The Tour of Connemara is regarded as one of Ireland’s most beautiful sportifs. It’s rewarding vistas and smooth roads make the 140km challenge a pleasure and I enjoyed every kilometre around the small and beautiful towns of Clifden and Letterfrack.
The decision to make the journey from Wexford to Clifden where the sportive began, was made during the run up to our exams in May. The weather was getting warmer with each passing day and we were longing for the bike.
David, a man of many talents, is a long time cycling partner and also a team mate. He had the difficult job of organising the bus journeys to Clifden, – which included nigh on eight hours travelling and three change overs – whereas I had to book the B&B.
The final decision on which B&B to stay in was easy as when I went to book it there was only one left that was affordable. It ended up being the second nicest B&B I have stayed in (Kerry trumping it just barely).
It was situated on the lower road of a hill that was populated by goats and cows whom never seemed to move.
The cycle took place on Saturday. We had registered the night before and were under no pressure the next morning. At the breakfast table Dave and myself ended up chatting to a hardened sportive rider who told us tales of his previous rides around Ireland and that we should keep something in the tank for the last 15km (we would later find out why).
The cycle into the start was good fun as it involved nearly 6km of free rolling downhill. The roads were dreamy smooth and we banked into the corners fearlessly. The adrenaline was kicking in. Well it was until the nerves took over two minutes before the start when we finally rolled into the midst of nearly 600 riders standing around chatting.
140km of riding is not a distance to be laughed at. On the contrary it almost puts the same stress calorie wise and physically as compared to running a marathon. Underestimating the speed of some of the riders’, we started nearly 150 riders back. When the cycle began people were quick to fall into groups that were going a similar pace. Dave and I on the other hand raced from group to group for nearly 40km until we settled with a group that was going a little too fast for my liking.
From the back we glimpsed the rider that was happily piloting my pain and discomfort. He was a lean man in all black riding a beautiful bright yellow specialised tarmac. Somehow lost in translation we heard at the back of this relatively small group that this guy was a pro of some sort, which was hard not to believe when you were trying to hold his wheel at 37km/h.
The first food stop came at the 50km mark. I was glad as we eased off the pedals and I could feel the release of tension on my quads. The weather had turned for the better and everyone was in high spirits.
After devouring a bacon and egg mayo sandwich we donned our bikes once again and headed into a strong headwind for another 40km. The never ending road took us through small little fishing villages and remote areas with vistas rivalled only by the Alps.
Not long after leaving the first food stop we ended up in another group, where the pace picked up and we were dragged through the headwind. Chatting stopped and a slight grimace spread across our faces. The wind was unrelenting and we wanted to get through it as quickly as possible.
That was when a group of racers passed us and myself and Dave worked like domestiques to latch onto the back of them. For the next 20km we raced up and we raced down the roads of Connemara, the club of racers not giving in and trying to shake the stragglers off the back. Although we persevered until the final food stop.
We had a beautiful descent into the stop which was led by our new friends at 65km\h. My legs were really pumping and felt like they were going to explode. The food stop was our oasis in midday sun.
From the food stop we had 40km left. We decided to just ride this last bit out and take in as much of Connemara as possible. So for the last time we through our legs over the top tube and rolled out. We were accompanied by a Finnish rider who kept our minds off our legs with his stories of racing in Finland.
The sun kept us warm and chat kept us busy. This is what the sportive was about. We realised there was a time and a place for speed, but in saying that, going at an easy pace is only nice after going at a hard one. The art of exhaustion.
The day was a success and a great way to start the summer. The atmosphere was amazing, so was the weather and the road surface was smooth. My only advice to people wanting to do the 140km loop is to keep something for the very last climb… trust me.
By Nick Moloney