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For Whom the Bell Tolls

Stage 1 – Dunboyne-Portumna 148k

Being Sunday the bell for Sunday mass tolled ominously for the riders each hour as we went through the motions of pinning race numbers on and sorting out what to wear for the conditions. The weather was changeable but the most important factor was that there was a fairly strong westerly wind blowing. This was good news for me as it would keep a lid on the attacks as nobody would fancy jumping straight into a gale all the way to County Galway. Still, the course had plenty of narrow roads and twists and turns meaning that crosswinds could play a key role in the outcome. The first big split came about half-way through Portarlington when suddenly 20 riders up front got themselves into a quasi-echelon. I was about 6oth place so missed out on the split. However, my team-mate Anthony came up to me and asked whether we were the only two SDCC riders up here. I was thinking what do you mean, we're not up, we're behind a move. Then I looked over my shoulder and realised I was fourth rider from the back. The main bunch was 200 yards further back the road. Nobody in our group was keen on closing to the front group, which would have made a dangerous split of about 60 riders and so the lads behind managed to close the gap after about ten minutes. Thus, I learned that the race can suddenly split and that you can find yourself in a group with an advantage for no reason. Hmm, I must make sure to stay up the front. It all came back together and with about 20k to go everybody was getting itchy for the finish. No one team was prepared to set tempo for their sprinter so it started getting stressful as the wind was keeping the pace down at the front but riders further back in the draft of the bunch were trying to move up for the finish thereby putting on a squeeze in the middle. Inevitably a crash happened, two guys went down on the left and then fifty of us piled on top of them. I slammed on the breaks but it wasn't enough and so I went over the bars on top of a couple of bodies and bikes. They broke my fall but the whole road was blocked meaning about 20 riders sneaked away at the front with about 7k to go. Once I disentangled my bike and climbed out of the bush I had to pick my way through the carnage on the road. It's funny, crashes are a part of bike-racing but I always feel like a moto-gp rider when I go down, my hand is always still attached to the throttle and I jump straight back on automatically without thinking about me or my bike. All I can think about is not losing time to other riders. Once I got through the debris and checked on my team-mate Anthony who came down hard in the crash, I pedalled on up the road. But when you scream to a halt in the middle of a pedal-stroke your muscles lock up and so it was horrible just getting going again. A few of us worked up to groups but a little later the race was stopped by the race director to allow everyone back on. It wasn't fair for 85% of the bunch to lose time on GC due to a huge pile-up. When it restarted I just kept trying to move forward. The pace was fast now and riders where all over the place. I wasn't sure what would happen, I thought they might neutralise the overall time but leave the race for the stage. Luckily I didn't risk that call as in the end our time on the stage would indeed count. On the finishing straight there was another crash to my left. People just exhaust their concentration and touch wheels. I just kept pedaling and trying to go around tiring wheels. I wasn't up for the sprint but I think I managed to get onto the back on the front group by the time I crossed the line.  In the end I was 41st on the stage 4 seconds off the stage-winner and the new yellow jersey.

I was delighted just to get the first one over with as the yellow jersey team will have responsibility to control the race tomorrow so things may be a little bit calmer. Still, the wind makes tomorrows stage very dangerous as there is a potential for huge splits with the crosswinds that can absolutely blow a race apart with the line-outs as the wind forces us all into the same gutter. I was happy enough with my bunch positioning although I need to hold a position slightly further up. I'm also happy to have come down and peeled myself off the deck without any damage to either me or my steed. Crashing is part of bike-racing and while my team-mate is currently in hospital waiting to be stitched up, most of the time you suffer nothing but scrapes and bruises. Hopefully he'll pull through and can start tomorrow. Otherwise the rest of the team is tired but grand. The scramble at the finish was disappointing as we would all have finished together otherwise.

I have to say the whole day was fantastic, it's cool realising that you are sitting on the former U23 world champion's wheel. However, I was a little dismayed to find out that I'm not the only dude in the bunch. One of the kiwi lads is also sporting the hair but I'm one up on the dude-stakes because of my beard. Still, he'll be plenty up on me by the time we finish the race – he's a pursuit champion on the track ... possibly a commonwealth champion. If I wasn't so tired I'd google it.

Anyway, tomorrow's stage to Kilrush could be crucial. It has an unmarked climb right at the start and then a proper climb up the infamous Corkscrew Hill 60k from the finish. The main thing will be the crosswinds though. They can make or break the GC for the whole race in one split second.

More tomorrow if I have the beans.


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Reader Comments (2)

Brakes! Your parents didn't spend all that money on a private education for you to be "slamming on your breaks."
Otherwise good stuff, an impressive first day in the peloton. Keep it up.

May 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJD

I think I saw one of the Ukrainians with a pretty impressive fringe as well, but alas no beard.

May 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPatrick Santini
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