Saturday saw the Stephen Roche Atlantic Challenge take place on Ennistymon Co Clare.
An amazing line up was on hand of Stephen Roche , Sean Kelly, Paris Roubaix winner Magnus Backstedt and World track No1 Caroline Ryan all in attendance. With the rare opportunity to ride with both Sean Kelly and Stephen Roche on offer myself and Tosh decided to represent Mctc and get up at 5am and drive up to Clare for what proved an epic day.
The route is 82km, so short but with two monster climbs in the route, The first after only 10km up and over the Cliffs of Moher and the second at around 58km up the famous Corkscrew hill.
So we made our way to registration and it appeared Tosh’s legend is known wider than just Cork as the bag had a spare inner tube in just for Tosh.
As we hid in the car it seemed like this was not going to be much fun, driving rain and Gale force winds were battering Ennistymon but the sun gods seems to be smiling as the rain eased off for the start and disappeared altogether after about 30mins.
So off we went at break neck pace with Tosh determined to get near the front in a peloton of over 1100 riders. The pace was grand and after about 5km myself and Tosh settled into the peloton a little back from the front and as I settled in and peered forward to catch at a glance of the Irish cycling icons I noticed a familiar voice, a quick glance to my left and christ!! Thats Sean Kelly!!! Ah thats why Tosh was happy to sit in :-). The next few km’s up to the base of the cliffs of Moher were spent with Me and Tosh taking turns on the wheel of Sean Kelly and cycling along side the legend himself I must say it was a little surreal.
As we got to the cliffs base the pace didn't seem to drop but Tosh now had a burst of power and decided to go sit on the front with Roche and Backstedt, I stayed with Sean Kelly and Caroline Ryan for a while but I decided it was a long day in the gales knowing full well the last 30km would be a headwind so to the back I dropped taking the climb at my own pace.
Pic By Karen M.Edwards
Turned out this was a great tactic as I then got to enjoy the decent on my own which I must say was fricken awesome and I got back onto the peloton no bother at all.
We soon approached the coffee stop at pace and Sean Kelly and Backstedt were now pushing on and missed the stop altogether but eagle eyed Tosh gave me a little shout to stop as he had noticed Stephen Roche had stopped and it would be awesome to climb Cork screw with him.
So stop we did and what a food stop!!! I have never ever seen so many biscuits in my entire life! I could have stayed there all afternoon.
The food this stop was such that even with over 1100 riders i’m pretty sure there was at least 4 bits of fruit per rider and as many biscuits as you could get in your pockets, Superb.
So off we went from the Food stop with a moderate group of maybe 40 riders. Myself Tosh and Stephen Roche on the Front it was just class.
As the roads narrowed I decided three abreast was too much so thought I would use the tailwind to have a little fun and pushed out in front on my own, yes in my head I had successfully attacked the tour de france winner :-)! However I think he and Tosh knew this too and left me out to dry for a while before reeling me back in just before Cork screw Hill began just to teach me a lesson. Stephen did say he knew what was ahead and thought he would leave me off, A typical case of young bull, old bull.
Cork screw hill! What a great climb and at the same time a B@£tard! Here I decided that if I want to go over the summit with Roche I needed some time in the bank and felt strong so pushed on up the climb leaving the group behind and picking off some stragglers from the group that had not stopped. Half way up and I heard a wheel coming behind me, sure enough it was Stephen Roche. The man may be retired but his ability to go up that climb with out breaking a sweat was just unreal and a pleasure to see.
So there I was just me and Stephen Roche side by side having a chat cresting the climb! Day Made!!!
Shortly after the summit as the headwind kicked in we were joined by a few other riders along the way and we managed to stay all together pretty much until the end.
I must add at this point that often in life when you meet hero’s all you find is disappointment, Not with Stephen.
What I witnessed cycling near him from the coffee stop to just before the finish was nothing short of inspiring. Every single person he passed (and we passed a lot of people who hadn't stopped) he said hello to, had a chat and was just super friendly to everyone, knowing full well people were here to see him and he wasn't going to disappoint a single one of them. We passed one gentlemen who was struggling on a short climb and flicked off his Chain and was about to come to a standstill, Stephen cycled up behind him and must have pushed him for 50m up the climb and into the headwind all the time calmly talking him though pedalling and changing gear to engage the Chain. Just a superb piece of bike handling to witness. He pulled off this trick again a little later as we passed a lady with her friends and she was also struggling on a little dig, again he pushed her along and helped her get momentum which she nearly lost as he pulled along side her and she realised who it was “OMG YOUR STEPHEN ROCHE!!!” very funny to see.
So as we pushed on to the finish he just seemed able to stay on the front of the group we had formed with just no bother at all with the wind not a bother to him, the man is a machine.
Eventually we did get to the last climb before Ennistymon and his pace kind of blew the field apart and only about 3 of us had stayed with him I did say old habit die hard huh? He started to really push then and I must say my legs had had enough so I backed off little knowing we had 2km to go.
As we came to the final decent to Ennistymon though I lost sight of him and thought I must have been dropped! Turned out he had got a puncture and I had sailed straight by him by the road, Is it bad I left a world champion by the road and didn't stop??? I swear I didn't see him stop.
So I went to the finish and waited for Tosh who I had last seen two levels of corkscrew down from me in pain. About 5 mins passed and no sign so went in got coffee and came back out, there was Tosh big grin on his face. Turns out that Inner tube Tosh had got in his pack came in handy and Stephen Roche and flagged him down and Tosh had given Stephen the spare tube before riding across the line with him just the two of them, Jammy b@£tard! :-).
All in all an amazing day that i’ll never forget ,getting so much time cycling along side such a legend was just brilliant especially the climb with just the two of us for a good portion of time.
The event was superbly run with really clear Marshalls plenty of support vehicles and the tagged numbers with time chips which allowed a commentator calling you out on the pa systems as you came into town was a really nice touch. Anyone looking for a spin further a field next year make this one it! Epic
If you want to see some Epic photos of the day either head to Karen M.Edwards Facebook page or visit her website
She has a fantasitc Gallery on there sponsored by Club Sponsor Velo Revoution