My Rás, by James Quinn

(The following is purely from my perspective. The other lads will each have their own unique experiences and I would not like to speak on their behalf. So get yourself a bottle of Belgium’s finest and make yourself comfortable.)

“Don’t tell me that’s what I think it is. Not now, please…” It’s stage one of the Rás. I’ve had a bit of a nightmare start that involved getting caught behind a crash in Leixlip. Not normally a huge cause for concern but the pace was nothing I’d ever experienced before. I had to glue myself to Justin’s bumper for the longest of times, through many familiar places like Kilcock, Summerhill and Trim, with even more familiar faces (including my father) witnessing my having being unceremoniously dropped from the bunch before racing had really even started. But by Athboy I was back on, the happiest I have been in Athboy since the DJ in Buck Mulligans unexpectedly played Sweet Child o’ Mine a lifetime ago. But now we are coming towards Oldcastle and my old pal Mr. Cramp is deciding that Athboy will be as good as it gets. My legs are in agony and I can’t get out of the saddle. The speed needed to ride the bumper back to the bunch has obviously taken its toll on the legs. But the KOH is starting any minute and I am struggling badly to pedal. It is only day one. What the f*ck am I going to do. The Rás… what was I thinking………

Early seeds

12 months earlier, during Rás 2016 I was following the events closely on Twitter wishing I was a part of it. By the time I started thinking seriously about doing it, it was too late for 2016. Adam, Fergal, John McGettigan and I had all discussed it at various times during the winter but always with an eye on 2017. But now that the race was on and I followed the progress of friends and others I’d raced against every weekend all season, I just wanted to be there. I wondered if I had missed my chance. 2017 was a long way away. A lot could happen in a year. The subject came up at various times again but they were usually cut short with one simple line: “let’s talk about it in October.”

Before then, I needed to get a proper stage race under my belt, so I joined the St. Tiernan’s team for Suir Valley over the August Bank Holiday weekend. Beforehand, my thoughts were along the lines of “If I can’t do this, then I have no business even thinking about the Rás next year.” The first stage went OK, dropped on the Vee but that was just 30km from home. The rest of the weekend is one to forget as I abandoned after about 2km of the last stage. I had nothing left in the tank. That was it, the Rás dream was over. I was gutted… for about 3 minutes. Anyone who has ever raced will know what thoughts came next… “Sure it’s the end of the long season, I’m just a bit wrecked”…. “I haven’t been training properly for this and for the Rás I will have a proper plan”…. “I actually think I must have a cold coming on, nothing else could really explain that crap form”. By the time I got back to the B&B I had convinced myself that the opinion that “If I can’t do SV3D, I can’t to the Rás” was complete and utter nonsense, merely the musings of a mad man. So, merely 15 minutes after the dream was pronounced dead behind the commissaire’s car, it was more alive than ever. This time next year I would stroll through Suir Valley as a man of the Rás.

After a holiday and the month of October spent actually enjoying riding my bike for the sake of it and consuming barely legal quantities of coffee, on November 1st it was time to knuckle down again. I had a coach, a training plan, a newly purchased power meter and turbo trainer, and a garden shed. Those first few months of the training plan consisted of a lot of early morning starts to get the session in before work. Then at the weekends it was LONG spins with the club every Saturday which would take us to some of the most beautiful places Meath, Kildare and Offaly have to offer. I was highly motivated and I had a lot of podcasts to get through, which helped. Also, knowing Adam would never miss a session meant that missing one myself wasn’t exactly what you would call an option. The thought of cracking open Strava at work over my morning coffee after missing a session and seeing that Adam was up at 6am doing hill repeats in Killiney would lead to a feeling of guilt too great to imagine.

John and I push Adam to the DART in Balbriggan after too much raw power snapped his chain.

So, the training was going well, I’d gotten over Christmas without drinking and eating away all the progress of the last 2 months, the evenings would be getting brighter soon. But this meant that May was getting closer and there was simply no escaping the fact that there was no Rás team or even the prospect of a place as a guest on another team. With very little experience to call upon, I didn’t see how we could get a team together. I had put out a lot of “Keep me in mind if ye are looking for a rider” messages to lads in other clubs but the responses amounted to little more than humouring me. “No bother James, we have 47 lads in the club looking to do it, but if 43 of them pull out I’ll definitely give you a shout. Honest.”
It was decided at a meeting that if we were to get a team together, the first thing we needed was an experienced team manager. Someone who had been involved in the Rás and would therefore be able to make up for our lack of experience. One name was suggested that ticked all the boxes. This mere suggestion was enough for me to pin all my hopes on him leading us to Skerries. This was it. The season hadn’t even started yet and we already had the manager sorted. Everything else would fall into place really quickly. He of course said no due to work commitments. This was a hammer blow. I was gutted. That was it, game over. I was left to just hoping against hope that a spot would open up on another team. With over 3 months to go,, the only person we had so far approached in any capacity was unable to help us.

Typical Winter Spin

Ok so maybe I overreacted! But overreaction or not, the lack of progress on the team set-up combined with my dismal displays in the first few races of the season had me once again feeling very doubtful of the Rás. I had put a lot into it and it just wasn’t happening. The route was announced around this time too. It was to be predominantly in Donegal which did little to improve my enthusiasm. Adam was on the ball straight away and spent a great amount of time getting accommodation booked. So now we had the team entered and somewhere for us to sleep. So things were at least moving, but there was still very little in the way of progress on putting together the actual team and crew. One of the worst things about the preparation for the Rás isn’t really the training. It’s the obligation to attend all the races, whether you are keen or not. So the season in a way was becoming a box-ticking exercise, going to the races and getting them out of the way. They really are a drain on the weekend. A 5 hour club spin on a Saturday morning means you’re usually home, fed, washed and dressed by 3pm. That leaves the rest of the day and Sunday was usually a shorter spin so you had most of that too. A race in Nenagh, for example, on a Sunday, means that Saturday you need to prepare for it, early night and then on Sunday you’re gone for the day. And that’s EVERY weekend, so my wife Niamh being fully committed to the Rás was essential and that’s what I got. Getting woken at 6.30am by my alarm regularly, sitting in on Saturdays so I can get an early night when she would rather go out, going to stuff like birthdays and other occasions alone (“James can’t come because he has a race tomorrow”) and so on. None of this was easy but I never heard a complaint. I owed it to Niamh as much as to myself to make sure I at least made it to the stage in Dublin Castle.

An early race in Summerhill. I was unlikely to catch the break and wave to my legions of fans at the same time so I of course chose the latter.

The Des Hanlon was the first proper “classic” of the season, with the distance being closer to what lay ahead on the Rás. In my head I made this an acid test; get through this in the bunch and tonight, I get the finger out. While the pace in the bunch meant that this feat would be a lot easier to achieve than I had anticipated, I got around and so I had to stick to my plan. Brian Hayden told me around this time that South Dublin were not entering a team themselves so we might be able to work something out with them. So, having sat on this information for a week or so, after the Des Hanlon it was time to act. I made the phonecall and it all sounded promising. Within a week or so they had committed both their team car and a manager, Justin McGee. This was a huge step forward. Next up, STCC’s very own Lawrence Clifford was drafted in as team mechanic. This was great! We didn’t have 5 riders (a horrific leg break for John McGettigan meant his season was over before it had even began) at this point but I knew from talking to others that the position of having a team and looking for riders was a lot better than being a rider looking for a team.

With Ro in his Lucan colours in the Clonard wash out. Ex-STCC member Constantin Bartels is on the right of the picture.

With things starting to come together, we needed a budget and, of course, some funding. The club was very generous from the word go and Friends First had expressed an interest in sponsorship when first approached with the idea when it was very much in its infancy. But now, the Rás was only 2 months away. What we hadn’t really considered at this point was that we would need to get new kit printed to include sponsor names and with the lead time on these being 6-7 weeks, we needed to act fast. After a lot of phone calls, kit suppliers Verge gave me a deadline of Friday at midday to get the order in and it wasn’t until 11am that we had confirmation of Friends First’s sponsorship. We had additional sponsorship from STCC members Damien Heffernan and Brendan Bonnie. So, the standard jersey was redesigned to include these sponsors and the order was gone in just in time to guarantee that we’d have it before the racing began…. By the skin of our teeth!   So now we had the team car, the manager, the mechanic, the funds, the kit order and part of the 5-man team. We still needed a van, a soigneur and the rest of the riders. First, the small matter of Rás Mumhan. STCC sent a 5-man team to this 4 day stage race based in Killorglin, Co Kerry; Myself, Adam, Bill McCormack, Marcus Dowling and John O’Regan with a solid support crew of Fergal May, Lawrence Clifford and Kate Earlie. Unfortunate luck meant that we lost Bill and Marcus on the first stage but Adam, John and I made it safely through the weekend. Adam had an absolutely spectacular race, his dedication through the winter and impeccable bunch positioning really coming to the fore. John was one of the only A3s to finish the race. Afterwards he was very keen on joining the Rás team but he’d need an upgrade first so at the moment that just wasn’t an option. Over the weekend I had also lined up a soigneur from Limerick that was going to join the team and my brother had promised me the use of his van for the week. We now had everything except the final 5 riders but word had gotten out in the peloton; STCC were entering a team. I’d been approached by a number of riders over the weekend asking to be considered for a guest spot, should one arise. My response was similar to the responses I had received when asking the same thing of other clubs earlier in the year!
But progress came to a halt the very next day when the soigneur pulled out due to a conflict. And my brother’s van wouldn’t be an option for us either due to complicated insurance issues. Countless potential soigneurs were contacted but the position was not filled even after a few weeks and options were running out. The role would eventually be filled purely by chance. Niall Dwyer from UCD contacted me about joining the team for the Rás. Having done it before in 2015, we were delighted to get his experience on board. It was Niall who spotted a tweet from Amanda Clifford offering her services as a soigneur for the Rás and we contacted her immediately and signed her up! We also got the booking on a Van rental from Europcar for the week. We were nearly there. The less I say about my Tour of Ulster the better. I wasn’t feeling myself at all on the way to the starting point (it’s always crucial to get the excuse in nice and early) and when the race started I was in trouble straight away. I somehow made the time cut on the first stage but illness ruled me out of the next 2 stages in which Adam and Bill both rode excellently. This illness would have a bigger impact on me than I’d foreseen. A trip to the doctor confirmed it wasn’t anything too serious but I was very low on energy for the week and was prescribed plenty of rest. I convinced myself that maybe the rest would “do me the world of good”, but the Rás was only 3 weeks away and I was worried. What if I had to pull out?

In Killorglin after the last stage of Rás Mumhan

I didn’t really want to think about it but deep down I knew that if I couldn’t recover quickly I might have to do just that. But there would be no drastic decisions made. In an attempt to force the issue I did the ICL the following Thursday night and felt ok. It was here that I asked Ronan Killeen from Lucan if he’d be interested in guesting for us and within a few days we’d signed him up. Ro was another rider who brought Rás experience to the team having also ridden the race himself in 2015. We now had 4 riders committed and there were also a few people from other clubs knocking on the door so we would be fine on that front. The fifth and final place was filled in dramatic circumstances 3 days later. With just 2 weeks to go, I headed for the Deenside Cup in Castlecomer on a day that can only be described as glorious. Despite blowing up with a lap to go (I hadn’t been training properly due to illness, ya see… nothing to worry about!) I finished the race solo and was happy enough with how I was going before bonking. Adam would earn his long overdue A1 upgrade with a heroic ride but the day belonged to another man. In the A3 race, John O’Regan made an audacious solo attack a cool 80km from the finish line and comfortably held out to take the win and, more importantly, his A2 upgrade. Within 24 hours he was signed up to do the Rás with 2 weeks’ notice. The team of riders was finally completed and with Niall having made the permanent transfer from UCD, we had 4 full time STCC members and just 1 guest. The last 2 weeks were all about putting the final pieces into place. Lots of small jobs but everything would come together without any more hiccups and the 8 of us arrived in Dublin castle on the morning of May 21st. The sun was shining and we were in good spirits. Walking onto the stage for the presentation was a brilliant moment, looking down at the crowd and trying to take it all in. 7 months of training and planning had led to this moment and I was very proud to have made it this far. But there was still the small matter of the racing for 1,200km to take care of.

On the stage in Dublin Castle. A proud moment.

Stage 1, Dublin to Longford
The Monday before the Rás the team all met up in Dundrum, minus Amanda who didn’t fly in from London until the Saturday night. At one point in the evening Justin was going through what we should do if we are dropped for some reason. “Don’t panic. If you can pedal, I’ll get you back on.” So, after stalling in Leixlip, that comment was on my mind. Justin was car 7 or 8 so I knew he’d get to me quickly enough. There was just one small problem; I had never ridden a bumper before, ever. It’s something that I knew I should have been practicing for moments like this, but the back-burner was the place for such knowledge. I had to sink or swim though so I put my fears aside and chose the latter. Turns out Justin’s confidence was in no way misplaced and he eventually got me back to the bunch. By the KOH in Oldcastle I was gone again. ‘Don’t worry,’ I thought to myself, ‘the cramps will be gone in a few minutes and Justin will get me back on… again.’ Lather. Rinse. Repeat. I got back onto the bumper after Oldcastle but the motor marshal this time was having none of it and after stocking up on bottles from Lawrence, I had to be left there. I was struggling to turn the pedals and I was only half way through the stage. I tried to console myself with the fact that at this point, given where I’d gotten dropped, I was unlikely to miss the time cut. I piled the gels and water into me in the hope that the cramps would subside, which thankfully they did eventually but the damage to the legs had been done. I was with John Fitzpatrick now, a CKR rider guesting for Cuchulainn who was in the same boat as me. We weren’t exactly drilling it though and the average speed on the Garmin was dropping faster than I would have liked. Help came in the form of a white van with “CKR Team Car” hand written on the back… in the dirt. This was my tow for the majority of the way to Longford. It was humiliating to say the least but my legs just weren’t working and it was either this or going home. The other lads were all sitting outside the van having their food when I got back, just happy to be there but worried about my legs. This is where I got my first look at what Amanda brought to proceedings. We all had everything we could possibly need sitting there in the back of the van waiting for us... Protein shakes, coke, bars, sandwiches, pasta… you name it. Talk about professional! And her form wouldn’t dip for a second during the week. The misery of the last few hours was put aside while I wolfed down as much as I could. That night Amanda would sort out my legs, she promised. Judging by the job she was doing so far, I wasn’t going to second guess her! As we packed up the van to head back to the B&B, Ro put a further dent in my misery with the perfectly timed “Don’t worry James, only one more Sunday.”
Stage 2, Longford to Newport
Niall, John and I spent most of the day in the last group on the road with the broom wagon never more than a few metres behind us. We all got caught at the back as the bunch lined out ahead of us and that was that. This was my first “proper” line-out and it meant one thing: Curtains. The group worked relatively well together and we were never really in danger of the time cut so made it home in one piece. It was another day to be very disappointed about but realistically at least it was better than Stage 1. The most irritating thing was that I knew I was better than this. I had been in much better form a month ago but now I was noticeably weaker. But I couldn’t be dwelling on this. This was the hand I had been dealt so I had to get on with it. That night we stayed in Westport. The afternoons and evenings were the best. It was the furthest time away from the next stage as it got. Most of the 8 of us didn’t know each other very well and had never travelled together but the craic was always great and everyone got on really well. Amanda would continue to work tirelessly during this time, doing laundry and massages among countless other jobs, while Lawrence was busy washing and servicing the bikes and trying to diagnose the (phantom) noise that only the rider could ever hear! The rest of us sat around trying to think of ways that I could claw back some of the hour I needed to get myself back into GC contention… my constant repetition of this type of “banter” would in no way become tiresome as the week wore on.
Stage 3, Newport to Bundoran
Breakfast was already starting to become a bit of a drag. Force feeding myself with porridge and eggs every morning when I wasn’t really hungry was not something I’d looked forward to. But it had to be done! After being led out of Newport by a man playing bagpipes (what could be more Mayo than bagpipes?) the racing got going and it was straight into lineouts! After maybe 20km we were just starting into a climb when I heard the unmistakable sound of a blowout. As is always the case when I hear such a sound, my first thought was “please don’t be me”. It wasn’t… phew! But John O’Regan was the unlucky man this time. If you were to pick a time for a puncture, you would never pick a worse one.   I spent a huge amount of time later on in the cavalcade, going from car 20 to car 5 and back again several times but never managing to get to the Promised Land; car 1 and the bunch. I eventually fell out of the cars for the last time after Sligo but overall it was a huge improvement on the last 2. Chatting to some Orwell riders at the end of the stage, I posed the question “Who won the stage?” There look said it all. As if that mattered even 0.00001% to any of us. When I had eaten, showered and changed, I checked the phone for the first time. There had been an incident. The manager for one of the British teams had tweeted that I had verbally abused him. I spoke to him on the phone shortly afterwards and we went over the scenario and he accepted my apology. The incident that led to this outburst from me resulted in him being fined for dangerous driving. The tweet offered no context and while I would never deny having said what I had been accused of, or try to excuse the use of those words, I didn’t just randomly walk up the guy on the street and say it to him. It was now in the past, but that evening was awful. Everyone knew what had happened and everyone was chiming in with their opinions, despite not having the slightest idea what had happened. I suppose that is par for the course in 2017.
Stage 4, Bundoran to Buncrana
Sleep didn’t do much to make me forget about it. The fact that Anto Walsh felt the need to discuss it on his show the previous night didn’t exactly help matters. When I went to sign on I already knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that something would be written beside my name and low and behold there it was. “Dublin c**t.” Thankfully Adam assured me of the funny side of it, me being from Meath and all! I had a 150km stage ahead of me that included several categorized climbs, Mamore Gap among them. I didn’t want to look at anyone, talk to anyone. The stage was another decent one. I found it much easier to settle in the bunch than on previous days. Brian Hayden had filled his team in on my version of events and after speaking to one or two of them and some others in the bunch, the ice was broken and I could get on with the race. Mamore Gap was amazing. I had no chance of staying with the bunch after the climbs started so for Mamore I was in a group with around 20 others. The crowds and the noise as we approached the KOH was an unbelievable experience. I heard loads of shouts for Tiernan’s which was just brilliant. That night, we were half way there, we’d made it over Mamore Gap, so I allowed myself one drink and because we were in Donegal, it had to be a Kinnegar.

Mamore Gap was even harder than I had been led to believe it was.

Stage 5, Buncrana to Dungloe
Advertised as the flat stage, this 181km slog was anything but and I was in trouble from the start. I think this day I was guilty of throwing in the towel too early. I don’t think we’d even come 60km when I found myself as the lone STCC representative in a group of about 20 riders, with the broom wagon in hot pursuit. It was a draining day to say the least. The sun was out in full force, barely a cloud in the sky all day. The headwind, while hardly gael force, was always there making life extra difficult in relentlessly rolling roads. We must surely have broken records for the most times the phrase “Steady lads we’ll be grand” was used. Any attempt anyone made to up the pace to ensure we make the time cut was met with the kind of derision usually reserved for Donald Trump supporters. When chasing a time cut of 20% you soon manage to be able to divide any number by 5 without even thinking about it. When you look down and see that your average speed is currently 40kph, you reassure yourself that there is no way they front group could possibly be doing close to 50kpm. When your speed drops to 36kph, you are less confident when you tell yourself that there is no way in hell the front group are doing 45kph, not on these roads, not with that heat, not with that wind…. But maybe. Finally, a bit of panic set in and lads started doing more turns and we upped the pace considerably. There were people on the roadside and in team cars giving us time gaps but the complete lack of consistency meant that we couldn’t rely on any of them. Eventually, with 10km to go, we were told we had 20 minutes and we all accepted this. Now, this of course meant staying above 30kph but still the cries of “Steady lads we’ll be grand” were coming from the back. I think some lads just wanted to go home! Anyway, keeping the speed above 30 wasn’t easy as the wind and drags were still conspiring against us. Eventually we got a stretch of road where we could really put the hammer down but it was touch and go whether a) the “20 minutes to do 10km” was accurate and b) even if it was, we had pushed it enough on the hills to even manage that. At the 1km to go sign, a Killarney rider, already in his civilian clothes told us we had 3 minutes and he was as good as his word as we got in with over a minute to spare. Every evening I would give Barry Walsh a brief run through of how the stage went and he would transfer these into a Pulitzer-worthy summary for the club Facebook page. The one for this stage was particularly great, leading with “Wile the big story is the front of the race there are as many stories at the back!” What an epic day. I never wanted to go through that again!
Stage 6, Dungloe to Donegal
Of course, I did go through it all again, the very next day. I made it to Donegal, not really thinking about the time cut as I didn’t think there was any cause for concern. When I got myself together at the B&B I rang Niamh for a chat. She had seen the results (I never bothered looking myself, it was too depressing) and I had made by less than a minute!! I couldn’t believe it. But there were only 2 days to go and I couldn’t have cared less. The day was memorable for better reasons. The line-out of all line-outs blew the race to pieces and Niall, Ronan and myself were long gone from the bunch by the time we came to Glengesh. Thoughts were with Martin Vereker here. The Rás was a big goal for him and he would have loved riding today on one of his favourite climbs. Despite the difficulty of the climb, especially in the baking heat, I was really looking forward to it as there was a good STCC crew awaiting us. Richie, James Kelly, Fergal and Damo were all there roaring us on. To see my friends at such a time….. What a moment, one I will never forget. The lads were there again at the finish line too, they even waited for me when they could probably have been nearly home by then! Legends. The Fear an Tí in Donegal was a character, to say the least, and we had a bit of craic there that night, with John O’Regan proving his worth on the guitar. A note-perfect (and, given the day we had just had, timely) rendition of “Hurt” was followed later that night by some Van Morrison, much to the delight of his captive German audience. But alas, we still had 2 more stages of the Rás to do. The riders went to bed. Justin and Amanda hit Donegal Town on a Friday night, with the green jersey up for grabs….

Ronan, Niall and I on the mighty Glengesh

Stage 7, Donegal to Ardee
With the weather having been so good all week, it actually came as a bit of a shock when we woke up to torrential rain. With bodies in poor shape after 6 gruelling stages, this did little to lift our spirits. Ardee was 164km away and the forecast wasn’t exactly promising. Every day at sign on was the same, everyone trying to guess how the race would pan out… “They’ll let the break go today and we’ll be grand”… “they’ll have to take it easy early on, they can’t go gung-ho for 180km”… “they’ll all be saving themselves for the climb” and so on. Never once did this amount to any more than wishful thinking, so talk of the rain slowing things down didn’t was talking with a massive pinch of salt, which would quickly prove to be the correct course of action. As we rolled out of Donegal town and hit the “KM 0” sign, we went straight into a long drag which was uncategorised. By 3km I was struggling badly and by 10km I, along with a large number of others including some big names, was out of the race completely. It was pretty grim but at least I was in a big group. The rain never stopped. I couldn’t count how many was in the group but it looked like at least 60 so as we approached Ardee I was thinking about the possibility of a famous top 100 finish! It might have looked silly to some and I’m sure there were a few eyes being rolled in the bunch as I went flat out for the finish line but I didn’t care. Later, it would turn out that it was all in vain, but 116th was still not to be sniffed at! John, Niall and myself were in that group for the day and I had assumed Ronan had made the split (obviously Adam had!), but Lawrence informed us back at the van that he was still out there on his own and it wasn’t looking good for him as the clock ticked down. Lawrence was glued to the various social media platforms and we learned soon after that the broom wagon had made it back within the time limit…. Was Ro with it? WAS RO WITH IT?? He was! Excellent. Absolutely brilliant stuff. Ro had been under the weather for a few days leading up to this one and now he had ridden for roughly 160km on his own, in horrendous weather conditions, and made the time cut. Chapeau. That night we hit the bright lights of Kilmessan for some long overdue steaks. I had been talking them up all week and they didn’t disappoint. Even though there was still the difficult final stage ahead, I couldn’t help but feel that this was job done.
Stage 8, Ardee to Skerries
We all stayed in my parents’ house the previous night and Amanda played a blinder once again by putting on a huge breakfast spread for us all. One last bowl of porridge and plate of scrambled eggs, 2 meals I definitely would not miss! The washing up was left to my father as we were a pro cycling team for another few hours, we couldn’t be doing that, are you mad? The sun was back and the saturation endured yesterday was but a distant memory. As we rolled out of Ardee, this was it. 3 more hours of riding and it would all be over; we all just had to stay safe. The route would take us through Meath again and I have to say coming through Navan was a great buzz, even though the well know formula “roundabout = lineout” was in full effect at the time. The rotten climb at Bellewstown came after about 60km. When we took the right turn onto the start of the hill I just had absolutely nothing in the tank and I was in a group of around 10 that were quickly distanced. But this wasn’t a cause for panic. If anything the mood was a celebratory one. For us, the racing was over. There are no time cuts on the last stage, we just needed to ride to Skerries. We didn’t exactly kill ourselves until we turned the corner onto the main street and then rode like our lives depended on it. There was a great atmosphere there and I tried to take it in. I could hear shouts of my name at various points but I could never see where they were coming from. Per Ro’s advice the night before, once we turned off Main Street we reverted to “steady” riding for the next lap. We got to ride main street one more time and it was even louder the second time, but we were pulled from the lap a while later to allow the race to pass through. What a moment. All 5 of us had made it, not a crash and only one puncture between us. Unbelievable. Once the race fully passed us, it was time to ride back to the finish line for the celebrations. Seeing Niamh, my parents, my sister, my brother, all my nephews, my in-laws, friends, cousins, clubmates… really, it was overwhelming. I found it hard to take it all in. It had been such a long journey, physically and mentally draining, but this reward, this buzz, was worth it all. After receiving our medals on the stage to even more adulation from the raucous crowd and having a celebratory pint, we’d all go our separate ways as “Men of the Rás.” A title that’s well earned.
“Never again” is a phrase I had repeated to myself on countless occasions over the last 8 days. And each time I meant it. But by the time I got back to my house, I wasn’t so sure. I loved the buzz of finishing and I was immensely proud of my medal. But I can do better! I want to do better. As Niall was fond of saying throughout the week; “a lot have lads have done one… not that many have done two.” No way am I going near Suir Valley though.

All smiles on the stage in Skerries. What a great moment.” Men of the Rás.”