Rás Mumhan 2018

Barry Walsh reports on a Epic Weekend for the Club at Rás Mumhan

I’d be lying if I didn’t say that Munster has a special place in my heart and even more so the Cork and Kerry Mountains so when a spare man with limited skills was required for support down at the 2018 Rás Mumhan, I decided I was the man for it. The riders were spread across two teams, a huge leap for the club who only partook in the event for the first time in 2017. The St. Tiernans team consisted of Adam Greally, John O’Regan, James Quinn, Kieran Regan and Niko Harmenan. The ‘Dublin Blanco’ squad contained Craig Longmore, Tim Duffy, Peter McColgan and Tiit Taluma. On support we had Bryan Hayden keeping the riders fit, watered and fed, Fergal May driving with little regard for his car and myself handing out bottles, changing flats, washing bikes and dealing out the second to none racing advice from my years of experience. As I already said, limited. 

There is a certain allure around these big annual events on the domestic calendar that those who follow racing at this level appreciate. The logistical tetris of packing almost everything you need into the car the night before race day, the buzz around race HQ on day one, freewheels and static trainers whirring in the run up to the off and the crackle of the race radio which you will be glued to for the weekend. All of these small tings contribute to a special atmosphere before you get to the nerves/confidence of the riders. Its grass roots sport and it’s why we love cycling. After all the team managers who had crammed into the Killorglin Sports Centre ball alley had been treated to the rough guide to Kerry and the important guidelines for the weekend ahead it was time for rollout. Here we go.

The almost always manic initial run from Killorglin to Killarney was this time more benign, easy for us to say in the car but things were too good to be true as we turned for Sliabh Luachra territory. The roads change quickly from smooth Healy Rae tarmac on the Ring of Kerry to grass lined boreens in elemental looking countryside and it was about 10km into this where the team had its first incident.

As the road narrowed into a small humpback bridge the radio burst into life with RIDERS DOWN. All we could do was keep the fingers crossed as no numbers were being relayed back to the radio but as I jogged up the road with spare wheels I saw Kieran making his way back toward us, his bike looking a little different from the primed machine in the team photos we took back at Killorglin. As I changed the front wheel we realised this bike wasn’t going anywhere – shifters, bars, stem, derailleur, all damaged but at least the frame looked redeemable! Fergal scrambled the spare bike from the roof.  

Now with the limited carrying capacity we had to hedge our bets on the one bike we could carry with us. A higher proportion of our riders were of the taller variety, but this was not our only issue. Cleats that didn’t match and no spare shoes would signal the end of the road for most. Kieran spied my Adidas, ‘Give me those runners’. One quick change later he was back chasing on a bike 3 sizes too big in my trainers. It was going to be a long day but the story will be told for longer.

We helped as much as we could but we needed to get back to the cavalcade. The race was fragmenting on the rough and rolly back roads. We passed small groups of riders until we eventually found our first guy, water – he had some, food – he was stocked, on we went and repeat the same through the next few groups. We found James in a small group and happy to ride it in comfortably. Next Niko solo, was he OK? A flat had put paid to his ambitions and he would eventually be swallowed by James’ group. John was in another group up the road with everything in control. Adam and Craig were in the front group and bearing down on Killorglin as were we. ‘Remember to set the timer for the finish announcement on the radio!’ – the time cut could be crucial to Kieran and his sneakers and we might need to plead a case. We didn’t need to worry, he rode in comfortably, garnering a few strange looks on the way but he had guaranteed his weekend even if my runners would never be the same. They have now finished more Rás Mumhan stages than me which has been my best result all year.

Back to the B and B now with 8 bikes to wash and check over as Kieran would be switching to his heavy winter bike for the forthcoming stages. Brian was massaging the riders before dinner and the stage one dissection. A couple of tales from Stage 1 but riders all riders were intact for day two.

Due to the eternal winter we have been having, the blue skies on Saturday morning were welcome as the team trekked across to Listowel for Stage two. Before the roll out the peloton paid tribute to two stalwarts of the domestic scene.  Nora Keane Moriarty, mother of the evergreen Eugene and a dedicated volunteer on this and other races, and Gaybo Howard, a pivotal organiser and supporter of Irish cycling. These events would not take place without the dedication of these people and those who continue their good work .Ar dheis Dé go raibh a n-anamacha

The race deviates out of the kingdom to West Limerick for the day but it doesn’t make it easier by any stretch of the imagination. We were dealt the first blow by a catastrophic mechanical for Niko before the raced had even begun the neutral roll out, when nothing could be done and no spare bike was available we were down to eight men. Not long afterwards we lost Tim on the road to Glin with a niggling knee injury preventing him from being able to ride. Seven men.

RIDERS DOWN burst the radio and I sprinted up the static cavalcade with spare wheels, relieved to find no Tiernans men on the deck. We would learn Craig had come down but had remounted and was chasing straight away. With the combination of the crash, the steep ramp in Glin and the rough roads to Athea the race again began to split. Kieran had been caught on the wrong side of it but was driving his group as we passed to get back to the cavalcade. The short ramp to the finish in Athea belies the length of the climb past that point, it goes and goes, and our clutch knew all about it. God bless Fergal’s car.

Everyone was hanging in well and when it is quiet like that you should always be worried! We found Craig in the gutter halfway up the Glin climb on a bike with a broken shifter that had been damaged in the earlier spill and again our XL spare bike came into use.  Craig was in obliged to ride in the Graeme Obree superman position but he would get around as would all the others. His A2 classification aspirations took a hit but as they say, that’s racing. Tomorrow would be another day and what a day tomorrow would be…but first the support team debriefed in Falveys over a couple of Wild Atlantic IPA’s (yes they are real).

Philip Cassidy has described stage three as the finest stage in Irish road racing
Philip Cassidy has described stage three as the finest stage in Irish road racing however in recent years it has been run off on less than fine days. This Sunday was no different and it was one that will live long in the memory of the riders. The weather was holding on the drive from Killorglin to Waterville but that changed quickly when the ominous looking heavens opened, the temperature plunged and the wind picked up. As difficult as this stage is, it was just after ramping up a level. Adam was busy putting on latex gloves under his winter gloves in a bid to retain feeling for the next four hours plus in the saddle. We saved ex St. Tiernans ‘legend’ John McGettigan from possible frostbite by providing him with some gloves from the car. The Dutch West Frisia team of the yellow jersey were busy getting changed by the fire in the Bayview Hotel while others were on the rollers in the conservatory. Time not spent in that weather was time spent well. 

As soon as the flag dropped on the Cahirciveen road the pace upped and riders started coming back through the cavalcade. A stage always renowned for crosswinds, Sunday was no different and some of the guys were caught on the wrong side of a major split when the race turned toward Ballinskelligs. The first climb of the day led to more small riders dropping, groups forming and chases beginning. We caught up with Craig on the descent from the Keel after he lost touch temporarily with the main bunch. He was feeling the strain of riding a bike a few sizes too big the day before and looked a bit isolated but we had a word, got him a new bottle after he lost one on the decent, and after Kieran caught him from behind had a strong chase going. They spent the next number of kilometres in pursuit of the peloton and they were successful.

Out around the island and back toward Glencar there was riders yoyo-ing back through the cars and back to the bunch as the pace went up and down. There was a break up the road and we couldn’t figure out if there were a few big groups or enough riders had been shed that the relatively small looking group ahead was the main bunch. As it turned out it was and we had three still in there doing their best for our cavalcade GC position. Before we knew it we were approaching the ascent of Coomanaspic where views to the Skelligs the year before were replaced by clouds and all round misery. Thankfully the descent came and went without incident as the conditions were not ideal for a helter skelter downhill on some steep pitches. The main group had split into many small groups on the ascent and we found Kieran on the Skellig ring in a small group and he was delighted with a can of coke from the car. The real thing.

Still no sign of Adam and Craig – ‘but the winning move is only three minutes up the road Fergal?’ Me of little faith – we came across both of them in a 14 man group including the yellow jersey just inside three minutes of the winning break. This had been a superb ride from Craig. We left them at the team car diversion and tried to get down to the finish as quickly as we could. While washing bikes and prepping bottles was an expected activity, undressing half the team as the came in was not and given the hypothermic state some of them were in the stage had finished just in time. They were as quiet as Charlie Chaplin. Brian’s hot tea and food saved a few lives that day! I don’t think any of them will forget that stage for a long long time and after the toughest day of all, Tiit rolled in just within the time limit with a wry smile on his face. Everyone has their own battle on a day like that!

Monday seems like a walk in the park compared to the Iveragh Peninsula but everything is relative and after Sundays exploits I would say there were a few riders questioning what they were doing getting back on a bike. Outside of the Rás this is the best race on the island and any thoughts of the sort don’t last long as the laps of Killorglin are incoming and it all becomes worth it. Barring any incidents the car is great on the Monday stage, speeches from the chief commissaire, the race director, the dude and then some actual racing. We even get to see some of it instead of the back of the Newcastle West/Ballina/Insert Team Here car that we had grown accustomed to. The radio relayed a St. Tiernans number off the front in a group of four, we had made the broadcast.

Whilst there seems to be evermore instances of a pushback against cycling events across the country, Kerry and Killorglin embrace Rás Mumhan and make it a special event. The commisaires, moto-men and seemingly endless sea of volunteers give up their Easter weekend each year to make this event possible and we thank them for that.

Great crowds line the hill in Killorglin every Easter Monday and this was no different. Everyone crossed the line in various states of relief or distress and ticked off another of the big ones. A quick clean up, tea, sandwiches and a group photo and all were back on the road, this time on four wheels, making their way home. Another successful year and step towards the big one in May and the only question left to ask is, why can’t we go to Kerry every weekend?

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