(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………
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.