to claw my way back through the cars. It was at the bottom of another KOH that I coudn't get on top of the gear. We had just come through a drag with a super rough piece of road which had required a lot of pushing to maintain momentum. I was pushing for every inch of road and having a horrible time. The legs were delivering but it wasn't enough. I just couldn't understand what was going on as I normally love the rough stuff. It felt like the whole bunch was on drugs but for me. After 80k I had to let them go. I worked up to another small group of riders having a hard day and we pedaled through without stressing too much. I was just happy to be in company as I was not far from bonking and it was the first time I had a chance to catch my breath all day. My head was in a bad place as I was hoping for a good stage and then all of a sudden aspirations of riding the Rás were out the window; if I couldn't hold onto the bunch in Kerry, what chance did I have in the Rás?  We finally hit the bottom of the Connor Pass and the summit finish. A Dungarvan lad and I moved to the front and shared the tempo up it. Nobody could come around us so we were riding up reasonably well without destroying anybody. In the end we came in 16mins down on the stage winner but only 8mins down on a handy group including the yellow jersey and some race favourites.  I was just happy to have maintained my composure and kept the bad thoughts bottled until after the stage. When you are suffering in a bike race it is very easy to have an existential crisis and almost quit the sport. I had succeeded in keeping my cool but I couldn't understand what had happened as my legs and head were good. The standard just seemed to be that little bit higher. Then I spun my front wheel and it only turned 6 revolutions. I did it again ... dude, u are such an eejit! The brakes had been rubbing the rim the whole day. It's the oldest excuse in the book so nobody will believe me!

Stage 3: Waterville - 142k

My stage-race effectively started here. I was a bit nervous about this stage as it had 6 KOH's all within 20k of each other over a long 142k course. The roads were rough and the winds off the coast could cause mayhem. The risk of cross-winds meant that everyone wanted to be up the front.  The legs seemed to be fine so I stayed close to the front but not too close that I'd be expected to be on the front and do work. I was staying with all the accelerations knowing that the riders would be yo-yoing off the back. I was fine but I wasn't sure when the elastic would snap. I wasn't too keen to get into a break as I'd blow my lights out but I wanted to be on the right side of a split and thereby still have strong lads around me.  The winds kept a lid on a lot of the attacks and the changes in tempo allowed dropped riders to rejoin. Heading out to Valentia Island for the stomper up a boreen we hit a cross-wind and there was a crazy line-out. I just kept pushing up the line as I didn't want to be on the wrong side of the gap if somebody let a wheel go. While it hurt a lot at least I was well up the bunch for the boreen. It's a real Flanders climb with riders losing traction on gravel and just not being able to hold the pace. I managed to stay close but I lost some places getting around people. Over the KOH we dropped down a bit and then up to another lift. Riders were in ones and twos and everyone was just shouting to pull. I was on the limit and didn't really want to but I had no choice. Just put the head down and work, it was still possible that we could get back on. We gritted our teeth, inched further up our saddles and gave it everything. Thankfully we managed to rejoin the leaders as we came off the island. There was more risk from the cross-wind but the guys at the front didn't have the legs. There were still two screamers of climbs to come. These were lovely climbs where you just spin, spin, spin and don't ever think about stopping. The first one I was fine on but the second one I was going around riders who were leaving gaps. The guys at the front snapped the elastic and I was moving up amongst shelled riders but I was not closing on the front of the race. The gap to the front-runners got bigger and then too big to close. This was the sixth and final climb of the day. Over the top the riders were again in ones and twos but with only 25k to the finish the split had been made. I managed to make it up to two groups and then, as a big group, we pushed for home 3mins down. Not a disaster by any stretch. I was quite happy as the stage was reputedly harder than a Rás stage. I thought I had managed top 40 but then I saw the results sheet and for all that effort and decent riding I was only 62nd on the stage. Not more mediocrity! No matter how hard I try mediocrity follows me like a bad smell - it's so annoying. But I took consolation from the fact that I was working hard all stage and even with 25k to go I still had the beans to work a lot to tow her home.

Stage 4: Killorglin - 115k

The GC suggested this would be a fast stage. I warmed-up and was well positioned to respond to moves. I didn't fancy going into an early move with 8 or 10 riders. My plan was to let the GC contenders sort it out amongst themselves and just to follow in their wheels. Lots of attacks had been going and I was staying up there but out of trouble. Then ten riders popped, another 10 followed and then twos and threes went. I was thinking this was dangerous but I hesitated as I thought others would bring it back. The yellow jersey of the race leader was here as were other GC riders. Of course, I should have noted that #2, #3 and #4 on GC had stolen a march on the yellow jersey inside 8k and that there was no way they were going to come back. I missed the split. Junior error by me and particularly by the yellow jersey not to watch the one person who had to attack to win.  The yellow jersey had 3 men in the move but they didn't parachute back to pull us along. His team manager seems to have been happy to lose the race in order to teach him a lesson. I just tagged along for the ride and then started moving up on the finishing circuit which we would do 10 times. I love the fast stuff and was well placed on the last lap. I was following the wheels up the front but there was a jammy last corner so it was hard to move into top 5 to take the fast line through it as everyone wanted to be there. I was up but not up far enough. I placed 13th out of our bunch – pretty meaningless but glad at how well I was moving up the bunch in the closing laps. I can't sprint but I can have a go.

All in all, I learnt a lot from my mistakes. It's very reassuring to have the legs and the recovery for these things. I didn't let the head drop after two disastrous stages so very pleased to handle the set-backs with maturity and composure where others would throw the bike into the broom-wagon.  The mishaps make you tougher mentally so it was a well-balanced training weekend both physically and mentally. Hopefully Ulster next weekend will be mishap free and then I'll have a better understanding of where I am really at. I think, I could have had a decent Connor Pass stage but without the puncture and the rubbin' blocks I likely would still have finished 16mins down on GC ... an age away in stage-racing terms.

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