Welcome to 2016, and the first in our series of race reports and other blogging activity. there have been a number of wheelers involved in several races so far this year already, and most recently they made the trip to Club league partners ossory cc in rathdowney for their annual race.
A beautiful sunny spring morning was what greeted the Wheelers as they woke up last Easter Sunday, though the glow belied a cool nip and stiff breeze in the air. The sunbeams would disappear just in time for warm ups, as Ross, Bryan, Martin, Seán & Dave began their preparation for what would go on to be a gruelling afternoon’s racing, dominated by a headwind and two laps of a challenging course with some testing climbs. Discussions among the team prior to the race centred on who was feeling good, who wasn’t, and, most importantly, how many layers everyone was wearing. Just before the beginning of the afternoon’s proceedings, a small hailstorm fell, increasing trepidation in an already nervous crew, “I was ready to pack the bike back up there and then,” remarked Seán Power, the most experienced of Athy’s contingent on the day, “it was already going to be a hard day, with a big peloton, hailstones were the icing on the cake!!”
Luckily, perhaps, the hail moved off and the riders made their way to the start line to receive last minute instructions from the day’s Commisaire. The race began with a 600 meter rollout from the HQ through the centre of town, and once the flag dropped the racing began and straight away the pace was frenetic, with Athy’s Ross O’Keefe making his way to the front and driving the pace during the opening kilometres. After an initial 2 man breakaway had been reeled back in, Ross retreated for some shelter in the bunch. The technical circuit had many nerves twitching, and after reaching the Manor Stone complex a larger break went up the road and was holding the lead through Ballacolla. The elastic was beginning to snap through the peloton at this point, and Dave and Martin began to get distanced, Dave noted at this point that he was suffering – “it’s not good to be touching 95% of max HR this early into a race!”
As the road began to point up and the break was being reeled in, Seán made a move to bridge to the breakaway. This attack would prove to be decisive as he went past the six man breakaway group and continued to drive on, putting a couple of bike lengths between himself and the main group as he continued to push on as he came over the top. He would shortly be joined by another rider from Blarney CC and the two continued to press on for a number of kilometres, which would also be the move that split the race. “I was feeling decent at the start of the attack, I hadn’t realised I’d gapped the entire bunch when I was kicking on. I was definitely glad to have been joined by the other guy when I was though, I was in the hurt-box by then” Seán said following the race.
The breakaway moved out of sight of the main peloton “We could see that Seán was after getting away and had a really good gap, no one seemed minded to chase it down and we were happy to sit in” said Ross, who would shortly fall victim to what has become the curse of the Wheelers in recent weeks, a puncture. The breakaway was joined by two more riders as they began to cross the longest climb of the lap, and this gave the existing two break-men the impetus they needed to continue for a time longer.
But it was not to be for the breakaway. “It just didn’t feel like it was working. I knew we were putting in a big effort, but the load didn’t appear to be shared effectively” remarked a visibly spent Power following his day. “I felt like I was way too deep in the red-zone to keep it up, especially if I wanted to have anything for the end. I was being gapped by the other guys as they came around and was having to spend a bit too much to continue to keep fighting to hold the wheel.” After a massive effort for the previous 15km Seán sat up, and looked to the safety of the bunch to try and recover some energy.
It may be fair to say that his presence was missed from the break, though probably more accurate to say that the deteriorating weather conditions had more of an effect, as the remaining riders were swept up in the next couple of kilometres as the race came back together for the second lap. The pace ramped up again, as did the wind and a short shower of rain, more riders were being dropped. Around the turn into Ballacolla and up the short steep climb once more, it would prove a ramp too much for Seán – “The legs just went. I couldn’t turn the pedals anymore.” This left only one Wheeler in the race, after Martin & Dave had also pulled up earlier in the race.
Bryan O’Keefe would continue to fly the flag for the Wheelers as the race predominantly stayed together for the remainder of the race and take a fine finish at the pointy end the main bunch. There followed the usual frantic sprint finish, as is the norm in A4 racing. “It was nice to finish with the bunch” said Bryan after the race. A great day for Bryan and the club, something he will definitely be looking to build on. There is plenty to reflect on for the Wheelers this week, as Seán laments poor tactical decisions and Dave reconsiders his caffeine intake strategy, “7 cups of coffee before 12 pm really screws with your warm up and your heart rate!!” Some harsh lessons learned all round.
Next up for the racing team is the trip up to Meath, and hopefully more favourable conditions as they participate in the inaugural Kilmessan GP. This race will be of particular interest to Seán, who grew up in Kilmessan, and the circuit passes both his family home & his grandmother’s house, so we’ll be expecting to see some fireworks from him again!! A4 racing begins at 10am on what is probably best described as a rolling parcour, finishing up a hill that would not be out of place in a Belgian Classic.