Final Prep Race - Shay Elliot 140k
Saturday, May 21, 2011 at 1:00AM

The Shay Elliott memorial is regarded as the hardest one-day race in the country after the national championships. Shay was the first Irish wearer of the maillot jaune as well as one of the first English speaking riders to gain success in the continental peloton. As the national champs course is not location specific the Elliott assumes the status of an Irish 'classic'. The Des Hanlon course in Carlow is arguably as hard a day, if not harder with its 40 minutes of climbing each lap. However, it consists of laps and appears much earlier in the calendar. Any race that features circuits ruins the chances of those who slyly reconnoiter courses in training (a key component of any important race). In addition, the fact that the Elliott appears in close proximity on the calendar to a series of major Irish stage-races means a higher level of competition as everybody is in form. Make no mistake, winning the Elliott is a big deal.

This was my maiden Elliott and I was really looking forward to it as the race is virtually in my back garden. It had been a while since I had been over those roads in training though (courtesy of my traveling), so I made sure to pop out during the week to reacquaint myself with the main part of the course. I was eager to revisit the 3k climb and see how the corners flowed on the descent. I was particularly keen to preview the last 40k of the race as it is a long day in the saddle and knowing the final sections could prove crucial to protect tiring legs.

It is common for a break to get away on the fast opening section to Ashford on the dual-carraigeway. I was alert to the possibilities and trying to go with moves that seemed strong. The stiff breeze was countering any advantage and after the prime line we turned off the main road into a series of roundabouts. Just as we took the exit road down to the first roundabout some strong guys popped off the front to get ahead of the bunch. This was a smart move as we were coming out of the wind and it is always possible to steal ten yards by just leaning that bit harder into a turn. I was alert to it. I was well positioned and ready to jump but just as I was about to launch after Timmy Barry one of the favourites right in front of me seemed to sit up. I had no idea what he was thinking as it was clear that this was going to be the break of the day. As he moved over he boxed me in. I was hoping to go on the outside of his wheel heading onto the roundabout but now I was feathering the breaks to get on the inside of him. I couldn't believe my luck. I delayed thinking about it until I got through the technical section and for sure, this break was getting clear. Now I wanted to attack, not to join up with the front lads but to jump off my bike so I could clothes-line this guy as he came through. I was really bullin' that I had missed the move. But best to try close it when it is 200ms as opposed to 2mins ahead. I tried in vain with some other lads but the bunch closed our chase down without seeming to care much about the fact that we were all losing the same race. All I could do was wait to see who was eager to organise the chase. Various heads made an appearance at the front but as ever, everybody was looking to sit on Irvine's wheel in the hope that he would charitably close the gap for us. Of course, Irvine had other ideas and we continued to leak time as nobody in the bunch wanted to commit themselves too early in the race. The break was galloping clear and before we knew it they had a two-minute safety net. In the midst of my gloom I decided to eject from the front of the bunch to eat. I went down the back to find that the strong guys had also decided to take a time-out. I had my picnic and mulled over my choices. It was still early and it didn't look like the bunch was letting anything away. Thus, it made sense to ride conservatively until the next big moment of the race, the Dromgoff climb to the Shay Elliott memorial.

Having completed 95k we were on the approach to the climb and I was moving up to the front to monitor the action. On the run in a group of about 8 seemed to clip clear and I'm still unsure as to how I missed it. I quickly went in pursuit after Anto, Javen and Art who were in between. I bridged up to them but the road unkindly ushered us into a goddam gale. The 8 men up front had the advantage on us into the breeze by virtue of their number and while we hit the climb ahead of the bunch, the bunch was fresher for their delay. The first kilo of the climb is out of the saddle and then it steadies out a lot for the last 2k. If the road surface wasn't so rough you'd be able to spin up it but as it is you have no choice but to put it in gear. I knew if I could get to the steady section I'd be fine as it's the kind of gradient I could climb all day. Anto told me to sit on his wheel as he tried to drag us up but I couldn't hold it on the steeper lower slopes and so it was down to myself and Art to tag-team it. Art was caught unawares by the length of the climb and didn't come around me to take his turn. I didn't know what had befallen him but a quick look over the shoulder suggested the bunch wasn't too far behind. Soon guys were launching from the bunch ... if 16kph can be considered a launch. Griffen came around, as did Paidi and while I wasn't going with them it didn't seem like the group ahead was all that far away. I was pretty confident I could get them on the descent if I buried myself since I had checked out the drop earlier in the week. Another few lads came around but with 1k to go until the top nobody was really losing or gaining any ground. Over the summit I kept the pressure on to get ahead of some riders. I wanted to make sure I was leading into the corners on the descent as the last thing I needed was for guys to be blocking my progress through the corners. Unfortunately I didn't really nail the descent as the breeze necessitated a fair amount of work down the mountain. As we came into Laragh the lads were only only 200 yards ahead and other people had rejoined with me to form a chase. This only confirmed to me that I hadn't gone fast enough down the mountain but it was good to see Art again. However, the chase wasn't enough to close the gap right down and the lack of concentrated effort allowed them to sneak clear on the twisting roads meaning that they were now out-of-sight again. While there was still another 30k left to race it was pretty much game over. I continued to cooperate with the willing but it wasn't enough. As we came back onto the dual-carraigeway the group started to split up a bit. There were a lot of Bs around me, which suggested to me that I had totally missed out on the B prize I wanted. Their conspicuousness suggested the climb was where that particular showdown happened. By failing to bridge to the group ahead on the climb I had missed out on the B prize. The guy who won it was behind me at the bottom of the climb but came through me after Griffen and then did a good job closing out the race.

Back on the dualer Halpin decided to pull at the front of my group for the last 2k thereby granting me a perfect lead-out to jump with 500ms to go. Of course, nobody cared about the minor placings and so I finished alone, slightly ahead of some riders but behind too many to count ... total obscurity basically.

When I finished I realised how angry I was. It is always good to be angry in bike-racing as it means you are hungry. You need the hunger to see past the suffering and to make up for what you lack in class. Although the race was frustrating and the result was disappointing it was good to know that my legs were getting better. I had been a little unsure of them as I had taken a 4-day trip to the UK for a family Christening the weekend before. After you take your legs on vacation they tend to behave like distracted kids during their first week back at school after the summer holidays. It is always risky for a cyclist to give his legs a hint of the easy life but thankfully, mine weren't too grumpy on their return to work.

Roll on the Rás


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