De Ras

The Emphasis applied to a statement is everything; it is a direct view to the inner most feelings of the owner.

“You’re riding the Ras?” Simple question “YOU’RE riding the Ras!” – Un nerving clarification “You! riding THE RAS”- Sheer Disbelief

I have received all of these over the past few months since I decided to return to our national stage race.  Its not like I don’t ask myself the same question every time I struggle the 3-mile climb home. The house was bought in a younger, lighter, fitter time; when the climb was a selling point to the house, like underfloor heating- an en suite level 3 session.  But Yes, I am riding it.

The ‘Why’ I’m riding the An Post Ras is a more difficult question, again asked with leading levels of scepticism. Level 1 “Are you riding the RAS?” Level 2 “Are you still thinking of riding the RAS?” Level 3 “You’re not still thinking of riding the RAS …are you!?” Level 4 “The Ras, REALLY? YOU?!”

The WHY is a personal thing for every single soul riding it, mine is a collection of various reasons, excuses and dreams that add up to a rubbish 2nd Cat having only two beers instead of five at Christmas and forgetting my younger son’s name.

In my youth, Ras participation was natural progression. Junior Tour, turn senior, few Easter stage races then you go to watch the start and see one rider you race against standing nervously on the line, “Well if he can do it…” 12 months later you’re in an unending line out, driven by the T-mobile squad and not some mutton first cat. He just happens to be three bikes in front of you swinging his elbows like a sparrow with Parkinsons.

And therein is the joy of it and congratulations to Mr. Dignam for keeping it so. Letting the county riders mix it with the pros. The Ras Tailteann still lets a weekend warrior raise his game to ride with young rising stars and a few old bitter ones. It lets Irish cyclists play at being a professional for a week, all of them. The best can mix it with the national and continental level teams, the worst (inc. me) have the distance to the first cat 1 climb each day, engraved on their left thigh and no amount of carbon rim bling can disguise the fact that they have jobs and a power ratio below 5.5 Watts/kilo.

I have ridden the “Old Ras”, a more relaxed affair with lots of beer for officials and some riders. Teams had one car and shorts were washed in the sink in the B+B. I have ridden the new Ras; the now, the current and more professional Ras. This began around 2001 when the first working wheels, with absolutely nothing wrong with them were put in neutral service. Regardless, of the year, the essence, the ‘why’ is the same; letting a rider, or variable abilities push himself to the max.

We county riders ride with out a fleeting thought to success, we ride for personal goals and war stories. In My second Ras, 12 years ago I knew I could finish well in the bunch and developed this fantasy of winning a stage. But the ability level between me and stage winners was so massive that my fantasy had to have a touch of reality, So in my stage victory dream, I had been just dropped in the last Km (Very plausible) and then, either the bunch was sent the wrong way or had the mother of all pile ups which I missed and crossed the line arm punching the air. Now my fantasy has evolved with age and still linked to reality involves me just finishing. Just hanging with the thinner lads with a tan for most of the day, wearing out my 12 and my 25 sprocket and throwing my front wheel at the finish line in Skerries next Sunday with a big smile.

We county riders ride because we want to. I’m riding in the knowledge that being 40 isn’t just all in the head. I’m riding because I packed in 2007 and can’t leave defeated. And I’m riding because I love riding my bike and if you are offered a chance to do it for 4 hours a day and get someone else to wash your bike, you take it. We ride because we just can. I hit the targets I presented myself so as it wouldn’t be an embarrassment. On Sunday I ride. I wouldn’t call it racing but you get to watch the racing close up.

Ray O’Shaughnessey, Colm Quinn, Myles McCorry, Darragh Mortimer & Michael Barry

Stage 1

An 11 sprocket is a wonderful thing. Looked at in isolation it is a shining star of speed, engineering and power. I need one. Need it like a baby needs a nappy. I am usually not strong enough for one, it’s just that there are 80 lads ahead of me who are; and for long sections of today’s stage they toyed with theirs. So many times I hit the lever today body swinging on the edge of the saddle for an extra gear, only to be out of bullets.

Standing on the start line in Dunboyne the 170 riders in 5 man teams were called to the start. Famous good guys first. Guys with matching, free everything. They get paid to be there. Then the international teams – O so well groomed, the best riders in their country. Then the Irish and English teams who get a free bike and kit – undeservedly unpaid. Young, Good guys who want to be full pro. Looking fit, lean and committed.

Then called to the line, infront of a thousand cheering fans: us plebs. Men, with jobs and families and a dream. Only the jerseys match this far back. Boyos in ‘clubs’ not ‘teams’ with odd bikes, messy large bottles and worn shorts. Mostly good first cat riders, but lacking the finesse and stunning muscle definition of the paid pros. The darknss of the leg skin colour in this event is directly correlated to the distance from the start line. Team UK youth and the French ‘Provencal’ squad looked like they have been trapped in a sunbed then rapidly Coated with Ronseal. Around me are razor burns and panic.

Ahead is 1300kms and 29 climbs over 8 days and I can’t wait. An hour and 51kms later, I could have waited. Just savage. In the regional cat 1-2 races I normally compete in, a line out lasts for 30 seconds until the five good guys realize the bunch is back upon them. After 2 hours and 103 kms covered, I imagined my ears were bleeding. Relentless attacks hammered the front of the bunch without submission. Everyone fresh and keen. On the final KOH, I was the last man over with the bunch. But broken. With 40k to the finish, twice I raised a bottle for service from my team car, twice my Speedo read over 55kph. I gave up and spent the last 40 mins eyeing half full biddon in the bunch, seductively sloshing about in other riders cages. I called in the cold kilometers I endured in December and hung on. With 10k remaining I smiled and congratulated myself on a bunch finish. With 5k remaining we turned into the Kilkenny Ring road with a 4 lane climb. It stretched like everest into the clouds, perhaps only 50m of a rise. But I was dead.

Cramping thighs meant I couldn’t get out of the saddle to respond to the increase from the headwind attacks from the dark legged lads. I made it, just, yet damaged. 29.4 mph for 92 miles. A Node4 lad won in style but that victory is quashed by my team mates effort who has -9 eyesight.(-9.5 is clinically blind). This was said to me at 50 kph, avoiding traffic islands in the last km: “Myles, my last contact blew out and I can only see colours. Ride in front and call any obstacles.”

Tomorrow is 98 miles with 7 KOH.

 Stage 2

It’s the look the other riders give you as you stand at the side of the road with a broken bike waiting for your team car. Something akin to your parents funeral. They are sad for you but underlying that is the overwhelming feeling that they are much happier it is not them.

Sunshine enveloped our travelling rabble this morning. Legs feel constantly like you have just run up 2 flights of stairs and away for a wee spin of 161km. After a ferocious opening 30k one of the New Zealand team said to a fellow Kiwi, “roads are terrible mate aren’t they” – I’m still laughing as the entire county of Donegal where this young lover of sheep still has to spend 2 days, was tarmaced in the early 1960s using a mix of boulders, larger stones and black paint. Bless his Mavic Ultimates.

At 61.3k, and I know this distance for a reason as the race was still in a flight to establish a break with all the strong teams represented. At this point a noise came from my bike. It might have been a “ping” it might have been a “ding” but the sound was horrific. It was like your own blood splashing on a tiled floor. The front mech just broke, terminally. A small tear fell down my left cheek. Time slows when you wait for car 30 in the cavalcade. Time for a gel and to stand with your two bottles at the side of the road. When the team car pulls up you take a deep breath and shout ‘spare bike’ waving your arms like you have fallen out of a building.

Getting towed up to the back of the cavalcade isn’t really permitted but like catholic sex before marriage it happens alot. There is an art to sitting 4 feet from the rear bumper and getting the manager to feather the clutch. No mad braking or accelorating. Just ease off for the climbs and nail the descent. Waiting off the back of the cavalcade is a motor bike commissaire to ensure I regain the peloton with honesty. My threshold Heart rate was 179 when I was a kid, now I time trial at 165. For the next 20 mins, jumping from car to car everytime I dared look at my wrist it was over 175. Eventually I got in to the bunch. It was like a hug from your mummy when you wet your pants. Damage had been done. I was ruined. Thankfully 20k later the break got clear and the pack relaxed to 27mph. For the next 50k I played a game of hide and seek with the wind. During those 50k the Czech team, all five of them, rode at the font. They either are stars and can ride into the wind for days or their directeur sportif got his experience in a McDonalds.

With 25k to go the pace lifted over the second last KOH. On the descent of this we started the final KOH and a large figure dressed in a black cloak carrying a large farm scythe, cut my legs off and I didn’t care.

My limit was reached, breached and buried. A group of 10 of us lost 11 minutes and a few months of life expectancy. Every time, every single time I think I’m too old for this lark, David McCann, professional with RTS passes me flying. He’s a month younger than me. Bastard.


Myles McCorry

Stage 3

Over a lovely piss this morning I exchanged pleasantries with Dan Craven. The ex African national champion (who could be a stand-In for the middle one in the Bee Gees) loves this race for vastly different reasons than I do. He loves the line outs, I love when they end. He loves the climbs, an opportunity to attack, I love large bars of dark chocolate and Belgian Beers.

After the start today, I didn’t leave the drops for over an hour. A tail wind and a nights sleep had convinced 100 lads that this was their day. After doing 60kph it is like birthday card money glorious when it slows to 48 – it feels like a club spin.

It is hard to quantify how some one thinks that they have seen an opportunity to attack a fresh bunch moving at 55kph. The short-lived flurries in the first hour are driven by vanity, angry directors and blind faith. When every team want a man in the move.  Tomorrow, I am going to propose we let one man each of the 15 strongest teams up the road at 50k and the rest of us can have a coffee and a chat.

After the mental roundabouts of Galway and the slippy atlantic road, we headed out of Oughterard, very rapidly and then someone randomly dropped a handgrenade into the bunch. A Big one. Crashing is part of the sport but it doesn’t need to be compulsary. It’s not the rider braking like an idiot at nothing, it’s the feckers who hear this, panic and lock their breaks multiplying the maddness. For the record it takes exactly 76 riders to completely block a Galway road, 3 deep.

My race day was ended when Martyn Irivine decided to start a third echelon and regain the front of the bunch that avoided the pile up. His constant 500watts made me pull animal shapes on the bike. Chicken first- elbows waving, 5 watts more a duck like bobbing head and finally after the KOH, 5 watts more made me dance like a copulating jack russel- in and out if the saddle, no gear to match the power available. I signaled my time had come, rode up to the next guys bottom bracket to leave no gap and BOOM gone. When you feel your heart rate in your eye…..let go.

Friends in Team cars tooted to get me on the bumper. I pretended to be deaf. Guys passed shouting for me to jump on, I pretented to have a stroke. Over the second climb I was just out at the back of the cavalcade and a stunning sight opened up.
We had entered a valley and the entire An Post Ras was visible. (Please google ‘Paul Henry artist’:he is an Irish painter who captured 19th century images of Connemara. Now look at one of these paintings and imagine a bog road accross the middle of the mountains). Far Ahead I could see the flashing lead cars with the leading 3 riders (before they crashed) and 4 echelons snaking across the valley. The cavalcade was in splinters with single riders glued to bumpers over 2km of roads and venomous crosswinds. It was stunning. A REAL RAS stage.
We tapped through at 38kph for the last hour, hoovered some bodies up and then were caught by the stars who were mutilated in the explosion riding for time. Hope they didn’t look left at the finish line -as the presentation was starting when we rolled in.

When we were getting changed the excuses started at a neighbouring team. Excuses my bum. They are transparent and self serving. No one really cares if you hit a hole or big foot jumped out and stole your wheel and you had to make a new one from sticks and branches. It’s bike racing. Good days and bad- all mighty stuff

Stage 4

It’s 4:29 am and the manager is snoring like a Yamaha. I probably don’t need a night’s sleep for the Donegal mountains tomorrow! I’ve tried the ‘folding a pillow around my head’ trick and the ‘flushing an empty toilet’ trick. Nothing is keeping out the noise. Shortly Im going to try the ‘Would you for the love of sponge cake stop the feck snoring you fecking mother fecke snoring fecker fecker’ method’.

How you pin your race numbers to your jersey says everything here. We are handed 2 small shoulder numbers and 2 large back numbers. Each has 4 corners, so you would suppose all riders use 16 pins right? Oh no. The more pins the faster you go! I think it must be about preperation and not to look like a  ‘fred’.  If any number is flapping in the wind, its akin to publically punching a baby-so most pros reinforce with an extra pin or two . I’m a fred, but I stick an extra one in the middle to combat the dreaded ‘flap’. The fear of the flap, or looking like a fred is so intense for young Stephen Halpin, that the weight of pins on his jersey must interfere with climbing, posture and airport security checks.

There were two seperate races today, both started at the same time on the same place, both finished in Bundoran 15 minutes apart.

The B race (my event) had around 80 riders and was a  handicapped event. Not by time, but by a few guys shouting  “phuckin wyde”- long after it would make any difference.

The race started like a fitnes test. Within 5k, a long line of 160 riders were on the rivet- in a draggy crosswind. It’s not where the line would split, it’s when. Only takes one rider to break the chain. Protocol is to move out into the wind and let the next rider fill the gap, but it is easier said than shouted.  I knew it was imminent when the French rider in front filled a gap… men were weakening, I could hold the wheel, couldnt i!?  Hoping like mad those in front were training in November. With my wife and kids at the finish today, I really wanted to make the cut. Dig in.

The gap opening is a curious thing. It was 10 men in front and by the time I saw the hole it was 30 metres. Over the top of the drag their was silence then all tried useless digs to get accross. When it went to 200 metres, frantic pros make vocal encouragements for everyone to but the cream was at the top, the race was over.

With no continued organised chase the blackboard stopped giving us splits when the gap was 3:14. So we entered the ‘lounge’. A great, social place where you get to talk to your mates while more committed athletes move you in the general direction of the finish at 42kph. Shouting “Ca mon guys let get this rolling”.

Wha! “rolling” I’m on my holidays – you “roll” off and boil your head, the difference in losing 15 instead 19 minutes to me is nothing. I got updates from the motorbike Marshall on the run in to the result of the A race. Poor feckin Ronan, some effort! To those who brought about his downfall with nothing to show for it bah humbug.

Got to show priase for the Motor bike marshalls keep this whole show working. Every on coming car, all junctions , all traffic islands mastered. The lads are very skillful, mostly sober and without it the Ras wouldn’t happen.

In 1999 I recall a damp B+B in Donegal with five riders trying to ignore the rain beating of the single glazing. No one making eye contact for fear of breaking down in tears. Really frightening recollections of the 5 hours in driving rain that followed. Tomorrow there are 7 climbs. 5 of them very cruel and I am delighted. 21 degrees is forcast.


Myles On The Gap Of Mamore

Best laughs at the Ras over the last 24 hours have been the An post  pro team staff, lead by Kurt (their manager) walking into hotel reception- REAL MEAN, like the James gang from High noon. “Ya for sure!” In a don’t mess with us or else! type way.  And The Swiss BMC team wearing matching red white and blue tracksuits like pro teams did in the 80’s. They look like the 1979 Russian javelin squad.

My friend Paddy slipped an envelope into my hand  before I left for the race. “Don’t open it until holy Thursday” were the instructions.

I opened it like a coffin lid this morning to find 5 playing cards with a pair of nines with a message that the winning hand would decide my fate on the Donegal mountains. He emailed an image of his sealed  envelope with a pair of kings.  This wasn’t a good omen.

The Thursday is the queen stage of the Ras. A real tough one to separate the men from the kings. For the county rider on the third page of the GC sheet- if you make Holy Thursday you will make it home on Sunday.

It wasn’t mental fast this morning and I was delighted. After a dip in the sea with my stunning wife (guess who spell checks this?) and 2 kids and a pint in the evening sun last night- I felt relaxed and ready for anything. I can see how the pros are so lean as I reckon I’m losing a half a kilo a day at this craic. Hopefully by the end of the week I will be at the racing weight I should have started this wee spin at.

Out the back over the first climb of Barnsmore gap wasn’t nice. The open, 3km climb we shifted over 40kph but the line broke in the last 500 and it took the man with the biggest pistons in Irish cycling Aidan Crowley  to shout “Get OWYT” and form an echelon, for a rage of hard riding to regain the bunch. The look on the nice RTS guy from Taiwan was priceless and the first of seven climbs was ticked.

There is no way in heelll I can get over a cat one climb with some of these children born in the 90’s! Its not lack of confidence, its a simple basic understanding of physicis. So the plan was to dig in until Mamore and solo home smiling and whistling. All was going to plan-The group ate up the kms, between the climbs. I would get dropped and ride at 70kph on the descents to get back on. As I just passed the chief comm car on the fourth climb some poor lad stopped using ‘the force’ to steer himself and hit a wall. The wall didn’t move or jump out, but the floored bike left hard braking and a gap. An uphill gap leading into the cat 2 climb and I was wasted. Legs hollow- breathing like the one you take before blowing up a balloon. I went from 53-12 to 39-16 in 20 meters. Gone.

By the time I hauled my limp carcas over the top the race was already at over a km away beneath me. So I relaxed into the stunning views. I will not be back at the Ras as a rider so it was just nice to savour the supportive screams of the flag waving school children and pretend to be good, one last time.

Unreal what this race does to an amateur as I road around the Atlantic coast to the bottom  of the second hardest climb in Ireland  and  it was easy to cruise 42kph. The big climb was class. No pressure only gravity. Loads of my friends at the top and finally the burn in my legs was glorious.

I felt like a dog with two mickies as I crossed the top in the afternoon Sun. After the frightening 1 kilometre straight down descent, the finish line was only 20k away with one little Cat. 3 climb to summit, I knew it wasn’t a problem. Some man for one man!

Tomorrow is 135 with the wall of Glengesh. Bring it on- slowly.


Stage 6

I really tried to look like one of the pros this morning going into sign on, wherever it was. There were a bunch of teenage girls ogling the tanned bikers and I tried to blend with the Dutch squad. Walking tall, looking fit. Then I fell over a wall.

This started the ‘What am I playing at head’. I put loads of winter kms in, wore out a turbo, all to just hold up the guys doing the stage timing. The negative thoughts weren’t helped by how tender the legs were this morning. Lot of muscle damage. The morning massage usually works out the lactic and I ride it out in the first 10k. Not today. I took a gel at 5k. 5k is desperate, desparate like putting the pin back in a handgranade. Even into a block headwind we managed to cover 46k in the first hour. Mental. Attacks trying to soften the opposition only soften those at the back- the following sheep, me. Baaa.

I pressed on over the first climb where the peloton splintered like a china cup. Bodies looking broken everywhere. And on hard, in the class heat, over the unforgiving dead roads to the big climb of Glengesh.

Stephen OSullivian , like everyone who works on the race gave up his own time to design this year’s course. I’m sure it took weeks using his experience  to design a competitive route. On Glengesh I looked at him in my group  with feckin misery. HE made me ride this wall. On the steep first section I wished a scratchy disease to his shorts. Venting my pain on something but on the hairpins, I imagined his fingers in a door. It was savage. The melted  tar and those crisps I ate every Sunday night meant I was actually stuck to the road. Pedalling motion turning square . Slowly churning the 25 sprocket so hard your legs feel like an emptying bouncy castle. The struggle was helped by familiar faces – so always cheer at a bike race, we can hear you.

Over the top with the race gone we got a group and rode in amazing heat. The ras  can be terrible in the rain but Donegal at 25 degrees is a little bit of heaven. 5 bottles, 4 gels and a can of coke were need to surive. Unreal to those men who  raced the final 40k. We just rode it, and to a man, pro, wannabe and plumber-we were still busted. But a bad day at the Ras is still better than a good day at work!

The spirit of the Ras was flying today with my mate. It’s  his first Ras and it shows. He has a great engine so is with the pros and I was delighted to hear that a few guys were passing advice rather than shouting. Mighty stuff. It helps that he has a motorbike Marshall doing team car for him which is both illegal and funny on so many levels.

Stage 6a is tonight and it is a tough one on the riders. Most of the peloton are staying in the abbey hotel in Donegal which must be built over a volcano as it is 40 degrees c in all the rooms. There is a Concert with bang-bang music in the square outside. Men are tired and there were a few signs of the odd one losing it  in the bar. Gotta love how the Ras affects men. Outside is full of girls wearing  very little and a free rock band – and a bunch of 20 year old  bikers complaining  about the noise. It would do a few of them good trying to ride  something else for a change!

Tomorrow is day 7. And I’m Feelin good.



Stage 7

The neutral zone is the gap between ceremonial start and actual 0.0km of racing – usually about 2k out of the town traffic. This morning it  was like someone opened the gates of hell.

Before the start, you can see all the riders falling into routine.

Up at 7:30. Stretch and go to breakfast at 8. Force feed yourself 2000 calories. The last mouthful, of the second bowl of porridge hangs in your mouth like reswallowed sick. Get dressed, get suncream on  and chill with coffee. Thanks to who gave out team shorts, no one had the dreaded saddle sores. After a week sweating and rubbing, your undercarriage can look like it was shot with a buck rifle. There are a  few alternating leg limps at sign-on to support this.  Good close fitting chamios and hygiene essential. The jersey has been presented and the 4 lead cars and police motor bikes roll off. The riders jockey for position with a few, frantic lads jumping on to the foot path to be up there for the start. Out on the road  150 riders all turn the 53-19 at 25mph.  The lead car brings in the flag, there is a fantastic noise of 150 chains being dropped into the             13. “Dunk dunk DUNK.”

A brief pause follows where it looks like nothing is happening. But I’m four rows back and can’t see twenty men rage off the front like there is a monster after them.


Within 20 seconds we are at 55kph. Real electric speed. A bunch into a headwind punches a massive hole in the air and the pocket behind feels unreal. 12k in the peloton we turn into a crosswind and over the next few minutes as riders search for protection from the wind, a line of riders forms in the right hand gutter of the road over half a kilometre long. Each having to match the power from the team driving it at the front. As the pressure builds, two wheels touch and riders are mangled. The line runs out around the mess of blood and carbon and forms an echelon to regain the main bunch. Over the top of the drag another crash and three echelons dress the road for riders emptying their body and souls to regain contact. Love it. Heart rate 177. Max is 182. 135 km to go.

This week in crashes the race has eaten nearly 20 frames. Ultra light carbon frames will take everything a rider  can throw at them. Everything they are designed to do. But apply a force it’s not designed for and …failure. I bought a £400 Planet X and it does exactly what you ask of it, light and stable and not a fortune to replace. It happily passes 10 grand Pinerallos on the road, both broken and upright.

A group of 6 slipped off the front after a hard hour’s racing when the chasers got tired. Turning into a small road and a headwind the BMC  yellow jersey squad and the Czech team went to the front and started riding tempo. The Czech squad have obviously ‘been bought’ to ride to defend the jersey.

What followed was bliss. 100k at 40kph around the dead roads of Leitrim and Cavan. Legs were not in good shape and after the first hour the damage left them like new born rabbits ears. Up and over the third unmarked climb. Even though I left slippage I had to kick twice to stay afloat. Skin fired. At 144km in I drank my 6th bottle and went back for service. Even though it was steady my old legs were shaky. And sitting last man in the bunch I just let go.

Really strange. I just flicked it into the wee ring and the cars started passing. I would have been shelled on the last climb but it was nice to choose the method of death rather than be shot. The last 15k solo were glorious. And a smile replaced the open mouth grimace. I smelt the air rather than gobbled it for the first time in 4 hours 34 mins.

Made it in, happy and exhausted. Our Cuchulainn club turned out in force to cheer us on and the finish is only  two hours ride from our home town of Dundalk. Great seeing friendly faces, be nice to sit opposite them in a pub and bore them silly with An Ras war stories.

It’s all over tomorrow. Hopefully I wll make the finish line safe and fast. A hero in my own mind even though 121st on the GC sheet, over an hour down on the leaders. No blog tomorrow as real life is reborn and two kids will get a father back and my wife will get a husband back about Wednesday when I can get out of a chair with out making car noises.

Here’s to the men of the Ras.


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