Four of our members – Paul Phillips, Stephen Sweeney, Brian Fitzpatrick and myself set out last weekend to ride 600km in little over a day.
The Audax Ireland sanctioned event had 15 starters who headed south west from Whitehall in Dublin at 6am.
The first control at 80km brought us to Athy in Co Kildare and from there to Silvermines in Co Tipperary. Then we headed north along Lough Derg when Stephen’s rear shifter broke. That left him stuck with only 2 gears – the 53/11 or the 39/11 on some hilly terrain. We expected to find a bike shop in Portumna, Co Galway, but when we asked a local where it was, we were told that it’s owner had retired, but we should try the barber – he was an enthusiastic cyclist.
The barber was indeed a cycling enthusiast and came out to inspect the damage. He told us that we should head for a bike shop in either Loughrea or Ballinasloe, both of which were off course and about 20km away. We settled on Loughrea, and our friendly barber phoned ahead to make sure that the bike mechanic would be there when we got there.
At about 5pm we arrived in Loughrea, and while the mechanic replaced the spring in Stephen’s shifter, we loaded up on some much needed calories at a nearby pub/restaurant.
We were back on the road before 6 and after the intense heat of they day we enjoyed the slightly cooler temperatures as we headed back to the official course.
The next control was Glenamaddy at just over 305km. The local supervalu was near closing time and we needed to have most of our supplies for the night bought at this stage.
After 8pm the road to Castlerea was busy with boy racers heading out for the night, but soon we were on quiet roads again as we headed through Roscommon and into the night.
Most of the other cyclists on the event had stopped at B&B’s for a few hours rest at somewhere between 340 and 400km, but our plan was to keep riding until we couldn’t go any further.
In Carrick-on-Shannon, Co Leitrim the town was buzzing with bank holiday revellers. The 3 lads sought some calories in the local Supermacs, while I pushed on alone further North. At midnight I was out of water so I went into a pub in a small village near Ballinamore. No one seemed to bat an eyelid as a I stood there in my cycling gear asking to get my 2 bottles filled with water.
It was very quiet now in North Leitrim – the only other cyclist I saw was Billy from Offaly as we leapfrogged each other a few times when we stopped to check the route or put on an extra layer. There were a few cars on the roads but they were slow and gave me plenty of space.
The night was still quite warm and I didn’t put on my arm and knee warmers until after 2am.
It started to get bright well before 4am and soon afterwards I reached the control point of Ballybay, Co Monaghan at 468km. I was now struggling with some right shin pain, and left knee pain but felt ok apart from that and pushed on south to Shercock.
My water and food were now gone. Audax lore suggests that every graveyard has a tap in it, so I searched 2 churches in Bailieborough for water, but found nothing. It was 6 am and I wasn’t sure of getting anything for another hour which would be a struggle. Having hit my mini-goal of 500km in 24 hours, I lay on the ground in front of the church, used my helmet as a pillow and quickly fell asleep. I woke to the sound a car speeding passed after what I think was 20 minutes and set off again. I found a shop open in Virginia, where I stocked up on water and much needed calories.
Audax routes rarely take you on a main road with a nice surface and sure enough the route took me along some pretty, but rough back roads, and after 500km in the saddle, every slight increase in elevation felt like a hill. After Bohermeen I met up with another rider and enjoyed the company as we chatted as far as Kilmessan at 560km.
The last 50km was the usual predictable slow torture at the end of these events, struggling to maintain any kind of speed. At one point I got passed by a large bloke in a world champions jersey and I couldn’t summon the strength or the will to chase him.
I got into Whitehall shortly after 11am – 29 hours and 20 minutes after starting. I slept in the car for about 15 mintues and then set off to drive some of the route in reverse to see how the lads were getting on.
I found Brian and Paul in Rathoath – they were lying in the grass in the sunshine waiting for Stephen. They had ridden through the night without sleep until Ballybay where they slept on the footpath under a canopy. Upon being woken, they pushed on until Stephen broke his front mech in Kilmessan. He then diverted home to Navan to get his spare bike before meeting up with the lads again in Ratoath.
They finished in just over 31 hours 30 minutes. This was a superb achievement, especially for their first 600km. Very few riders ever ride a 600km without at least a couple of hours sleep stop. They now qualify for their first Super Randonneur medals – awarded by Audax Club Parisien on the completion of a 200km, 300km, 400km and 600km in the same season. Well done lads!