Easter Fleche Ride Report

Report from Michael Kelly on The Easter Fleche.

I’m but an Audax Baby having done all of two flat 200km events (The Dying Light 200 and the Kingsmountain 200 the latter of which I did on a bike with one gear) but when one of the guys I’d linked up with on the Dying Light contacted me about doing the Easter Fleche I immediately (googled what it was then) said yes.

Audax, is in brief, a type of endurance focused cycling event which is roughly, orienteering on a bike.  Unlike sportive events it is entirely self supported and there are no vehicles following to give support and rescue. For those of you with a background in Mountaineering, or sailing or kayaking it will have a familiar appeal.
The Easter Fleche, however is an unusual beast in the world of Audax, being a team event with no set start point or route, each team of three to five bicycles (a tandem only counts as one team member!) appoints a Captain who submits a route to the organizers for approval. Audax isn’t really competitive as such but the Fleche does state that the objective of the event is to cover the greatest distance possible within the 24hr period from your chosen start time.

We met at Heuston Station at 0945 on Friday morning full of anticipation but grateful for the dry mild weather, a quick photo was taken and Brevet Cards (like a pen and paper version of an Orienteers punch card) distributed before we got underway.

At about 20km in it started to mist, Helen our team Captain and veteran Audaxer suggested we stop and put on rain jackets as the outlook was for the rain to follow our path for some time, this proved to be a lifesaver as we hit our first control (where we marked the time of our arrival on our Brevet cards and used a receipt from a newsagents as proof) with gloves and overshoes thoroughly defeated by driving cold, penetrating rain and enjoyed a brief coffee standing outside the shop on the main street of a small village with the stinging accompaniment of blood returning to our fingertips…not helped by brief stop shortly before to find my main light after the mountain bracket failed and smashed onto the road surface.

The weather was vastly more favourable after this and with a dose of positive thinking: Wherein climbs became “warms” we made the the next 50km in good time, spirits and mostly dried out.

A bolt of misfortune struck just before our scheduled lunch stop in the town of Portlaoise when a 40ft lorry driver decided to do a U-turn out of a parking bay and block both lanes of traffic, I instinctively started skewing into the bay anticipating that the driver wouldn’t be able to stay in his new lane but didn’t notice that the parking bay although below a kerb also had a low kerb of its own and so off I went getting a bit of road rash, some cuts and bruises to my jaw and leg and most worryingly pain in my right thumb.

Once it was established that I wasn’t in particularly bad shape we rattled down into the town and made our way to the world famous fine dining chain Supermacs for our planned 60 minute lunch stop. Wherein, I cobbled my main light bracket back together with cable ties and electrical tape, cleaned and dressed the few patches of skin I was missing and had an ibuprofen with a not at all pleasant Chicken fillet sandwich meal. Then lost my GPS unit, and cost the team a good 10 minutes extra until to my great relief the cleaner had found it and brought it to the office.

Taking off from Portlaoise I was a little bit nervous about the swelling in my thumb but otherwise ok, however our fourth team member was starting to get into trouble and by the time we hit our next control at Borrisoleigh, Helen our team Captain had to give them an honest appraisal of what was ahead and their options for withdrawing.  After a halting start our fourth person put the power down and lead the way into the location of our longest break for the 24hr period, our two hour dinner stop in Nenagh.

Wherein we discovered that our evacuee had missed the last trains and buses back to Dublin and so we went to a hotel that was advertised online at €75, the smug receptionist told this filthy lycra clad wretch that it was €120 a night plus breakfast. So she slumped back out of the hotel, booked it online for €75 on her phone and marched back in.

After a visibly scorched Night Porter came out to take her bike to secure storage we said our farewells and headed off to another Supermacs.  For a calorie flavoured pizza and a change of kit and clean up in the toilets (very generous cubicle size in Supermacs main st Nenagh) and tried unsuccessfully to get some sleep with heads down on a table (with one of us watching the bikes through the window at all times).

Drier, cleaner and fueled up albeit sadly without the benefit of a power nap - Micheal Kelly
Drier, cleaner and fueled up albeit sadly without the benefit of a power nap we set off for the next stage of crossing 50km of bog roads in complete darkness (we did pass a pedestrian walking home with a torch (“Yis are like three cars lads!”). It was  a long 50km which ranged from interesting being my first group ride by headlight, to exciting, riding through the occasional town, village or industrial park while they were completely empty, to weird…passing a huge illuminated crucifix on a hilltop in the middle of nowhere. 
passing a huge illuminated crucifix on a hilltop in the middle of nowhere

We kept the banter up to help pass the time and fight off the dreaded “noddies” at some point I had to shorten my view of the future to getting to the next downhill that I could freewheel down and stretch out for a minute or two, to make matters worse I had to put my GPS inside my handlebar bag to charge it due to a broken cable and had no way of tracking how much distance we actually covered between villages.

At our next control we resolved that we had enough time to sleep for 30 minutes if we could find appropriate shelter, as the conditions were prime for hypothermia jumping in a ditch was not an option so we vainly searched for a hotel or even a Garda station that would let us pass out indoors for 20 minutes.  Eventually we discovered a 24hr laundry booth that had rubber matting on the ground and huddled together in the corner of it but true sleep evaded me.

The long visit to my place of deep suffering continued as we searched for road signs with the town name in Moate as there were no shops to obtain a receipt from and so we had to opt for photographic evidence (a stamp from a Garda station will also suffice but good luck finding an open Garda station in a small Irish town after midnight).

Dawn and other traffic began to appear when we reached Kinnegad and I started to struggle for a while as I dropped off the back of the team and was passed by another team (the first evidence we’d seen of the other competitors) but finally got a third wind for the last drag through satellite towns and into the familiar surrounds of Maynooth, we hit the last 10km stretch into Dublin with an hour to spare and worked steadily, if sorely towards the finish. The last climb out of Strawberry beds was tough going but getting to the finish felt like an inevitability at that point.

Finally, joyfully we arrived onto the old parade square of Collins Barracks Museum and hurriedly locked the bikes up before staggering into the cafe to mark our arrival time on the Brevet Cards, eat a hearty breakfast (no fruit option though…after 24hrs of cereal bars and Supermacs I craved fresh fruit) and pass out for half an hour on the bench seats before parting ways and limping home.

All the way through it was  a team effort but with excellent planning and leadership on the road from Helen K and a near constant presence pulling on the front, Martin whose leg muscles have leg muscles and…not dropping out, from me.
Lessons learned were primarily about kit packing
Lessons learned were primarily about kit packing, namely I had about the right amount of kit but packed into too little luggage. Many small problems and one or two medium sized ones would have been avoided if I’d brought a pannier instead of fixating on fitting everything into oversized saddlebag and bar bag.

Fitness wise…well it was a flat course which plays to my strengths and as such, whatever the rest of me suffered my legs were fine.

All in all it was a great experience and it took me all of 24hrs to start thinking about next years.https://www.strava.com/activities/1483853561

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