Supporting the Thomas Crean 600 in June 2018
It was 4am outside the TSB bank in Naas at the John Devoy statue that we agreed to begin the trip.
Eleven intrepid cyclists all prepared and ready to ride the 300 km to Kenmare on the west coast of Ireland and 300km back.
Waking up at 3 am was not something I was used to, nor wanted to get used to. Its an ungodly hour for anyone. It disturbs your total sleep pattern and because it naturally wakes you at 1.30 am , thinking its 3am further messes up your head. Requiring at least 3 early nights to catch back up the disturbance.
Anyway, I’m here with sleep filled eyes.
My Landrover is ready to receive day bags, night bags and any additional items that people decide to bring from ‘last minute’ lists. I have loaded a bike stand, track pump, essential bike toolkit and a selection of spare parts that may, and hopefully will not, be used on the trip. So I’m ready.
Aisling, our main logistics expert, lead vehicle, commissar, head of procurement and supplier of food and drink and everything else anyone can possibly need.com is ready to go too.
As the cyclists begin to arrive on the start line we are mixing with the flotsam and jetsam from the bank holiday Friday night, people of the night, making their way home or to anywhere they can remember they left the night before. It a bit surreal in the early not quite dawn yet.
Darkness is really darkest before the dawn. I see that now.
Padraig, Colm and Movanna, Peter, John, Mark, Paddy, Misty, Edwin, Joe and Ray all our riders arrive in quick succession and are all buoyed up and ready to start this momentous journey. The night people, who are more used to seeing their own mates from the night before exiting burger joints and kebab houses, are unnerved to see such activity in their familiar world. The Garda patrol cars are taken aback to see this sort of stuff going on at this time of the morning and don’t stop to inquire what we are at.
Ready for the photos to record the start. Last minute safety stuff from our road captain, Peter prepares us all for the start.
I realize now there are no leaders here. All these men and ladies are equal well used to each other having ridden together for months before this day. All know what they have to do. And all they have to do is support each other. No Me Feiners here! They just wouldn’t be allowed! Simple.
Instructions are , because its still black dark, to ride 6 and 5 with a vehicle behind each group. Rotating beacon, full headlights on, a suitable gap between the two groups to allow for any cars on the road to pass safely.
I have the front group as we speed on, at 36 kph out the Kilcullen Road and into there night.
Our first stop is decided at Castlecomer 60 km down the road. We had earmarked the Discovery Park as the most suitable, as there will be nowhere open at that time. We have an ETA of 6.30 for there.
Riding in the dark requires trust . Trust in your own ability as a bike rider and trust in your comrades even more. Its impressive to watch close formation cycling by those who have that trust in each other.
Ashling and I are in constant contact over the phone and she decides to split from her group at sunrise to drive ahead to prepare the food in Castlecomer. Ill stay with the guys for another while in support. Breaking off shortly after to help Aisling with set up and go ahead to check the route after we leave the food stop.”whats the sichiation” she says, trying to take off my accent. But its going to take a while for her to master it I think!
The guys get to see for the first time the fare we have for them. We have flasks of hot water for tea and coffee, cake and sandwiches. And for the first time they get to taste and see the delicacy that is the ‘buffalo balls’! The jury is out! But there will be a decision before tomorrow night.
Out of Castlecomer comes the first big test. 4.5km of a steady 3% to 5% climb. Ordinarily this wouldn’t phase any of these guys but in the context of whats in front of them its testing. Those who are familiar with it know what to expect but those who haven’t can blow it up out of proportion. As it happened it was no problem for anyone and watching them dig in a steady cadence it looked effortless from my vantage point.
As with all hills the payoff comes with the downhill and its a whizzer of about 8km into Ballyragget.
Stop for a regroup, a pee and moving on. All together now on a flat road its time to relax a bit and settle in to a steady speed and rhythm and get the chat going.
Aisling and I are rolling over and back, up and down the road giving support were we can.
Urlingford, Horse and Jockey and then Cashel for our next stop. Weather is perfect now, cloudy but warm. There are signs of rain clouds overhead but thankfully they are deceptive and don’t bother us.
Aisling comes into her own when it comes to sussing out eateries and Cashel is where I see it in action for the first. Cruising the town for the second time I see her deviate in my rear view. When I did a u turn to she where she got ‘lost’. There she was , found the cafe and had the owner looking forward to us coming into town. Even said it was OK if we used our own food on his tables and he would supply the coffee. Legend. I would see this ability of hers many times in the following 2 days. we were set up for the lads when they rolled in. They couldn’t have been nicer to us in there and we promised we would return on our return tomorrow. Grogans cafe in Cashel.
There was a problem with his visa machine and he said ‘sure pay me tomorrow when you come back’!
More than half way now and everyone looks fresh and rested.
Next food stop is scheduled at Michelstown 60 km down the road.
Coming into Michelstown I got a call from an old cycling buddy and club member Declan Earley who want to come from Dungarvin to meet us . Great support!
Michelstown is our first supply glitch. We are through that busy town without seeing a place suitable for us to pull up. Cyclist get a bit wayward wondering which way to go and we end up having to regroup and call everyone together before proceeding.
It just points up the need to be organized and prepared. We can’t wing this! We need positivity.
Quick look at the route! Kildorrery! 12k up the road. we will get something there. Perfect! Back on the road all together again.
Aisling bombs ahead, anxious now at our lack of planning and she urgently need to put that right. She isn’t going to let that happen again! I shortly get a call from her. Lovely cafe/restaurant found. outside sheltered seating found, secure parking for vehicles and bikes! Making coffees as we speak, we have choices of fresh food, meat or vegetarian. Is this another Carlsberg Cafe?? What a gem she is!
The guys don’t want to leave here! In the sun now, feeling refreshed and there are no doubts about any ones ability now. We can do this!
Kildorrery, Mallow to Rathmore our next stop. Sailing through Mallow and good to get it behind us. This will a short stop. regroup, regather, restore for the final 50 odd km into Kenmare. Guys are pleased to hear that the rest is flat and downhill.
I drive ahead to indicate the turn at Baraduff for Headford, Glenflesk and the turn for Kilgarvin all fast downhills. Aisling has gone ahead to Kilgarvin to meet Eileen, tom Crean’s relative. She will cycle into Kenmare with us. She has arranged police escort and a reception committee of there Mayor and all sorts of dignitaries to welcome us in.
We are not disappointed and even though the heavens opened 15km out and soaked the riders to the skin it did not distract from the absolute joy of getting there. and after a circle of the town we finally pulled into our destination.
Aisling and I were here now awaiting for the riders to come in and there was joy abounding from everyone at what the riders had achieved.
Even though it was still raining we could not feel it as the group did a lap of the centre of Kenmare and came to rest again outside the Tom Crean Hotel to tumultuous applause.
Aisling and I got to present Eileen and her son Cian with a framed Tom Crean 600 Cycling Jersey which was great honour for us.
Once we got everyone in and rooms allocated, baggage sorted and unloaded, bikes and support vehicles put away for the night. We retired to our rooms to unwind before our dinner.
The weather had been magnificent so far. The evening was beautiful. Some went for a sleep, some for a massage and some for a beer. It was a time to reflect and savour the achievement in whatever way was good. It was no different for Aisling and myself. I was wrecked after the day. My legs felt just like as if I had done the 300km. There was something pleasing about that.
Dinner was preceded by the obligatory pint of the local stout in the bar and a good bit of banter. There was a surprise for Paddy. His birthday had occurred a few days before the trip but no one had made any reference to him about it. ‘There was radio silence’. So unexpectedly, at a certain point over coffee, Aisling appeared with a profiterole with a candle. And we all give our rendition of Happy Birthday. I think he was pleased.
There was also a surprise for me and Ashling. A personalized signed copy of “Honouring Tom Crean”. This was a total and a very welcome surprise for me and I’m sure for Aisling too. Something I will always treasure. Thank you guys!
After a hearty dinner and some good chat it was time for the bed and a regroup for a 5.30am rise, brekkie at 6.15 and off at 7am
Typically, it was 4.30 when I awoke, body clock all over the place. There was no point in trying to sleep. Adrenalin was starting to stir and sleep was beyond me. So I just lay there listening to John snore and contemplating the day. John woke on the button and was ready for breakfast for the agreed time of Quarter to Six or was it Quarter past Six. It didn’t really matter. Most were down and discussing breakfast. ‘How is the porridge?’ “Is the scrambled eggs better?” “Can I have both?”
The coffee was heaven sent as was the eggs. The porridge had a hung jury!
Then for us it was outside set up the bike stand, dig out the degreaser and the oils and the cleaning rags for the fussy among us. Of which there were a few.
Segregate the Day bags and the Night bags. Top up the waters bottles, inflate tyres and egos and prepare for the hardest part. Starting off with sore legs and tight bodies. “First 60km are the worst”! was the call. “Give me a break”
I was quietly thinking “I’m glad its not me!” Then one of the lads said. “Well John. Bet your sorry you didn’t bring your bike”!!!! Eeeehhh!! NO!!!
Saying our last goodbyes to Eileen and promising we would return, had a resonance with the past. Before we headed off.
The vehicles had some last minute stuff to sort and we were on the road after them.
Ashling overtook and headed on to the turn for Rathmore were we agreed to tie up again.
It was a beautiful morning and held lots of promise.
The last 35km of downhill yesterday was now around and reversed and was biting at the legs. I was clear following that there was suffering in the group. The hills we were experiencing would not ordinarily have take a feather out of anyone. But with the travails of yesterday were now magnified beyond belief. I could feel it from my comfortable vantage point and I think I could tell what it was like with them.
Travelling behind them , I realized , was no support. I was giving a reason to give up and climb into the support car. So I decided I would pass them and head to tie up with Ashling, up the road.
A decision confirmed afterwards as the right one.
Waiting at the top of a long 10km steady drag was painful, having seen them as I left. But before we thought they should have arrived , they came up the road as if it was the start of a race.
All together, one big bunch, banked over as the made the sharp right hander. To the noise of our cheers and some short acknowledgement of our support, they were gone. Ash and I just stood there in awe! Nothing to worry about in that group we both agreed and we charged after them. We had gone from feeling a tad despondent to being fully elated. Rathmore Applegreen here we come.!
There is something very nice about cycling in the early morning, minimal traffic and clear clean air.
Paddy is having trouble, punctures recurring. Fix, repair, move on, Movanna hearing growling noises,.Ominous! But we are rolling on again. Kildorrery is our next stop.
Aisling has done it again. Great b use petrol station with a sit down area where she gets them to reserve a section for all of us.
A few running repairs, new cleats, adjust derailleur. Listen for the growl!
Well fed and motoring we are now ready to go again.
What about my book I thought! I should be well into it by now!! Cant remember why I thought I might have time for a book. I’m liaising with Ashling constantly , updating Facebook, sorting through photos , tidying the jeep. Day bags being called upon regularly now.
Heading to Michelstown now we won’t make the mistake of yesterday by going through the town. We are taking the ring road. Easier, faster we think.
By now we have discussed changes to our return route for logistical reasons. We plan to break from the route at Urlingford and head for Portlaoise and onto familiar trails and two vary the trip.
Cahir is a difficult traverse because there is a number of ways to send us into Cahir which we want to avoid. We are in bypass mode to get us to 99 land in Cashel! Its just a question of waiting for the group making sure we are all singing off the same menu. Once we have left Cahir behind it onto Cashel. The thought of a 99 now is mouth watering.
The sun is really hot now and we are aware that hydrating is essential now.
The Cashel stop is the same a yesterday were the proprietor trusted us to return. He has now reserved tables for us outside and has already turned people away in anticipation of our arrival.
There a 3 women sitting at ‘our tables’ who are form the ‘Kingdom’ and when Ashling tells them what we are about they remember that they heard about us on Radio Kerry yesterday. Fame at last!
By the time the lads roll in we have already sampled the wares, had coffee and ice cream and have well sunned ourselves. Life’s a Beach!
Its hard to drag them away from there its so welcoming. But we are on a mission now. Approaching half way back and a public waiting!
Its a straight road to Urlingford, through Horse and Jockey so a time to relax a while for me.
I’m thinking next 40/50km will be clear and uneventful, ill roll onto Urlingford with Ashling and we will await their arrival. Parked up now cause I decide there is no point in both of us going to Urlngford. Ill stop past Horse and Jockey and wait or them to pass.
Stopped in a quiet stretch, Sunday lunchtime, not much traffic on this great road, I can hear the lowing of the cattle in the fields, wondering who this intruder into their world is. About to nod off.
Phone rings! Paddy! we need a wheel! Movanna’s back wheel has seized!
OK, awake now . Phone Ashling who’s presumably doing the same relax as me . She turns around and speeds, risking penalty points back to the group who are encamped the other side of Horse and Jockey.
On arrival, Paddy whips of the rear wheel from his spare bike on my carrier and before long Movanna is ‘test driving ‘ her newly shod steed and is rearing to go.
If she was thinking of climbing in ! This was the ideal time! My bike broke! I had to stop! But No! she was rearing to go. I think she knew and everyone had it in their mind. That once the half way point was reached, the back was broken of this thing!
Energized now as we all seemed to be and rolling to Urlingford another short stop. Getting more frequent now the water stops. Essential to recoup and regroup our thoughts and feelings.
Johnstown, Cullahill, Durrow, and Abbetyleix.
Ashling calls me and tells me she has found a supermarket on the Main Street with a supply of cafes around for them to choose from. A good place to stop.
They are joined up the road by a friend of Colm’s, Aidan Delaney who has come to join us for support . Great to see this sort of support. Its a great boost for the lads. By Abbeyleix he is now one of us.
Ashling works her magic again when she goes into the Supermarket and when she tells the manager what we are at , without hesitation he calls his staff to order to get making sandwiches for these intrepids.
Such a kind gesture which when we have finished he tells Aisling that its all on him and he is glad to give us everything on him. What a great guy.
Rolling again now we are under the 100km to go mark. An easy C Group spin I remind Movanna!
I think she knows!
Portlaoise is our next port of call. We will be back into really familiar territory then. On routes we have ridden a hundred times before . This should energize everyone. The route through Portlaoise is guided and we roll out the other side and head for a stop, a final stop, at The Heath.
We are still OK with stocks of food and cake and carbs are loaded here for the final push.
Someone suggests that projecting forward they will be some 6km short of the 600km mark if they continue!!
Suddenly we have the OCD TOM CREAN 600 Group who want to ride back 3km and return with the ‘missing’ 6km done. Unbelievably, off they go! back in a flash, compounding the craziness by racing it! Averaging 48kph!
Back to civil cycling now and onwards towards Monasterevin, Kildare town. In Kildare town Ashling and me are waiting for them to cheer them on again. We are doing this more regularly now cause we feel they need it.A car pulls up and a guy tells us there is a reception group on the Curragh waiting to greet Joe. Such heartening news. I have been onto our guys back in Naas trying to get them to muster some support on arrival in Naas and we are looking forward to that.
The Curragh is amazing for the guys and they stop for a quick chat before weaving our way through Newbridge to begin the last few KM’s
We arrange our arrival My Car leading, The Cyclists, Ashlings car and we vow to make a racket. Reception committee of not.
As we are approaching the motorway bridge I notice in my rearview that Movanna is moving to the front. What a great gesture on behalf of the guys. They are recognizing her of all of them as the most amazing. A woman who was contented with the 300km and decided to hang on for as much of the return as she could. To have continued through the adversity of the first 50km , was a truly epic feat. And deserving of the kudos they were bestowing on her.
She accepted the lead joyfully cause I think she believed the magnitude of what she had done.
I slowed to come just in front of her, as the others were out of sight now. and I tried to make it that she got priority on the roundabouts, both at Bundle of Sticks and Lidl. Not easy with aggressive drivers around. But this was her platform.
I came along side on the straight stretch to give her encouragement and I think I detected tears.
The three sets of traffic lights before the Main Street were the next obstacle. I was determined she was not having to stop. So if they were red against her I slowed her till they changed in her favour then tried to get her through. Success and only the lights at Murthaghs corner to traverse. these would be the worst I deduced. But the gods were with us and we sailed round. The horn came on, the lights came on , the flashers came on as I led this lone cyclist down the Main Street. The people around the town stopped to hear what the racket was and spontaneously began to applaud Movanna. They knew she had done something special.
Cresting the hill at the town hall we both could see the crowds at Poplar Square waiting and the hair was standing on my neck as we rolled to a red light. There was no way we were stopping for a red light now! So is broke all the rules and carefully eased out to stop any traffic interfering.
I left her to her public and went back to meet the rest coming seconds later. Also telling them to ignore the lights just this once. They were reunited with their family and friends.
I looked out Aisling and we had a hug and congratulated each other for our part in this magnificent journey.
There is always one of these!
When I first heard about this trip, it struck a chord with me. I have always been a keen follower of long distance cycling and here was one which I thought belonged up there with the best. 600km in 2 days! I felt the need to support the guys in this epic journey. So I offered my services and luckily I got the opportunity. Coming in late as I did, the guys had a camaraderie already going, preliminary preparations were well advanced. And I felt, on that first meeting, a bit like a newcomer to a lads night out party and I was sober! The guys made me very welcome and I felt a part of the team in no time. Aisling made me feel at home in the group were I would have thought she might consider me a bit of an interloper. But she was welcoming and very supportive.
I was almost as excited as they were as the time came closer but at no time did I wish I was cycling the trip. I was certain that these guys were way too fit for my ability. So in a funny way it allowed me to give more at what I was entrusted to do.
Rolling out at 4am I was so proud of them. Everyone knew what they had to do. There were egos there, yes definitely! But there was no one on a trip. They were all instinctively pulling together, literally! Minding each other and looking out for each other. They knew what was ahead of them and they knew it could only be done ‘together!’
I brought a book with me . Thinking I would get time to relax at the side of there road waiting for them to arrive. But that was never going to happen. I was astonished how fast they could travel and when we stopped and they left while I did what I had to do when they went. I couldn’t get over how long it would take me to catch them up. It was amazing.
Their success has certainly rekindled that desire in me to again take on a challenge for myself because watching them tapping out the miles, kilometre after kilometre never seemingly, (or maybe they did doubt) doubting their capability to finish.
For some this will be a bucket list tick off, for some it might be a never again, for some it will be I want more, for some it will be I never thought I could do that. And for some it will be life changing.
I hope it changes all their lives in some small way. I certainly has mine.
Aisling, Misty, Movanna, Colm, Peter, Mark, John, Paddy, Padraig, Edwin, Joe and Ray