Rás Mumhan 2019

Micheal Stack – Racing Secretary

For the third year running, St. Tiernans were heading to Killorglin for the Easter weekend for the Kerry Group Rás Mumhan, with a team consisting of Kieran Regan, Tiit Talumaa, Peter McColgan, Barry Walsh and Kevin Keane, and a support crew of Al Killian, Helen Kelly and myself. Brian Hayden was wearing the green of Team Ireland for the weekend, but as we all know his blood runs purple, and he was able to help out our racers and crew over the weekend with some bottles and advice, which was much appreciated.

Easter was falling late in 2019 which meant there was more miles in the legs, and the weather forecast was looking good too – karma after the miserable weather last year.

’Tallest guys in the middle!’ – Al, Kieran, Peter, Tiit, Barry and Kevin all smiles before the off

There’s always one – Barry going for the 10 speed classification

Stage 1 – Sliabh Luachra

A 3pm start to Stage 1 left plenty of time for fine-tuning of bikes and building of nerves. The co-ordination of sign-on, managers’ meeting and the parc fermé left no-one in any doubt that this is a seriously well-organised race and set the tone of professionalism for the rest of the weekend.

Once we were finally up and racing, the race radio informed us that the peloton was moving at over 60kmph on the flat towards Killarney aided by a nice tailwind, the traditional hectic start to Rás Mumhan. The route goes via Killarney and Kilcummin to the narrow punchy roads of the Sliabh Luachra region in east Kerry, and the first riders began to get distanced from the main field, but all our guys were still in there.

Going up a KOH around half-way through, we heard over the race radio ‘Rider 130 distanced from the main field’ and we sprang to life and found Barry in a grupetto which looked big enough and strong enough to make it home within the time cut. Barry was fed and watered, so we gave some words of encouragement and moved up the road behind the main field where the other 4 were looking comfortable. Peter got a puncture and had a lightning fast wheel change from neutral service. We arrived just in time for Al to give him a push and he was well able to work through the cavalcade and back into the main field.

One small change to the route is the ‘new road’ between Milltown and Killorglin at the end of the stage, which throws in an extra KOH and a seriously fast descent on a glass-smooth surface into Killorglin. The peloton navigated the last dodgy bend and the 4 lads finished comfortably in the peloton, 6 minutes down on the stage winner. Barry’s group arrived in with plenty of time to spare on the time cut – a solid start by all 5 riders and well-earned cans of Coke while we watched Kevin on the Six One news.

Stage 2 – Listowel and Athea

We decamped to Listowel for the start of Stage 2, 130kms around North Kerry and West Limerick, which was a much more active day for the support crew. The early racing was furious with non-stop break-away attempts and chases. After only around 15k we came across a serious-looking crash with a UCD rider and his bike getting pulled out of a ditch 3 metres down from the opposite side of the road, the first of many incidents on a day of crashes and mechanicals.

Another crash in the main field just outside Athea looked nasty but all the lads made it through. Going through Glin for the second time at around 75k we found Kevin out the back of the main field and needing assistance. He had gotten a front puncture and ended up with a dodgy wheel from neutral service, so he had to stop to get another one from the team car, meaning he was now going to have to work very hard to make it back to the bunch. He gave it everything and we helped him for as long as we could, until we incurred the wrath of two different moto commissaires, and had to leave him to his own devices and move back to the cavalcade further up the road. Unfortunately, he got another puncture on the rear wheel and was unable to get a spare. We chanced our arm with the commissaires in the evening to see if he could race on Sunday, but no joy, so that was the end of his racing for the weekend. Very unlucky considering his good form and with the big hills he likes to come tomorrow.

Barry was having the craic in the grupetto, so we still had 3 riders in the main bunch passing through Athea for the second time. All were glad to get bottles from Helen at the side of the road, given the 20 degree heat. A second crash in the main field in almost an identical place to the earlier one caused a split in the bunch, and Kieran was unlucky to be on the wrong side of it. When we passed he was driving on a group of around 10 in an effort to make up lost ground. We gave him a bottle and moved on to the cavalcade at the back of the first chase group, Peter and Tiit managing to stay on the right side of crashes to stay with what remained of the group.

Peter had hit the deck in one of the crashes which caused his saddle to come loose and was unable to sit down. We gave him a spare bike from the roof and helped him on his way back to the group ahead – a savage effort from him to limit his losses but it would ultimately cost him a place in the top 5 of the A2 classification. The image of Panzer in full flight in my rear view mirror will live long in the memory. Tiit had a very strong day and was the first STCC man over the line, 2:41 down on the winner.

The post-race chat turned into a nice little roadside picnic in the sun at the finish line, and we could have stayed there all afternoon but it was time to go back to Killorglin and think about the brutal Stage 3 tomorrow.

The unsung hero of the weekend – Tiit’s van

‘How much do you think it would take to bribe Haydo for a massage?’

Stage 3 – Waterville and Coomanaspic

The big one. The rest of the country was bathing in sunshine but this part of Kerry has its own micro-climate, mostly consisting of year-round rain, wind and cold. And today was one of those days, looking increasingly ominous as we drove out west to the start in Waterville.

Lots of heavy legs and some more furious racing at the front meant that riders were getting shelled from the very start, but again we were glad to not find any Tiernan’s jerseys for the first 50k or so. Eventually we came across Barry out the back of the main field on a KOH, positive as always and riding hard all day to finish a brutally hard stage well within the time cut. Inspiring stuff.

We had Helen doing a road-side feed on a KOH at 80k outside Cahirciveen. Kevin was good enough to stay around for the rest of the weekend to help out, and he was stationed at the top of Coomanaspic with Cokes and bottles and a helping hand up the last few metres. The race was totally blown apart by the time we headed through Portmagee for the third time – Kieran and Peter were working hard in the third group on the road, and Tiit was in another group a few minutes further back.

The climb of Coomanaspic looms over the whole weekend. As we approached and began to climb in the rapidly-decreasing visibility, the race director requested that the race radio goes quiet unless for emergencies, and the constant crackle of the radio comms gave way to an eerie silence, which did nothing for our nerves. It’s hard enough going up in a car, as evidenced by the smell of burning clutches, and I can only imagine what it’s like racing up on a bike. A large crowd at the top in the mist made for a special atmosphere. A quick word with Kev and before we knew it we were going down the other side through hairpins at lightning speed. A crash in the lead group on the descent tested our nerves again, but all our lads managed to get down ok and get to the finish line in one piece. Kudos to Tiit who exorcised the ghosts of a hard day in the saddle this day last year with a very solid and determined ride. Ben Healy for Team Ireland basically won the Rás on Coomanaspic and it’s a fitting way to do it, on what must be the most brutal stage in the Irish road racing calendar.

Al did the dirty work of cleaning and checking bikes before grub in Bunkers where it seemed the entire race was having their dinner. The riders afforded themselves the luxury of a hard-earned Iceberger before an early bed, and the support crew went for an equally hard-earned pint in Falveys after what was an exhausting and epic day for everyone.

Climbing into the cloud in silence with fingers crossed that all riders and clutches make it down to the other side intact

Sure what else would you be doing on Easter Sunday? Photo by Michael Buckley

Stage 4 – Killorglin and Beaufort

The reward for anyone who has survived the weekend so far is 120k of what looks like some serious craic on the bike. There are 3 flat laps out to Beaufort, and then 10 laps of a short finishing circuit in Killorglin. There’s a brilliant buzz all day, starting with speeches and thank-yous on the radio from the race director and chief commissaire. The whole town comes to a standstill and there’s a real sense of occasion and spectacle – hay-bale crash barriers on the first fast bend into the town, RTE cameras, huge crowds on the hill in the sunshine, bidons flying all over the place and also some fast and furious racing for the glory of the stage win.

Tiit, Peter and Kieran were prominent in the yellow jersey group and the three finished side-by-side in that group, 16 seconds down on the stage winner. Barry had his moment in the sun when he rode up the hill solo to what must have been one of the loudest cheers of the day – it seems everyone in Munster cycling knows the guy! A massive achievement for all four, and a just reward for their dedication and determination.

Thanks to Al and Helen for offering their crucial support over the weekend, and to Kev who put aside his own disappointment and stayed around to help for Sunday and Monday. Our support crew had very limited experience but were helped by having a very easy-going and positive team of riders. It’s worth noting also that the support is made much easier when we see the good, hard, honest racing by the men in purple in red. Kudos also to Brian ‘Magic Hands’ Hayden who massaged and cajoled the Irish team to yellow jersey glory.

Being in a car and listening to race radio on a weekend like this, you begin to realise the amount of work that goes into the organisation of a race like Rás Mumhan. It really is a credit to the organisers, the commissaires, the sponsors, the huge amount of volunteers, the Gardai, the moto marshalls, the town of Killorglin and the county of Kerry that this event is such a success. There were locals out cheering at the roadside in every village and at the top of every KOH – they really know and love their cycling down here and they genuinely understand and appreciate the efforts of the riders. Our entire team and club would like to thank everyone involved for a great weekend, and we’ll continue to come back as long as you’ll have us. Ciarraí abú.

Barry up the hill on the finishing circuit

Peter, Tiit and Kieran chasing hard in the bunch

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